Saturday, March 22, 2014

For the Love of Spring Break!

I just experienced my last spring break. It feels kind of sad. I am just like the kids at school in their excitement for the one week of freedom that we long to experience during the hectic school year. My last one.

Yes, I know….I've heard it before--"teachers have it made with all of those vacations." When you work so closely and intensely with students--we both need breaks to recharge to come back strong again. It's a job that you don't leave daily. You take it home. If not papers and planning materials, then it's worry and constant thoughts of what needs to be done. We are NEVER done. Even if we come in on the weekends (which many of us do) or stay late into the evenings--there's always more that could have been done. Those who say that about the vacations have never been in one of our classrooms for a day. The pressures of teaching are just growing and so is the workload.

I think I was able to stay in teaching as long as I did because of my school breaks. The spring was always the beginning of my training for wheelchair racing or the hand cycling season. I always looked forward to it with excitement and vigor. The summer breaks were when I would really train hard and go to competitions. I couldn't have done that if I didn't have the two and a half months off in the summer. That was a time when I really did manage to forget about work and concentrate on myself. My thoughts were on equipment, training techniques and where I would go to compete. My alter ego of "wheelchair racer" or "hancyclist" would get its turn. I trained and played hard for those months and enjoyed them immensely. However, even on those trips--my thoughts still went back to teaching. I would look for books or materials to buy and use in my classroom. Sometimes I would find some artifacts to bring back that I know would fit one of our social studies units. I would even bring my students addresses so I could send them post cards from my travels or even little trinkets to give them when I returned. Those brought more excitement to them than I would ever know.

Spring break is short (maybe not to others) but it seems to fly by. You have to grab all the gusto you can before it's time for that last long push to the end of the school year. This year, I will savor it, remember it and be thankful for it as it will probably be my last. (but never say never as who knows what my next career will bring)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Checking off the "lasts"

I just had parent conferences last week and realized they were the last conferences of my career. Let's see...25 conferences twice a year (averaging my class size which was 18 to 32 kids) times 25 years ( I won't count my years in special ed--but there are less conferences but much longer.) That equals out to about 1,250 conferences that I've held since I began teaching. That's a lot of conferencing.

I think back to when I first held my first conferences. I was so nervous. What was I to expect? Would the parents be upset by a grade I had given a child? Would they question what I was doing in class? Would they be supportive when a behavior problem was brought up? turns out that it is all of the above. Some of the conferences we hold are easy as the child has many strengths and there are some things they can do to improve. Parents appreciate the feedback and are usually supportive. Then there are the "hard one's" in which there are many things to bring up that a child needs to work on and you are grasping at straws to find their strengths. Often, those are the times when you end up sitting there hearing the family problems, seeing the tears, and understanding why the child is having so many problems. I feel bad sometimes that there is only so much I can do. I can make the child feel safe, give him a snack if he comes to school hungry, but you can't fix the things at home. Many times, the child sees me more than their parents since so many kids are in daycare before and after school. I do start to feel like a parent and I don't take my job lightly.

Conferences are where we get to know the parents. It's a place of building trust. It's where we come together and try to figure out what's best for their child. It takes more than just teachers to help educate a child and I think that's what some people forget. There are many learning opportunities for a child--not just the classroom. They need to develop their character in their homes--then we are there to reinforce it at school. We want to help the child learn to make the right choices.

So, thinking about checking off my list of "lasts" is bittersweet. I had my last school party at Valentine's day and I'm sure there will be others by the end of the year. I won't forget the conferences I've held. The times I've laughed and cried and really got to know the parents of the children I have loved so well. I won't forget them--and I hope they will have thought I cared for their child and wanted only success for them.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Last Months

I quit blogging about my classroom for fear of getting into trouble--but since I'm retiring at the end of this year, I thought I'd do some since I've nothing to lose!! It has been 28 years of teaching for me. I have loved most of it--but lately I see more negatives than positives.

Since the new board members have been elected--teachers are filled with fear and uncertainty. We see the vocation we chose and love changing drastically. We have never felt so disrespected. Our jobs are made out to be glorified babysitters who are overpaid. Scores are all that seems to matter--not the kids. More and more keeps getting dumped on our plates, and we are expected to do it--because "it's what's best for children." That's what's kept us going--but now it's not enough.

After taking pay cuts and salary freezes--we've become the least important part of the equation. How can one keep on teaching when it seems like we're the only ones who care? Teachers are being criticized and "villianized" because we belong to a union?(or professional association) They make it feel wrong to want to stand up for our rights. People who know nothing about education are dictating policy. We are not a business--we are a school. I dare any CEO of a large company to come into our classrooms and do the things we do daily. Teaching is a job of the heart. We have a heart to work with children to help them grow and learn--it's been really much harder when our hearts have been broken.

I'm one of lucky ones who get to retire at the end of this year. My fellow colleagues aren't so lucky. They must deal with the aftermath of this election gone wrong. It's sad to leave my profession feeling this way--but it's no longer the profession I loved.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Conferences, parties...when do you have time to teach?

We just got through the big ordeal of parent conferences a few weeks ago. In the old days--we would have a whole day to conference and two nights. Sadly, most parents work and so can't attend a conference in the middle of the day. So, we have to teach all day and then talk to parents all night....and do this for 3 nights in a row!!

It gets exhausting and mentally draining. One child seems to meld into another and after about 6 in a row--you hope you were indeed talking about their child. With the big number of students in my class this year, my conferences were only 15 minutes. They did feel like "drive by" conferences--talk 'em and walk 'em. We were reminded to use the "oreo method" when talking to parents. That is starting and ending with positives (the outside cookie) and the concerns or negatives in between (the filling). I did this but some of the kids were "double stuffs" (extra filling inside!)--but most of the parents weren't surprised by this.

I couldn't believe that we still had lots of meetings that week. We have to give two planning periods a month to work with our coach. It's always a time when you have millions of other things to do--but it's usually about data. That's more stuff put on our already over-flowing plates. I still haven't figured out when I'm going to get all of this stuff done.

We had our Halloween Parties and parade this past Friday. We chose to party on Friday--and not Monday. With that much sugar, it makes for a tough week. I enjoy watching the parade of little goblins, witches, princesses and one of the most popular this year was Mario. I don't really like dressing up anymore. I did because all of us dress up. I recently read Miss Nelson is Missing--so decided to be Viola Swamp's cousin Violet. (a witch) I had to make up the story that she was injured when she fell off her broom thus had to use a wheelchair. Of course, they didn't believe me...but I tried!

The party is another story. There's something about kids wearing those costumes make them to actually act like little monsters. Ours wasn't too bad. We had lots of food--but now we have someone who is the "food police" come around to the parties to make sure the party had healthy foods--not just cookies and junk. I was taken aback when someone told me that this happened. It seems like one more thing that will eventually be taken away. If parents fed their kids healthy food daily, a little sugar wouldn't really hurt them. This is the most popular party and many parents attend.

Of course, no one cleans up when it's time, and the bell rings before we are ready for it. I had to hustle the bus riders out so they wouldn't miss their ride home--while the others stayed and helped clean up. I usually feel so exhausted after a party day. Glad it's over--but most kids will still go trick or treating on Monday.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Parents: Help or Hindrance??

So, with the huge number of kids I have this year, I really need all the help I can get. But...maybe not. Several parents are eager to help in the classroom so I am eager to put them to work. They don't get to just work with their child, but whomever needs it.

One parent has been in many times...sometimes just dropping in. The other times it is to come in and help with math. Of course they get to see and work with other students--especially the needy ones. I try to keep my routine and behavior standards, no matter who is in the room. If a student misbehaves when his/her parent is there, he or she will still get reprimanded and the kids were told this before the parents come in to help.

This "helping" parent told another parent of a child in my class that I was too hard on her son. It was an activity outside of school. The other parent has never been in my classroom or made any complaints--until today. Yes, the principal had to stroll down and take my last 4 minutes of planning time to talk to me about this child.

Now I have to take time that I do not have to discuss this "problem" with her child--a week before parent conferences. I guess this is so urgent that it couldn't wait. She also had to go to the principal instead of to me about this concern. If this is the kind of "help" I'm going to get--I don't want it or need it.

Now, I feel I do not trust this parent who is constantly in my classroom to "help." Is she just spying? Is she there to criticize the way I teach? How can she judge when she has not spent the whole day in class to see the interactions of various students. I almost feel like saying I don't need any help from parents, but that would be punishing other parents who are truly there to help.

Did I ignore the behavior yesterday when this child I've been "too hard" on--smashed a birthday cupcake all over his face to get a laugh? Heck no, I told him and any other student who did that in no uncertain terms to clean up their mess and if they EVER did that again, they would not get to partake in future birthday treats. That might be too hard, or it may be cruel--but they should have learned in kindergarten..."cupcakes go in the mouth, not smashed on your face."

So..when is our next vacation???? (Not soon enough!!)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

When in a meeting!!

Well, we've been in school now for about a month--or 23 days of actual school. It's amazing where my class is now from the beginning of those 23 days. They are more solid in our routines. Our transition times are better, they are showing signs of academic progress.

They are enthusiastic about learning and that's why I love teaching second graders. They get excited about new things, they'll work hard for a sticker, they come up and give you hugs, and can be taught independence. I think by mid October we'll be running like a well-oiled machine. That's when I can take a breath....and sit back and watch them do as they are expected.

My job is far from over, though. I have over a year's worth of curriculum to teach them in a year. The district has our daily, weekly and monthly curricula to be taught all laid out. It just doesn't account for the lack of hours in the day. We've already taken out anything that doesn't fit the CAP. (that's the document we all follow) It sounds great to have everything laid out like that, but it doesn't allow for any reteaching when the kids don't get it...or interruptions such as fire drills or assemblies--or God forbid, fun things! When those occur, you are behind. It just seems like you are always trying to catch up.

This document says that students are entitled to a "guaranteed and viable curriculum" by Jeffco. That means that you could walk into any 2nd grade class in the district and we should be teaching the same things in math, reading, writing, etc. This sounds good...but if you walk into any 2nd grade classroom across the district you will find very different situations in each. We are not all the same. Some have very impacted populations that need lots of intense interventions just to get them to the level they should have started at. Others may have students whom can move quickly through the curriculum. Usually, we have both ends of the spectrum and are expected to provide individual students with what they need. That is what we all want to do...hope to do. However, reality steps in--and you do the best you can with the resources you have.

It gets overwhelming. I don't know how new teachers do it. I've been around for 28 years--and I still feel overwhelmed at times. The meetings alone keep your schedule filled. We have staff meetings every Wednesday. Team meetings every week. Meetings with our coach twice a month, we have a book study we are doing and meet monthly for, we have professional development in writing every month. Those are just the planned ones. Then there are the meetings that just seem to pop up out of no where. (parents, or principal, etc.) With all of these meetings, it's amazing that we can get anything done in our classrooms at all. I guess that's why I'm there until 5 or 6pm most days.

It's this time of year I look longingly back at the summer, when my time was my own and the only meeting I had was with my bike on a long path. I'll keep plugging along, and it will get easier, I hope. Until then....if you can't reach me, I'm probably in a meeting.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I rolled into my classroom on Wednesday with fear. I had heard the sub I had to get "wasn't that great." I knew it was true when I open the door to find trash strewn all over the floor, the chairs in disarray all over the room, things left laying around. I slowly looked around at the carnage. Then I went to the front of the room to where my desk was and saw a big pile of dog poop. Yes, that's right, I said dog poop. I got a sudden case of "sub trauma."

I don't usually get sick too often, but when I do, of course I want someone I trust to take my class. You can't always have that when it's last minute--you get what we refer to as "potluck." When I woke up on Monday I knew I didn't feel right, so I decided to go for the morning and get a sub for the afternoon. What I was going to do that morning was just easier to do myself that to try and explain it in sub plans. I had this sinking feeling I shouldn't be absent..the kids weren't ready.

Most people don't realize that when a teacher is absent for sickness or whatever reason--she still has to do lots of work to prepare for that absence. It's usually more trouble to plan for the sub than to just stay and teach. It's even harder to write sub plans when you are already sick. You can't just leave your plan book for them to follow. You have to write out everything so specific with every detail. You also have to find all of the papers and books and have them out and ready.

When I my fever crept up before it was time for the sub to come...I got permission from the principal to leave while I had someone cover my class. I had the plans all set for the afternoon, and the promise of help from teammates and colleagues if the sub needed it. I went home and slept. If I weren't so feverish...I would have worried.

Getting a sub this early in the year isn't good. The kids are still fragile in their routines. They sort of know what to do but still need a lot of support and reminders to keep them on track. The fact that I have an extra half a class this year doesn't help either. The kids weren't ready to have a sub....but boy, I didn't know how NOT ready they were until I rolled in on Wednesday morning.

Of course, I had a meeting that I had to immediately get to when I arrived. It was an hour long staff development. I asked my former teammate, Julie about the sub. She said, "She wasn't very good. I think she didn't have good control of the kids." I told her what I had found when I had come in.

When the meeting was over I went back to my class to deal with the mess. When I had more time to look I noticed that one of my book charts had a page torn out. In the meantime the custodian came in and cleaned up the dog poop. I found out later that was the result of the principal's son letting his dog loose in the school when she told him to keep him under control.

I looked at the white board in horror when I saw 5 pieces of my own store bought chart paper (that's like a sticky note) hanging there with scribbling and very little writing on them. She had used my $30 for 20 sheets pad for the kids. It is like gold to me and I only use it for anchor charts I make with the kids I'm going to keep up. I think my blood pressure rose!

I went to my desk to read her notes. She decided to "wing it" for reading and made me get well cards instead. Well, that's thoughtful and all--but she gave them all of our colorful writing paper in our writing center to make them. They each get 3 or 4 pieces of paper and went crazy with it. Several of the boys got into trouble but I don't know if there were any consequences as she seemed to let them run wild. Did she not know that we are in a crisis with our money and supplies at school? She must have thought we get these supplies from the office!! WRONG.....I buy most of my supplies now. I saw on her nicely printed sub card she was an art teacher. No wonder the cards were to most unusual I have received.

When the kids came in they were glad to see me. They were all wild. They seemed to have forgotten our routines. This sub had them for a day and a half and it felt like it was the beginning of the year. As the day went on I'd discover more and more that happened...the drinking fountain in our room was broken, math manipulates were a mess, the secretary had come down to my room and the kids were so loud and not in control. It seemed endless.

My fever began to creep up again. I thought, no way am I going to leave my class to anyone else! I managed to get through the day but had a doctor's appointment that evening. I was going to will myself back to health if I had to.
I had written an email to my principal asking this sub be put on the "do not call" list at our school. I addressed all of the reasons and she agreed to do it.

I was angry that this woman who was obviously NOT qualified to teach an elementary class (she probably taught high school art) would be able to take this job. Last year so many good teachers lost their jobs! Good teachers are out there subbing. She took the half day and then saw my post online and took it for the next day! How could this happen?? How could anyone leave a classroom in such disarray and feel good about the job they did?

I'm feeling better now thanks to some antibiotics. It's a good thing too, because after that SUB TRAUMA....I'd drag myself into school shaking and puking before I'd let a sub like that teach my class again!