Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Twentieth Year of Teaching Has Been Hell

As I begin typing this post, it's 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, meaning I can officially report that I survived Friday being one of the worst Mondays that I've had in a very long time. Teachers have our fair share of rough days and work related stress, but when I put my truck into park in my garage yesterday afternoon, turned off the ignition and began sobbing before even unfastening my seatbelt, it became very apparent that my limit, my breaking point, had been reached. Perhaps not so much met as exceeded. Yes... yes. That.

I faced the beginning of this, my twentieth year teaching, with curiosity, hope and energy. I had goals for myself and my students, planned engaging new lessons and activities, and put extra effort into creating an inclusive and appropriate learning, sharing, and growing space for my Super Stars. I took into consideration the traffic areas, work flow, and spaces needed for our daily rhythm and pace. I purchased new stuffed reading buddies, wonderful books, and freshened up classroom manipulatives, anchor charts, and organizational systems. I laid out our academic, thematic unit and special events calendar for August through May, making some tweaks here and there to accommodate changes in our report card and the possibility of having a practicum student in the spring. After determining that all of my school spirit shirts were still in great condition, I decided to set money aside for this year's Autism Awareness shirt instead. I made sure my students were flush with Play Doh, fun pencils, dramatic play essentials, and arranged our materials so that they were easily accessible. Accommodations were put into place, and intervention tools were ready.

August arrived. Introductions were made, relationships began to be built, needs were determined, and our trajectory was plotted with what I thought was only a hiccup involving a small group of students and their families. "Strong personalities" is how many teachers and parents characterize these friends, and there are many tried and true classroom management techniques and resources shared amongst us that consistently do the trick as we work to dismantle difficult combinations and create productive working partnerships for the benefit of all. With practice we become less me-me-me and more we, we, WE. We adopt rules and follow them. We aspire to be safe, kind, and helpful. We feel proud of ourselves and reap the benefits of growing together.  

But this year's small hiccup in August and September turned out to be a problem that didn't respond to the tricks of the trade nor the interjections of various school-provided and privately obtained services as the year wore on. Patience, practice and caring haven't helped, and neither have love and logic. There are only so many corners and activity areas in the room between which I have tried to separate the members of this crew, and the sheer number of them have made it difficult for any teacher or staff member to divide and conquer, be it in the classroom, on the playground, or in the cafeteria. Role playing, social stories, lessons in kindness, sympathy and manners and many opportunities to practice appropriate behaviors have gone unabsorbed. Worse, the headlamp on the train of tough consequences barreling toward this core group of students isn't motivating them to jump off of the tracks to try another path. Instead, they smile (yes, smile) and dig in their heels, despite the deafening sound of the wheels on the track and the whistle warning them that the train is approaching at top speed. 

Inappropriate behaviors haven't been grown out of, and they haven't faded away. They haven't been altered by praise, by teacher request, by the pleading of their other peers, nor the shunning by families who understandably have been very selective when planning play dates and get togethers. In fact, these students actually seem to enjoy inflicting themselves upon others, smiling as they damage, tease, defy, disturb, and cause injury. They bait one another, rise to the occasion, escalate situations, then smile, roll their eyes, and use other body language to communicate their intentions, much to the apprehension of their classmates. Even as young children, this group is nearly a gang, and they find it funny.  

Parent response has been disappointingly unhelpful:

"We have no words, but thanks for letting us know."

"Yeah, we see that at home, but she just won't stop. We'll talk to her again."

"Are you sure he did it on purpose?"

"Oh, I can buy you a new ____________. Sorry he broke/ripped/destroyed your _________. Where can I get it for a good price?"

"We just don't see this at home, so we're having a hard time believing that her behavior is really as inappropriate as you make it seem."

"Can't you just separate them? Give them assigned places to sit and line up and tell them to avoid each other on the playground for the remainder of the year."

*****

There IS good happening in my class. A lot of it. But not as much as there could be... as there SHOULD be. Nearly two-thirds of my students have spent a considerable portion of their kindergarten year running the gauntlet created by the others. Worrying over all of my students, those who endure AND those who inflict, has burned through much of my professional energy and drained me personally. Parents too busy to help, too annoyed or tired by my communications to respond, or possibly too inconsiderate to entertain the thought that their child ISN'T entitled to run roughshod over others have me wondering if the partnerships I've been blessed with in the past are at an end. My sweet Super Stars have learned that while I will do my very best to protect and provide for them, it comes at a price: my time and attention are over allocated  to dealing with the demands of the others. The social/emotional needs of one group have robbed many of the resources that they too, need and deserve. 

For myself, surviving the year doesn't feel like success.  Plastering a smile on my face each day and chirping "good morning" in a cheerful voice can no longer hide the truth:

My twentieth year of teaching has been hell. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Freshening Up the Blog for Spring

One of my to-dos for spring break was an item that usually results in the bi-annual freshening up of my blog.

It didn't happen.

Oh, goodness no, it didn't happen.

I had the school yearbook to finish.  I had laundry to do.  LOADS of laundry.

I had to sleep.

You understand.

Now it's the day after Easter, and the links in my blogroll haven't even been checked yet (they change every so often, making an unchecked, non-updated blogroll useless), HOWEVER...

Thanks to a fabulous colleague, I DO have a new blog header!  (~scroll back up, take a peek~)

It's simply sweet, straightforward, and feels fresh.

Thank you, Doti!

You can find her on Etsy and on Instagram (check out her cute spring lettering art!)



~Happy Spring!~

(... and I'll find time this weekend to update the blogroll.  Maybe.)



Friday, March 18, 2016

Spring has SPRUNG Bunny Craft

My pattern for this adorable spring bunny with accordion legs is available in my TPT Store!



Click here for the pattern, or scroll through my TPT store's widget near my blog banner.

The pieces for this cute medium sized bunny can be printed onto construction paper, cut apart and assembled by your students OR you can cut out construction paper using the measurements provided for more of an assembly-only activity. Cutting instructions include cutting off corners to make edge rounder/curved and cutting oval, circle, or triangle shapes from a simple square, which you can easily model to students.

I've included measurements for a LARGE bunny as well (or you can enlarge the printable template as large as you'd like)- it's almost as tall as a kindergartner!

Construction paper color combos I used with my students include:

white bunny, tan details, pink nose, black marker/crayon eyes
black bunny, light blue details, pink nose, white crayon eyes
tan bunny, pink details, pink nose, black marker/crayon eyes

I imagine solid colored bunnies with patterned scrapbook paper would also look darling!




Let me know if you decide to make these cute bunnies- I'd love to see them!

~Michaele~

P.S. It seems my egg shaped bunny ALWAYS gets pinned each spring- remember this one?




Saturday, March 05, 2016

Mistakes, Reciprocity, and the Evolution of a Career

The fourth quarter of my twentieth year teaching kindergarten begins on Monday, and this year has been a doozy.

My first year of teaching was full of excitement, stress, challenges, surprises, and always the best of intentions, if not the flawless execution of my job.  I had enough "oopsies" to my credit by May to substantiate the assertion that first year teachers MAKE MISTAKES.  I felt off-balance for eight long months, but I gave teaching and my students my ALL, even when neighborhood parents (none of my students', thankfully) semi-jokingly told me they'd slash my tires if I tried to strike with the veteran union teachers, who had put it on the table as an option during negotiations.  Yay, parental threats.  Yay, collegial pressure. 

My second year of teaching was marked by treading professional water without drowning, which was no small feat, considering I couldn't swim.  Teach, yes.  Backstroke or doggie paddle?  Not so much.  It was my survival instinct, not experience, that guided me through to the calm conclusion of a parent conference in which a mother pulled a gun from her purse, because she was "nervous" her husband might show up at school to hurt her.  That year, my colleagues became my floaties, my professional life preservers and my breathing coaches, long before Dory and her "just keep swimming" mantra had been imagined by Disney.

Third year not-quite-so-rookie mistakes included not sticking up for myself when I was verbally attacked by an administrator for something I didn't do. Though innocent, I didn't defend myself against the yelling, the beratement, and the threats.  I couldn't think logically because I was in such shock of having been accused of something I never would have dreamed of doing.  All I could do was cry.  And hyperventilate.  And cry some more.  Even after my principal discovered who was really at fault, he never apologized to me.  I never asked him to.  I didn't have tenure, so I didn't stick up for myself out of fear of losing my job.  Walking on egg shells isn't conducive to being comfortable in one's own embroidered teaching jumper and plastic Hallmark jewelry.  That year I learned it was sometimes administrators versus teachers.

Big surprise, fourth year teachers make mistakes too!  They forget to give credit where credit is due, and some of them even leave their sub plans in their truck accidentally when taking a personal day, forcing their colleagues to scramble to assemble lessons and activities for twenty-six kindergartners and a sub.  Recognizing the value of an apology and sincere appreciation, I understood that in addition to offering both, I'd have to make a conscious effort to show my colleagues how committed I was to doing a good job.  I wanted to be trusted to pull my own weight, and I wanted to be a help to others when it was needed.  I added to my list of professional goals, and was determined to reach them.

I discovered my teaching groove in Year Five.  Its soundtrack might have included a lot of Phil Collins, Journey, and Windham Hill instrumentals, but oh my, it was a good year, full of more affirmations and laughter than mistakes.  I welcomed my first education practicum student into my classroom, and though I was able to teach her quite a bit, we ended up learning so much more together.  The experience built from the stress, surprises and challenges from my first four years of teaching enabled me to solve problems quickly, anticipate issues, head them off at the pass, and innovate.  I felt like I was finally contributing to the profession.  I also lived in the same neighborhood where I taught.  My Super Star families became my extended family, as did my colleagues.  We shopped at the same grocery stores, bought morning lattes at the corner barista, and attended school concerts for our children.  I belonged.

I spent five more years in the same school in Alaska, teaching siblings, cousins, and neighbors of my first class of kindergartners.  I saw my very first Super Stars off to junior high and then to high school before Uncle Sam moved our family to New Mexico.  In the desert I taught soldiers' children, and had actual rocket scientists with whom I formed partnerships and conferenced as we set goals for their five and six year olds.  Moving several more times, my family and I ended up here in Kansas, "Oz," where I have continued to work with military and civilian families for the past nine years.  Having experienced the mandatory nomadic lifestyle required of military service members and their families, I have often felt connected to my students and their parents because of our shared culture.  Despite being a veteran teacher however, I continued to make unique mistakes borne from different perspectives and schema.  Blogging and social media usage, though on my time and away from the classroom, crossed some lines a few year ago with colleagues who were fearful I was going to "tell everyone our secrets," and administrators concerned I was going to damage our "brand" with honest critiques or by sharing too much.  

I'd like to tell you that there was a magic moment after I had accumulated enough teaching experiences, when I stopped making mistakes. Unfortunately, even after twenty years, there's one I still continue to make, even though I've experienced its sting enough times to know better: I misinterpret the smiles, volunteerism, small gifts and tokens, and lack of interference from my students' families as indicators that they ALL understand and trust my intentions.  Most parents are in fact, wonderful partners in education, advocating not only for their children, but for classmates, teachers, and schools.  But there are always parents who operate behind a facade of pleasantry that I misread as sincerity and trust until some situation arises (usually a disciplinary concern regarding their perpetually innocent child, or some misinterpretation that is taken to an administrator before clarification is ever sought out with me) resulting in the popping of my Pollyanna bubble.  And it pops every time.

This mistake troubled me to no end my first year teaching.  It gnawed at me my third year teaching.  It made me wince my sixth year.  I'm certain I cried over it during my seventh, ninth, and twelfth years.  It made me bitterly angry my fifteenth and nineteenth years.  And now in my twentieth, I've tried to examine it in context with the evolution of my teaching career,  in order to come to some conclusion that might help me to put my mind and heart at ease, something I feel is necessary the longer I teach.  Here's what bothers me: as I believe in the possibilities that await each and every student, I somehow spread that sparkly optimism and goodness I feel for them over to their parents.  I want to see the magic in everyone.  I want to see what makes them special, and I assume that everyone will rise to the occasion if given the opportunity, or want to share if they feel welcome and safe, and will trust me the way I choose to trust them.  I believe their seeming acceptance is more than mere tolerance.

It's this unrealized hope of reciprocity and respect that bites me in the rear, year after year.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What Do You Mean, "Coffee" ISN'T a Sight Word?



What do you mean, "coffee" isn't a kindergarten sight word?

Whoops.

Guess I learned something new today.

#NeverStopLearning


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Toothbrushes and T-Rex Friends

February is Dental Health Month!

My Super Star kindergartners love to learn the proper way to brush and floss, and are excited to learn that dentists and healthy foods also help them to maintain their bright, beautiful smiles.  To help us remember healthy teeth habits, we made oversized toothbrushes and added the words "dentist, brush, floss" and "snacks" to our writing page:

 photo 20160218_115231_zpssg62r6xm.jpg



I created a PDF available on TPT for this activity! Included in the PDF are a list of needed materials, directions, and printable text pages that include the following options: preprinted sentence,  preprinted sentence with traceable words, and preprinted sentence with blank writing line pages so you can choose exactly which activity will integrate well into your dental health lessons.  The Oversized Toothbrush Craft will be available for $1 this month (2016)! Click on the photos below to be taken to my Teachers Pay Teachers store:



My Stars also completed a fun T-Rex tooth subtraction activity this week, counting out ten sharp teeth, and then subtracting some from their dinosaur's mouth.  They expressed the loss of teeth in a math equation too:



Now our hallway bulletin boards are full of T-Rex friends and toothbrushes!



Take care of those chompers!





Friday, November 20, 2015

Children Can Emulate Native Americans Without Adults Screaming "RACISM." Here's Why:

After reading through a debate regarding a parent's complaint about pre-k students making construction paper feather headbands in November, I came across this post at Education World, "Are You Teaching the 'Real' Story of the 'First Thanksgiving?'"  The article and debate made me realize how lucky I am to have been brought up the way I was as the child of  both native and non-native parents.
Born in Kentucky and raised for the first ten years of my life in Texas, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be exposed to (and for five years, immersed in) Inupiat culture, and live for over two decades in a state where Native peoples' culture, mythology, values, history, and art aren't merely on display for one month out of the year: Alaska.  I learned about the good, the bad, the historical cruelties suffered by, and remarkable achievements of Indigenous Peoples. I have been a witness to the prejudices that remain and feel pride in the accomplishments and contributions of my Native family and friends today. Endurance, strength, resilience, community, love for family, pride, skill and artistry are all traits worthy of being shared, respected, and celebrated, no matter a person's ethnic or cultural background. 
To develop empathy, children must be encouraged to walk a mile in another's shoes, to imagine how they might feel when meeting strangers for the first time, when deciding who and HOW to trust. Young children try on the clothing and garb of others every day, from their mom's high heels to their dad's Army cap, to sister's riding boots and brother's varsity jacket, developing their personal identity by trying on the markers of others.  They also emulate family members, friends, sports heroes, celebrated musicians, actors, historical figures, community helpers and those blessed with a special talent or gift.
Can children create feathered headbands without the kitsch or racist connotations that instantly pop into their parents' minds upon viewing? Absolutely, but it's up to the teacher to share culturally relevant and accurate information about the earning of feathers (or wearing of a blanket, mask, or story belt) with students AND families.  It's also a family's responsibility to try to understand the intentions behind a lesson or activity before rushing to judgment and labeling a teacher as racist or insensitive.  Do I find it offensive if children emulate respected chiefs, warriors, healers, or shamans, just as they do ballerinas, astronauts, painters, singers, veterinarians, or teachers?  No.  Just as teachers, family and society expose children to other professions and roles worthy of respect through literature, history lessons, field trips, guest speakers, arts and crafts, so too can we teach children about Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples.  Native AND non-Native teachers need quality non-fiction materials and resources, or know how and where to find them. It's also up to teachers and parents to be aware of what's not only culturally sensitive, but developmentally appropriate for young children. 
Three, four, five and six year olds do not need to be exposed to and master the vocabulary of genocide because of the gut reaction of the adults around them. Rather, children should be gently guided as they broaden the scope of their universe from their immediate selves and family to their neighborhood, community, state, nation, and world.