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.]