Saturday, December 21, 2013

Embracing the Christmas excitement

You know the saying -- never fight a battle you know you can't win. Well, that's what the week before Christmas break is like in a kindergarten classroom. Do we abandon all learning, expectations, and routines? No. But, let's be honest -- if you try to ignore the Christmas madness, you will be fighting a losing battle.

So, I just embrace it! Build learning opportunities into themed activities. Teach compassion and model the spirit of simple giving by making, wrapping, and delivering presents. And, just remember, they are five- and six-year-olds. You, as a teacher, cannot compete with the hype of Santa. A child's kindergarten teacher is a rockstar in their eyes. Santa holds god-like status. Don't even try to beat him at the attention game.

Here are a few picture highlights of Christmas in our classroom. Not pictured (unfortunately) is my favorite Christmas tradition with my class -- caroling around the school. I play guitar and love playing with my kinders. They love to sing -- especially Christmas songs! So, we practice all month and then spread Christmas joy around the building by knocking on classroom (or office) doors and singing a song with the guitar. I can't decide what the best part is -- the sweet sound of their voices or the looks on the faces of our surprised listeners (especially the teachers!)

Dear Santa...

I picked a couple letters to share with you. They were all cute, but these ones cracked me up because these kids have some big demands. Santa, you have your work cut out for you on these ones.

This one was just funny -- [Dear Santa, I want a stocking. I want a stuffed animal Santa.]

[Dear Santa, I want a wolf. I want a digipet. I have been good.]

[Dear Santa, I want a dragon. I want a kitten. I have been good.]

[Dear Santa, I want a happy birthday. I want a beautiful world. I have been good.]

Sweetest journal ever -- "I am sorry Santa that some people don't believe in you."

"Star Word" Christmas Trees
Channeling Christmas fever into "star word" (high-frequency reading words) practice.

"Cookies for Santa plates" -- Parent gifts
The last couple years, I have made handprint calendars with the kinders. As much as I loved them, they were SO time-consuming. With only 3 school weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, we just didn't have time for them. In addition, in the past couple years, I have received two thank-yous (verbal or written) from parents for the incredibly time-consuming gifts. 

[Side note -- to the parents out there, if your child brings home a sweet gift for you, please thank your child's teacher. Many people may think these supplies were bought by the school or that making a parent gift is an expected aspect of the job. Both are untrue. Teachers come up with the ideas, buy the supplies (remember, a $2-3 gift x 20+ students is not cheap!), and in some schools (not mine -- thank goodness!) risk getting "in trouble" with administrators for taking time away from curriculum to create presents. Just a little side note!]

So, this year (thanks to my teammate's idea!) we tried something new -- Cookies for Santa plates. They turned out SO CUTE! I honestly love them so much... I couldn't wait for the kids to bring them home to their moms and dads. I wrote the words around the edge of a ceramic plate with a thick-tip Sharpie marker. Then, the kids drew their pictures (I gave them a few choices/ideas) with permanent markers. I baked the plates at 350 degrees for 20 minutes to set the drawings. Adorable!

Thumbprint Light Cards
Cute and simple. My kinders used watercolor paints to add their "thumbprint bulbs."

Merry Christmas from Mrs. A's kinders!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Kids are funnier during the holidays

I honestly think it's true. The kids are funnier around the holidays. My kinders have been on FIRE lately. Seriously hilarious. A little sampling for your reading pleasure:


Student 1: "I love Santa."
Student 2: "Me too."
Student 1: "I love Santa because he's the nicest guy ever."
Student 2: "Yeah because he leaves everybody lots of presents."
Student 1: "Yeah, but only if you're good. If you're bad, you get coal. And coal is just another word for poop."


Mrs. A: "I'm going to Jamaica to be in Miss Mayhan's wedding. I get to be in her wedding. I'm going to wear a pretty dress and stand next to her while she's getting married in her beautiful white dress."
Student: "Oh! I get it. You're going to be that guy up front with the book."
Ha ha! Nope, not that part, buddy.


Mrs. A: "This movie (Rudolph) is really special to me. It's a very old movie -- I even watched it when I was a little girl at Christmas!"
Student: "You mean like at the first Christmas? Like when Jesus was born?"
Mrs. A: "Nope... I'm not that old."


And, last but not least, I am not proud of myself, but I just pulled out my cell phone to call Santa. Yep, it happened. But... it WORKED!!! :)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The things they don't tell you

I think the majority of us teachers go through pretty rigorous preparation programs nowadays. I don't know about your college experience, but mine was anything from easy. When I started my methods courses and in-the-classroom experiences, I worked my tail off. So, overall, I think most colleges do a very good job of preparing teachers for the ever-changing and high-accountability job that we all do everyday.

I had some really interesting classes in college -- and I still remember some of the important things my professors told me along the way. The importance of the first week of the year (teachers... remember that book?!) - how to set up classroom routines - planning with objectives - reading standards - making modifications and accommodations. The list goes on. No matter where you went to school, and no matter what you teach, somewhere along your preparation path, you heard these same things.

But, there are things they don't tell you. 

I'm not sure if it's unintentional (it just never fits into a syllabus) or completely intentional (so that you aren't scared away from the job!) But, there are many things you will never know until you start teaching. To be honest, even if a peer or teacher told you these things along the way, you wouldn't believe them... until you lived them. And you WILL live every single one of them sometime.

This week for me has been a week full of the things they don't tell you. Yes, after teaching for 5 years, I have seen them all already. But, they still have a way of sneaking up on you  and reminding you of the unexpected and utterly unpredictable nature of this job. 

  • You're going to get your heart broken. This was by far the hardest one for me to swallow. And, no, I'm not "hardened" to it yet. I still get my heart broken -- every year. In fact - I never will be, and I know that's part of what makes up the kind of teacher I am. It doesn't matter if you teach in the inner-city or out in the 'burbs... kids and their sad, sad, uncontrollable lives are going to break your heart. Maybe teachers who head into inner-city schools are more prepared for the heart break. I doubt it, but maybe. But, I can tell you that when I started teaching in a middle-class neighborhood in the best district in Omaha, I was not prepared for the heartache I would drag home with me. It follows me around like a shadow every year. You're going to get your heart broken.
  • A kid is going to throw up on you. Yep. It's going to happen. Even if you don't have your own children, you will end up rubbing the back of a tiny little guy holding a trash can during the Valentine's Day party. If you teach at my school, this happened to nearly everyone yesterday (and if not on you, dangerously close to you). A kid is going to throw up on (or by) you.
  • You went into this job to work with kids. Surprise: you get to deal with parents an equal (if not more) amount of time. Find the joy in it and build relationships. This is my biggest regret from my first year or two of teaching -- I didn't engage the parents and build relationships like I do now. No, not everyone is going to love you. And, no, not every teacher is going to like working with parents. But, it's something you have to embrace or it will drag you down. It's an inevitable and integral part of the job (that no one prepares you for). You are going to deal with parents.
  • Said parents are going to attack you. That might sound harsh, but there's no way to sugar-coat it. You are going to encounter parents that are going to attack, insult, and criticize you in every way they can. Nothing is safe -- your wardrobe, your intelligence, your style of teaching -- they will attack anything they can to get to you. NOW, I have had the pleasure of working with some of the most amazing families over the last 5 years. Parents I still e-mail with, hug after school, receive Christmas cards from, and remember drying their tears on the last day of kindergarten. But, in the same breath, I have had parents make accusations, criticize how I do things, and worst of all, flat-out lie. However, in my experiences, the successful and lasting relationships I have built with families have far out-weighed the negative ones. Even the e-mails I've received that keep me up at night steaming mad are soon forgotten. Do yourself a favor and surround yourself with other teachers and co-workers that believe in you, support you, and lend an ear when needed. They will help you survive. Because parents are going to attack you.
  • And, last, but not least -- most of the time, this is a thankless job. Painfully thankless some times. Don't get me wrong, the heart-felt thank-you cards, the hand-drawn pictures, and the sweetest compliments I receive from parents all make a huge difference. So, parents out there, please know you are making a difference in your child's teacher's life! However, the pure nature of this job prevents those things from overshadowing the thanklessness you will frequently experience.  Your first year or two, the thanklessness will hit you like a wave and catch you completely off guard. As the years go on, you will sadly start to anticipate it. Yes, it still hurts, but you learn to expect it. When you bust your tail and never miss a day of work, no one pats you on the back for it. Most people will never know of or acknowledge the hours you spend vamping up lessons to be high-interest, engaging, and fun. And those many, many dollars you spend on your classroom to make it a welcoming home? No, you won't see those coming back in your bank account. But, the secret is not to ignore or shut-out the thanklessness.... learn to embrace it. Find the thank-yous in the smiles of your students. Find the thank-yous in the "I did it!" look on a kid's face after the weeks you have spent with him/her on a certain skill. Remember to have pride in what you do -- even if no one around you seems to notice how hard you work -- notice it yourself. Take a moment to look around your classroom and at your students and know this was all possible because of what you put into it. Even when the words aren't there, find the thank-yous in what you do. And most importantly, you'd better LOVE this job or it's not worth doing. Plain and simple. If you don't LOVE it, don't do it. Because, most of the time, this is a thankless job.
With all that being said, I feel privileged to do the job I do. I love what I do, regardless of all the things they don't tell you. In fact, I'm pretty sure I love it even more because of them.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How a lizard taught my class to write

Anyone who is debating having a class pet... it's worth it. I can't even really explain it. It just adds "something" to the classroom.

More than anything, our class pet has taught my students just as much as I have. Our leopard gecko has taught my students compassion, appreciation of living things, kindness, and to look for the beauty in the small things. And, yes, there is beauty in a reptile if you look closely.

However, I have to say the best and most valuable thing Ecko (our gecko) has brought to our classroom is the power of writing.

I know, it sounds strange.

But, it has happened every year since I've had him. Sometime in the Fall semester, our lizard taught my class to write. In fact, he has teaches them more about writing than I ever have or will.

And, here is why -- to teach a kindergartner to write, you have to teach them about letter formation, using periods, how to put words together to make a sentence, spacing, sounding out words, using references to spell words... the list goes on and on. But, to be honest, all those things pale in comparison to the two things that truly make a child successful in writing -- motivation and practice. And the worst part is... you can't teach a kid to be motivated! And, you can force a child to practice, but it won't be meaningful. In the end, the child must be self-motivated to practice writing in meaningful ways.

That's where the lizard comes in.

I don't tell them to write about or to Ecko. They just do it. He somehow magically sparks the motivation to write in my students. They write about him in their journal, they draw and label his cage, they write him letters and color him pictures, they make him Christmas cards, and they genuinely and meaningfully pour their hearts out in little love notes. 

There are days when I feel like I'm pulling out teeth trying to get them to write one sentence about their pictures, yet they will write six sentences about why they love their lizard.

I love the responsibility Ecko has added to our classroom -- the unique compassion he has taught my students. But, more than anything, I am thankful for the way he has taught my class not to just write, but to love writing for a purpose.

[A small sampling of writing just from this week! -- I find these little gems littering the table and carpet all around his cage. Our lizard has been a little "under the weather" lately, so the kids have been extra caring and sweet!!]

[I love Ecko. You are my favorite.]

[I love Ecko very much.]

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving in Kindergarten

So... I love Thanksgiving in kindergarten. We do it BIG in our classroom [read some of my posts from last year here, here, here, here, & here].

Well, this year we kept it pretty much the same, but with some great additions. Here are some of the highlights:

Our Thankful Tree
Always one of my favorite things. The kids "take to" learning about thankfulness so easily. It's one of the things we lose as we grow-up... the ability to just simply admire the simple things in life.

Disguise the Turkey!
One of my great teammates came up with the idea of "disguising" the turkeys! They are, after all, trying to keep away from the hunters! So, each of the kinders "disguised" their turkeys at home and brought them back to school to share. The kids LOVED seeing them, and I loved getting families involved! Here were some of the really good ones:

Christmas tree disguise

Present disguise

Another Christmas tree disguise

Peacock disguise

Fairy princess disguise

Garden disguise

Football player disguise

Bat disguise

And of course... Our Kinder Thanksgiving Feast
A wonderful way to teach and celebrate a simple version of the First Thanksgiving. I love the community aspect of the meal, and seeing the kinders try new foods!

Happy Thanksgiving from our class to you!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How DO you cook a turkey?

This is one of my favorite things I do with the kinders each year. We do a big Thanksgiving unit in our classroom, so we have been learning all about the first Thanksgiving, current Thanksgiving traditions, turkeys, etc. We also have an amazingly adorable kindergarten feast the week of Thanksgiving! [Check it out HERE.]

This week, I pulled each one of my little ones and tell them this: "Let's pretend YOU are supposed to  bring the turkey to our Thanksgiving feast. I want you to tell me everything you would do." Then, I write down their words word-for-word. 

In a word, they are PRICELESS.

I thought I'd share them here -- I've bolded my favorites. [I mixed in a few of the cute pictures, too!]
  • Go to Baker's. Get a turkey. Go home and cook it. Eat it with your family -- that means sharing!
  • Catch it with a net. Pick up the net. Put a top on it so the turkey doesn't get out. Take it home. Cook it. Eat it.
  • Cook it with the stove. Check the time. Take it out. Cut it into 20 pieces and eat it.
  • Buy a turkey. Bring it home. Cut it with scissors. Put stuffing on it. Turn the oven to 60 degrees. Cook it for 4 hours. Eat it.
  • Kill it with a gun so it dies -- so that you can eat it. Take it home. Put peppers and tomatoes under it. Put cheese on top. Then, eat it.
  • Buy it at the store. Bring it to your house. Cut it a little bit. Put salt and pepper on it. Put it in the oven for 30 minutes. Take it out and let it cool. Then, eat it.
  • Go buy a turkey from the store. It should be around $5. Put it in a pan and put it in the oven. Cook it for 7 minutes. Eat it.
  • Find it in the woods. You know -- go in the bushes and use your eyes to find a turkey. Then, find it. Then, eat it.
  • Get a turkey out of the freezer and put it in your truck. Bring it home and cut it into 13 pieces. Take out the bones. Put all the pieces on a plate. Then, everyone eats it!
  • Look for a turkey outside. Take it home. Cook it. Eat it.
  • Buy a turkey at Wal-Mart. Put some vitamins on the turkey so it doesn't get sick. Bake it for 10 minutes. Carry it to the party, open it, and everyone will have a great feast.
  • Get a turkey at the store. Smooth it. Put it in a pot. Cook it in the microwave for 15 minutes. Take it out and let it cool for a little bit. Then, eat it!
  • Hunt for it. Cook it in the oven for 13 minutes. Cool it down. Add some pepper and eat it.
  • Go to the pumpkin patch. Pick a red turkey. Pet it. Put it in a pan. Put sprinkles on it. Put it in a 40 degree oven. Cook it for 100 days. Eat it.
  • Go get it from the store. Put it in a pan. Put it in the oven. Then, eat it.
  • You are supposed to add some like vinegar or something. You add stuffing on the bottom. You get the cold turkey at a store. You put it in the oven -- it has to be pretty hot. Don't forget to use that squeezer thing.
  • Mommy and daddy do it. 
  • Try to catch a turkey. Shoot it with a fun. Put it in the oven. Cook it until it beeps. Get it out and cool it. Put it in a bowl and eat it.
  • Buy it, put it in the oven. Take it out. Put the dressing on it.
The last one needs an explanation. We sent home paper turkeys last Friday and challenged the kinders and their families to "disguise" the turkeys to save them from becoming Thanksgiving dinner! The kids then brought them back to school to share. For example, this little girl disguised her turkey as a Christmas tree:

I think this last little guy got these things a little mixed up... I just laughed! :)
  • Put it in the oven for 5 minutes. Take it out and put clothes on it and color it with crayons so it looks like you. Then, bring it to school.
On the days when this job is really hard... and please don't be fooled by my love for my career, there are days when it is really hard... well, on those days, I need to read these and just remember to smile.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My new dream job

I love my job (I think you should know that by now).

But, I'm realistic. 

Do I think I could teach forever? Sure! But, do I think I could teach the way I do now forever? No. I currently pour 100% of my energy into my job. And I love it! I reap the benefits from that sacrifice with wonderful classes, fun-filled days, and a classroom I love walking into everyday. But, I'm realistic. I know that one day, when there's multiple children running around our house and I'm truly exhausted, I know I won't be able to teach the way I do. 

So, I got my Master's degree in something new -- Early Childhood Special Education. I wanted to open up my options just in case I ever needed or wanted a new career. However, it had to revolve around my love for children, passion for early childhood quality education, and interest and love for special education.

This morning, on the Today show, I saw my new dream job. This is it -- this is sooo what I need to do one day if I'm ever not teaching!!

Check out the website -- watch the short video. I hope it warms your heart the way it warms mine. If it doesn't, you should check because you might be dead. :)


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Recent funny and happy things

We have had some great days in kindergarten lately. Here's a recap of the funny and happy things that have been happening in kindergarten lately...

Hilarious, random comment from a student...

Student: "Hey Mrs. Anderson, do you miss Michael Jackson?"
Me (quite shocked): "Sure."
Student: "Me too. Because I didn't see him never. And he died because he was a zombie."

Oh... and the story continued! Any primary teacher knows what you do when a kid says or does something really funny like this... you parade them to your teacher friends and make them tell them, too. 

Me: "What do you know about Michael Jackson?"
Student: "He was a really great singer."
Me: "Yes, he was. Did you know he was a good dancer, too?"
Student: "Yeah! Here's my favorite move." (spins and grabs his crotch - ha!)
Me: "Wow. So, tell me more about how he died."
Student: "Well, he was a zombie. But he was a good zombie. Like a zombie that killed the bad zombies."
Me: "Oh, I see. And how did he die?"
Student: "Duh. The zombie master."

Time to stop... this is just too funny!

Today, a little girl from the kindergarten classroom next to me went down a wet slide at recess. So, she headed into the health room to get new pants.

The health room para handed her a pair of blue sweatpants. 

The little girl looked at her, held the pants up to her shirt, scoffed and handed them back. She said, "Ummm... these are NOT going to work with this shirt." Ha!

My little author is back! She just keeps bringing these great little books in -- probably because I make such a huge deal of them. :) But, they are just amazing! It's like watching a little mind unravel the intricate nature of language right before my eyes.

Here's her latest creation -- seriously adorable! [Kinder translation provided!]

[The worm and her friend.]

[One day, there was a worm and she lived in the dirt.]

[And she met a boy worm and they ate leaves together.] -- See the bow on her head?!

[Until they were full.]

[And then an anteater was going to eat the little worms.]

[But, the anteater could not eat the worms because they were too wiggly.]

Random comment from the end of the day... honestly not related to anything we were talking about! (That's just how kinders think.)

Student: "Hey, Mrs. A, you know that kindergarten Thanksgiving feast we're going to have?"
Me: "Yeah."
Student: "Well, I can't eat mashed potatoes because of my gag reflex."

???? ha!

And, last but not least, a happy art project -- cute and successful! Last year, my class had so much fun decorating a poster based on the book Bear Snores On (see it here). It was for a school event. This week, Bear Snores On was our "book of the week" so I decided to have all of my kinders make a fun bear hibernation scene.

To say the kids loved it would be an understatement! They LOVED the fluffly "snow" (Elmer's glue + shaving cream). Plus, they turned out soooo cute!