Students surprising themselves

Last time I mentioned my students completing their Insight Projects. As they get them done they have to present to the class. It will come as no shock that this causes a great deal of angst in many students. I can’t blame them I can teach to students all day long, or talk in small groups of adults, but ask me to do a presentation to a large group of adults and I’m a mess and not a hot mess just a mess. My stomach will fill with butterflies, I’ll begin to shake, as will my voice, I have to fight myself to make eye contact. It’s not good. I still do it because I’m supposed to and because I wholeheartedly believe it’s good to face your fears (hence why I forced myself to try out the Superman ride at Six Flags, ugh falling from heights eeekkk).


For any student that is worried or suffers stage fright I have some tips I share: look over people’s heads, pick one person you trust and speak just to them, practice practice practice, and always remember this is not a life or death situation.


I had one student who just at the mere mention of presenting began to shake. I promised the student that I would stand with them and help. The student stood next to the SMART board. I stood between them and the class. As the student spoke I patted their back, and whispered words of encouragement, repeated anything that was spoken too quietly for the class to hear, by the last two slides the student had stopped shaking, though they still stood a bit stooped over but spoke loud enough for everyone to hear.


When I pointed this out to the student, hands went up to cheeks as the jaw dropped, and eyes just lit up. This kiddo was so excited that they had done it, they had made the presentation and they had gotten to a point where they really didn’t need me. Those are moments that make a teacher’s day, week, year!


I just love it when my kids surprise themselves!


School projects as therapy

My students are currently completing their poetry unit by doing the Insight Project, NO not Project Insight a la Captain America: Winter Soldier, yes I know my geek is showing but I’m good with that. Anyway, for this project students picked a song, specifically they were looking for lyrics. They then analyze the lyrics for elements of poetry: rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia, simile, metaphor, symbol, personification, refrain/repetition, allusion, imagery, theme, and response to theme.

It’s the last two that are the kicker, the students identifying the theme of the song and making a personal response to it. I’ve had several students who picked songs that may not have had a lot of elements of poetry but that instead had a great deal of meaning to the student. Two students picked songs that lead to them discussing the loss of someone in their family, one was near tears when they finished. Another student spoke of a time that a neighbor purposely hurt his dog. Yet another student shared how they connected to a song about being alone because at one point they had no friends.

My students seem to be using this project not only to review their elements of poetry as therapy. Working through personal issues while they do their assignment.

This should really come as no surprise to me. I have a close friend who used our term paper junior year to help work through a deep seated issue. It was hard to watch knowing the issue that my friend was dealing with but at the time I had no idea just how hard it might be for the teacher watching. My friend let the teacher know ahead of time that this was an issue that was very personal and after the presentation on the term paper that they  might need to leave the room and could I come too. My friend made it through presentation (I was SO proud) and then pretty much bolted from the room. All it took was a quick look at the teacher who nodded to me and I followed. As awful as it was, I think it really did help my friend start to heal and was one of the bright spots for me in an English class that I really didn’t enjoy with a teacher I really didn’t like, odd for me and English classes/teachers.

Now I’m on the other side, watching my students work through their rough spots, their traumas, their lives through school work and I just want to hug each and every one and let them know someone is there for them.

Yep finally had one break down into tears couldn’t even finish the presentation. Knew it had to happen at some point. Have the kiddo a hug as did several classmates which really made me tear up, then the student came back later in the day to apologize for bringing the class down. I love my kids!

First Day of School

Boy am I exhausted!  But it’s a good kind of exhausted.  First day of school and it went really well!  I love that with the exception of K and 4th every class has kids that I had last year so reviewing rules and emergency procedures takes no time at all.  Several of my classes actually got onto the computers today.

I had kindy first thing this morning, poor little ones so overwhelmed but only one ended up in tears.  I only had one of the four classes today so we’ll see how things go for the others.

I’m on 1st grade recess and lunch duty this year, well at least for now, it was so much fun to see all my kiddos again.  It never ceases to amaze me how much kiddos grow in just  few months over the summer.

Last year I almost never ate lunch in the lounge, this year the music teacher and I decided we’ll eat in the lounge at least one day a week, we went in today and ate with the rest of the specials team, traded stories, it was just fun.  I love my job!

I’m really excited too, this is going to be a great year.  Now to rest up for day 2 😉

Kagan Cooperative Learning

Several years ago the district I was teaching in at the time sent three other teachers and myself to a week long workshop.  I was dreading it.  I had just finished my Master’s degree and during that time I had quickly realized I don’t do well on the other side of the desk and here I was going to be sitting in a room six hours a day for five days.  I just knew I was going to be bored out of my mind.  I could not have been more wrong!

Kagan Cooperative Learning is the brain child of Dr. Spencer Kagan.  Unlike what many of us experienced in schools that was supposed to be cooperative learning and was in reality group work where one or two people did all of the work this is truly cooperative, everyone takes a turn, everyone participates.  I LOVE IT!

Walking into the large ballroom where the conference was being held we were met with music, food, a little shop, posters, just a fun atmosphere.  It was that first step through the door that began changing my mind.  We didn’t just get lectured to, we weren’t just given a list of pre-generated ideas, we weren’t bored to tears.  We were first put into teams just as students are put into teams for Kagan structures.  Now they didn’t team us the exact same way rather we were in teams of teachers with similar disciplines and grade levels the first day or two.  As each new structure or bit of information was introduced we tried it ourselves, there was a slide show of ways other teachers had used it, and then we were given time to brainstorm with our team other ways we might use it.  From the first day I couldn’t wait to get home to start planning and get school started so I could use the structures.  My team the first few days got along so well that we were rather disappointed when we had to switch teams, fortunately near the end of the conference we switched again and managed to meet up, which gave me a hint of something to watch for in my students LOL.

When we got back home my co-teacher and I began planning and looking at how we would use the structures in class.  While I was excited about the prospect of what might happen when utilizing these structures I was still nervous and wondering if it would work for my kids.  We teamed our kids and routinely did class building and team building activities but it was the first time we used a structure in class rather than the typical teacher ask a question and wait for kids to answer that convinced that this was the best thing I’d ever come across, and five years later I’m still convinced, every time I use a structure it just reaffirms for me this is a great program.

Let me share with you that first experience, well as much as I can remember as some details are lost from the excitement :).  We were reading The Outsiders with our eighth grade classes always a good book to get discussion from but in the traditional classroom style we had used previously there were still kids that were able to just sit back and let others do the talking.  We read a chapter and stopped to ask a question as we normally did, however this time we asked all the kids to first think. *Think time is one of my favorite parts of the Kagan structures as it requires me to stop and allow all kids enough time to think, we all know not every kid comes up with answers right away and yet often in our effort to keep class going and get everything covered we call on that first hand or two before all the kids have even had a chance to think.  I actually count slowly with my fingers to ten before giving further instructions with Think Time, and have found that when I do pose a question in the traditional style I allow more time between asking the question and calling on someone.  I also don’t allow my kids to raise their hands during think time, I don’t want slower thinkers/processors to become discouraged because others already know what they want to say* OK back to the scene: Kids are thinking and no I don’t remember the question I wish I did, finally we explain they will be doing a Round Robin, each student will answer the question they are allowed to pass once but when the others are done sharing they have to share something.  Students are also not allowed to just say “I agree with Robin.” they must give a reason why they agree.  We told them the person closest to the door would go first and they would share clockwise around the table.  Nervously I said “Go” and then we just grinned at each other as the kids started talking, 25% talking at once and almost everyone else engaged and listening.  The comments were insightful, kids felt safer knowing they only had to share with three others rather than with the whole class.  We grinned at each other, I know I for one quite literally began jumping for joy which did not distract the kids at all as they were quite used to my strangeness 🙂  Even better after the Round Robin we chose one student from each team to share something said in their group, it did not have to be their own idea just something heard.  one particularly quiet girl turned red but smiled when her teammate shared what she had said and others in the class reacted positively.  We began to use this follow-up each time we did a reading response RR.  Kids came out of their shells more and more, that quiet girl began raising her hand on those occasions where we did ask questions more traditionally.  It was just so exhilarating, I can’t stop smiling now remembering it and thinking about how it works in my room right now.  

If you ever have a chance to go to a Kagan training GO, GO, GO!!!  Find a way and go!  I attended another one day workshop and can’t wait to go back for more!

Success… I think

So kiddo is in 3rd grade and it has been a battle up until this year to get him to read on a regular basis.  I thought we had solved the problem earlier this school year when he discovered the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  He devoured them and even wrote a review for my friend Amy’s blog What Will She Read Next? A Kid’s Take was his post. Then he began the Warriors series he made it through book 1 and halfway through book 2 and then we were back to where we started with reading just not happening.

I’ve suggested books until I’m blue in the face (ok not totally but it feels like it).  He turns me down every time.  Mom clearly knows absolutely nothing about books never mind the fact that I’m a teacher, have taught for years, taught communication arts, read like crazy myself, and know my child. UGH!!!!!!!!!

Inspired by Donalyn Miller and her book The Book Whisperer, I promise I will be posting more in-depth about this book later, I decided to simply expose him to the books and give him no opinions as he clearly doesn’t want mine.  I checked about about 13 books for him from the library and sat them in front of him.  I asked him to just go through them and look at them, try to pick one to read.  He ended up reading two: the first Knights of the Lunch Table, and the first Bone book.  We have the rest of KotLT on hold, and two more Bone books on hold.  He’s now reading the first Timmy Failure.  I’m really hoping we’ve turned a corner.

I’ve never had as much trouble getting any of my students to read as I have had getting my own kiddo to read.  It’s been so frustrating and I try not to nag, I try to just be an example but it’s hard.  Fingers crossed for me we’ve finally clicked.

If not us then who?

So while it’s not something I make a big deal about I am a Christian.  I try to show this in my actions though I don’t always succeed.  I’m not one to talk about my faith so much as to try and live it, lead by example, again not something I always succeed in.  This past Sunday the sermon focused on Jesus’ sermon on the mount from the book of Matthew.  Specifically it was about the Matthew 5:38-42 “38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

The minister shortened this in to the phrase “If not us then who?” This struck me especially as she began to tell stories of her ministry in another location reaching out to those that others might not.  Teachers do this every day!  Good teachers do so much more than impart knowledge, they care, as simple as that.  In classrooms all over the world today teachers are reaching out to children who for any number of reasons don’t feel loved.  Children who are our biggest challenge are often those that need the most care, some teachers are better at connecting with students than others, some connect with different types of students better than others.  For some reason I’ve always been the one to reach out to those in need.  My mom joked she thought I’d grow up to be a social worker.  She and my dad were the example though.  My siblings and I had several friends between us from family situations that were not the best but they knew our door was always open to them, we were the “Do Drop Inn”.  One of my best friends to this day was having big issues at home and she walked several miles to our house to stay the night with us because she knew my parents would throw open the door and welcome her in.

This shaped me more than I think I realized.  Kids that other teachers can’t seem to get to behave or connect with, I’ve been able to build a relationship with.  I have no idea why.  There have been students that I haven’t been able to connect with as well, but I try, teachers try every day!

Yesterday I wrote about how the 1,2,3 Magic program worked so well for me, in that post I mentioned the class that I decided I wouldn’t give up on.  It was exactly that thought “if not me, then who?”  that spurned me into trying again and again with that group and finding some measure of success.  I’m still in contact with some of those kids today.  I’m fortunate to actually be in contact with several of my former students who are now adults moving into the world of adulthood going to college, getting married, having kids and there are still one or two who reach out to me to ask a questions, even if it’s just to edit their papers for their English classes 😉

I had a principal for several years who really spoke to this idea.  We struggled to find that line between motivating the apathetic misbehaving student and sending them to ISS or OSS.  I think every teacher and principal can tell you there are days when a class has a totally different feel and you realize it’s because a certain student isn’t there.  When a student doesn’t care about their learning, nothing you do seems to motivate them in any way, and they are a disruption to those that do care you fight with yourself as to the best choice for them.  You don’t want to give up, you to fight for them to the end, but then you wonder while you’re fighting for them are you losing the fight for those that care?  It’s a tightwire act and you never quite know if you’re going to make it to the other side.  At a meeting one day this principal said part of his struggle with this problem is going to a fast food place and having a student that had so much potential wait on you and wondering “what else could I have done?”  See he’s was thinking “if not me then who?”

I’ve seen it so many times in so many classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms, and playgrounds school staff of all levels reaching out students that others might pass by.  They’re living the same life I try to live each day.  When I grow frustrated with a student especially with that student who so frequently acts out I have to ask myself “if not me then who?”  If I give up on this student how will it affect them?  What does it say to them?  I want my students to know that I care, that I am here if they ever need me.  To me this is just as important as the knowledge I share with them day in and day out.

I hope this made some sense and wasn’t just rambling as it all just kind of spilled out of me into the keyboard.  If not well maybe I can make more sense of it later. 🙂

1-2-3 Magic for Teachers

This book saved my sanity!  That may sound overly dramatic but it’s true.  The second year I taught in my last district I had a class that challenged every teacher in the building.  They had been told at some point that they were the “worst class to ever walk through the doors” unlike so many teenagers who want to prove adults wrong this group students wanted to prove the adults were right, seeming to go out of their way to behave completely unacceptably.  They bragged about lunch or Saturday detentions.  Parents seemed to just brush off reports that their student was talking in class, during instruction.  I cried and screamed, gritted my teeth and nearly pulled my hair out at the roots that year from frustration.

At the end of the year a third grade position came available in our building.  I went to the principal and expressed interest.  He told me he’d be happy to consider me but I should think it over to be sure.  That night we had our eighth grade graduation.  I sat there watching the eighth graders recognized, seeing my seventh graders in the bleachers.  I had had that class for two years already and if I stayed in my current position would be the only core teacher they would have for three years due to teacher turnover in the middle school.  I didn’t want to leave that class, my kids.  Then I saw the sixth graders in the bleachers and realized that if I left I would just be proving to them again that they were the worst class ever.  This was not an acceptable choice!  I would NOT give up on that class.  I told the principal I was staying where I was.

That summer I checked out every book on classroom management I could get a hold of from the library, in all about 20 books.  I read book after book, some ideas sparked my interest but nothing really caught me until I read 1-2-3- Magic for Teachers.  I wasn’t very far in when I knew this was the classroom management program for me.  The emphasis on no arguing and no yelling was exactly what I wanted, that was the teacher I wanted to be!  I hate yelling, I feel out of control not the teacher I want to be.   (Now this doesn’t mean I never yell, it still happens unfortunately but I do my best and I try to remember to apologize if I do and explain my frustration.  I do this better with my son than in my classroom I think but I’m still working on it.

My book is filled with highlighted lines and notes in the margins.  The simplicity of the program makes it easy for anyone to implement and the kids need little to no explanation.  So many parents, day cares, and baby sitters use the 1-2-3 method that as soon as you begin counting in the classroom kids pick it up and know what’s happening.  While it is simple to implement I would highly recommend reading it to get more information.  If you are a teacher trying to find your classroom management technique, an education teacher, or a principal looking to help a struggling teacher this is a great book.  Parents there is a 1-2-3 book for you as well.  For anyone interested you can get more information on the 1-2-3 Magic website.