Sunday, October 27, 2019

Teachers Have Hobbies Too: Crocheted Afghans

I've never quite seen the point of having idle hands, and have managed to be a crafty, crochet-ey person for even longer than I've been teaching.  In addition to reading books and articles about education, pursuing my master's degree, attending professional development and training, creating kindergarten materials from scratch and surfing web sites stuffed with ed-related content, I've managed to pick up and enjoy multiple hobbies during my weekends and evenings.  Being able to papercraft, solder, make ornaments and decorative bunting, and crochet cowls and afghans might suggest to some that I'm entirely too productive, but hey...

... if a person has to have a vice, loving to create all things handmade is a good one with which to be afflicted.

You can find my non-teacher products over at Etsy.  For this go 'round, my shop is featuring cozy and cuddly crocheted afghans, just in time for winter.  Take a peek:

Log cabin marbled afghan in pinks, teal, and beige:

Log cabin afghan in marbled reds and blues:

This southwestern colored waffle-stitch afghan was fun to make:

This big and bulky afghan could double as a decorative rug:

Knowing I have called my kindergarteners my "Super Stars" since my first year of teaching, it shouldn't be any surprise that I've even made star-shaped afghans.

Vibrant star:

Mint green and gray star:

... and even a denim-look star:

What are your hobbies?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

My Plain Jane Pumpkin Math Pack is Now Available on TPT

"Plain Jane" refers to the minimal use of overly busy clipart, fonts, and other graphics: sometimes ~simple~ really is best!

If you're looking for a NON-Halloween themed pumpkin math pack, go take a look at my TPT Store:

Monday, September 30, 2019

Another Day in the Life of a Kindergarten Teacher: Humorous Notes Home to Families

I've written and sent home some awesome I-need-your-help notes to my students' families over the past twenty-four-ish years.  Always a favorite is the "appropriate restroom behavior" message.  

Here's this year's draft:

Good morning, Super Star Families,

After some instances of silliness in the large group restrooms in the first and second grade "pit" hallway by our kindergarteners last week, we're going to spend some time this week practicing safe, kind, and helpful behavior in pairs so that we can better utilize restrooms located throughout the building when needed. 

Shared boys' and girls' bathrooms certainly have their appeal: friends, even siblings can appear in them, making for happy reunions and chatter.  And the acoustics!  Echoes are FUN!  With a seeming absence of adult supervision, pumping seventeen squirts of soap into one's hands (dropping much of it onto the tile floor, making it very slippery) and/or pulling wads and wads (and wads, and w-a-d-s) of paper towels out of the dispenser is awfully tempting, and dare I say it... exciting!

Girls are being loud and giggly, especially while sneaking peeks through stall doors, while several of our boys find it exceedingly funny to, *ahem*, wiggle-waggle certain parts of their anatomy at one another (and other students from other grades) while they use the urinals.  Yes, yes, I'll understand if you want to forward this message to grandparents, aunts and uncles: kindergarten teachers DO write some very funny notes! 

Shared restrooms are high-traffic areas, and are FULL of germs and toileting messes.  As such, they're not playgrounds, meeting areas, or party zones.  With one custodian available during school hours, purposely spilled soap and wasted paper towels make restrooms dangerous and even more unhygienic.  Many children appreciate privacy when using the toilets and have a difficult time "going" when they're distracted or apprehensive about someone else peeking, climbing under (ew, on the floor) or "pretending" to try to push open the stall door. As for the "wiggle-waggles," no first, second, older grade students needing to use the restroom, or building staff investigating unusual noise want to walk in on a different kind of "flash" mob from the boys.

Thank you for speaking with your Star today and reiterating our bathroom expectations with him or her several times this week. Your reinforcement will help make it possible for us to be allowed to use restrooms in locations other than our classrooms. Hopefully, I've not caused you to blow coffee out of your nose while reading this morning.

Have a great day,


Yes, I think "wiggle-waggle" is the real takeaway for my boys' families, while "ew, on the floor" will be the gem for the girls'. 

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Annual Self-Reflection: My Value

With my twenty-fourth year of teaching underway, it's time for my annual self-reflection, which has become something of a tradition for me out here in Blogland. With each successive year, I continue to find myself in the position of having a perspective gleaned from many years of experience, and appreciate that for the most part, I still love my job.  I consider myself lucky that my time as a teacher has been spent invested in diverse communities, successfully coexisting and/or collaborating with colleagues and administrators, and finding joy, humor, and humility within the kindergarten learning environment.  My advocacy for young children continues to be fueled by caring, my knowledge of and respect for their rights as developing, rather than "deficient" human beings, empathy, and enjoyment of my dual roles in the learning process: I'm a teacher and a lifelong student. Not to mention, kindergarteners are fun!

Mentored by advocates of young children and developmentally appropriate practice, challenged by colleagues who either want to maintain the status quo or throw the baby out with the bathwater, and appreciated by families who often find themselves surprised that they like me, they really, really like me, I've seen my fair share of education trends and reforms.  I've explored naturalistic settings, party-themed classroom decor, minimalist backgrounds, and multiple seating options.  I've been seizure-trained, MANDT trained (years ago), and invited to participate in live shooter drills. I've attended both assigned and self-selected professional development and obtained my master's degree after many, many years of searching for the right program, aided by friends and family who helped me envision my future.  I give back to my profession regularly, happy to share my knowledge and expertise, and I understand the responsibility I have to play devil's advocate when future or new teachers are discovering and developing their best practice.  Having the freedom to share an honest, earned and honed pedagogy with others, lighten their load when possible, or just support them with trays of cookies throughout the year has matched my spirit during much of my career.  Teaching has filled my heart, and for quite a long time, I haven't felt as if I would be more valued if I were anyone but myself.

I've seen the family dynamic change over time, as all things do.  There was never a "better time," in parenting during my career. Families have always been diverse, strong, needful, overinvolved, and absent. Some were abusive, most were supportive, and many tried to be nurturing. I have partnered with parents, administrators, colleagues and agencies. My students, teammates and I have benefitted from our relationships with local and national partners in education.  Community helpers have kept us safe and taught us ways to help ourselves and others.  I have also been threatened, stalked, had a mother show me her handgun during a parent-teacher conference, and have had to watch as a student's hand was taken from mine and placed into that of her abusive father the day before Christmas break, thankfully all years ago.  I have fed and clothed my students, and I have intentionally created a womb, not room, of trust and comfort within what used to be considered one of the safer community venues, the elementary school. 

Education has always been big business, which didn't use to bother me as a student nor as a young teacher just starting out.  Armed with math and language arts kits and teaching manuals, I knew that I could rely upon my colleagues to be additional resources, sounding boards, and my backup.  If I needed help with instruction, I could ask not only my kindergarten team but the reading and math specialists for insight and tips. Speech/language therapists, bi-lingual educators, cultural liaisons, and physical therapists freely shared their advice and the context behind it.  I made mistakes, corrected them, modified and grew my pedagogy, much like my students.  I figured out that the powers that be (administrators, parents, politicians, and even teachers) don't always make the best decisions when it comes to the actual learning that occurs in schools, especially if those decision-makers aren't comfortable with or aware of the organic nature of growth: human beings are muscular bags of developing/evolving emotions and skills, not machines. Though the articulation of standards has helped to identify just how much there is to put into place to help build a firm foundation for learning and support it for a lifetime, the subsequent desire to equally distribute, pace, and assess each slice of Learning Pie further continues to place students in a mechanized, assembly-line setting.  I've watched many teachers respond to this wash, rinse, repeat testing culture with attempts at balance: they've implemented project-based learning, differentiated their instruction, integrated digital tools, supported lots of collaboration and talk time for colleagues and students, and offered flexible seating. Despite constant changes in education, veteran educators continue to know that the end of second grade, all of third grade, and the beginning of fourth grade remains an almost magic span of time for children: it's when every previous life experience (not just the reading or math instruction or intense interventions) congeals and creates in students a big bang that heralds their next developmental step in learning.

Over my years of teaching, I've watched (and sounded an alarm, repeatedly) as big business in education has sold parents, teachers and districts the idea that not only will their products help that big bang occur earlier, but they may also someday solely facilitate that learning in the first place.  Districts invest in "research-based" products equating them with research-based best practice, often due to accreditation (and therefore funding) requirements, and these products tend to ride the wave of education trends during the height of their popularity.  Much of the "research" shared is originally commissioned and paid for by the publishers themselves, which for many consumers might suggest the possibility for bias.  I remember when "NCLB" stickers were stamped on curriculum materials and teacher publications, followed by "CC," and then "Research-Based" labels.  Now there's a brand and sticker for all things education, to include social/emotional/character-building "school culture" programs, which are also standardized with mandated vocabulary, products, and very public and documentable implementation.  While these guarantors of success have attempted to prove and improve their efficacy (and brand) through teacher training, focused professional development, and specific artifacts,  I've found that their rigid scripts illuminate a chasm that can exist between new and veteran teachers.  Just as I did over twenty-five years ago, today's newbies appreciate focused direction while immersing themselves in content as they develop their pedagogy and practice, while veterans like me are more likely to cherrypick through new innovations and materials to integrate them into our already well-stocked toolkits.  These differences can often result in educators being sorted into three groups: those invested in the infomercial (they're characterized as "enthusiastic team players" and try to follow scripts with fidelity), those indifferent to the infomercial (they do their job, and tend to jump through the necessary hoops merely out of obligation), and those who find no inherent value in the infomercial... these folks are often characterized as lazy, burnt out, oppositional, and make those around them wonder if they couldn't somehow be convinced to retire sooner rather than later.  After twenty-four years, I know this: teachers in any of these groups can be highly effective.

I repeat: teachers in ANY of these groups can be good teachers.  Teachers in any of these groups have value and bring much to the culture of a school.

With each successive year that I teach, I become more and more the veteran educator, and that means I recognize repackaged product when I see it. And speaking for myself, I find the repetition of it all redundant and inefficient, while others, exposed to it for the first time, find it essential.  It's increasingly difficult for me to feign enthusiasm for a product, program, or initiative when it doesn't feel authentic or valuable to me.  When colleagues who would usually say "thanks for your help," "oh, awesome," or "have an incredibly great day," (like spontaneously expressive and vocabulary-rich normal human beings do), instead replace their verbal communication with me and one another with the very scripted "Wow, way to be proactive!" or "So Michaele, it's awesome how you began with the end in mind," in the hopes that adult and student listeners will also adopt the script, I find myself fighting against both gag and cringe reflexes.  And those folks who insist on insisting (you know the type, they're the ones funded by the product's producers) that they're not "sight words," "popcorn words" or "star words" but MUST BE "______ words," appear increasingly confused as they face the fixed stare that I wear as I attempt to control an eye-roll.

At forty-nine years of age and after almost a quarter of a century teaching, I find myself feeling as if I'm trying to be polite rather than sincerely being polite during these encounters, which is uncomfortable.  I'm a firm believer that polite is professional and I highly value reciprocity, but, being human myself, I too have my limits... as evidenced by the two times I have blurted out in frustration recently.  I find it nearly impossible to respect or trust one-size-fits-all programs because I remain comfortable with and engaged by diversity and I respect individuality.  And I'm not a testimonial person who pitches a brand nor do I appreciate any kind of salesmanship trying to influence my teaching, despite being able to remember a time when I considered any offer of help or proposed solution worthy of thorough examination and acceptance.  As a veteran educator, being surrounded by consumerism posing as pedagogy now bugs me, deep down into the marrow.  When I'm faced with someone who might assume that my point of view suggests that I'm refusing to teach effectively or that I'm choosing to promote chaos, opposition and resistance, I'm left feeling that my experience, prior growth, and purpose aren't nearly as highly valued as my playing the role of a yes-man would be.  I'm somehow failing the "I'm-as-invested-to-do-right-by-our-students" measurement that has been tossed out there with the newly adopted "common" assessment.

And let me tell you, this feeling is less than pleasant.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Checking In

I'm still here, though it might be difficult to know it considering my lack of posting.  In addition to teaching another sweet, silly and smart class of kindergarteners, this is year TWO of my graduate program, which will wrap up at the end of this summer.  I've been on the mend since the health scare wake-up-call of last spring... we've added a sweet kitty to our family... and I've developed quite the addiction to crochet. While I haven't been blogging regularly, I assure you I've remained immersed in all things #kindergarten, such as continuing to grow my classroom library with new and new-to-me titles (this batch of books was selected for one of my grad classes, and I'm unsure if Coraline would be a good read-aloud for kindergarten: let me know if your class has enjoyed it):

... treating my Stars to fun and fresh holiday pencils each month (oh Target Spot, how I love you):

... and enjoying early childhood teacher fashion, like these glasses that show just how much I love teaching and learning:

When I get home, there's lots of snuggling and cuddling and taking pictures of Tish-Tish:

(Here she is with yet another book for grad school)

... and oodles and oodles of crochet going on, which *might* have something to do with my one and only new year's resolution: to crochet one afghan per month.

Though this year has flown by in many ways, there's still so much left to do.  I have a yearbook deadline around the corner, after reaching the one-hundredth day of school, my Stars are excited to be counting down to summer vacation, and graduate school assignments and professional development meetings are in multiplication mode. 

But I'll be back to blogging, I promise.  Kindergarten is too great an adventure to go it alone, you know?  Until then, remember that you can find me on Instagram @msommerville (seriously, go check out the latest portrait that a Star drew of me; I'm thinking I need to purchase some monster hair bows now) and occasionally on Twitter @msommerville where my absence from Twitter chats is also evident but I still find some great stuff to retweet and share. 

How is YOUR year going?  Have any book recommendations for me?  What's your non-school-related hobby? 

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Straws and Camels

As a first-year teacher so many years ago, I thought my veteran colleagues had an air of wisdom about themselves.  They looked and sounded experienced.  While they could certainly still be surprised, they never appeared shocked.  Sarcasm was a sign of their seasoning, and their passion for teaching was evident in how they shared, how they offered, and how they employed patience with me. P-l-e-n-t-y of patience.

I remember when they suffered illness, and when others became heartsick.  Puffy eyes, gray pallor, restraint and a need to back away from or even avoid "extras" were quietly noted and the rest of us sympathized, discreetly offered help, and volunteered to take on some of their load, knowing full well that we'd benefit from reciprocity when it was our turn...when life happened...when we were the most human. To care for colleagues, to see them through, was professional.  I found myself the newest member of a teaching family united in purpose, bonded over responsibilities, and when needed, ready to step up to help another through the rough patches.  No one was left by the wayside, no one mourned alone, and it wasn't considered a sign of purposeful antagonism when questions were asked, pedagogy evolved, and new resources came and went... and came again.  The meetings weren't always fun and the arguments could become impassioned; colleagues could make asses out of themselves; apologies were offered; forgiveness was given.  We learned one another's boundaries, strengths, limits and humor.

And we respected them.

Enter NCLB (the Age of Teacher Blame) followed by the Sell-Your-Brand-to-the-Consumer Era, and a collateral gap has emerged between the young bucks and their veteran mentors.  Peppy and eager to implement this generation's peddled cure-alls, newbies have found themselves partnered with colleagues whose pedagogy reflects a much less manic pace and reluctance to toss the baby out with the bathwater.  I remember when shame wasn't associated with this difference.  More and more, today's teachers are burnt out in mere years, instead of burning out after decades.  It's been almost a year since I've blogged here at Kindergarten's 3 R's, so you might wonder if this post is me hinting around that I'm toying with the idea of running away to join the circus.  Clowns give me the creeps, so that's a big NO.  Since:

... here's the short version of what's been going on since last February: I taught.  Continued grad school.  Was busy with family and, time permitting, friends.  I explored other social media. Then a DVT was found in my leg followed by three pulmonary emboli in my chest requiring that my summer vacation be spent healing and learning how to not only handle blood thinners but the accompanying worry, stress, and fear that came along for the ride.  Life happened, as it does.

The new school year started and I was blessed to be able to greet my newest group of students who were unaware of the changes I was experiencing.  My colleagues allowed for the jumble of emotions that were spilling out from me and asked how they could help.  I became better at saying "no" when necessary (something so hard for teachers to do) and for whatever reason assumed that the freight train of public education would slow down a bit to accommodate for the adjusted amount of self-care I found necessary.  This has been my first long-term moment of need where a sabbatical would be much too long of a pause... and I'm nowhere near considering retirement.  I can also still effectively teach kindergarten students the skills that they need and from which they'll benefit most (and I love to do it)... as long as I don't have to recreate the wheel mid-year after spending months establishing the routine that my students and I both need, because *that* dear reader, is the straw threatening to bruise this camel's back.  

I'm not the only one. This afternoon I looked out across a sea of my colleague's faces after it was proposed that we attempt to implement another new modification to the instructional rhythm that we planned and set as our year's pace.  Among the tired were those who were intrigued, along with a few who wore expressions of confusion as they tried imagining how this newest change might affect their jam-packed plan that already barely allows for needed flexibility and breathing room. And then there were some who appeared authentically haggard and disheveled, making me furrow my brow with concern as I realized I hadn't really touched base with them since the frenzied start of our second semester.  Their faces didn't illustrate a desire to deprive students, to slack on the job, or to naysay, scoff at or rebut the suggested modification. None were aspiring to be Debbie Downers either. Their expressions simply pleaded "please, no."

From time to time, some teachers' incentives and intentions are other teachers' camels and straws.

Teachers know that every school year benefits from some rah-rah, and every successful plan requires support and a commitment.  But educators deserve acknowledgment when they've reached their limit too, and it's that accommodation, that consideration, which is rarely if ever provided by a canned program or scripted regimen that dictates hoops to be jumped through in order to attain some status valued by consumers of not a product, but a brand. "Back when I started teaching," curricula and programs were test-piloted by a few teachers with the understanding that an extensive debrief was expected before full-scale adoption would be considered.  This system worked because it enabled the teachers who were most interested and most able to not only explore new resources but to better guide their colleagues as educational needs were identified. Teachers were recognized as whole people with full lives: those with young children could miss more work as their kids shared germs while singles had more time and the freedom to travel hither and yon to conferences, sharing everything they learned upon their return.  Educators motivated to guide the next generation of teachers could regularly host and mentor practicum students while their colleagues next door could build collaborative programs with local businesses or cultural resources to benefit multiple schools.  A grade-level colleague could ask another to share a contract for a year in order to spend more time at home to care for a sick parent, while another could fully mentor a new-to-service teacher before, during and after school daily.  All of these essentials could happen "back in the day" without resentment or shaming because it was understood that the human conditions of both students and teachers contributed to the successes and failures of school.

I too, feel a bit like how some of my incredible colleagues looked this afternoon.  Please.  Not one more thing.  I have enough.  I am doing enough.  I'm not failing my students and I'm not refusing to be a team player. I will jump rail cars and tracks when I am again able.  But not today.  Not this week.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Speaking for Myself: I Do Not Want to Carry a Gun in My Classroom

Another school shooting.  More children and school staff dead.  Video and audio footage of witnesses, survivors, bereaved families, and distraught first responders play on a loop.

Sidebar arguments repeat on television, radio and social media.  Readers, callers, watchers hung up on semantics, the rights of gun owners, misleading headlines, and blame, none of which help the dead, none of which help future victims.  It's not real discourse.  It's slurry.

Memes call for love, demand that teachers carry guns, and fill the screen with lots of American flags, gun-toting patriots, and child-sized coffins.  Political cartoons feature past victims welcoming present heroes, with lots of extra room for the future results of gun violence in Heaven.  Reruns of cartoons depict teachers shielding children from shooters, scenes which never feature background details such as student artwork, projects, math manipulatives, maps, posters, monkey bars, beanbags or copies of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See or history books.  Never band instruments, lunch boxes, bike helmets or graffiti-covered folders.  Nothing to illustrate the child's world that exists within a school.  Nothing to convey the comfort of routine, nothing capturing the excitement of being the star helper, line leader, yearbook editor, or debate team captain. No drawings of the bravery required and demonstrated when reaching out for the monkey bars or reciting lines from a play for the first time.  No renderings of the exuberant smiles or furrowed brows worn as students concentrate on their explorations and learning. No sketches of them reading together, encouraging one another, collaborating, singing, dancing or soaking up life. It's a noticeable lack of representation of the thoughts, feelings and experiences that children ought to have in school, the environment that is their home away from home.

Except now there is live streaming.  Students interviewing students.  Teens, whose lives are in danger, tweeting, calling, texting in real time.  If the loss of life touches some part of your soul, the documentary testimony and journalistic recordings made by students will likely leave you feeling shattered and guilty.  And they should.  Children, innocents, are being shot at.  They are dying.  They are covered in the blood of their friends, mentors and teachers.  They're walking around and through it.  And they know we're watching. They know we're watching when we're supposed to be DOING something. They have come to understand that we're not in the mood to hold ourselves accountable, to do our jobs as parents, guardians, advocates, protectors.  We're shopping for bulletproof liners for backpacks as if our consumerism is our only way to solve this problem, asking Julia and Joaquin if they'd like the pink one or the gray one.  They know what we're implying: we're going to continue to send them to a place where it is becoming more likely they will be shot by someone who should not have a gun.  And though we're being judged fairly, few of us seem ashamed. Self-righteousness is more addictive and rewarding than responsibility.  Too many are inclined to simply express "thoughts and prayers" ad nauseam.  The survivors who scream "KEEP YOUR FUCKING PRAYERS, DO SOMETHING" aren't being disrespectful. Who, other than the hero, is truly worthy of their respect at this point?

I will only speak for myself: I do not want to carry a gun in my classroom.  I do not want to store a firearm in my students' learning space "just in case." I do not happen to believe that the only way to deal with violence is with more violence, weapons with more weapons.  Imagining a gun in my hand within the classroom that I have purposely created and maintained as a safe place for kindergartners, colleagues, and friends of education makes me ill.  I'm no coward, and I'm not a glorified babysitter, soldier, or police officer either.  I am a professional educator who happens to think that far too many of my fellow Americans are performing the gun lobby's sales pitch like puppets, either out of laziness or some misconstrued impression that their "freedoms" are being trampled upon, making the protection of their guns more of a priority than the protection of their children. Cowards are people who throw their hands into the air insisting that there's only ever one solution, intent on committing themselves and the rest of us to horrific outcomes. Too many armchair teachers, administrators, and criminologists willfully refuse to allow themselves to realize that students are exposed en masse throughout every school day, not just when they're "safe" inside a building. They ignore the bus line, football field, the outdoor gardens, parking lot, class registration, recess, sporting events, prom and club activities. They inqure about our schools, ooh and ahh over the metal detectors and armed guard located at the entrance (and not any of the other doors) choosing to ignore that on one day or several, students completing a school service activity or a teacher moving his or her belongings into the building or a parent volunteer will leave an exterior door open, or the A/C will give out on an extremely hot day and someone or many someones will open their windows, or the guard will be living in the restroom thanks to the barrage of germs that attack every newbie. It is because of human nature that both our "secure" systems are never 100% effective, and our peace of mind, if assured with all sorts of gadgetry and alarms, is repeatedly reinforced by thinking that we've done enough to protect ourselves and our children.

We haven't.

"TEACHERS SHOULD BE ARMED! THAT'LL SOLVE THE PROBLEM, BY GOD!" "If a shooter makes the mistake of entering my child's classroom, the teacher can prevent or end a bloodbath!" Folks, the only "winners" in this scenario are the gun manufacturers. Instead of regulating guns, they'd very much like to encourage the purchase of more.  Instead of preventing guns from getting into the hands of those inclined to use them for violence, they want everyone packing.  And because they've somehow gotten a significant percentage of the populace to forget that we're actually capable of solving exceptionally difficult problems without bloodshed, many folks have convinced themselves that my job is to reenact some Shootout at the O.K. Corral scenario, completely disregarding every child's right to learn, grow and thrive in a safe and shielded environment.  "Instead of one gun, there should be multiple guns in schools" is not a reasonable standard to which any of us should allow districts to aspire.  I refuse to drink the snake-oil being peddled by the gun lobby, and I refuse to accept that one day, a Super Star will have to depict me holding anything other than a book, cup of coffee or THEIR hands in mine:

If we ever needed a paradigm shift, now's the time.