Friday, December 17, 2010

My Life as a First Grader

From the Apple
Back in the day - children were not required to go to Kindergarten, but my mom worked so I was enrolled in a small private Kindergarten where I mostly remember playing in the sandbox. However, going to "real" school was a big deal and I enrolled in Royall Elementary School in Florence, SC on that first day of first grade with a little fear and lots of anticipation. My teacher was Mrs. sharp and she ruled with an iron hand. She was older, stern, and had a ruddy complexion. I don't remember that she ever smiled. I was deathly afraid of her. I vividly remember the day in first grade as we opened our reading books to the "adventures" of Dick, Jane, and Sally. I did not know the word "see" and called the word "look." My teacher was furious, furious, furious (as I remember it!) and pulled me by the ear. I was so afraid that she was going to make me wear the baby cap (which was a baby blue crocheted cap with a satin bow she made the "bad" boys wear to lunch) that I was practically trembling. I was a timid student with no self confidence. My mother had never read to me. I don't think she knew that is what she was suppose to do, so I was not particularly prepared for the academic pursuits of first grade. I was very fortunate the next year to have a second grade teacher, Mrs. Gilmore, who changed my life by believing in me. She was the reason that I later became a teacher. Right before I got married, my mother and I ran into Mrs. Sharp and she was actually delightful. She told my mom that I was such a sweet, well-behaved student. Really? She was actually pleasant and I remember walking away and being so surprised. That lesson has stuck with me all these years. When my students remember me I want it to be with a smile on my face!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Continuing the Challenge

From the Star

So the question this week on the fall-blog-challenge is what I was like in the grade that I teach now. Well I can start by saying that I had my group of girl friends - the same ones that I had had since I was in Kindergarten (two are still my best friends today!) Unfortunately, I feel that we were a little clicky and were exclusive with our group. I am sad to have to say this because I see things differently now. I try really hard to help my own third grade students be open to meeting new people and accepting people for who they are. It's one of the things I really wish I could change. Other than being clicky, we really did have a tight knit group. We did everything together and when I say everything, I mean everything - from before school, in school, after school and on the weekends. I guess some of that had to do with the fact that all of our moms worked together at the same school. They all liked to go in early and leave late and when I say late, I mean dinner time. It was dinner and bed by the time we got home! Let's just say that I pretty much grew up at the school and... I loved it. We had so much fun.

I remember being in 3rd grade because this was one of my favorite years. I had a teacher named Ms. Handler and she was a clown. No, really she was a clown on her off time. I remember so many things about her class. I remember the circus theme day where we actually had a circus outside and she dressed up as a clown and we got to walk on stilts and make paper mache clowns. I also remember getting in trouble a lot for talking in class with my friends, which is not a surprise considering how much I like to talk now! So, I can say that I do have a little more patience and sympathy for those talkers in my class. I can say sorry to my teacher, and mean it, because now I know how she felt. I also remember that I liked to hear read-a-louds in third grade which is the year that we read a lot of the Roald Dahl books - which were my favorite childhood books. It is amazing the influence that a teacher can have on you! I hope that my students will one day look up to me and thank me for being a part of their learning. I hope that I can make half of the impact on my students that my 3rd grade teacher made on me. The other thing that I remember about 3rd grade is all of the hands on activities. I can honestly say that I still believe that this is one of the best methods of teaching, which is why I use it in my class everyday! Thanks, Miss Handler for making my third grade year such a memorable one!

P.S.-In the picture at the top of this post, that's me in the second row, third from the left.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Apple Writing

From the Apple
I guess I've always been a writer, but as a young student I don't ever remember being taught to write or any teacher ever encouraging me to write. I do remember being in middle school and the teacher assigning a creative writing assignment. We had to write about "Red." I don't really remember what I wrote but I do remember the pieces that the teacher read out loud and I remember being blown away because they were so-o-o- good. None of the stuff that they wrote ever popped into MY head! I remember thinking that I could NEVER write like that!

Even as a young child, however, I liked to write. I had a diary. I remember writing long journal entries about everything in my life. I also remember destroying a couple of the diaries because I was afraid my mother would find them! As a young wife I wrote furiously in a journal trying to figure out how to learn to live with another person. I really didn't have a good role model for being a good wife so none of it came naturally for me. My husband used to call it my "hate" journal because I was more likely to be writing when things weren't going well or I was really upset! I still think I do my best writing when I'm fired up about something. It's easy to write with voice - with passion and emotion when I care deeply about an issue.

While I was home on maternity leave with Courtney, my writing took a dramatic turn. I had been leading a mixed group of teachers who had been meeting together once a week for a couple of years to share teaching ideas - I guess I understood collegiality way before it was the newest buzz word - and while I was out with Courtney I decided to finish the document that we had been working on for those two years. It was ideas around teaching a letter of the week to beginning readers. I had been keeping notes on all of our ideas so I decided to complete the research that we never seemed to have time to finish as a gift to the teachers when I returned. It was their idea that I try to have it published after they realized how much additional work I had put into our original ideas. I thought it was lark but decided to send the manuscript off to six publishers. I knew so little about publishing but within two weeks I had a contract for my first book. However, there were many delays and it was not published until five years later in 1991, A is Amazing. I just happened to submit a manuscript that a particular publisher was looking for at that particular time so the contract was immediate, but the publisher was going through some editorial changes that caused many delays and frustrations. Now, of course, the idea of "letter of the week" has fallen out of favor and of course, the book is out of print, but at the time it became a best seller for the company and within 6 months I had a contract for another book and so it went. I published 10 books with that company over the next few years.

In the meantime I had been publishing ideas in The Mailbox and they invited me to a Summer Writing Institute where I joined eight other authors from across the country that were all doing freelance work for the The Education Center which publishes The Mailbox Magazines. I went to Greensboro, NC for two summers to learn to write the "Mailbox" way and it was both intimidating and awesome. At the summer retreat I met three other teacher-writer-moms who lived in different parts of the country. We decided to propose a series of books to The Education Center while we were there and to our surprise, they accepted our proposal. For the next four years the four of us wrote books using e-mail. It was before Google Docs or any of the on-line pieces that make cooperative writing so easy. It was cumbersome but it was the first time The Education Center had a completed manuscript that was done outside of their offices that didn't require major revision. Those three women were funny, creative, and wonderful co-writers and I am richer for having known and worked with each one of them. Just remembering that time in my life puts a smile on my face!

During those ten years I wrote or co-authored 19 books for teachers. When I think about it, I am awed by how prolific I was and I am proud of that accomplishment. I could not have done it if my husband had not been so willing to take up the slack. He learned to wash clothes and dishes during those years as I often wrote through the night to meet a deadline while I taught full time. I tried for my writing not to take time away from my children and so I wrote late at night, very early in the mornings, and while they were away with friends. I loved it, but there came a time when I felt it was taking too much of my time... so before Courtney left home, I decided to put down the pen and spend time with her. It was a good decision.

In the meantime, I joined a new faculty and began a steep learning curve into a new chapter in my life. I haven't really been moved to take on a book project or at least, when I thought maybe I wanted to, things just didn't seem to piece together easily so that I really felt it was what I was suppose to do. I usually get very clear messages about what I am suppose to be doing - nothing like the burning bush, of course, but still pretty clear! Today I write on a more immediate level. I have written about the work I'm doing now in magazines and for some on-line publications, when asked, and I love blogging about my work. I work with incredible teachers. I've written some units for and with the teachers I work with now and then have sent them out to anyone that wanted them. That actually has been very gratifying.

I am not, nor will I ever be, the world's greatest writer. I don't write deep pieces with great thoughts that will change the world. I don't write "funny," because actually I'm not really a very funny person. I just write about the world as I see it and hope that something I say might resonate and make a difference...

I do believe that the varied experiences that I have had have made me a better writing teacher. I think I understand many of the reasons that people write and I realize that children need to learn to write for many different reasons. It is my job to release the inner writer's voice that is in each of my children so that whatever it is that they will need to do, they will be equipped to do it - whether it's texting or therapy or writing the next great novel. Here's to that writer in each of us!

Monday, November 29, 2010


From the Star
I have found over the years that, much to my surprise, I love to write. I find peace when I write and find that it is often easier to share my thoughts and feelings through my pen. If you know me you may be saying that all I do is talk, and that would be a fact, but the thing that a lot of people don't know about me is I don't like to talk about my deepest feelings. While I can talk to you for hours about random things and I can mope and groan and complain for hours on end, but when it comes to sharing my true feelings, I hit a block. I find that writing helps me to open up and also relieves stress. Over the years I have written many poems and letters to friends and loved ones and now recently I have started enjoying writing this blog with my mother. I feel that writing gives me a chance to show my true colors while sharing my feelings and thoughts with others. I also find that writing gives me a chance to be creative and imaginative. I can loose myself for a while and get lost in a story in my mind. I love sharing stories and talking with friends, but I find a true passion when it comes to writing.

I hope that being a writer will make me a better writing teacher...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Small Moments from the Apple

From the Apple

As we wrap up the day. I sometimes play the "Skittles quiz" with the class. The quiz is simply me asking questions that review the day and kids get a single Skittle if they answer correctly. As I was reviewing the afternoon before our Mem Fox Celebration, I asked the kids what we would be doing first thing in the morning. To open our Mem Fox Celebration, we were going to be Skyping a first grade teacher in Australia. It would be the middle of the night for her! We were very excited in anticipation, but the students were not really familiar with Skype so most of them didn't really know what to expect. When I asked them, "Who remembers what we will be doing in the morning?" one of the kiddos piped up, "We're gonna be skyping the fox!" I would love to see the picture in his mind! It made me smile.

Last week we were stamping on fake "tatoos" of pumpkins and bats. We were using wooden stamps and acrylic paint and asking the children if they wanted the stamps on their face or on their arms. As one of the little girls sat down, she pulled the collar of her dress down to show the space right over her breast and said, "Can I have mine right here?" We said, "Absolutely not!" but it still made me smile! My day is full of those small moments that make me smile for I know from experience that I’ll look back and realize all of these funny little moments add up to something special, something important, something irreplaceable.

Small Moments

From the Star
Every day as a teacher we face challenges that either make us or break us. When I teach I can say that some days I feel like I could just give up, but then I remember why I choose to teach. It's those small moments that make it so worthwhile. I can not choose just one moment because I feel that every day offers so many - new learning experiences. Every day my children bring joy to my life. Every difficult challenge is matched by two or more good small moments - chances to grow as a person and an educator.

Over this last year I have learned that every child is different and that each child learns at his own pace. I have learned a lot of patience. I have learned how to deal with those students that are called "difficult." I like to look at those students as my chance to learn. I think the bond that I make with the child that might not be the easiest will be remembered and cherished. I know that if I can find that bond with them that we will be able to work and learn together. It's about relationships. At least I have found this to be true this year with one student in particular. While my days with him are very challenging, he has taught me that there is much more to life then just teaching. It is finding the connection with a child and building off of his strengths that makes the difference. It is understanding where he is coming from and why he sometimes acts the way he does. It is about never giving up and pushing that child. It is opening your heart to a child. Those are the moments that stay in my memory.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The book that made the Biggest Impact

From the Apple

Wow - this was really a difficult post to write. There are so many books that I have loved - so many that I have read that have left an impression or that have taught me about life. I really struggled with which book had the greatest impact.

I finally settled on a series of books. When I was in the 3rd-4th grade I was introduced to a series of books called The Dana Sisters written by Carolyn Keene. She was probably more famous for the Nancy Drew series. Of course now I know Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym for several different writers who wrote under the Carolyn Keene name. The Dana Sisters were a cross between the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew but those books really hooked me. Each story was a
mystery that was solved by the two sisters. It was the first series of books that I ever read - books with strong independent young women - the first time I got so hooked on books. At the time I got an allowance - my lunch money plus a dollar a week. The books cost a dollar and I spent my allowance on the books for many weeks. The books were actually being written during that time and I remember I would go to the bookstore every single week to see if a new book had been published. A new book was like a golden prize.

I guess the reason I think those books made the biggest impact is because they opened up a whole new world - the world of being entertained by a book - a habit that would become such an enjoyable part of my life. If I could do one thing for each child in my class it would be to give them that gift of a love for reading. Not only is reading for information a critical skill, the ability to lose yourself in the story of a good book or the ability to cry at a true story that touches your heart or the ability to search the Bible for answers in times of great struggle or the simple ability to enjoy a picture book with your child, add such depth and dimension to your life. May that seed be planted in every child that walks through the door...

reposted from

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Star's Favorite Childhood Book

From the Star
So, as a child I was read many books aloud and the one that I remember the most is Matilda. I heard this book read aloud by my third grade teacher Ms. Handler. I remember this book the most because it was about a girl who grew up with many obstacles in her family and found faith and enjoyment in reading. I am not sure if this book made such an impact on my life because Matilda always overcame her fears and lived in a positive world or if it was because she was such an amazing reader. From my older blogs you know that I was not always a great reader but the book Matilda really boosted my self esteem and showed me that if Matilda could overcome so much then maybe I could one day overcome my struggles in reading. I read this book many times as a child and watched the movie when it came out and still enjoy the book today. I have recommended this book to many of my students.

It is amazing the things you remember as a child and the impacts that they have on your adult life. I try to remember that lesson teach my students. So when you think about those students that seem so lost and feel that they have already slipped too far under, I remember that I can be the one to make the difference.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Apple Mathematician?

From the Apple

There is no question that math is an important part of my day from balancing my checkbook to figuring out how to convert a recipe to appropriate Weight Watcher measurements to figuring out how many days until my niece's wedding. And of course, teaching is run on data these days so there is hardly ever a day when I'm not trying to interpret some sort of assessment information! I guess I am fortunate that Math has always come very easy for me. I grew up in a Southern county that had an excellent math prep program and I actually tested out of all Math in college. It will surprise most of my friends to know that I actually started my freshman year of college as a math major! However, it didn't last long. It was the start of a long list of majors that included Religion, Psychology, and Social Work before I finally settled on Special Education as a Senior! I had especially loved Algebra in middle school when I first started advanced Math. It came really easy and I loved my teacher. I actually went back to teach in that same middle school many years later and taught in the classroom beside her! She was as outstanding then as she had been when I was a student.

I'm not sure that any of that prepared me to be a Math teacher. As I have begun to teach an inquiry-based Math program, I have felt as unsettled as some of my students. I have really had to dig to remember the HOW I know something works. I just know the answer but I don't always know how I know it. It's a lot like reading comprehension. You know the answer because you have learned to use strategies automatically. It took a while for me to break through HOW I knew the answer and to identify the strategies and proof when I first starting taking reading comprehension apart. I think it will work that same way with Math. I know the answer automatically, but I will have to really search for the strategies and proof of how I got the answer. I am thinking that it may take as much creativity and depth of research in Math as it has in Reading! I do think Math strategies are more straight forward which I think will make them a little easier to teach. We'll see!

repost from

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Apple's Class Poll

From the Apple
We are deep in the midst of a Mem Fox Author Study. This is our third week and the children are digging deeper as they are comparing and contrasting books, retelling the stories in pictures and words, and are talking about the descriptive way in which Mem Fox describes her characters. For this week's survey, I thought I'd ask each student which was their favorite Mem Fox character and why. We discussed the characters and then each child joined a table group and wrote characteristics of one of the characters. We shared out the results. Then they each took a index card and and drew a picture of their favorite character on one side and on the other side wrote why that particular character was their favorite. Finally we graphed the results. Looks like little Hush from Mem Fox' Possum Magic is the class favorite. I'm not surprised. He started out as invisible so the snakes couldn't see and harm him and when he wanted to become visible so he could see himself, Grandma Poss traveled with him all over Australia trying native foods until she figured out exactly what would break the spell. Hush is adorable, knows what he wants, and loves an adventure. Hmmmm...sounds a lot like the kids who voted for him!
repost from

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Poll and Math Blog Challenge

So... I have decided to take on the blog challenge which means that I write about a different topic each week that is posted on our blog. Since I missed last week I am just going to do an all-in-one kind of blog this week. I will start with the class poll. Asked my student who was their favorite author. No surprise - Mary Pope Osborne won by a landslide with 10 out of 13 students voting for her as their favorite. My students can't get enough of those Magic Tree House books. It is so crazy to think that last year when I had a combo class of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders that not one of my students chose those books. they often called them primary, but now that I am teaching 3rd grade only my students love them. Trying to get them to read something else is like pulling teeth. So, I would find it very interesting if they did a study to find out if 3rd graders in a multi-aged setting feel intimidated by the other students. Are multi-age classes a good or a bad thing. Another thing that I have noticed this year is that I am having behavior issues with some of the 3rd graders but in a multi-aged setting you find that there are no behavior issues with the 3rd graders and very few of the 4th graders. 5th graders rule! Would love to hear anyone's thoughts about this.

Okay so back to my second topic - all about math. I talked last time about how I was a struggling reader. I have a little bit more of a happy story when it comes to math. Let's just say without my math skills and my higher testing in math, I may have never made it to college because my reading scores were burying me fast. But, do I consider myself a mathematician? No. I can say that I always loved math and that it came easy to me, especially when it came to number crunching and equations. I can honestly say that if I would have grown up with the math series that we are teaching with now I probably would have hated math because it is all based on reading! Is it really fair to take away kids love for a subject by making it almost impossible for them to do it? I mean students are already being tested in reading and I understand the need for critical thinking skills, but everything is now critical thinking skills. All those students who are good in math, but are struggling readers, are now struggling in math too. I fear they will hate school, if they don't find anything where they excel. I think that is why it is so important that as teachers we continually point out students' strengths and find things that they are good at.

With so much emphasis on reading these days it is also important as teachers that we are teaching reading strategies to our students as early as we possibly can so that they have time to learn and practice the skills so that they can be successful in all areas.

Back to math- I can say that there is a lot of things that we learn in math that I have never used as an adult. But, I can also say that I use basic math skills everyday. In fact my ability to crunch numbers comes as more of a burden than a good thing as an adult. Now instead of enjoying the money that I make I just stress about the money that I don't have... which leads to no sleep! If money only grew on trees! Well I'll leave you with this - may each day and its challenges come as a blessing and not a burden.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Apple's Life as a Reader

From the Apple

My teaching partner, Tracy Ruark and I actually just did this lesson, "My Life as a Reader" for the children in our classroom last week. We wanted them to know how reading effects our own lives so they could see all the ways that we use reading in our daily life. We then had the children write about their lives as readers.

I love, love, love to read. I read fiction. Right now on my nightstand is Barbara Delinsky's The Secret Between Us - a new author for me. My favorite author is Jodie Piccoult but I've read everythingshe's written so I'm just waiting until her next release. I just loved her last book about a young man with Asperger's Syndrome. Reading is relaxing for me and I most often read laid out on my comfy sofa or in bed before I go to sleep. Probably my most favorite place to read is in the late afternoon at the beach.

When I was young, reading was a way to escape - a way to imagine living in a perfect world of dreams and imagination. I think I still read fiction for that reason. The problem is that I often get so involved in a story line that I just can't put the book down. I have been known to read all night long - especially during vacations! That's one of the reasons that I switched to People, Readers' Digest and Southern Living after I had children. Magazines have shorter articles and I can pace myself better! I'm not as tempted to do an all-nighter.

I also read non-fiction. I have three books about teaching reading and writing on my night stand right now. I usually make myself read the nonfiction books before I allow myself the pleasure of reading fiction! If I'm honest I'd have to admit to doing most of my reading these days on the Internet, so I'm probably reading more non-fiction than I imagine. I'm always searching for something new to use in my classroom. I also read lots of blogs.

I hope that I am able to pass my love for reading unto my students. I hope that they see my passion and that it is catching because there is nothing better! Reading is a big part of my life. I can't imagine life without something good to read!

reposted from

The Star's Life as a reader!

From the Star
Although this is only my second year teaching I have had the chance to come across a lot of struggling readers who are so lucky that we have so many resources and help to make their reading successful and enjoyable. When I was a child I did not find this to be the case. Just as the students that I am coming across, I too was a struggling reader as a child and hated reading and would fake read as many of the students that struggle to read do on a daily basis. I know what you are thinking, "but you were a teacher's kid and your mom read to you all the time on a daily basis." Well, guess what? You're right and I love to listen to my parents read me stories and I could often re-tell them perfectly when they were read to me, but just like my students, that didn't help me comprehend my own reading. Today we have so much research in reading that we can usually pin point the problem and use our resources to help us correct the issues before they become detrimental.

As a young reader I can still remember that my mom would encourage me to read all of the Sunshine State books. I really shouldn't say "encourage" because it was more like she made me read them! I say made me because when you don't like reading you're definitely not going to be doing it on your own. Well what she may or may not know is that if I wasn't reading them to her or she wasn't reading them to me, then I really wasn't reading them at all because I felt like it was a waste of my time to read when I didn't understand the story that I was reading. I can say from my experience that I struggled a lot in Fluency and this made it very difficult for me to comprehend what I was reading, not to mention I could never understand and figure out the main idea. I think I struggled so hard to read the words that by the time I had decoded them all, I couldn't hold on to the story. So as I teach my students I have a lot of patience for my struggling readers because I have been there. It is not enjoyable at all. Sometimes I wonder if I learned poor phonics because I never learned how to group letters and I am a terrible speller. I figure this had something to do with my poor decoding and fluency skills. At out school now we use a QAR strategy which is a Question Answer Relationship method that I wish I had learned as a kid because that would have really helped me to comprehend and understand what I was reading. If you do not use this strategy or have never heard of it you should look into it. It really makes a difference and I have seen it first hand working with my struggling readers in my third grade class.

I would like to leave you with one more story that I remember about reading. It was such a a struggle for my mom to get me to read when I was a child and I would fight her on it all the time. So, she decided to bribe me with a beautiful doll named Molly from the American Girls Series. She told me that if I read all of the books in the series that I could have the doll. I was stoked because I just had to have that doll. I made it halfway through the first book and that was it. I never did get the doll. It is really sad when a kid won't even read for a bribe because struggling through the book and all the frustrations were not even worth trying. We now have lexiles and good fit books that help our struggling readers to find a book that is on their level so that reading can be less stressful and actually enjoyable.

Some of you may wonder if I overcame my reading deficit. I can honestly say that it has not been easy. It took a lot of practice and strategies from my mom and all of my teachers throughout the years. Although I now enjoy reading, I still sometimes find myself struggling to decode some words and having to re-read passages to make sense or understand them. Do I think that you can just grow out of a reading problem? No, but I do believe that you can use skills and practice and find books that are a good fit for you to improve your reading and make it more enjoyable. I love to read now and will often sit outside on the weekends in the sun and read a James Patterson novel. I know there is hope... because I read and I enjoy it!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

FAIR Results

From the Star
Yesterday was my FAIR day and I was a little worried considering I have all third graders for the first time and a lot of my students seem to be right at grade level or below - not to mention that we have a new principal who came from a Title 1 school who is all about the paper work and supporting your PMP's with resources and paper, of course. I would say from my perspective of being the reading teacher, that the scores are not good. I know they say not to lean on these results too much but how can you ignore the scores when they are an FCAT predictor. Of course, I already have interventions in place and most of the students who scored low are already in extra interventions outside of the classroom. While I am worried I am hoping that with all of the support that the students are getting in and out of the classroom they will end up being successful and at least making gains in learning. I am interested to see how other teachers' FAIR scores look to find out if it is just my scores or if more people are seeing some students who should not be low in the red or the low yellow zone. I am wondering because while reviewing my results I did notice that some of the students who I didn't see or even imagine scoring low scored a lot lower than I would have thought. If anyone has comments, please feel free to leave them.

Teacher Observation

From the Star
So I went to school on Friday and talked to my principal about the conference that I had just attended on Silent Reading and Student Conferencing (which was fabulous by the way and very informational!) I can truly say that I learned a lot of great stuff and some great ideas for lessons. One of the lessons that I really liked which is one that I took with me and can be found on YouTube was the "Good Fit" lesson. This lesson was so great because they use something called an I PICK model. It teaches the students to look at books like shoes and finding a book to read for purpose instead of just because your friends are reading it or because you heard it's a good book. It not only finds books that have a purpose and an interest for the students but it also shows them how to choose a book that is appropriate for their level of reading without getting into all of the
lexiles. If you want more on the lesson, the YouTube video is great.

So, I begin by telling my principal about all of the great resources and information that I got from the training. Then I go into telling her about the "Good Fit" lesson and how I am going to implement it in my class that day. She says, "Great let me know before you start because I want to come and see it." That would normally be okay if I had prepared for her to come and had time to get all of the kinks out of the lesson, but considering that I had just learned it, I was really putting myself out there. I don't know if some of you remember about my first pop-in lesson. I didn't feel prepared at all.

I prepped as much as possible and began my lesson. I was relieved and even a little impressed with how well the lesson went and how much the children really loved it. They were intrigued the whole time and really got into the lesson. In other words, it went great! The principal seemed to really like the lesson as well. I did get good feed back. So all in all it was a pretty good day.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Problem Child

From the Apple

This is probably the number one problem that young teachers have - the student who misbehaves. He gets something out of making poor choices. It works for him! For your entire career, you will have students like this so now is as good a time as any to figure out how to best work with kids who misbehave.

While letting the parents know and getting them is involved is always a good idea, you can't always depend on parents to offer the consequences that will make a difference. First of all, they are sending you the best kid they have. It's not like they are keeping all the good ones at home! Regardless of how this child behaves in your class, they love him dearly and is they could control his behavior in school, they would. They are probably exhausted from doing everything they can just to manage the behaviors at home. What they want is a teacher who understands their child and cares about him anyway! Normally I work toward making all of the reinforcement and consequences self-contained within the school day. You can let Mom and Dad know how his days are going but I usually don't depend on the family to come home after their own exhausting day and be the reinforcer. You can't always depend on their consistency and that will frustrate you and will not help the behavior if the parents are inconsistent. Of course, if you have parents who really want to get involved, their extra reinforcer or consequence will only move the change more quickly.

With the particular child that you describe, it is hard to know what he can control and what he can't but sounds like there might be some of both If he can control it and just chooses to be distracting, that is the easier to distinguish. If he really can't control some of the behavior, you have a different problem. That is where RtI might fit in.

I know you learned all this in school but now is the time to apply what you know. Sounds like you already have a behavior plan for the class that is probably working well for the class, but is not enough for him. I know you have set up class expectations or rules and that the children know exactly what is expected. So... what to do next?

1. Make sure to develop a relationship with this child. If he likes you and wants to please you, your job will be easier. Invite him to spend lunch with you one-on-one or to come in early in the morning or help you in the afternoons. Find out what he likes (this will help as you choose a reinforcer for him) and what makes him tick.

2. You have already gone to the positive (Whoo hoo!), making sure to praise other students for the behavior that you want in him and certainly to praise him specifically when he makes good choices. Keep that up, even when it is hard, and the last thing in the world you want to do is praise him! He is responding to attention so make sure he gets lots of it for positive actions.

3. Ignore as much of the inappropriate behavior as you can. That means that it will increase for a while because he figures he needs to do more if you don't respond at first, but over time if he does not get attention from you or from the class, the behavior will diminish on its own.

4. Chart his behavior for a day or two to get a baseline. What exactly is he doing, how often? This will help you target a single area and will help you know when things are getting better.

5. An individual plan for that child is also the way to go. Figure out what motivates him and offer it as the reinforcer, such as being the line leader or even an extra PE or extra computer time or something that you can arrange in the school day as a pay off for earning a certain amount of points. Make the amount of points attainable, so he can begin to know what it feels like to make good choices. The reinforcer has to be something strong to hold his behavior throughout the day. You might even have to break the day up into smaller pieces and allow a reinforcer after shorter times.

I know that you already know all this and have probably already begun to work on your plan for him, but this is the type of student that every teacher has. Learning to help him use his energy and positive traits in a productive way will make a huge difference in his learning success and the class' peace of mind. Make sure to let us know how it goes!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The distracter

From the Star
Have you ever had that student in your class who just does whatever he can to make sure that all of the students are distracted? You know - that class clown. Well let me tell ya, I have one little live wire in my small little quaint class. He just doesn't seem to stop. We have conduct cards in place but he doesn't seem to care if he gets checks for misbehaving. There are no consequences at home. So... I have been relying on my learning and experience (as as that is!) to try to use as much positive reinforcement and praise as I can... but let me tell you, it is pretty tough with how often he is off task. Now I am going to start a rewards chart with him for in-seat on task behavior. Hopefully this will help me turn the corner with him. I will keep you informed.
I'm writing this blog to tell new teachers that there is always going to be a kid like this this or so it seems to me so far, but that we must not give up. We just have to work together and share our ideas and support.
These are the behaviors I am seeing. He stands up while he works, taking things off others desks (including mine!) and offering them to other students. He loves to talk the whole time that I teach a lesson. He likes to sing in the middle of my small groups and tap his pencil, kick a box or anything else that makes noise to distract others. He loves the attention and loves when the students laugh at him. He races to shut students off from going out the door, to the bathroom, and to the water fountain. He really loves to interrupt my small groups by coming over and dancing and then making all the students laugh and then asking me a question.
Although I am having a little trouble with this particular boy I am still loving the year and my class and know that with a little determination we can work together to turn this young man around. I have complete faith that things will get better with this students.... Till next time....

Friday, September 10, 2010

3rd Grade is Amazing!!!

From the Star
So, I know what you all are thinking - there is no way this pre-k Special Education major who griped all last year is saying that she likes intermediate. Well, mark my words and remember this day, because that is exactly what I am saying. It may be the fact that we are straight grades this year (I'm just 3rd grade instead of 3rd-4th-5th) or maybe it's the fact that I am in my second year and I am able to use my knowledge and resources from my crazy first year, or maybe it's that I have 13 kids, but I truly do love it. And yes, I remember that third grade is a stressful FCAT grade but I feel really confident. I have such a small class and a great team leader who I work with side by side each day to come up with the best skills and curriculum that is going to best show the full potential and success of my 3rd graders. I can say that I am truly blessed this year to not only be teaching the same grade as my team leader but also because she is so knowledgeable and helpful. What a difference a great mentor makes! Together we are making great strides. Of course, this is my second year and I don't really get assigned a mentor, but that is really what my team leader is. I really think new teachers need three years of support instead of just one. The guidance that she has given me and the ideas that she lets me share have helped me to grow. She really knows how to boost my confidence and helps me to build on my strengths while helping to improve my weaknesses. What a gift!
I always thought my first year was so difficult because I was not made for intermediate, but I have now come to realize, just like my students in an assessment, the difficulty comes from a lack of background knowledge and confidence. This year has been much less stressful and much more productive for both me and my students. I know now that when things get tough that I can make it through. So for all you first year teachers - You will grow and become more knowledgeable and successful in your skills. The stress WILL start to vanish and the tears will stop flowing. Until then just know that it is normal to feel completely overwhelmed and stressed out. And don't be ashamed or embarrassed let it out and let those tears fall. It is all part of being a first year teacher.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Let's start at the beginning...

From the Apple
This last week was our first week. I am so tired! I have been working 12-hour days. You would think after all these years, things would come easy to me, but honestly, I think Courtney breezed through her first week easier than I did! Having 13 students is just simply the best news of all. Although we are under the same "class size amendment" in our county, my school is bursting at the seams. The county has decided that it would simply cost too much to actually have us meet class size so they are going to pay the fine for our classes being overcrowded! We now have 21 in our first grade inclusion classroom and growing. I'm envious of your 13!

I think it is wonderful to have already met your parents. We had a good turn out at Orientation but unfortunately we have to have Open House on Thursdays and the Thursdays in September are Jewish holidays so our Open House is being pushed until October. I hate to wait so long but we have called all of the parents in the class to make sure that everything is going okay.

I can feel your testing stress. I don't know who decided that we should test the children to death instead of teaching, but I keep hoping that there will be a backlash and the pendulum will swing toward the center again. Certainly assessment is a good thing. After all you have to know where your students are in order to know where to go next but to test them to death just takes the joy out of school. We also don't follow the district adopted core series and like you, Courtney, we also have to take the county assessments. However, it is the end result that we really care about so the trick is not to get too caught up in the results of the mid assessments that are not aligned with what we are teaching but to know that in the end our students will come out ahead. In a way I think it's our opportunity to show the powers that be in our county that we can use a "thinking" curriculum where teachers use their ability to teach instead of trying to use a dummy-proofed core curriculum. It'll be interesting to see who actually comes out ahead!

Here's to a happy year for us both!

And the year Continues

From the Star
So last Friday was the day, the day that we found out that are school was no longer going to be a multi-age school due to the new straight grade standards. For the principal this was a shock and very upsetting because for 10 years this has been the way that she has made our school so successful. For the teachers on the other hand, they are very excited because for the last two weeks we have been trying to debate how on earth we would be able to teach straight grade standards while teaching multi-age. So to make a long story short I am now a third grade teacher and I love it. My students are truly amazing and the fact that I only have 13 students is such an opportunity. Just thinking about all of the instructional I am going to be able to spend with my students makes me smile.

We just had open house and all but one of my families showed up. I was very happy with the results and the parents seemed to be really happy to hear that we had changed to straight grades, especially since I have 3rd graders. The one thing that didn't surprise me was that out of the 12 parents that showed up all 12 signed up for a conference! - even though I told them that I would not have any data on their child from the assessments until the beginning of October due to my FAIR testing date being October 5th. However, I know that I will enjoy getting to know each family and their expectations. I was happy with how the open house turned out and I feel that the parents left happy. Can't ask for much more.

The last thing that I am going to leave you with today is about all this new testing. In my opinion my poor 3rd graders are going to be tested out by the time that the FCAT gets here. Not only do they have to take the FAIR tests 3 times a year but they also now have to take the Core K-12 tests for each subject each semester. I just hope that all of these tests don't have a negative effect on how the students test on the FCAT. That brings me to my last vent. Because we made AYP this year we are still not using and following the Treasures series. We are still using the Treasures series as a resource and an intervention and we have been told that we are not to use it as a sole curriculum. However, when these students take the District Core K-12 tests in reading they go along with the skills from the Treasures. So, how do we make sure that the students are on level and on task according to the state if we do not follow the Treasures series?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Here we go again!

From the Star...

So... I got through my first week of planning before the students came and now they are back!!! I am so excited!!! I just know that my class this year is going to be amazing and the team I am on has been so helpful already.

Last week on Wednesday we had our annual "meet the teacher" day and all but two of my parents showed up. I thought was super impressive considering only half of my parents showed up last year. Also, I had 9 parents sign up for volunteering which is amazing. All I can say is I'm really starting to like this third grade things. The parents are so hopeful. I wish I could keep these kids all year for all subjects. But, like every perfect dream, it has to change somewhere and that somewhere continues where it left off last year with the multi-aged reading and writing. As every one knows there are pros and cons to this configuration. It's just knowing when and how to use those pros to promote the most learning gains and successes for the students. Oh yes, you heard me correctly - learning gains! That is the word that stole the day with the Principal and the Assistant Principal on Thursday during our meeting because learning gains were the reason that we did not keep our "A" this year.

So... now that we know what we talked about all day on Thursday and yes, most of Friday too! finally after all the planning it was time for the first day back. All I can say is "WOW." I mean my kids are great- so polite and well mannered, and such great listeners. I know, I know - it's only the beginning of the year and those 5th graders haven't made it to the classroom yet to corrupt my little ones! HEHE!! Just kidding! It's just that the fifth graders have a very interesting way of influencing the third graders. For now I am super excited and ready to begin my journey. Who could have thought being in intermediate would actually be more enjoyable than stressful. Not to say that I didn't have a great year last year and a lot of fun, but this year has started off so much calmer and relaxing. As I have reflected on why I feel differently, I have decided that 1) I'm more experienced and prepared this year and actually have some clue of what I am doing and what to expect, 2) I have a 3rd grade homeroom and they have not got a chance to mingle with the 4th and 5th graders in their learning environments yet, or 3) I only have 14 students. How amazing is that? Well as always I will keep you informed and updated on my progress and learning as a teacher and with all of the new adventures that I am going to face as I continue my journey on understanding the intermediate world.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back to School

From the Star

So, for all of you who have not heard the news, I am back at school at the same Elementary School from last year where I am again teaching intermediate 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. If you are thinking "What?" in your head - That was the same thing that I was thinking when I heard the news. I had expected a primary classroom and even passed up a move to anew school because i thought I had been assured that it would happen... But, now that the initial shock is over and the new year has begun, I am super excited. Also, I am on a new team this year where there are five teachers in the POD and two of the teachers are new to my school this year. I can already tell that this team is going to be super organized which is awesome and they seem to be super helpful already. Of course the year has just begun but I already have a good feeling about this year. Probably the most exciting news is that I only have 14 students enrolled in my class!! It doesn't get much better than that. Just think about all of that time I'll have to work with the children individually and in small groups.

We started the year with a back to school meeting. Sadly, we are no longer an "A" school although we did make AYP. You can imagine how our meeting went. I'm sure that you can figure out most of the details. Data... Interventions... Where do we go from here? Well it may have been a depressing meeting but it sure did let us know where we need to be and what we need to do to get there. I would have to say that the faculty is pretty determined to make any changes to bring us back to that "A" next year. It's going to be a journey but I am ready to let it begin.

I have attached some pictures to give you a tour of my new classroom. I'm using an ocean theme again this year. Till next time....

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Teacher Gossip

From the Star

So, as I have mentioned before, I am going to be working at my same school next year in a primary multi-aged classroom which is so exciting! While I am super excited about the job the "teacher talk" around here is really starting to take a toll.

There is a new school opening up down the road from here and they will be taking around one hundred to one hundred and fifty of our students. With this happening, our school had to cut five teachers. You might remember that I was the last hired. Only three of the teachers from my school volunteered to leave and go to a new school. The other two teachers that were put on the list to go did not want to leave and they were determined to fight for their positions. When all was said and done they were not asked to stay so they took jobs at the new school. While I had assumed that I would be one of the ones to go, since I was the last hired, I was surprised but thrilled to be staying! When the word got out that I had been offered a position to stay at my school, the gossip began....

When I found out I had a primary job at my school for next year, I was floored but just so overjoyed I could barely speak! I was finally going to be working with the age group that I had been wanting. As the word weaved its way through the teacher grapevine, I received a call from one of the teachers leaving. She was really angry. She said that I should not be invited to stay over her because I was hired after her. She went on to say "good luck " dripping with sarcasm. I took the conversation with a grain of salt. I was just too excited. As the next day rolled around that same teacher found me and continued to rant about how she should be staying. I reminded her that being first year teachers, we were lucky to even have jobs for next year! But she said she was still upset about the whole situation. I guess I can understand her anger and I could have sympathized with her. I didn't really understand the politics of it all either, but then she started to slam the team that I am going to be joining next year! I just ignored everything that she said and kept enjoying the fact that I would be working in Primary next year with a team who I have heard from everyone else is amazing and very organized. As the day went on another teacher said that she had worked with the team that I was going to be joining and that it was awful. She said it had been the worst year of her life! I am truthfully amazed when I think of how these teachers disrespected their school and their staff. So in the end I guess I am glad that they will not be teaching at my school after all!

Do all schools have teachers who are so negative and who say such discouraging things? How do you handle a situation when you don't really understand why a decision was made and how do you handle that kind of teacher gossip?

Friday, May 28, 2010


From the Apple
I could really relate to your post about teaming. While you have a team of 4 in a "pod," I led a team of 13 Kindergarten teachers. My team was much larger but the dynamics that you talk about were the same. For many reasons, this was the most difficult team I have led in many years. However, I have learned over the years that teams go through some predictable stages. When I sit back and think about my team this year, I realize that this is the way most new teams begin - forming! This stage is where we first meet. Most members are very polite and excited about the year ahead. For us this was a short lived stage (maybe one meeting!)

It's the next phase that is so difficult - storming. Teams go through a phase where they try to figure out how all the pieces fit and especially where their individual piece fits. I think that is really similar to your situation Courtney, where you came in as the new member and felt like the more experienced member's of the team, who had worked together before very successfully, did not always respect your voice. You certainly wanted to contribute and had a hard time figuring out how to do that. You were wise to sit back and watch and try to figure out where you fit. For my team this was a longer, more difficult stage. Some of our teachers had worked together very successfully in the past. In fact, they referred to themselves as "a well-oiled machine." Other teachers coming into this group new felt that they had no voice. In our case, matters got worse because those that were dissatisfied were vocal outside the team, rather than realizing that this is a natural step in teaming. Sometimes things are said that put up a roadblock for moving ahead. My advice to teachers as they join a more established group - Give it some time - observe. Volunteer where there are places, until the team figures out your strengths and how you can best contribute. Learn from their strengths. Be patient. This is a time in a large group that a leader can find out what different members want to do and who is good at what. On my team, for instance, I found out that Laura is a detail person and that was very useful information as I looked for tasks that needed to be done. I found our that Nina has real leadership ability and could hold her own with some of our more experienced teachers so I worked hard to make sure she had opportunities to lead. I depended on the most experienced teachers for many of the most complex tasks. I tried to find a place where everyone could use their talent. Unfortunately this storming phase sometimes felt like an emotional roller coaster.

Courtney, I think your team moved into the next phase of norming faster than my team. This is the phase where members begin to respect authority and others show leadership in specific areas. The team knows each other better and even begin some socializing. The members are able to ask each other for help and and provide constructive criticism. Of course, storming can always rear it's head and of course, for us, it did occasionally!

When the team reaches performing, hard word leads to progress and I think, we may have finally reached that point as the year has come to an end. At this stage things begin to feel easier.

The final stage is mourning when it feels difficult to close out a working relationship. I know that is the way you are feeling Courtney as you leave your team this year and I hope that is the way that my team is feeling. If I am honest, I am sure there may be a few who are just glad the year is over and are ready to move on! For me, my frustration this year was not being able to reach the performing stage sooner. It seemed like just as we were there, the year was over... but I learned a lot and that, after all, is my goal as a lifelong learner!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Team

From the Star

So the year is coming to an end and I have really grown to love my team and the support that they have given me throughout the year. I know I sometimes talked about the struggles and the hard times of working with a team, but I can honestly say that I have found a friendship and great respect for all of the members on my team. My advice for those that are new to the teaching game and have to work with a team where you feel like an outsider - Don't give up. Keep trying. They will let you in. Show them that you want to be a part of the team. You may think. well, why should I have to do all the work but once they see you want to be there and you are willing to give, the return is amazing. When you are part of a team it is a great feeling. They have been there for me at all times, no matter if it's personal or work related. They were there to lift me up and lend a hand.

As the year comes to an end I must say goodbye to my extraordinary team... but not forever... just until next year. Yes, after all is said and done, I get to stay at my school after all. I could not be more excited! There is one catch. I am leaving my team and going to join a new team right across the way. I will join a primary multi-age team. I am really excited, because I have always felt that I am a primary teacher instead of an intermediate teacher. While I am so glad to have had this intermediate experience, it has just confirmed to me that my heart belongs to primary. I am ready for my new journey to begin! Things work out the way they do for a reason and I believe something good comes from every situation. So course, sometimes you just have to be patient and wait. I hope you all have a great rest of the year!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Interview Wardrobe

From the Star

I will start by saying that as long as you look professional you are going to look great at an interview. I have heard a lot of people ask, "What should I wear?" and I know that my mother and I have had our conflicts about this issue, because she is all about conservative. I, on the other hand, feel that you should be covered up but classy and comfortable all at the same time. If you don't feel comfortable with what you are wearing, then you won't feel relaxed about your interview.

I saw in the blog that someone had mentioned wearing a suit to the interview. While suits do look very nice, I don't even own one. I have found that most people don't wear suits and the ones that I have talked to that did decide to wear a suit have said that they felt a little over dressed after seeing what the people interviewing them were wearing. I like to think about it this way - Would you wear a suit to teach your students? I feel that when you interview you are giving a the people who are interviewing you a window into who you are and what you are all about. I have found that the best thing to wear for an interview is an over-the-knee length dress that fits well to your body and shows your figure a little. (Of course you don't want it to be too tight and fitted, but at the same time you don't want to look like the stereotypical frumpy teacher!) No denim - no matter how expensive - because I think some interviewers think it is just too casual. Also make sure that if it is a lower cut dress that you are wearing a tank top underneath so that your cleavage is not hanging out, because if it is showing at the interview, those interviewing will certainly feel that you will show it in the classroom. That is an absolute no-no (especially with the QUEEN -Yes, you guessed it - my mother). Another thing that I recommend is to wear some cute heels that are not too trashy but not too plain and boring either. A little make-up makes you look clean and fresh but definitely not too much. Oh and don't forget, wear your hair down! No matter what they say they always think you look more professional when you have your hair down. If it's up, very neat and attractive - no little blush brush-like ponytails.

And yes, Mother, I did get a compliment on how I was dressed at my last interview! I guess if I get the job, I'll know that I did it just right and if I don't, I'll be left to wonder...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

From the Apple

Over at Ellen's blog at CEC (she's also a first year teacher), she also is looking for a new job and asks the question - Do you think she should wear a suit for her interview? Courtney, since you and I have had so many conversations (and sometimes disagreements?!) about professional dress, I was wondering what advice you would give her and what exactly did you wear for your interview? Just wondering...


From the Star

So being the new teacher at my school with only one year of experience and the last one hired, there has not been good news for me lately. As you all can imagine I am the first to go on the chopping block. Hearing this news made me very uneasy and nervous... until recently. I found out that both of the schools that I want to go to next year offered me interviews in Pre-K Varying Exceptionalities. I could not believe it. Not only was I getting a chance for a job next year but I was getting a chance at a job that I have trained and longed for the past six years. It was a miracle! I guess good things do come to those who wait. I guess that I should not be this excited yet I have not yet heard anything back. from either of the interviews. They cannot hire until all of the allocations are in which is sometime in May. Don't forget to keep your fingers crossed for me.

Being a new teacher with little experience can be nerve wrecking when going into an interview. You are most likely interviewing against others who are highly qualified and more experienced then you are, not to mention that the interview is just a scary thing since your job and future depend on it. One thing that I have learned is that you just need to relax. Take a breath and relax, because I can tell you from experience that nothing good comes from stressing and being uptight. You just have to go in and imagine that you are talking to one of your colleagues instead of the big boss lady. You may think that I am crazy but trust me it really works. Another thing that I have learned is to never answer too quick. Collect your thoughts and put them together before you respond so that you do not repeat yourself and your answers comes out like you want it to. The last thing is to always tell them how excited you would be to join their team and that you look forward to hearing from them soon. You always want to sound interested because this makes them more confident in their choice if they are considering you.

Now onto the more intense part of the interview - the questions. I have had two interviews recently and they have both been completely different which tells me that you never know what you are going to get. I would like to share with you some of the questions that I was asked. Some questions are worded weird or may have big words in them. If this happens just ask them if they can repeat the question and they will usually explain what they want to hear.

I hope this helps. :) Questions:
  • Why did you choose our school?

  • What can you bring to our school that no one else can?

  • Why should we hire you?

  • What goals do you set for yourself and how do you reach your goals?

  • How will you help your students reach their goals?

  • What have you done in a classroom that other teachers have liked and actually tried?

  • What have you learned from other teachers and use in your classroom?

  • What is an IEP? (For ESE Majors) and what does it mean to set goals?

  • What do you do if a child doesn't reach goals that you have set for them?

  • How can you make sure that children are reaching the goals set for them?

  • What do you expect from the Principal?

  • What do you expect from your colleagues?

  • How would you set your classroom up?

  • What would you do with a child who just won't follow directions?

  • What kind of behavior plan would you use?

  • What would a normal day in your classroom look like?

  • What do you feel should be the relationship between the teacher and the students?

  • How do you use literacy in the classroom?

  • How would you manipulate the 90 minute reading block?

  • What characteristics make you a great teacher?

Don't forget keep those fingers crossed!