11.30.2010

Distracted.

Lately, during calendar time, Mrs. D. and I have been trying to let the calendar helper do as much of the work independently as they feel comfortable doing. Most kids who have been listening and paying attention know what to do, but it’s a little overwhelming standing in front of the entire group with the proverbial spotlight shining on you, so one of us usually hangs back to assist. Today was my turn.

As I walked over to Dan to help him, my nose caught a whiff of something… something pleasant! The smells in kindergarten aren’t always pleasing, so this was surprising. As anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows, I’m easily distracted (poor Mrs. D., she certainly is one of he most patient people I’ve ever met, I’m not sure how she puts up with me…).

“What’s that smell?” I asked.

I was greeted with lots of curious looks… what was this mysterious smell?

“It smells nice, something very sweet…” I clarified.

“It’s my hair… I use coconut shampoo,” Rachel offered.

Needing to know, I walked over and smelled her hair. This might sound strange, but not in kindergarten.

“Nope,” it wasn’t her hair.

Mrs. D. walked over and tried to help me find the culprit, most likely to help move along our calendar time. She couldn’t identify the perpetrator either. I’ve had students in kindergarten wear excessive amounts of perfume before, so I was wary.

Trying to ignore my propensity to distractions, I walked back to Dan to continue calendar. The sweet smell strengthened. I leaned over and smelled his shoulder…

“It’s you!” I exclaimed, happy to have solved the case.

Dan looked at me like I had ten heads. He had no idea why he would smell so nice.

“I think it’s the detergent your mom uses to wash your clothes,” I explained.

He smiled, grabbed the pointer, and turned to the calendar.

I am officially a crazy man able to be distracted by laundry detergent. Call me Distracted Man. At least I can admit it.

11.29.2010

Monday, Monday.


That picture isn’t for me. It applies to my sprouts. I’m not sure if they were all still sleepy from eating too much turkey or what was going on, but they were, for the most part, exhausted from the moment they arrived. The day seemed to wallop many of them. It made for a really laid back day, something not really expected after a break.

When I walked the class down to P.E. in the afternoon, David asked me quite politely if I would tie his shoe. I quickly knelt down to ensure his safety before he began running around and the minute I took his laces in my hands, I remembered David was the one with his laces in his mouth all morning long. They were sloppy wet. I quickly tied his shoes and walked as fast as my legs would carry me to the teacher’s room and scrubbed my hands like I was about to perform major surgery. I am a trooper... I earned my gold star for the day.

At the end of the day, as we walked outside for recess, I heard shouts of, ‘Snow, snow, snow!’ from children running up the hill beyond my view. To be clear, we did not have any snow today… or yesterday. We’ve had no snow yet and we live in an area where feet of snow are on the way. When I climbed the hill myself, this is what I saw:


I didn’t have the heart to tell them it was only frost, not actually snow… they began sliding down the hill, trying to enjoy the ‘snow’ as much as possible. It really doesn’t get more optimistic than that. Monday, Monday, yay!

11.28.2010

Hugs.

As I prepare to go back to school tomorrow after not seeing my sprouts for nine days (we had some teacher only time last week) and quite a few days of resting and relaxation, I can't help but think, wow, how lucky am I to not hate going back to work. Don't get me wrong, by the time the last cherub gets on the bus tomorrow afternoon, I will most likely feel like I've been run over by a bus, but I'll have a big smile on my face after just receiving forty or fifty 'I missed you' hugs... see kindergartners have a hug for every occasion.

  • The 'I'm not going to see you for two whole days Friday afternoon' hug
  • The 'I just learned something new and oh my gosh I'm so smart' hug
  • The 'I'm not going to see you for an entire week because we have break' hug
  • The 'I just somehow cut myself and you gave me a band-aid' hug
  • The 'You just made me feel like a million bucks' hug
  • The 'You were out sick yesterday and the sub was really mean I'm so glad you're back' hug
  • The 'You're my hero and for no good reason except I love you' hug
  • The 'I haven't seen you since three o'clock yesterday afternoon' hug
  • The 'You look down and I'm not sure why because I'm five but this might help' hug
  • The 'Whatever lesson, game, or song we just did was super fun and you're an amazing teacher' hug
  • And as mentioned above, the 'Dear Lord, I missed you' hug

With a hug silo like that in each of my little friends, going to work is never a chore. When my alarm goes off super early tomorrow morning and I'm dragging myself out of bed, I'll be sure to remember those hugs. Which hugs are your favorite? Did I forget any?

11.27.2010

Biscuit.

One of my more colorful sprouts from last year, Sonya, is, luckily, right down the hall from me this year. I see her almost daily… she makes a point of it. A few days ago, on the way to her bus line, as I stood in my classroom door, she held up a book, like a trophy and called out to me, “Mr. A. I’m taking this Biscuit book home… I’m going to read it!”

At the end of last year, Sonya met the benchmarks, but just barely. She struggled at the beginning of first grade and then, like a flower waiting for just the right ray of sunshine to bloom, she blossomed. I know because she invited me (via her first grade teacher) to come listen to her read. It was a proud moment for both of us.

Well the morning after Sonya flashed her Biscuit book at me she appeared, as she always does like some sprite magically materializing from a puff of smoke in front of me.

“Sonya, good morning,” I whispered trying not to disturb my class’ reading and hinting to her the tone of our impending conversation.

“Hi… I stayed up all night long reading that Biscuit book,” she began. She sounded almost out of breath from her late night of reading.

“Really, all night long?” I prodded.

“Yes, almost ‘till midnight. That Biscuit book is good,” she said with a smile. She’d lost another tooth.

“I bet, those Biscuit books are cool,” I agreed.

“You should really come hear me read it,” she suggested.

“I’ll make sure I talk to your teacher about that,” I confirmed.

“OK, bye!” She exclaimed as she grabbed me for a quick hug and managed to maintain her whisper.

And just as frantically as she arrived, she was gone. I’ll be checking in with her teacher next week to set up that Biscuit date. Not all my sprouts from last year are as near my classroom this year, but I’m sure glad Sonya goes out of her way to make sure I see her flourishing. She never ceases to make my day.

11.26.2010

Thanksgiving Wordle.

Oh how I love a good wordle to reflect.  Click it to make it bigger and read the love.


11.24.2010

Grateful.

Yesterday, during our workshop day (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I became a teacher to avoid sitting in meetings all day long…), one of my old teammates from second grade was sitting in front of me. Yes, I usually sit towards the back. I find it’s less distracting to the speaker when I begin to ignore them and look around the room in a constant struggle to stay awake. Anyway, my second grade teacher friend, turned around before we officially began, and handed me this.


She knows I write about my classroom experiences, saw the book and thought of me. At first glance, I thought it was a book of cute kid stories, but as I flipped through it, I realized it was an empty journal, perfect for jotting down anecdotes during the day. As I thanked her for my gift, my mind wandered back to my days as a second grade teacher.

One of my yearly traditions (and one of the few original ideas I had), was a big Grateful Book project for Thanksgiving. Each child completed a prompt about what they were grateful for (I am grateful for the _______ that I eat, that I wear, that I play with, that I love, etc.) on a page. They then illustrated with pencil, traced the pencil with black marker, and then colored with crayons. The pictures were cut out along with the writing and glued onto brown construction paper. The whole affair was bound and laminated and became a beautiful keepsake.

What I remember most about those books was the teamwork that took place. They took an entire week to create. By the third or fourth day, some children would finish. Those who were done with their books would then help their friends will illustrating and coloring. By Friday, usually all but my special education friends were done. The entire class would rally around my sprouts who needed a little extra help to ensure their books were not only complete, but beautiful artifacts to be proud of. I would stand back and watch them all work together and realize how grateful I was to witness such camaraderie.

When I moved to kindergarten, I knew my younger students wouldn’t be able to complete such a complex project. When I spoke to Mrs. D. about it (who at the time was my neighbor, not yet my partner), she told me about her Thankful Placemat. Much like the books, but in a single prompt and turned into a placemat rather than a book, I was truly grateful to be able to continue the focus on what we have to be thankful for and allowing my sprouts to share these sentiments with their families.

As the nation prepares to give thanks (and stuff themselves silly and watch lots of football), I find myself truly grateful. My life is truly bountiful, but when it comes to my professional life, above all else, I’m grateful I get to wake up each morning and enjoy my job. Going to work each day brings me a small sense of joy and loving your job is truly a blessing.

11.23.2010

Interview Part Two.

Here's the second set of questions... these are from a fellow dude. He's in a teacher preparation program. The questions focus on classroom management and being a male primary school teacher... I'm curious what your feedback might be. Cheers!

7. What type of behavioral management system do you use in your classroom?

I use a Responsive Classroom model for management. At the beginning of the year (the first week or so) the class comes up with a list of rules... I guide them, but they own these rules. Once the rules are set, I introduce the 'Rest Stop', 'Take a Break' seat (call it what you like - I like these because they're not super negative). When a child isn't following a rule, they're reminded of the rule and given a warning. If they continue to break the rule, they take a break in the chair. They come back when they are ready... the teacher doesn't set a time limit or instruct when to return. When the chair is introduced EVERY child in the room takes a turn going and returning so they know a) what it feels like and b) that it isn't a big deal. Other than that, I try to use LOTS of positive specific praise.

8. How did you come up with this system/technique?

After attending many Responsive Classroom trainings and reading MANY of their books. :) I can't take credit for creating this system. Using it effectively creates a positive fun learning environment where children feel safe.

9. How do you implement it?

I think I answered that one already. It's a continual work in progress. We go over the rule every day at first and then usually every Monday and perhaps more times through the week if needed. Some of it depends on the makeup of your class. Good classroom management is truly an art that takes years to perfect. Only after my fourth or fifth year of teaching did I feel like I was beginning to come close to mastering it... I'm still learning and tweaking it all the time.

10. How do you let a child know when he/she breaks the rules? What are the consequences?

Children know the rules... they helped create them and know the consequences clearly. In rare cases where a major infraction takes place, the consequences are always logical. You punch somebody - after your rest stop you need to apologize and then do something to make them feel better (draw a picture, write a note, play with them at recess, etc.). Logical consequences and apology of action (more than just saying you're sorry) help children understand a quick 'I'm sorry' doesn't cut it.

11. What types of incentives do you use?

Personally (there is a lot of debate about this...) I don't believe in incentive or reward programs. I don't give out stickers, toys, or prizes for good behavior. Respectful, responsible, and safe behavior is an expectation in my room. That's not to say we don't have celebrations, but they're usually around learning, not for behavior. That's not to say there aren't specific cases where a certain child needs a little more of an incentive. When needed, I do that one a child-by-child basis and in private so the rest of the class doesn't know about it. It's called 'everybody gets what they need' and not everyone needs a sticker for behavior.

12. How effective do you feel your behavioral system is in your classroom?

So far, very. The Responsive Classroom model is research based and in my experience, it works.

13. Have your ran into any issues with the stereotypes of male elementary teachers? If so, how did you handle it?

I haven't had many negative reactions from coworkers or parents. Most people think it's 'cute' or 'adorable' that I teach kindergarten. While the kids surely are cute and adorable, I don't think I am or the fact that I work with them is either. It's hard work... very hard work. I do wonder if parents are skeptical I will be caring or nurturing enough, but nobody has ever expressed this to me... I've been working in the same school since I began and what I've learned is... parents talk. If you're good, everybody knows and if you're bad, they know as well. I think I've earned a reputation as a caring and effective teacher - that supersedes my gender, as it should.

14. What is your opinion about hugs and telling your students that you love them?

If you don't want to be hugged, don't work with young kids. I love getting hugs, it's their way of saying 'You're special, you mean something to me, thank you for being you' - I'm not going to deny a child expressing that. I do have a rule that everyone must ask before giving a hug... including me. I also have modeled how to hug. When a child hugs me, their hands need to be above my waist... I learned that one the hard way. They don't mean anything by it, but it's a bit alarming when it happens. I've also learned (recently) there is nothing wrong with saying 'I love you' to a student. They tell me all the time. I always say, 'Thank you, I love you too' - mainly because, quite simply, I do.

15. What do you do during the first week of school?

In kindergarten, it really is like herding cats. The first few weeks we're learning how to be in school and settling into routines. I highly recommend The First Six Weeks of School - it's a Responsive Classroom book and a bible for many teachers in the summer as they gear up to go back.

16.What is your best advice for building a rapport with parents? (Parents are my biggest fear for when I become a teacher.)

Be yourself. Don't be afraid to be honest. Show them you care about their child and their learning. Try to be a partner. Communicate as often as possible. I send a daily email that has proven invaluable for parents in communicating with their child about each school day. When you have a concern or bad news to report, try to find something positive to lead with... this goes a long way. Invite them into the room to volunteer or observe. Above all else, parents just want their children to enjoy school. If they do, they'll love you as much as their children.

17. What do you think is the most effective instructional grouping method?

Whole group, small group, and one on one are all valuable for different reasons and I use them all almost equally. In kindergarten, a lot of one on one work is valuable, but obviously not always possible. I do try and do as much of it as I can squeeze in.

18. What is your opinion on tangible incentives?

I don't like them. I've given a sticker of two in my time for behavior, but I try steer away from it. When we celebrate, I prefer to do it with extra recess, a special visitor reading a book, or a pajama day. I think these events mean more to kids than a sticker or toy they're going to lose anyway.

19. How do you feel about behavioral systems such as the traffic light, colored cards, moving clips, or putting names on the chalkboard for misbehavior?

I have mixed feelings. Personally, I don't use them, but I have in the past when I had a particularly challenging class. I think if you set up your rules, routines, and consequences early and stick to your guns, you don't need those systems.

20. How do you manage children who are "spicy" and refuse to participate by saying "no" constantly? (FYI- I say spicy instead of "bad". I strongly dislike that word.)

I tell kids that participation (in my class that means singing and dancing too) is part of their learning. If I can stand up and shake my behind and sing my head off, there is no good reason they can't too. I think once you give kids permission to let go, most do. If they are really stubborn, I might pull them aside and explain my expectations again and find out if there is some other cause for them not participating (painfully shy, etc.).

That's it! All my answers. What? I didn't answer a specific question you had? Let me know!

11.22.2010

Interview Part One.

For some reason, I receive an email, about once a week, from an education student looking to ask me questions for an assignment. Being the sucker I am, I almost always take the bait. Here is the first part of two such 'interviews'... I liked these questions and though I'd share my answers.

1. Why do people, including you, become teachers? What is probably the best reason for becoming a teacher? Should there be a “best” reason?

I can't speak for anybody else, but I became a teacher because, above all else, I love working with children. It's not easy, but the rewards are priceless. Personally, I feel if you don't love and respect children, don't be a teacher... we've got enough of those teachers already (I've met a few who don't even seem to like children). That being said, you have to love teaching. I know that sounds overly simple, but what I mean is, you have to want to push children a little further than they thought possible... find a new way for them to see things and experience the world around them. I love teaching because sitting behind a desk and computer all day long (I know, I've done it) is painfully boring. Working with kids, showing them new ways to experience their world, keeps me young and happy.

2. Have the working conditions of teaching in public and private schools changed over the past generation? If so, what are the most challenging aspects of this change?

The most challenging aspect for me is the ramp up in academics. Don't get me wrong, I realize kids are in school to learn, but the pressure is really on to have higher achieving students. People say first grade is the new second grade and kindergarten is the new first grade... it's true. When I was in school, kindergarten was all about socialization and some basic literacy and math concepts. Now, my sprouts are expected to be reading and writing at a rather high level by the end of the year. Is this a bad thing? I'm not sure. Most of them are capable and we still find time to play... yes play, it's becoming a dirty word in early elementary education, but I still say it is critical to the development of the whole child.

3. The issue of classroom management and discipline remain a challenge to teaching in America. Any ideas, secrets, or pointers regarding this situation?

Don't let them see you sweat. Seriously. Don't try to be their friend. You're their teacher, leader, captain, commander, and personal boo-boo fixer, but when you go down the path of wanting them to 'like' you, you're doomed. Please understand, I truly believe most of my students DO like me, but it's not because that's my goal... it's because I respect them and provide clear and firm boundaries. Kids crave boundaries. Provide them boundaries, stick to your word, and the admiration will flourish.

4. What do you believe are the primary benefits of being a teacher?

Well the health benefits are good... you get lots of candles and knick-knacks around the holidays. All kidding aside, there's nothing like getting, on average, twenty hugs a day. The pay isn't good and you won't always get the respect of your friends ("You teach kindergarten? Oh how cute!" - it's my job, the kids are cute, my teaching them is not), but the rewards are truly endless. When you feel like you've changed the life of a child, pointed them in the right direction, made a difference... that's it. That's what teaching is all about.

5. Is teaching in the current moment of standardized state testing and academic accountability more than teaching?

It can add a lot of pressure. The simple fact is, standardized tests are only one snapshot of a child's learning. It's a picture of a child at one time on one particular day. Who knows what might be going on in that child's life. Didn't sleep well? Parents fighting? Problems on the bus? No money for healthy food this week? Argument with your sibling? Who knows... the moment you define a child (or teacher) by a test score, you devalue them as a whole person. Use data to help your instruction, but don't let it define a child... or you.

6. If you had to do it over again, would you still be a teacher?

Absolutely. Being a teacher makes me a better person - it's that simple. I've met some amazing teachers, parents, and children.

11.21.2010

Pang.

I have a confession. On Friday, as I sat in the Rest Stop chair waiting for the last bus group to be called, I actually felt a little pang in my heart.

A few moments earlier, Mrs. D. had announced, in the guise of a number story, that we wouldn’t be seeing our sprouts for nine days. As if on cue, the hugs began. These weren’t the usual, ‘see you tomorrow’ hugs, but rather the, ‘holy cow, nine days is a long time away from you’ hugs. They were both numerous and intense. There was some major squeezing going on… you’d be surprised how tightly a little five-year-old can grasp you when they want to.

Maybe the holiday spirit has taken over me a little early… or maybe I’m finally becoming a big softy. Those little buggers have certainly worked their way into my heart. As I ponder those hugs, I’ve come to the conclusion those pangs I felt were a sign. I’m in the right profession, that’s one thing I know for sure.

11.20.2010

Turkey laughs.

Nothing really school related here, I just find these funny and thought I'd share.









Pomegranate.

During snack time, I usually walk around the room helping open lids, rip stubborn packaging, and chatting with my sprouts about this and that. Yesterday, as I walked past Nicole’s table, I noticed her snack seemed unusual. She was eating something out of a baggie, it was small and red that almost looked like cherries, but not quite.

“Wow, Nicole, that looks healthy, are those cherries?” I asked her.

“No, they’re pomegranates,” she corrected me.

“Oh, those are yummy,” I said.

Now suffice it to say, this was an unusual snack for Nicole to bring to school. She’s never brought anything exotic before. As I walked away from her table I heard Dan question her further.

“What are pomegranates?” He wondered.

“You don’t have them…” Nicole began.

“They are from my world,” she finished.

I always thought Nicole played by her own rules, but never realized she came from an entirely different world.

11.19.2010

Manners.

There’s nothing I love more than giving a complement to a sprout and seeing the pure proud feeling on their face. In our kindergarten class, we’ve been working on manners… it’s not uncommon to hear ‘please’, ‘thank you’, and ‘your welcome’ in the room. Hand a child a paper, and most likely, they’ll thank you. Yes, it’s rather pleasant.

The other day, we were announcing the child we’d selected as the most respectful, responsible, and safe student of the week. For the record, this is a program my school as implemented… I have mixed feelings about it, but the kids seem to love it and really look forward to the announcement.

Evelyn was chosen this week. She has really worked hard at making good choices and has emerged as a model student… truly worth recognition.

After the reveal, the class congratulated her with lots of applause and even a cheer. Finally, in an attempt to move us along and wrap up the celebration, Mrs. D. turned to Evelyn and said, “Congratulations, Evelyn.”

Evelyn, ever the polite little girl, replied, “You’re Welcome.”

Now, nobody thanked her, but she knew she was supposed to say something polite, and ‘You’re Welcome’ is one of the replies we give to be polite. I’m not sure what Miss Manners would say about her reply, but I think it was simply perfect.

11.18.2010

Author.

Today as we walked outside for recess, David stopped me and asked if I would tie his shoe. As I knelt down to help him, he took the opportunity to bend my ear a little.

“You know what I want to be when I’m a normal man?” He asked.

“Do you mean when you’re a grown man?” I questioned.

“Oh yeah, when I’m a grown man…” He confirmed.

“What?” I wondered, not sure of his answer.

“I wanna be an author,” he said with a smile.

By this time, I’d finished tying his shoes and we joined the rest of the crew outside.

“But David, you’re already an author,” I reminded him.

He really is a wonderful writer and we call our students ‘authors’ each day during Writing Workshop. I guess it’s working.

“Yeah, I know, but I mean a real grown up author,” he answered.

“Then you will be,” I said.

I can’t wait to read his books.

11.17.2010

Adulation.

At bus time today, after about fifty or sixty hugs, the following conversation took place between Luther and myself.

Me: I love being a teacher.
Luther: Yeah, cause everybody just loves you.
Me: Yeah, pretty much.

11.16.2010

Celebration!

Today something big happened… I mean really huge. We completed our first sight-word list. Forty words. That’s a lot of words for mid-November in kindergarten. Last year, my class only learned forty words by the end of the school year… this year, thanks to The Three Habits of Highly Successful Reading Teachers (I swear – I don’t get a cut of the sales…), our sprouts have learned that many already and we’re not done… we’ve got an entire new list of words to begin soon.

As part of our celebration, Mrs. D. and I decided to whip out the ol’ Pajama Day card. Oh yes, like a master poker playing saving his ace, the Pajama Day announcement is a sight to behold.

Picture in your head announcing to a group of kindergartners you are taking them all to Disney World. There will be candy, soda, and lots of cartoons on the plane ride there. Children will have Mickey Mouse (or their favorite character) as their personal tour guide for the visit.

That’s the reaction we got just from announcing our Pajama Day… a day where you… where your pajamas to school.

Oh how I love kindergarten.



11.15.2010

Papoose.

Today, as part of our Thanksgiving study, we did a sight-word book on Native Americans. The words we were focusing on were ‘we’ and ‘have’, but one of the pages said, ‘We have papooses’ with a little picture of a cute Native American baby. Nobody knew what a papoose was so we discussed it and all practiced saying it.

As we moved to small groups to work on the book, I had each child in my group read the book. ‘We have corn,’ ‘We have arrows,’ We have friends,’ not so difficult. When each child got to the page with the baby papoose, they all barreled through the word, although nobody got it quite right. Here’s what I heard.

“Poo-pooses.”
“Boo-booses.”
“Poo-booses.”
“Doo-dooses.’
“Oo-ooses.”

Just about everything, but ‘papooses’. Nobody laughed or giggled. Each sprout made a concerted effort and a few genuine looks of straining were observed. Apparently ‘papoose’ is not in the average kindergarteners vernacular. Sometimes even with pre-teaching, teaching, and review, a word (or concept) is just too difficult to grasp. All together now… ‘papoose’!

11.14.2010

Run, Turkey, Run!

OK, I almost never review children's books, but I found one that many may not have heard of, and the amount of sheer joy (something we can all use an extra dose of) it is bringing to my classroom needs to be shared. Run, Turkey, Run! by Diane Mayr with illustrations by Laura Rader has got to me my all time favorite (non-historical, that goes to Tapenum's Day) Thanksgiving read aloud. This simple story about a turkey trying to evade becoming the main course on thanksgiving has brought more giggles and laughter to my class than any other book in recent memory.

We've actually read it every day since it was first brought out about a week ago. Every single day. The text is predictable, and the children get to read (or shout, it's up to you) 'Run, Turkey, Run!' ever couple of pages. Every time they urge the poor bird on in unison, all I can hear in my head is Jenny from the Forest Gump movie shouting, "Run, Forest, Run!" in that deep southern drawl. It's awesome!

Our hero, the turkey, has many tricks up his sleeve to outwit the farmer, and the illustrations match the text for laughs. When turkey decides to hide in the duck pond he's outfitted in full scuba gear. Hi-la-ri-ous. Really, you will be smiling and laughing right along with your sprouts... trust me.

If you've never read Run, Turkey, Run! do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. Your class will thank you for it. Otherwise, it might just be grilled cheese sandwiches for you and your family on Thanksgiving too!

11.13.2010

Mrs. Hashbrown

So far this year, between Mrs. D. and myself, we’ve only been out a total of three days (for various reasons). As luck would have it, we were able to secure the same substitute all three times. She is, I’ll call her Mrs. Hashbrown, well known in our school for her subbing prowess. I was lucky enough to work with her one of those days and she is, quite simply, a peach.

Well yesterday, Mrs. Hashbrown was in for another kindergarten teacher. I knew this and had seen her a few times in the hallway and at lunch. My sprouts did not know this and at the end of the day, when we were outside playing and enjoying the unusually warm sunshine for mid-November, Mrs. Hashbrown emerged from the school like a butterfly from it’s cocoon.

You would think either Lady Gaga, the Pope, or the Dalai Lama (take your pick) had arrived. As word of Mrs. Hashbrown’s attendance spread over the playground, she was, quite literally, swarmed by kindergartners. She was at one point almost totally enveloped in hugs… not that she was complaining.

When one of my friends ran up to me to report, “Mrs. Hashbrown, Mrs. Hashbrown is… HERE!” what else could I do? I ran up to her and embraced her too. There’s not much more I love than a fantastic substitute teacher and a good bear hug.

11.12.2010

Ricky.

Each morning, our morning message is a predictable text that children help build (the words are on cards) and then read to the class. They love being a part of the message and when a child hears their name read, their little face just lights up. Today at bus time, Ricky told me how he thought the message should read. (I've provided the correct words in parenthesis for you.)

Good Ricky (Morning),

Ricky is first.
Ricky is last.
Ricky is calendar helper.

Today is Ricky (day of week).
We have Ricky (special for that day).

Love,
Ricky


He thought this was the funniest thing he’d ever said or heard and I had to agree it was rather hilarious. I told him I didn’t think the rest of the class would approve of such a message, but I appreciated his creativity and humor. He asked for a hug… then ‘more hugs’ and I, like the good civil servant I am, obliged.

11.11.2010

Gesture.

Yesterday afternoon and evening, we had the first half of our parent conferences. Whoever thought teaching all day long and then staying into the evening to meet with parents was a good idea has never spent much time with a group of kindergartners… just sayin’.

As the early evening approached, a parent arrived for her conference. As she walked in, she had one of those little cardboard coffee carriers you get when you buy more than one coffee… low and behold she had stopped to buy herself a pick me up and brought both Mrs. D. and me one too.

“I just figured you both might like one too,” she explained.

A small simple gesture just made my night. Not only did she really help us get through the evening, but she cemented my philosophy that teaching is a collaborative effort… parent and teachers have to work together and sometimes a little coffee goes a long way.

11.10.2010

Chicken.

One of the big Thanksgiving projects we do is making a placemat to bring home. The children color a turkey picture, write about what they are thankful for, and do some patterning on the placemat. It takes several days to complete and then the final product is laminated. It’s quite impressive when complete and it’s a nice keepsake.

One afternoon, while working on the turkey color by number page, Michael raised his hand and I walked over.

“I’m done with my chicken,” he said.

I looked at him with my head cocked to one side. My dog sometimes looks at me this way when he’s confused.

“Chicken?” I replied back to him.

No reply.

“Don’t you mean turkey?” I suggested.

He started laughing, I started laughing, and finally the laughter overtook his entire table.

Of the many, many things I’m thankful for this year, laughing with my sprouts it right near the top of the list.

11.09.2010

Tribute.

One of the most popular centers is Read the Room. A group of sprouts take pointers (we’ve got some really FUN ones too, try offering Pok√©mon pointers to kindergartners and see how fast they jump to read) and read letters, names, words, numbers, whatever around the room.

Today during centers, as I walked by a group of girls reading, I overheard the following:

“Ok, you’re Mrs. D. and I’m Mr. A. – ready, go!” A little girl instructed her friends.

“Boys and girls, please be respectful, ‘sponsible, and safe,” the little girl told her friends.

They continued to play teacher and, naturally, after they spotted me listening, began really hamming it up. I guess they really are listening when we talk.

In what other profession do you get to watch children pay homage to you in a loving, complimentary way? It’s truly a tribute… and they’re reading too so it’s really a win-win situation. Love it!

11.08.2010

The Pilgrim's Ship.

This week kicked off our study of the Pilgrims and Native Americans. I truly adore Thanksgiving… mainly the reflection of gratefulness, but also learning how the Native people welcomed the Pilgrims and taught them how to live and survive in this strange new land.

Each day, our goal for the class is small, but meaningful. Today, I wanted my sprouts to understand why the Pilgrims set out for a new life, how they traveled here. That’s it. In kindergarten, the social studies concepts are taken in small steps.

When we began, I posed the question, “Does anybody know why we celebrate Thanksgiving?”

I got a few answers relating to feeling thankful and grateful, all valid, but nobody mentioned the Pilgrims, Native Americans or the Mayflower.

We read two books about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower. We talked about it. Finally, we made a Mayflower puppet and learned a song called ‘Where is the Mayflower?’ It’s simple and fun and we sang that song about a hundred times (maybe it was more like seven or eight times). They loved it. I loved it. We were learning!

Finally, before moving on to math, I asked the class, “So what was the name of the ship the Pilgrims sailed to America?”

Every hand shot up. Yay! They were listening and learning.

I called on Evelyn. She was one of my best listeners, surely she would say the name I wanted to hear and we’d move on…

“The Cauliflower!” She exclaimed with a grin, proud of her answer.

“Good try,” I said, deflating inside.

Someone did give the correct answer, but that was just a classic kindergarten moment. Needless to say, I won’t be having any cauliflower at my Thanksgiving dinner this year.

11.07.2010

Turkey Time!

On Friday afternoon, with two days of rain and no outside recess, we were feeling a little desperate. Five-year-olds need to move, groove, and get some of their pent up energy out. In a last ditch effort, I found Turkey Time on YouTube. On the spot, Mrs. D. and I made up a dance to go along with it.

Turkey Time, Turkey Time - make the sign for turkey (the letter Q under your chin moving down like a turkey's waddle)

On the Gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble - take both hands near your mouth and open and close them like a turkey's beak gobbling

On Stop - make the sign for stop

On Jump - jump as high as you can

On Squat - do a squat... kindergarteners need to be shown how to do a proper squat!

That's pretty much it... at all other times, just boogie like a Turkey. We'll be having Turkey Time often in the next few weeks. Bring on the gravy!

11.06.2010

Applause.

Yesterday, as we gathered on the carpet to close our day, Connie excused herself to use the bathroom. As the group began to settle down and, in turn, quiet down, it became quite clear that Connie was giving a full out performance in the bathroom. I’ve heard sprouts humming and singing quietly to themselves in there, but this was different. She was on a stage and trying to reach the rafters.

“Shhhhh, let’s listen and enjoy her singing,” I whispered to the class.

We all sat and listened, enthralled. Connie, while unaware of her audience is totally aware of her vocal abilities. She actually has a beautiful voice and she was trying to let everyone in the school hear it.

When she finally finished her tune and emerged, the class erupted into applause. She sauntered over (I silently reminded her to wash her hands with sign language) and looked around with confusion. Why on Earth would the class be applauding her for coming out of the bathroom?

“Connie, we could all hear you singing… you have a beautiful voice, but remember to try and use the bathroom quietly,” I reminded her. During working times, those vocal outbursts could be distracting rather than entertaining.

Someday, when she’s making a million bucks in movies or music, I can say, I witnessed her first distinguished performance… in the bathroom of my classroom.

11.05.2010

Old MacDonald.

At bus time, the topic of Toy Story 3 came up… again. This movie has just come out on DVD and it always seems to pop up at bus time. It doesn’t help that one little sprout has a Buzz Lightyear backpack. I love the Toy Story franchise, so I’m always game for a little Woody, Buzz, and Jessie chat.

“Hey, Mr. A. did you know there are Toy Story 3 toys now?” Luther asked.

“Really, where do you get these toys?” I prodded.

“Well, you have to go to Old McDonald’s and get a Happy Feel and then you can get a Toy Story toy,” he informed me.

Old McDonald’s and a Happy Feel? Oh boy.

“Do you mean McDonald’s?” I hinted.

“Oh yes, McDonald’s for a Happy Feel!” He remembered.

“I think it’s called a Happy Meal, but I could be wrong…” I added.

“I don’t know, I think it’s a Happy Feel Mr. A.,” he finished as his bus was called.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’m a vegetarian. No Old McDonald’s or Happy Feels for me.

11.04.2010

Buddies.

We are lucky enough to have a third grade class come down once a week and read to us. Now because the teacher of this third grade class, I’ll call her Mrs. F., is one of the most amazing, creative, powerful teachers I’ve ever observed, known, and worked with (she’s beautiful too!), last week, she sent Mrs. D. and I an email. Would we like her to work with her class on doing some comprehension, letter and/or word work with our class? Would we? Um, heck yes!

With a little work, we created some simple materials using the charts and lists we’ve been using from The Three Habits of Highly Successful Reading Teachers. We met briefly with Mrs. F. and explained what we’ve been doing and she did the rest.

She made each of her students a folder to keep the materials in and then worked with them to find leveled books that would have lots of the words on our list. She then had her class use highlighting tape to highlight all, yes ALL, of the words on our sight word list so they could have our sprouts identify and read them in the books. Really? THIS is what collaborative learning communities should look like.

After their arrival, I began to circulate and listen in on the reading buddy action. It never ceases to amaze me how a kindergartner will respond to the one on one attention from an older peer. It also never ceases to blow my mind how a third grader will step up to the plate and take a kindergartner under their not fully developed wings. They don’t rise to the occasion, they surpass it.

When I came upon one pair of boys working together, I stood in front of them and watched.

“Do you know that word?” The third grader asked his buddy as he pointed to the word ‘come’ in the book… he had highlighted it with yellow tape before arriving.

My little guy looked at his list and then up at me.

“Go ahead, read your list and see if you find the word,” I prodded.

This is how we’ve done it so far. The children learn to read the list from the top and the repetitive reading as they look at the words help them learn the ‘chant’ first and then eventually be able to read them.

He started at the top and came to the word ‘come’ in the list.

“There it is! Come!” He shouted.

It’s never quiet when our third grade buddies come and that’s just fine. Learning isn't always calm or quiet.

“Look, here it is,” his buddy redirected him to the word ‘come’ in the book.

That little boy looked up at me like he had just discovered how the greatest magic trick in the world was pulled off. These words we’re learning… they’re in books! This was exciting, electrifying stuff.

As I continued to circulate around the room, I saw the same discovery taking place with other groups.

We’ve begun talking about Thanksgiving and what being thankful means. I am truly SO thankful for Mrs. F. and her class too. They are going to help our sprouts become stronger readers… and sooner than I ever would have expected too! I can’t wait to see how these amazing children help us grow and expand our learning all year long.

11.03.2010

Conscious.

A few times a week, we are lucky enough to split our sprouts into two groups for specials. The first group we keep needs some extra help with letter identification and sounds and so we do interventions and activities to help support their needs. Today, during our time together, I was feeling a little tired.

It was nothing to do with school, it was just one of those days. I still drink my one cup of coffee each morning, but sometimes by the afternoon, I begin to drag a little. As I sat with a small group of friends looking for letters in a plate filled with puffy foam stickers, I was wondering if I should increase my daily caffeine consumption.

After completing her alphabet sticker book, Dawn, a little girl who has really struggled to catch on asked to read her book to me. I sat down beside her and she opened her book. She proceeded to say and sing the entire alphabet as she pointed to each letter, something she was never able to do before.

Like a shot of espresso, her enthusiasm woke me up. I had her read the book to Mrs. D. Mrs. D. sent another child over to read his book to me. There was a frenzy of exhilaration as we all realized some major learning was going on… light bulbs were illuminated… and I wasn’t tired anymore. I was completely conscious.

11.02.2010

Santa.

Today while washing hands, I overheard (and was subsequently sucked into) and interesting conversation.

Billy came up to me and reported, “Mr. A., Charlie pushed me.”

Before I even opened my mouth to reply, Charlie interjected, “No I didn’t, No I didn’t, No I didn’t do a thing!”

Now I’d seen the push, so at this point, I was fishing for the facts.

“Charlie, remember how important being honest is, please tell me the truth,” I said.

Before Charlie could answer me, Amy, a witty and bright little girl, offered, “Charlie, remember Santa is always watching to see if you’re being naughty – lying is naughty.”

Charlie looked at me. I nodded in agreement with Amy.

“OK, I did it,” he admitted.

“Thank you for being honest, now what do you have to say to Billy?” I finished.

He turned and apologized.

I guess with Halloween over and the Christmas decorations out in stores, visions of presents and a certain jolly fat man in a red suit are taking over. To be clear, we've just started learning about Thanksgiving, that's it! I'm not sure where Santa entered the picture, but hey, when you teach kindergarten, you’ll use whatever works.

11.01.2010

Saving.

After recess today, Martin walked in and I became alarmed. He appeared to have either dried blood or mud all over his face. Not just a smattering here and there, I mean his face was covered… After he put his coat away, I called him over.

“Martin, are you alright?” I inquired.

“Uh-huh,” he replied.

“Martin, what’s all over your face buddy? Did you get hurt?” I asked.

He looked surprised by my question.

“Martin, what’s all over your face?” I prodded again.

“Oh, I had pudding for lunch!” He said a little too loudly for Quiet Time.

“Well you need to go get a wet paper towel and clean off your face,” I instructed.

“Oh, I was saving it for later,” he said attempting to lick his face with his tongue… I think he was going for a laugh and it was hard to hold one back.

“Well, clean it off for me please,” I finished.

Saving it for later? I think the poor kid was going through sugar withdrawal from Halloween.