Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Elf on the Shelf in the classroom pt. 2

As the holidays approached in room 211, Jingles' mischeif continued. The first week was of course a little rough, being that Jingles lost his magic when one of my little boys touched him. Following directions is an important life skill, friends. We got back on track after using the Elf Magic Recovery Dust that Santa sent through overnight express mail to our classroom. 

My kiddos came in to find Jingles peering over the role sheet with his own little pencil and paper, crafting out a naughty and nice list. 
The next day my kiddos searched long and hard for him before they finally found Jingles hiding in a pocket chart. 
I was in a little bit of a hurry trying to snap a photo the following day but sneaky Jingles changed the date one our schedule to December 25. 
On Thursday he was front and center on our easel, holding hands with a stuffed animal from our classroom. 
On Friday of week 2, my kids came in and couldn't find him anywhere! There were some clues, though. Sparkly footprints all over the room...
So my kids searched and searched...
..until they finally found Jingles hiding back in the listening center eating a pancake one of my kids made for him the day before. And yes, this is a real, elf-sized pancake.
On Monday of the week of holiday vacation, my kids came in to find that Jingles had built his own little house in the classroom library. 
My kiddos are too sweet. They thought this must mean that he was cold. The next day, they found him watching over them from the mail center. They fed him a snack and built him a house. 
Since Jingles now had a nice warm house, he climbed into bed for the next day.
By the Thursday before the Holiday break, it appeared that Jingles was getting a little homesick. He was sitting on the North Pole on the globe.
On Friday, the last day before break, my kids came in to find that Jingles had die-cut snowflakes and spread them out ALL over the room to make a white Christmas-party for them. He sat on the bookshelf, holding one of his creations. 
Jingles has gone back to the North Pole, at least until next year. One of my girls drew his portrait, though, so we'll always remember him.
Fellow teachers (and parents), what are your Elf on the Shelf ideas for next year?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Elf on the Shelf in the classroom

I just love the holidays. This is absolutely my favorite time of the year. Teaching third grade, there is something magical about my students at this time of year, too. Maybe its because this is one of the last years where they whole-heartedly believe in Santa. 

I've been laughing over some of the cute pins I've seen of Elf on the Shelf ideas and since the W household won't be having any kiddos for many Christmases to come, I decided to get an Elf for my class. He arrived last Monday in a freezing cold box straight from the North Pole. I wish I had taken a picture of it in the morning when I prepared it, but I totally forgot in the hurry to get everything for the day ahead ready. I wrapped the elf up with a letter from Santa in red bulletin board paper, addressed it to our class, and put a pretend stamp on. Then, I put the box in the freezer for a half an hour while I got everything else ready for the day and started morning meeting. I asked my morning parapro to take a form down to the office for me and she returned carrying the package, saying it had just been delivered. The kids were ecstatic when we opened the package and they named our elf Jingles. We sat Jingles on top of our bookshelf then went about our morning routine. 
The kids had gym in the classroom because there was a holiday concert rehearsal in the gym. Luckily, while I was making copies, we had a fire drill. I came outside and met up with my class, who were in gym. They finished up gym outside (where the game was going to happen anyway) and when everyone got back inside, our sneaky little elf had changed the date on the white board to December 25.
I found some cute freebies on teachers pay teachers and made my kids an elf journal to record Jingles' mischief. They have to complete it in their own time (snack, after morning work, etc.) and it isn't required but they all seem to be interested in doing it. 
Some of my kiddos took it upon themselves to write letters to Jingles in their spare time. 
And not wanting to open a can of worms for the next fourteen days, Jingles wrote one form letter back.
On Tuesday, sneaky Jingles was hiding on top of the projector for the smart board. At some point during the day, he fell off, which the kids loved because they though he was so intently listening to our discussion that he slipped off. Luckily Jingles was unharmed so I sat him back on the shelf. Only adults are allowed to touch Santa's scout elves, as you may remember from the book. We went about our business and then as we were cleaning up our Daily 5 centers, the unthinkable happened. Someone touched the elf. 

Most of my kiddos thought this wouldn't be a big deal but a couple of them were really stressing over it. And sure enough, when they came in in the morning, Jingles still sat right where we left him and all their letters were left unanswered. The only thing that was different, was that there was a letter from Santa. I wrote a pretty cute little poem about the situation but I'll keep in private in case I ever want to do an elf on the shelf unit on teachers pay teachers. Some of my students were really upset but I thought this was a good teachable moment about following directions. They wrote apology letters to Santa and I hurried out at lunch to mail them to the North Pole. 
Even after apologizing, nothing changed. Jingles sat still all day. He was even still sitting in the same place the next morning. But there was another letter waiting from Santa. Inside was a second letter and a package of elf magic recover dust, which I sprinkled on Jingles.
Jingles probably would have stayed still for one more day to finish teaching a lesson about following directions, but one of my students' elves was hiding in her bookbag that morning so I felt like they needed to get into some mischief together. At lunch, they made a snowflake chain but left all the scrap pieces of paper on the carpet for us to clean up. Naughty, naughty elves but boy were my third graders happy that Jingles had his magic back.
My kids made paper ornaments for our little desktop tree throughout the week. Then, on Friday, Jingles hung a gold garland to help decorate the tree. Ten more days until break - I wonder what mischief he'll get into between now and then. ;)

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Emergency Room

Well it seems I've kind of abandoned my teaching blog. I apologize - it seems keeping up with it is the last thing on my mind after work sometimes. I have started working at my new job and am so excited about the year ahead of us in 3rd grade.

Moving schools was such a great move for me professionally. I'm able to teach in a style that I feel is best practice. My school day is shorter so I have more time to plan my lessons after school and it doesn't cut into my personal life as much. I can wear nice clothes to work without them being ruined and I'm generally just in a better mood. With all of this being said, there are moments where I feel a little guilty.

On the last day of school last year, we had a staff meeting after the kids went home as kind of a "summer send-off." All of the administration spoke and our curriculum supervisor said something along the lines of...

If you were a doctor you could choose to work in a private practice where you could go home early and have a flexible schedule. Where you didn't have to handle life or death situations every single day and where you could have dinner with your family. Or you could work in the emergency room. The emergency room where you're always on call, where you never get a moment to sit down, where the stress level is high, and where you have to make life or death decisions every day. But you would be making the biggest difference and helping the people who need it most. By working here, you are working in the emergency room.

Which is true. In my school last year, I was working in a school where I was really needed. The kids needed good role models and dedicated teachers. Which felt good, but also took a lot out of me.

So at moments, I feel guilty for where I am right now. But at the same time, I feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. My school now reminds me so much of the school where I worked immediately after I graduated in South Carolina and was so happy. Its a good fit and the kids still need me. They need me to be a good example too and they need my passion for teaching and my love for trying new, best practice approaches. And I feel pretty fortunate to have a job that several hundred other teachers applied for. It is going to be the best year this year at my new school but I can't help saying a prayer for the kids and my former coworkers in "the emergency room" that they have the best year, too.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Big changes for Lipstick, Lattes, and Lesson Plans!

Over the next month, I hope to add a couple reflection posts about my school year last year. There are a couple funny stories and cute pictures that I want to share. I'm super motivated to get these posted because there are some big changes coming for Lipstick, Lattes, and Lesson Plans next school year!

Get ready for...

Lipstick, Lattes, and Lesson Plans, Adventures in a 3rd Grade Classroom!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Consistency: the key to classroom management

Where I have been??

I have so many pictures on my iPhone that I took for the purpose of sharing with you all. But the process of editing them all to stick a smiley face sticker over my kids' faces (for privacy purposes) has just seemed too time consuming. Maybe that will be a project over the next couple weeks.

It took most of the year but I recently realized that my class has finally settled into a good routine. Desks are not being thrown. People are not getting bitten. Braids are not being cut off. We've moved past all that. Yesterday, one of my students (she is being evaluated for Oppositional Defiance Disorder) was throwing a temper tantrum. She was knocking chairs over and hiding in the closet. It was then I realized that wow, this hasn't happened in ages.

She is not my only difficult student. Last year I had two. This year I have 10. And by difficult, I mean students that need constant attention regarding their behavior and constant redirection every single day.

Last year in South Carolina I worked in a Title 1 school in my hometown, a suburb of Charlotte. I had few behavior problems and was able to handle the ones that did occur in my classroom with no anxiety or stress. I knew a lot about classroom management from learning about best practices, studying Love and Logic, and hours spent reading The First Days of School by Harry Wong.

This year I've learned you never really know classroom management until you work in an innercity Newark school. A little background - my students are familiar with violence, gangs, and every one of them knows a family member or family friend who has been to prison or at least to jail. The attitudes and disrespect is something I never imagined but it is cultural - a method of survival within a difficult community.

When people ask what I do, I tell them I teach Kindergarten. Their usual response, "Awww." When they ask where and I tell them, they say, "Ooooh." To be honest, when I started my current job I was a little terrified.  Especially since I was coming into a classroom where the previous teacher had quit after only a week. At the beginning of the year, we had two students (one with special needs) who would literally walk out of our classroom whenever they felt like it. Our class has three doors so their are more doors than there are teachers to guard them. We have at least four students who didn't think twice about throwing furniture. Biting or hitting myself or my coteacher was not uncommon. Teeth sucking, eye rolling, and shoulder shrugging was the norm when we would give directions.

We've come a long way. I'm really proud of my students. They've shown SO much growth academically as they prepare to go to first grade. But what is really spectacular is the growth they've shown in behavior.

My co-teacher is awesome and she has a couple years experience working in Urban schools and has really been a role model for me in classroom management. When working with a difficult population you should think long and hard about your procedures at the beginning of the year and make a decision for what your consequences will be when they are not followed. This is important because your procedures need to become the "Bible" of your classroom. They are the law. And there are no exceptions.

This was difficult for me at first because I always believe in giving my students the benefit of the doubt. My class last year and I sat in a community circle and came up with our "class contract" together. And that was that. The consequences were consistent when the rules were broken but that rarely happened. This year, it happens every day.

We use a lot of songs as rituals in our class. We have a song we sing when we're lining up. When its over, the students are expected to be quiet in line. We have a song we sing when we move to circle on the carpet. When its over, the students are expected to be sitting quietly "criss-cross applesauce." These rituals are consistent and the students know the expectations when the song is over.

Whatever you decide what the consequences for poor behavior choices will be, you have to be consistent. If you expect your kids to keep their hands to themselves, there has to be a consequence for every child every single time they refuse to do this. If you expect students to be respectful, there has to be a consequence every single time this doesn't happen. Over the year, I've learned how important this is.

Building relationships with parents and families is key for consistency. If you tell a student you're going to call a parent and their behavior doesn't improve, you have to follow through. Part of consistency means never making a threat you can't keep. This goes hand-in-hand with having a relationship with parents so you have their support. I have a handful of parents that I can send a text to during the day if their child is not following directions or is being disrespectful and within a few minutes they will have taken a break from work so they can call and talk to their child. I've found that telling the parent you will call back at the end of the day to let them know if the behavior has improved is very motivating for the child. They're already in trouble but they know Mom or Dad will be much happier to hear they turned their day around. On more than one occasion, I've videotaped a student throwing a temper tantrum (hiding under tables, kicking chairs, etc.) and texted the videotape to their parents. While this may be extreme, I have learned that extreme time call for extreme measures.

While I'm so proud of how much my students have grown, I'm even more proud of how much I have grown this year. I feel like I can handle any kind of classroom management issues now. Its hard for me to even believe at the beginning of the year I felt a little intimidated by a group of five year olds. Children are strong willed and they can be stubborn. Part of being a consistent teacher is being even more strong-willed. The rules are the rules and everyone is expected to follow them. I'm proud of having these high expectations for behavior and I'm proud for following through on them. Teaching isn't just about academics. Part of teaching, arguably the most important part, is character development. This is especially true for the younger grades. Being consistent in behavior management is teaching skills that will make your children better students later on in school and more successful members of society, no matter how difficult it may be at the time.

What are your thoughts on classroom management?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Occupational hazard: Pencil Stabbings

Who would have thought these were so dangerous?

Sometimes Kindergarten teachers get black eyes. Or one black eye. One very painful black eye. Or at least that was the case for me yesterday after I was stabbed in the eye with a pencil. Before you get too worried, I'd like to take a moment to clarify. This was not an actual stabbing per se - more of an extremely hard accidental poke.

Rewinding to yesterday morning about ten o'clock. Our literacy block curriculum is structured so that there is a mini lesson then the students either complete partner centers related to literacy skills or they work in a guided practice group, then after 20 minutes the groups switch. Both my co-teacher and I lead a guided practice group simultaneously. Yesterday, my group was practicing vocabulary words by reading a story, discussing their meaning and how they were used in a story, and then copying this week's words onto small index cards. The cards are bound by a ring and allow the students to have a "pocket resource" of words they need to know in Kindergarten.

While we were completing the activity, I was also taking time to work individually with each child. I am attentively listening to the child sitting next to me on my right as she shows me that she knows all of the words on her ring. Then, things got interesting.

I have a student who has some unusual tendencies. For example, he is extremely large for his age and very clumsy. His social development is not quite where we'd like to see it - he is extremely clingy with teachers but aggressive with other students, and cries anytime he is touched by anything (even if someone accidentally bumps him with their jacket sleeve as they're putting their coat on.) He also has a tendency to flap his arms and has an extremely difficult time controlling his body.

While I am working with the student on my right, this other student is sitting on my left writing down his Word Wall Words. Then, he flapped his arms. For whatever reason, his pencil was upside down so the point was sticking up. Well...he flapped his arms so that the hand with the upside down pencil struck me right below my eye.

Graphically put, he hit me so hard that the skin at the corner of my eye was bleeding and the pencil actually pushed inward, damaging the lower and rear of my eye. This caused immediate significant pain.

Had I been anywhere else I probably would have cried like a baby. But because I am in charge of eighteen five year olds, I was able to give my group instructions on how to finish the activity and get a worksheet for them to start. Thank goodness for my co-teacher because I was able to leave the room in under five minutes of the incident and run to the school nurse's room. She was able to give me gauze to stop the bleeding and an ice pack and I was able to take some time to rest for a few minutes.

My class was ready for lunch when I returned and after recess, they go to special. While they were gone, I put my head down on a desk and closed my eyes for a few minutes. My principal checked on me to make sure I was ok and we laughed about the incident. Not all Kindergarteners are ready for pencils!

I taught math when my students returned from their special. I'd had a headache but I noticed when trying to read a math riddle from our math big book that I was having trouble focusing on the words and reading them. They were super blurry and this is a big book - you know the special teacher books that are like a foot a half by two feet so the words are pretty large.

Corey was off work yesterday because he was sick so I texted him and asked if he could take the train to the city where I work so he could drive the car back. Luckily he was running a little early because while I was serving snack, I started to feel horrible. I had severe pressure on my eye and I was getting dizzy because everything I saw out of the right eye was normal and everything I saw out of the left was completely blurry. We have a special social skill building program on Wednesdays so another teacher comes into my class for the last hour of the day. It was only about thirty minutes until that time, so my co-teacher offered to lead the social studies activity I had planned and get the students packed up if I would run back up to check in with the nurse (we were out of band-aids in our classroom anyway and Kindergarteners love band-aids and need them for everything).

I hadn't looked in the mirror for a couple hours so I didn't know what my eye looked like. It was swollen and had already turned black underneath. My principal stopped in and told me I needed to leave and go see a doctor right then. Luckily, at this point Corey was only minutes away.

We called a couple optometrists who couldn't see me so late in the day even for an emergency but were able to get in right away at an urgent care center my principal recommended. I failed the vision test on my left eye (both are normally 20/20).  I have a scratch on my actual eyeball in addition to the cut on the skin below it. My vision should improve as the scratch heals and as the swelling decreases. A piece of carbon was removed from the skin below my eye and I'm taking antibiotic eyedrops.

I guess I'm lucky the point struck below my eye and didn't scratch my cornea or anything serious. A pencil in the eye is something that you imagine would be very painful but in reality, seems highly unlikely that you'll ever have to experience. I was in complete shock for probably ten seconds after it happened. Its still pretty painful and pretty swollen and very black but my vision is starting to improve. Having student taught in third grade, interned in fifth, and then taught first grade my students have usually been pretty proficient in using pencils and other writing utensils. They've even all been capable of using scissors in a safe manner. I definitely wasn't expecting to be struck by a pencil this year. But honestly it makes sense. I have quite a few students who still don't hold them the right way and a few others who have serious problems controlling their bodies. I guess I know some basic skills our class needs to work on - with an emphasis on safety!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Let's Play Catch Up

I have a couple half-finished posts in my queue dating all the way back to what my class did to celebrate Thanksgiving, which was super cute by the way. I'll have to make it my goal to finish and post these soon. On that note, does anyone know an online program that would make it easy for me to blur my students' faces in photos to post on the blog? I have some super cute photos from our Holiday unit but I also think its important to maintain my students' privacy.
Here's a photo of our class tree, books for our book exchange, and stockings to hold you over!

I have the cutest video of them from our Holiday celebration. Toys for Tots and a faculty fundraiser combined provided enough toys so that every single student in our school had a present on the last day before the holiday break. "Santa" came to our school, carrying his sack, and ringing a bell, and strolled down the halls to wish all of our students a Happy Holiday. Then when he left, he left 700 presents in the gym to be distributed to our students.
Blurry because Santa was on the move to get back to the North Pole and prepare for Christmas Eve ;)

Or that's how it seemed for my Kindergartners. They felt so honored that Santa came to our school and brought us presents a day early. In reality, a lot of hard work went in to making that happen (I was on the wrapping committee so I can attest to this) but it was well worth it. I videoed my kids with my iPhone and their reactions were priceless. Many of my students come from lower income houses and even those that don't, almost all of them are growing up in one of the most densely populated gang communities in America. They deserve something special. We had a book exchange where students brought in wrapped books to swap and a generous parent volunteer donated extras to make sure everyone got one. There were squeals of joy when they opened their books and Toys for Tots packages (a princess floor puzzle for the girls and Hess trucks for the boys) and one little boy looked right into the camera and said "This is everything I've dreamed of." It was SO cute.

On another note, we've had some changes in administration lately. Our curriculum director resigned unexpectedly due to family illness and it was effective immediately. With that came a lot of changes. Kindergarten has been restructured and the classes have even changed slightly. This is rare for the middle of the year, but was much needed. And I have fewer migraines and spend significantly less money without the necessary afternoon coffee run. We've been allowed to incorporate some play into our curriculum like most other Kindergarten classes. We added dramatic play centers, blocks, and a movement and life skill building block to the day. On Fridays we now do free choice centers, which include paint, sand table, puppet show, etc. This is much appreciated because our kids are only 5 and 6 years old and are in school without a break from 7:30 am until 4:15 and need more play than a 20 minute recess! We also added fifteen minutes of silent reading and quiet time after recess, which we substitute for silly Dr. Jean songs on Fridays.

I still have lots of fun and crazy stories to tell from my classroom. But things have definitely calmed down a bit. I haven't been stabbed with a pencil or bitten in over a month!