Thursday, March 29, 2007

Top ten list

Top ten things NOT to do during a parent/teacher conference:

1) Don't automatically assume the teacher will be able to accommodate your schedule. Remember, you are making one, or two or even three conference appointments, but we are making as many as twenty three. We will try very hard to accomdate you, but please don't get mad at us if we can't. And please, please, confirm your appointment as soon as possible. Not the day before. And if we track you down for the second or even third time to confirm, have the decency to reply.

2) Don't show up late. We know you are busy. You have children, and jobs, and babysitter issues, and car troubles and goodness knows what else. But so does the teacher. We manage to show up on time, with a carefully organized folder of your child's work and a sheet written out about their progress to date. If we can do all that, then please, show up on time.

3) Don't try to read the notes that the teacher has made. We will communicate everything on those notes to you.

4) If the directions from the principal are specific and clearly state that you are NOT to request a teacher for next year by name, then follow the directions. Just like we tell your children, the same rules apply to you that apply to everyone else. Plus, then the teacher is placed in the awkward position of having to explain the entire placement process and inform you that, just like in life, there are no guarantees.

5) Don't assume that we can control things that are far out of our control: such as the arrival of the CMT scores. We have no idea when they'll show up. They are the STATE mastery tests, not the SCHOOL mastery tests. We'll get them the same time you do.

6) Don't tell us it's not our job to handle social problems that arise. First of all, we would never presume to tell you what is and isn't in your job description and secondly, if it happens in the classroom, during the seven and a half hours we are with your child, then it IS our job. Teaching and learning can't happen if children are not able or ready to learn or be taught. So it is very much our job to handle it when your child gets upset because their friend wouldn't play with them at recess.

7) Don't walk into the classroom and poke around the teacher's desk when she isn't in the room. Again, we would never presume to walk into your office and poke through your things. Why would you?

8) Don't keep talking after another parent has knocked on the door TWICE, and the teacher has offered to meet with you at another time to continue the conversation about your child. As mentioned in #1, we are meeting with as many as twenty three parents.

9) Don't ask us to make parenting decisions for you. Some of us aren't even parents yet, nor are we the parents of your child. We don't know if you should buy your child a computer, or if they should watch more or less TV, or if you should discipline them more or less, or any of the other countless parenting decisions you ask us to make. YOU are the parent, you make those decisions.

10) And please, please, please, don't put the teacher in the middle of your marriage spat. Don't tell us to communicate something to your divorced spouse, don't ask us a question in the hopes that our answer will resolve a disagreement you are having, don't flat out tell us you are disagreeing and you want our opinion. That is definitely NOT in our job description.

Monday, March 26, 2007


My little group of darlings made it through the hell that is the CMT's. It was hard. It was hard for them to sit still for 60 minutes at a time, it was hard for me not to cringe when I noticed they were doing a problem incorrectly, it was hard for them to not turn pencils into drum sticks, or nails to be driven into their erasers, or walrus tusks, or... but the hardest part, the part that goes against everything that makes me a teacher, is when they raise their hands and say, "Mrs. S. I don't get this question." And my response has to be, simply, "Reread the question." Then, when they ask me if I'd read it for them I have to tell them I can't. I can't tell you how much it broke my heart to see their little shoulders slump and their faces fall when they realized that their teacher couldn't help them at all. Couldn't even read a question for them. Of course, my sadness quickly turned to frustration when some of them finished in only 20 minutes. And my frustration turned to pure annoyance when I discovered that those same students wrote one sentence responses to reading comprehension questions. One sentence!
All that aside, one of the moments that made me happiest in the midst of the painful testing was when a parent told me that their child didn't feel very anxious. She went on to say that her daughter really listened when I explained that I didn't do well on these kind of tests and it made her feel a lot better. (Nothing like putting myself down to make my students more comfortable!)
Now that the testing is over, I'm encountering another problem that I had forgotten about. So much of our time the last month and a half has been taken up with test preparation or test taking that my students seem to have forgotten what it is like to have a "normal" day in the classroom. I feel like I'm back in September: revisiting and naming all of our rules. Reminding them how things work. No, you can't get up in the middle of my minilesson to sharpen your pencil. No, you can't have a ten minute conversation about what game you'll play at recess in the middle of reading. Yes, you have to do homework again and actually hand it in. It feels like, even though it's almost April and I am thinking about turning them over to the fourth grade teachers, we are back to the beginning of third grade. Let's just hope the tests didn't also cause them to forget all the things they've learned thus far.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Santas, Fairies and Leprechauns, Oh My!

Being a teacher definitely keeps you up on the latest trends, and little kid fairytales. We've all heard of Santa Claus, that jolly fella who visits Christmas Eve and leaves presents if you are good. And of course, everyone knows the elusive lady herself--the Tooth Fairy. I'm sure I'm not the only kid who went to sleep wondering what in the world she did with all of those teeth! But have you heard, dear blogging world, of leprechauns? No, no, not the kind that frolick about near the proverbial pot o' gold. But leprechauns who visit houses, cause mischief and mayham and maybe leave behind a little sweet treat in the form of gold coins? Well, apparently they do exist. Or so I was informed today but at least ten of my current third graders.
One student solemnly reported that, while his entire family, except his Mom and dog, was away from home, a leprechaun rearranged all the furniture in the playroom and caused the dog to bark uncontrollably. Another let me know that the leprechaun that visited their house turned toilet water green and left gold coins scattered throughout the house. A third is hopeful that she caught a picture of the little guy after setting up what sounded like an elaborate Rube-Goldbergesque trap to take a photo. One student told an awed class that he caught the leprechaun but when he went to open his hands there was a gold coin instead. One more student awoke to Irish soda bread crumbs sprinkled all over the table and shamrock stickers affixed to all the slumbering members of the household.
Move over Santa....hold on Tooth Fairy, there's a new gig in town. And far be it from me to dash any hopes of eventually catching, or even spotting, the elusive little people in green!

Thursday, March 15, 2007


People go into teaching for different make a difference, work with children, learn every one ever goes into it for the money! What you don't realize until you are teaching--at least at the elementary level--is that you will become The World to these little people.

It's funny, I forget that sometimes. I forget just how much I mean to them. Then something will happen and all of a sudden it will hit me--these little guys look up to me so much. For one year of their life I am everything. OK, OK, I'm not crazy enough to think I'm as important as say, an uncle or a cousin.....but I'm definitely pretty darn important to them.

Today that point was driven home to me. It was nearing the end of the day, I had ten minutes to kill, so we decided to make paper fortune tellers to practice our multiplication facts. (Anything to make multiplication fun!) One of my students knew how to fold the paper (thank goodness too, because I certainly didn't. I had the directions, but really, it's so much easier to get one of the kids to show everyone!). So I invited him to come to the front of the class to be the teacher. He got started on his directions, and a colleague walked in. I stood in the back of the room and kept an eye out while I chatted away. What I saw was this little guy, rather shy and reserved, but well behaved, undergo a transformation. He turned into me. He started using my words, he even walked around the way I do and he (and this cracked me up) even threatened to pull out our yellow cards! (Classroom management system: one yellow card = warning, face down = time out, second yellow card = loss of recess minutes). I started laughing to see this little shy guy imitate me, but later on I realized just how carefully they notice, just how much they see and just how much they internalize. I mean--he turned into me. Crazy. It reminds me that for one year of their lives, I really am Everything.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Two worlds collide

That's right, I took the plunge....I created a blog for my students. I'm sure some of you are surprised by this seeing as how I don't post all that frequently on my blog, nor do I read nearly as many as I wish I could. But that's just it, see....I love my blog. I love reading other blogs. If I had more time then I'd definitely post more, and comment more, and search out more amazing blogs. But something always gets in the way... cleaning the house, planning a lesson, cooking dinner, correcting papers, calling a friend, paying know, life things. However, the first time blogging was mentioned at a meeting I was sitting at in school, I jumped. Blogging?!? Something fun and neat and totally new?? In my classroom?? Sign ME up!
And I did it too. This didn't become one of those hazy "yeah I really want to do that but we'll see if I get around to it eventually" things (which is what often happens after a professional development meeting). I actually did it. I created a blog for my students. And they are actually using it! More importantly, they seem to be enjoying using it! Yay for me!

Here's the problem: whenever you do anything that is cutting edge: someone comes along and wants you to share it. Suddenly you are The Expert and everyone should come and talk to YOU. Better yet, you should give a presentation in front of hundreds of other educators so they can see just how easy! fun! educational! advanced! it is. Not only are colleagues now asking me technical questions that I honestly don't have the answer to, but I've somehow been talked into doing a whole presentation on blogging and literacy at a conference in Cromwell. (Trust me, I did try to say no to this one. I know some of you don't believe me, knowing my penchant for agreeing with everything, but really really I tried to say no. Actually, when asked, my first response was, literally, "eek! I'm not ready for that!" But the woman was rather persistent and literally followed me around one Friday morning at breakfast and kept talking. And talking. And talking. Until I had to say yes just to get her to stop. Very effective tool I might add--the talking. But I DID say No. Sigh.) So, now of course the thought of presenting in front of goodness knows how many educators has me panicked (OK, OK, it's not until next November, but that means I really need to work out all the kinks with this class, so next year it's up and running smoothly by November) and thrown me into a bit of a tizzy. Suddenly I felt the need to clarify my educational objectives, identify my student goals, reconfigure my blog....suddenly, it feels a little bit more like work and a little bit less like fun. But at least it's still blogging, right?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Where I've been....

It's been awhile I know....I swear, I want to post more regularly, but well.....things just get in the way. In my defense, I was away for a week. Here was my home away from home:

Notice the color of the water? We were in the Caribbean after all, where the water really is a shade of aquamarine you can't see on the East Coast. The ship, Legend of the Seas, departed from Tampa, Florida and sailed to Grand Caymen, Cozumel, Belize and Costa Maya. I'll admit I was initially nervous, unexpectedly cold weather and a rocky start left many of the passengers (myself included!) shivering and trying to keep from running to the nearest bathroom. But things calmed down, and warmed up, the very next day and the rest of the trip was filled with sunshine, warmth and adventures.
We managed to do an excursion at every stop; except for our first one, but only because it was cancelled. My all time favorite was riding at ATV through a rainforst in Belize. C'mon, how many people can say they've done THAT in their lifetime?

There I am, ready to go. Just like the cruise, I initially had some difficulty. To hear my husband tell it, I crashed into a tree. My side of the story is that the tree jumped in the way. Actually, there was no crashing involved....just a little problems with the brakes and the steering. Driving an ATV is not at all like driving a's the gentlest of touches to make the vehicle move where you want it to, and a backward push with your right heel to make yourself stop. Once I got those two things straight in my head, I was fantastic. It just took me a few tries. Hey, there's one in every group, right!?! Halfway through our ATV ride, we climbed a rather steep staircase to a cave, where, before we entered, we were handed headlamps. We then proceeded to tild our bodies almost horizontal and wiggle our way into a cave to see some Mayan ruins. I was too busy wiggling to get a picture of the entrance, but here's another shot....
OK, so that is not actually Mayan ruins, but it is a really cool stalagtite that we all, tourists that we are, took a picture next too. See the headlamps? Yup, I wasn't joking about those! Here's some Mayan pottery that we saw in that very same cave.
Pretty neat, huh? To think, that pottery has been sitting there, for thousands of years.....just waiting. We also found something else waiting--a tiny fruit bat. He was adorable, and didn't even blink an eye when the guide shined his laser light in his face and the crazy tourists took pictures of him. Nor did he move when the teenage girls that were with us freaked out and started screaming THAT THEY ABSOLUTELY WOULD NOT TAKE ANOTHER STEP OH MY GOD THERE IS A BAT YOU NEVER SAID THERE WOULD BE ANIMALS IN THE RAINFOREST I DON'T LIKE NATURE DO YOU SEE THE BAT IT IS RIGHT THERE AND I AM NOT MOVING GET ME OUT OF HERE. The guide even handled the hysterics, while the rest of us discreetly rolled our eyes and kept trekking.

Another day we got to see some more Mayan ruins. Here we are at Cozumel, checking out some temples built by the Mayans. (Can you tell I married a history teacher!?!?)

See how tiny I look compared to the temple?

How in the world did they get
all those stones up so high!?!

And of course, what cruise would be complete without some friends dropping by for a visit?

All in all, we had a fantastic time, and even better, came home to an extra day off- because of SNOW!