"Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it, because action has magic, grace, and power in it." Goethe

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Teaching Tip: Wait and See

Last September, I met a prekindergarten child in the cafeteria at dismissal time.
She was out of control.
She hit a teacher, called one a mother $)(&@”#%*, and was just generally out of control.
Yes, a prekindergarten student. Age 4.
Today, this same child came up to me at dismissal and smothered my face with kisses.
A colleague and I looked at each other and shook our heads.
Is this child rehabilitated? No.
She is in the office almost every day.
But she’s better than she was.
Miracles take time.
These children need love.
Don’t forget it.


Teaching Tip: Chill

It’s been a few Tuesdays since I posted a teaching tip.

Now that the holidays have come and gone, I guess it’s time to get back on my Tuesday track, at least for today.

Much has changed in my teaching world during the last few weeks. One of my interns decided teaching wasn’t the right path for her.

You know what? I think she’s brave to know it and do something about it.

Teaching is not for everyone. If it does not bring joy and a sense of accomplishment, it’s a good idea to reevaluate.

Meanwhile, there are children to be taught.

I have a new member in my reading intervention group. Here are a few comments from the last two days from his fourth grade mouth:

I don’t need no books.

I ain’t checkin’ that out.

Not readin’ this.

I ain’t usin’ no crayon. You got colored pencils?

Read? Out loud?

I’ve changed a lot during almost thirty years of teaching.
My reactions are fewer, but my actions are increased.

I found colored pencils.
I found a poem this child could read.

He drew. He read.
Tomorrow? We’ll see.
Today, we had success.

No one can predict what tomorrow will bring.

People come and go.
Children move.
Teachers leave.

Teachers stay.
Kids read.

Don’t get caught up in the drama. Do your part. Watch. Listen. Help. Chill.

It will all work out.

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Precious Packages: A Practice of Praising




This one’s for you,

The last couple of days before Christmas break…the packages are filling up with kind words. I hope it helped.

It helped some kids. They stop and read. They ask to write.

I hope they’ll realize the power of positive thinking… for themselves as well as others.

I hope it becomes easier to see the good.

Christmas celebrations at school begin tomorrow. The kids will take their “presents” home. I hope they’ll read them often and remember the gift they are.

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Be Prepared: Create an Emergency Sub Folder

The best laid plans…

Well, I stayed late last Friday (6:00 p.m.–tsk tsk) to get everything organized for this week; so glad I did because one of my interns called in sick at the last minute this morning.

Even though I didn’t get to follow my own plans today, I was not stressed. I knew I had everything ready for when my routine is back to normal tomorrow. Preparation is a great stress reducer.

Luckily, I was able to step in and take over today. But, for those days when everything really falls apart, an emergency substitute folder is a good idea.

My friend DeeAnn taught me this about twenty years ago.
Simply have a couple of pocket folders ready with assignments your students can do: writing prompts, a good poem to read and discuss, a review skill in math, a simple art project.

Label each stack with a certain time increment, include a class roster and the schedule for the day, and you’re ready.

No, it’s not as good as the teaching you would do if you were there, but it’s a lot better than being unprepared when the flu hits or a flat tire slows you down, or whatever other demon is keeping you from being at work.

My interns usually have me as their “emergency sub plan,” but for the days they don’t, that little folder on a desk is a nice dose of peace of mind.

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Writing with Kids: Giftedness

It’s almost December.

My bulletin board is bare, but not for long.

Today, in the midst of another lecture about bullying, an idea materialized.
The kids love it when that happens. They want good every bit as much as I do.

So, we are going to start over in the morning. We are going to make paper presents to represent ourselves.

We will leave the center blank and wait.

Throughout the days to come, we will write positive comments on each other’s papers…true things that are positive and uplifting…words that represent what we add to the world by being here.

Because we know…even in the midst of bad decisions and some words that shouldn’t be said, there’s plenty of good, too.

We are set to find and record it until our presents are positively popping with preciousness.

It’s almost December, after all…

That bulletin board will be a reminder to all who pass by that we have many good gifts. I bet there will be a lot of reading going on at that board, too.

Hoping for happy reading and writing…

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Daily Prompt: Be the Change

What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world?

Well, that’s the daily post question. A good one.

I want my blog to show people that teachers are more than deliverers of instruction. We have opinions, and it’s ok to state them. We have lives outside of the classroom, and it’s ok to live them.

There are many excellent teachers out there who are afraid to say what they really think.

I would love for my blog to be a place people could come for a dose of encouragement, motivation, inspiration, and honesty.

Every day is not perfect. Teaching is hard. I’ve never seen so much politics at play. How I hate games.

We are asked for our opinion, then chastised or ignored for having one.

We have a broken budget, but we pay motivational speakers to come encourage us and say things we already know when we really need time to work in our rooms.

We have even been told we can’t say Merry Christmas…this one was a few years ago…It’s just the world we live in…
It’s not the world I live in.

Teachers could tell a million stories…but we don’t have time.

We are busy creating library check out cards for little kids so they can take our books home because those same kids lost their library books and can’t get any from the school.

We are busy telling kids it’s not their fault that their parents split up, or their sister committed suicide, or their teacher down the hall died.

We are busy teaching first grade skills to fourth grade students because we have to.

We are busy hugging kids, and reading poetry, and thanking God for the good days when kids get it.

I’d like my blog to be partly a place where those stories are told and readers still leave knowing I love what I do with children…I am an advocate for children and teachers.
I am an advocate for the arts. For writing. For photography. For books. For family. For friendships.

I write this blog to keep track of parts of a year in my life…it’s become a challenge to write daily, to write honestly, and to record the good things in life, as well as the challenges.

After my first year (on July 23, 2013), I hope to see where I can make the best blogging difference. I don’t know yet…I’m still on the journey…
it’s a small change I made to the big world of blogging…just adding my voice. I would like my voice to represent those who don’t have time or energy to say these same things…to matter.

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One of THOSE Kinds of Days

6:30 a.m
Intern #1 is sick. Fever.
No problem. I’ll sub.

7:15 a.m.
Intern #2 is sick. Vomiting.
Uh oh. I’ll sub.

7:30 a.m
Teammate calls. Baby throwing up.

It was one of those days, but the kids were exceptionally good, and we covered a lot of ground.
We wrote autobiographies, discussed election plans (they are excited!), created thankful posters to display later in week, began division with remainders ( oh my, we need practice!), and read and wrote pumpkin poems…and that was just this morning.
Maybe the novelty of just me being there set the stage for improved behavior. We kept a steady pace, and of course, I praised a lot. A lot. Kids need to hear when they are doing well.

Still, it’s nice to get texts tonight that say,
See you tomorrow. Feeling much better.
Teaching 37 kids all day long is draining.
Looking at an early bedtime tonight. 😉

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Pumpkins, Poetry, and Positivity

Well, it was a pretty good day in fourth grade today. We painted paper plates (less than one minute each), designed and created a face (fifteen minutes) for the jack-o-lantern, and created a poem incorporating either a simile or hyperbole (fifteen additional minutes). There was drying time in between, but that was not a problem. We just continued with the regular routine while we waited.

It was a good use of our time and an added benefit is that the kids are proud of their work. Each class stood in the hallway and made observations: None of the faces are the same, Some people used different colors for the stems, This one has triangle eyes.

We were able to plan a project, follow directions, work within a time limit, brainstorm a list of nouns, adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and prepositional phrases in our journal as part of the prewriting process, and decide upon certain elements each poem should contain this time: a name for the pumpkin, a location, a description, and either a simile or hyperbole. The students did not disappoint!

Best of all, they were proud of their accomplishment and could really see the impact of the result when the display was finished(which they also took part in helping create).

There were eight kids absent today–quite a large number. I’m hopeful to group them with someone who was here and get their work on the board tomorrow.

Teachers from other grades complimented the children, which of course is motivating. Parent conferences and report card day is tomorrow, so this display will be a source of “good news” to share as well.

Poetry, art…it’s always a good idea.

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A Ways to Go

Well, a conversation with an intern teacher today reminded me of myself during my first year of teaching: tired, frustrated, scared, and truthfully…clueless.

I think back to those days and wonder how someone so seemingly well prepared could be so out of touch. I had three wonderful student teaching supervisors, 18 weeks of student teaching in kindergarten, first grade, and special education, and plenty of observation hours. Still, when I accepted that second grade teaching job, I was lost. Totally lost.

I remember a veteran teacher laughing at me because I had given a math pretest on the first day of school. I didn’t know any better. A pretest was mentioned. It seemed like the right thing to do…

I remember bringing boxes of work home, piles of papers…and just spreading them out on the floor of my living room on Beech Street. I was 21. Young, single, and wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into.

I bought coloring books to keep my students busy. Yes, I did. I know.

I wandered the long hallways of that school at night after all of the other teachers went home. I was too afraid to ask for help. I thought I was supposed to know what to do.  I was looking for clues.

Then the best thing happened. I got the flu. It was a bad case, and I was out for over a week. I remember not even bothering to measure the cough syrup…I just took a swig and settled back into the depths of the couch, thankful for the reprieve of life and responsibility.

When I did return, some teachers told me they thought I had quit. I had not formed any friendships on that campus yet, and no one knew that I never quit. Oh, I was back all right. And, I owe all the thanks to the substitute teacher.

She left the plans she made while I was gone. I read them and started piecing the days together, realizing those stacks of coloring books on the shelf had to go. I started filling up the hours with lots of engaging activities and stories and art. Real art.

I found my way and I made it. So will this intern. She just needs to keep showing up. Day by day, she’ll find her way. Teachers always do.



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Teaching Tip: Looking for What is Right

An orange check mark.

An orange check mark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is so very easy to see what is wrong in today’s classroom: the wriggling student, the sleeping student, the student who rolls her eyes, or the one who throws his desk.

It is harder, but necessary–I’ll even go as far as to say life changing–to look for what is right: the student who comes on time every day, the one who sits quietly while you repeat directions for the fifth time to the other kids in his row, the student who hands you a drawing on his way out the door, the one who has a poet’s soul.

Every single child will learn this year and every single child will grow. It takes time. Sometimes it takes a full year before we see a difference, but we will see it. It will happen. While we are busy working and waiting, we need to remember to look for what is right about ourselves, too.

Before we get caught in a downward spiral of thoughts of what did not get done, what did not go well, the repeated practices, the disrespectful remark or the disappointing parent comment, consider this:

We show up. Every day. Sick or not–usually not. We know our material. We read to children. We model writing and the joy of it. We laugh. We ask kids to think. We praise the good we see and we look hard and deep for it.

Keep a list of children’s names and write down  at least three positive things you see them do for the rest of the week. Specific and happy things. Tell them you are doing this. Tell them you will read this list Friday. Follow through. Watch your environment change. Watch yourself change.

While you are at it, add your name to that list as well.  Write down the three things you are proudest of this week. Let it be a starting point. Add to the list every single day. We have time. We must have time.