Tuesday, November 2, 2010

the versatile blogger...

Accepting an award graciously requires some thought and preparation. There are three ingredients that every acceptance should include: Gratitude, recognition, and sincerity. Accepting the Versatile Blogger award is certainly no exception. Many thanks to Abigail at The Washington Post for considering A Day in the Life of a Teacher worthy of the Versatile Blogger Award. I am truly honored! One might say that I'm addicted to blogging. I love reading the blogs I follow and rarely ever let a day pass by without checking them for updates. The writers of the blogs I follow allow me and others to catch a glimpse into their lives through their writing. The pictures they post are windows into their world. They allow me to peek inside their lives no matter how far away they live and I feel connected to them. Their blogs make me smile from the inside out. I have loved Abigail's blog from the first day it came online. I love the name, her writing style, topics, and her pictures. Abigail, thank you for taking the time to create The Washington Post.

7 things About Me:

1. I love people. I love watching people. I love everything about people--adults and children. Because of this, I am able to connect with people very quickly. I am able to connect so quickly that I actually have to be aware that some people may be uncomfortable when someone connects with them too quickly. I try to remember that everyone does not connect as easily as I do. In fact, I am very cautious about how fast I connect, so much so that I sometimes hold back when I first meet someone, if I notice that they may be feeling a little uneasy. Sometimes connecting with people easily is a strength. Sometimes it's a weakness. My family teases me that I wear a sign around my neck that says "Weirdos come talk to me!"....honestly, I'm like a magnet, weirdos are attracted to me!

2. My mother insisted in making sure that I was "well rounded". I took tap, ballet, point, jazz, acrobatics, piano, organ, and guitar throughout elementary, middle, and high school. I even took organ all through college. My mother believed that I needed to develop self-confidence and that the way to do this was by taking classes. She was right. I developed self-confidence. Some of you may not even know that when I was young, I was quite shy and totally lacked self-confidence.

3. My father traveled a lot when I was growing up and he often brought home gifts from his travels. Once he gave me a mirrored carousel record player. The carousel set on top of the records in the middle of the turn table. The records had illustrations on them that reflected in the carousel. As the records turned, the pictures reflected in the mirrored carousel giving the appearance that they were really moving. He gave me the softest kid leather gloves, perfume in velvet boxes, and art sets. My mother and father are very generous people. My goal is to be as generous to my daughter as they have been to me.

4. My father taught me how to paint. When I was in middle school, we sat side by side and learned how to paint with oils together. He showed me how to mix the paints, how to sketch, and how to look at something and draw what I saw. He taught me about perspective, not just perspective in drawing, but in life. The first picture we painted together was a bowl of raw eggs. I truly believe that everyone has the ability to draw.

5. I love to look at toes. I think it is connected to my love of people. Everyone's toes are unique. There are no two alike. Just like snowflakes. I have always wondered if there was a connection to people's personalities based on their toes. Just like people say that over time people begin to look like their dogs.....I wonder, if a person's toes are short and rounded, does that mean they have a bubbly personality?

6. I love kudzu. When I ride down the road, I constantly search for kudzu covered trees and objects. It's like trying to make animal shapes or images out of the clouds in the sky. That's what I do with kudzu. There are two children's books that I've been wanting to write. One would be about toes....and the other about kudzu.

7. When I sew, I often sew things upside down, inside out, and backwards when I first begin. Then, I take it apart, figure out where I made my mistakes, and start all over again. No matter how hard it is, no matter how much I have messed up, I can't rest until I've fixed it, the right way. I'm OK with making mistakes because I learn from them. I'm not OK with giving up or throwing it away.

In closing, I'd like to pass the Versatile Blogger Award onto some of my favorite blogs:

1. My sister, Jaimie, who blogs about raising her two sons, Bird and Billy
2. Trevor, a colleague and special art teacher, who has a gallery of his paintings and mixed media work in Brush Philosophy
3. Chris and April, who blog about their Life in the Sham
4. Friend and colleague, Mendy, who takes me Into the Woods
5. A friend who is Positively Beth
6. Jennifer who inspired me Living By the Sea and while Running Through the Grass
7. Carrie, who opened the door of blogging to me through The Slow-Dripped Life

When one accepts the Versatile Blogger award, there are a few requirements.

1. Thank and link back to the person that gave you the award.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to 7 blogs you've recently discovered and enjoy.
4. Leave your recipients a note, telling them about the award

Thank you, Abigail, for this honor. Writing this post was personally gratifying. I think that might be why I enjoy blogging so much--the personal gratification is a wonderful feeling.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Second Year Teachers

I've just spent one whole week with my daughter "volunteering" in her first grade classroom. The week far exceeded my expectations and heart's desire. Number one, I wanted to spend time with my daughter. Since she lives in Alaska I don't see her often. She's the best daughter anyone could ever hope to have. She calls her dad and me everyday and sometimes I even forget that she's over four thousand miles away. Number two, I wanted to try to help her to become the best first grade teacher any child could ever hope to have. I wanted to teach her everything that I know about teaching children to read and write.

Teaching side-by-side with her was simply an incredible experience. The truth is, I think I learned more from her, than she did from me. As the children walked in the door, I saw her greet each child one by one, calling each child by name with a huge smile on her face, welcoming them to school. The sparkle in their eyes reminded me how much first graders love their teachers. The anticipation of the learning that was before them for the day was ever present as they sat on the carpet in a community meeting. She took attendance and the lunch count with the greatest of ease. She looked at the class "name chart" and read each name, the children looked around at their friends' faces, while she and some of the children commented, if the child was present or not. She quickly asked, "who wants a hot lunch today?" Hands flew in the air and she quickly counted them. At some point within the next few minutes, she slipped to the computer and entered the information she had just gathered. It appeared effortless. Children shared a few highlights from their activities since they left school the day before or their anticipated events of that day. Within minutes, the instructional day began.

She teaches reading the first part of the day. Teaching first graders to read and write has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I'm thrilled that my daughter will also be able to taste the miracle of opening the world of literacy in the lives of tomorrow's future. From the start of one lesson to the end of the lesson, we were able to see children growing in their knowledge and understandings. Miracles were happening right before our eyes. Number three--with children in the palm of your hand, sitting at the edge of your feet, absorbing your every word, internalizing instruction, and acting on the learning, I was reminded of the power of good instruction. When a teacher knows what to say and do and designs instruction based on children's needs, the children learn.

Number four--children need to experience math. I watched her teach a math lesson to the entire class. Then the children were given an opportunity to practice their learning in a math journal. Upon completion of the journaling, they shifted into working in their math stations. They played math games in small groups or with a partner. I became the new kid in class and they welcomed me with open arms. I had no trouble finding someone who would let me play with them. It was such a pleasure to listen to the children "teach" me how to play the games. It was very obvious that their teacher had taught them well. I had no trouble understanding the games and found them quite fun. But, most of all, being able to "experience" math with the children was a tremendous learning for me. It's been many years since I've spent five whole days in a first grade classroom. The math games illuminated the math concepts so clearly for the children. While we were "playing", my daughter reviewed the math journals. Any children who did not demonstrate understanding of the concept she taught, were immediately brought together in small groups for reteaching, while the others worked in stations playing math games. Additionally, throughout the week, she assessed children's knowledge on key concepts, individually. She gathered input on their rationale and thinking related to their knowledge of the concepts. She gathered grades and recorded them, without me ever seeing her "give a test". Incredible.

Number five--parent volunteers are awesome. On Friday she had several parent volunteers work the better part of the day creating little books for her reading class and math games. They sat on the floor trimming the many games they had laminated. Parents came and ate lunch with their children throughout the week. Parents dropped by the classroom and visited at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. My daughter teaches on an Air Force Base. These parents brought a new understanding to me of "parents as partners" in a child's education. Seeing our military personnel take such an interest in their children's lives and education was rewarding beyond measure. Listening to the children share their many experiences was unlike anything I've ever witnessed in any school. Many of the children had lived all over the world and brought experiential backgrounds that ranged as far as the world is wide. Because of this, when we worked on creating a community, the children had no trouble identifying the key community helpers. They are the only children I've ever taught that had any concept of the need for water in a community. We saved milk cartons, juice cups, and yogurt containers for the community we were building. One child selected a container and said, "This will be our water tank. A community can't exist without water." Amazing.

To my daughter, her students, and the teachers in her school---thank you for sharing your lives with me. I learned so much from you.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Working with a Co-Teacher

Classroom teachers work with a variety of support teachers because children may need a variety of services. Services are provided for special education, English language learning, and additional educational support. There are many ways support is provided. The support teacher may pull the child from the regular classroom and serve them in a special classroom. However, the teacher may serve the child in the regular classroom. This service is often referred to as “push in”; the resource teacher pushes into the regular classroom, to serve the child.
If the resource teacher pushes into the regular classroom to serve a child or children, the two teachers should work together to provide the educational services to all the children in the classroom. The classroom teacher and the support teacher must discuss each of their expectations for the services. When the classroom teacher and co-teacher work together as a team, all the children in the classroom benefit greatly. However, working as a team does not happen without thoughtful planning.

When a resource teacher “pushes into” the regular education classroom, often times, the support teacher feels like she should take a back seat, after all, it is not her “classroom”. When this happens, a highly trained teacher may simply “support” the regular classroom teacher and therefore, provide limited services to children. When this occurs, the resource teacher does not really ever teach. However, when a resource teacher pushes into the regular classroom, if the two teachers work as a team, an observer would not know which teacher was the regular classroom teacher or the resource teacher. The two teachers share the teaching responsibilities. Learning to do this and working as a team will be hard work. It will take time planning together and being honest with each other. The following issues need to be discussed for co-teaching to be successful:

1. If grades are required, who will be responsible for them? Is it the regular education teacher’s responsibility or the special education/resource teacher’s?

2. How are grades established? Work together to develop and establish grading guidelines.

3. Classroom management. Whose classroom management procedures will be used? Classroom teachers and resource teachers should discuss the classroom management styles and roles they expect of each other in order to maintain a smoothly running classroom.

4. Time to co-plan. Each week, resource teachers and classroom teachers need time together to plan. One suggestion is to take 45 minutes every week. Another suggestion is to take one-half to one full day every six weeks to discuss and plan extensively. Meet with the school administrators and establish planning time.

Working with a co-teacher can be a positive experience for a new teacher. Use this opportunity to collaborate and partner with another educator. Learn from each other.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


There are so many kinds of relationships: parent and child, husband and wife, and teacher and student. There are collegial and peer relationships, professional relationships, and congenial and volatile relationships. Last week I had the privilege of listening to my husband address a small group of new employees, new teachers to a school district. He challenged them to build relationships with their students; to take an interest in their lives. He shared a story of his fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, and the impact she had made on his life. Mrs. Brown shared his love of baseball and through baseball, she hooked him as a learner all year. His life was ever changed because of her. In the spring of that year, he looked in the stands, and there she was watching him play baseball. Over 20 years later, when he obtained his first position as a high school principal, he received a letter from her, congratulating him on becoming a high school principal and expressing her pride in his accomplishment. Thirteen years later, he still has this letter. Mrs. Brown made an impact on his life. A big impact. She showed him how to care about kids. She showed him how to care about people. From her, he learned one of life’s most important lessons. He learned how to connect with people. As a learner he experienced the difference a teacher can make in your life. He experienced what it is feels like for your teacher to “hook” you as a learner….to find out what makes you “click”….and then design work for you around your interest. I challenge you to get to know your students, learn their interests, their heart desires, and what makes them “click”. Through getting to know them, relationships will be built. In the end, that’s all that really matters.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Being a First Year Teacher and the New Kid on the Block

I'll never forget my first year teaching. There was never a knock at the door. There was never a "Hello". I would look up and there she would be. Arms folded staring at me. A rather large lady with light brown balding hair with a large mole on her face. I wondered... does she need something? Does she want to tell me something? Am I doing something wrong? She would just stand there and look around, never saying a word. Over the two years I worked at that school I built a relationship with her. She was sweet and very interested in others. Some people might even call her nosy. She was the worksheet queen and loved cute art projects. Later in my life, after I had made many moves, taught in three states and many grades, I found myself going to the same church as Miss Anne. She was one of those people that you could pick up a conversation right where the last one ended, even if it had been ten years. I learned a lot from her and the others in my building over the first two years of my career. Veteran teachers know a lot. Ask them questions and they will gladly help you. Ask them questions even if you don't really need any answers. Ask them for help and advice even if you don't need any help or advice. When someone asks another person for help or advice, it is a way of reaching out and building relationships.

Building relationships is one of the most important skills for a new teacher. Build relationships with the custodians. Ask the custodians what you need to do to get your room ready for them to clean it each day. Should you stack your chairs on the floor or on top of the tables? Are there things that you should do to your room each day that no one has ever mentioned?

Build relationships with the cafeteria workers. Make sure you understand how the lunch count is done at your school. Make sure you submit lunch orders on time each day. Make sure you let the lunchroom ladies know how much you enjoy their food. It's also a good thing to carry treats to the lunchroom ladies. Even though they spend their time cooking, lunchroom ladies love someone to make them something special. Go ahead. Make their day. Bake them a cake or some cookies or brownies. I promise it will be a good thing. One day you might need to borrow something from the kitchen....something very important for a science experiment or a birthday party.

Build relationships with the other new teachers in the school. Chances are they need a friend too. Ask them to meet you for coffee before school one day at a local coffee shop. Ask them to go work out after school or to dinner one evening.

Build relationships with the other teachers and the administrators at your school. Be confident. Smile. Say hello. Say nice things about everyone. If you can't think of something nice to say, then don't say anything. Being new is hard. Sometimes things may feel uncomfortable. You may feel like you don't fit in. But give it time. Keep hanging in there and by all means, keep smiling. Before you know it, you won't be the new kid anymore. You'll feel comfortable. You'll feel like you own the place. You'll feel like everyone there is part of your family. Enjoy every moment. They will be etched in your heart and mind forever. After all, it's your first year teaching.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Working with Para-Professionals

As a young, first year teacher, working with a para-professional can bring a multitude of challenges. From the onset, it is important for the teacher to share her beliefs with the para-profesional. The para-professional and the teacher need to work together in tandem but the para will be at a disadvantage if she does not know the teacher's expectations. Here are important topics the teacher and para-professional should discuss:

1. Discipline. Will there be a classroom discipline plan? The teacher should know how she plans to deal with discipline and be able to explain it to the para-professional and others. Will the teacher expect the para-professional to implement the plan? The teacher should share her expectations for the paras role in classroom discipline. For example, if a child is misbehaving and the teacher is dealing with the child, does the teacher want the para-professional to jump in too? Probably not. It's hard on children to have too many bosses. Here's another example--If the children are gathered on the carpet listening to the teacher read a book and someone misbehaves, how should the para respond? Unobtrusively. Intervening without further disrupting the learning of the children or the teacher's work should be the goal of the para-professional. It may help the teacher the most, if the para moved into close proximity with the child, and whispered in the child's ear, or gently touched the child on the shoulder, reminding the child to listen as the teacher reads.

2. Paper Work. Will the teacher expect the para-professional to help with records, notes to parents, etc.? If so, what are the expectations? It's important to note that all permanent records should be recorded with black ink. Neatness and accurateness are critical elements of all interactions.

3. Parent Interactions. Sometimes, the para-professional may receive notes from parents or talk with them before or after school. The teacher should explain that it is critical to keep the teacher informed of all communication with parents. If the parent sends a note to say the child will be leaving early, the para needs to inform the teacher because the teacher may need to alter the class schedule and make accommodations. For example, if there is a scheduled spelling test at 2:00, and the child is leaving at 1:30, the teacher might move the spelling test to an earlier time so that the child would not have to take a retest. If the child has been sick, the parent might send a note to the teacher. If the para finds the note first, she must inform the teacher because the child may require medication, need to stay inside during recess, or need other special arrangements.

When I think of the best para-professionals I've ever worked with, I'm reminded of the old adage, children are to be seen and not heard. I don't agree with the adage at all for children. However, it's a pretty accurate description of the great para-professionals--they are seen but not heard. Don't take this literally. I don't mean that para's shouldn't talk, but rather, their voices are quiet. They work behind the scenes. They are the teacher's right and left hand. They know what to do before it even happens. Para-professionals help organize, clean up, and support the teacher and the students. These are just a few of things the teacher should discuss with a para-professional. Be honest with each other and work through issues as they arise.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Day in the Life of a New Teacher...how do you approach parents with a sensitive topic and have a difficult conversation?

How do you approach a parent and let them know that you are worried about their child? What should you do if you think the child has a significant problem.....what if you are wondering if the child is autistic or severely delayed? These are time sensitive and no doubt about it, difficult conversations. Conversations like this take honesty, wrapped up with a whole lot of empathy. For beginning teachers and veteran teachers this is hard core.

When a teacher suspects something is significantly wrong, it is important to discuss the concerns with the people in the school who could offer the most support--the building administrators. The building administrators will be able to help the teacher determine first steps.

Begin the parent/teacher conference on a positive note...share the child's strengths. Here's what the conversation might sound like:

Teacher: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me. I am enjoying getting to know your child so much! I'd like to share some of the things I am learning about your child. I'm learning that he/she likes to-----. Share an example of a positive interaction with the child. Ask the parents how they think things are going...ask the parents if they have any concerns or questions.....

Then, the teacher should share relevant data....say: I administered this assessment---show it to the parents and explain how it was administered and why. Then say--- this is what your child knows----and this is what he/she needs to know by the end of the year....

After the parents have had a chance to digest the information and ask questions...the teacher might say something like....a concern I have is ----and I'm wondering what you think?

Ask the parents to help you think through next steps.....record these thoughts and then follow up. For example, if the teacher agrees to try a certain strategy, the teacher should try the strategy and then let the parents know how it is working. If the parents agree to take an action, the teacher should follow up and ask the parents, how it is going.

There's not an easy answer to this question. Intervening early is important. Don't wait until the end of the year to muster up enough courage to talk to a parent. Ask someone to help you think about how to approach this situation. Parents deserve to know. Partner with them. Work as a team so that the child has the best year possible!

A Day in the Life of a New Teacher...Approaching a Parent and Having a Difficult Conversation....

After a fun filled day of teaching and learning with first graders, I walked outside to greet the many parents who were waiting along the sidewalk beside my classroom. It was very common for parents and grandparents to arrive early enough to have time to talk with friends....sharing the latest rumors, news, and gossip. As I walked up to a father of a little boy in my class, the father leaned backwards, pressing his whole body against the brick wall, closed his eyes, clutched his hands against the bricks, sucked in his breath as if he would keel over any second if the wall wasn't there to support him, then uttered, "What's he done now?" You might be guessing that it wasn't the first time I'd chatted with him after school. And you're right.

I had worried all afternoon about how to begin the conversation.....reluctantly I said, "Well.... I've never had to tell anyone anything like this before." "Just go ahead and tell me," he whispered. I wondered how he read my face, how did he know he needed to brace for this news I was about to share? Mustering up all the courage I possessed, I said, "We had a little problem in class today....your son had a problem keeping his hands out of his pants....he was wearing sweatpants....there was an elastic waistband and he was distracted with the pants throughout the day....but......the problem came when others became distracted when he pulled his little thing all the way out of his pants." Totally humilated, this father looked at me and said, "Well, I guess we'll be wearing pants with a belt tomorrow!"

This was a priceless conversation and will always bring a smile to my face. It wasn't easy for me to talk to this father....but the conversation helped me grow professionally. I realized how important it was to enter into difficult conversations gently, to be honest, all the while remaining very sensitive to the parents' feelings. More importantly, I realized how important it was to have the kind of relationship with parents that you could share the good, the bad, and the ugly news. As soon as the year begins....share the good news...because you don't want to have to share something bad...before you've built a relationship around the good stuff.

When it is necessary to approach parents and have difficult conversations, consider these things:

  • The parents love the child with all their heart. He/She is their most prized possession.

  • Begin the conversation with something positive

  • Enter into the difficult part as gently as possible....then, share the information.

  • Share a plan of the things that you will be doing at school

  • Ask the parents how they might be able to help at home

  • Ask the parents if they have other ideas

  • Vow to keep the parents updated....and follow through on a regular basis

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Day in the Life of a New Teacher...Parent/Teacher Conferences

Having worked with new teachers for many years, the issues and concerns really came close to home this year as my daughter began her first year of teaching. As a lens on a camera zooms in for a close-up, I've been able to zoom in on the issues and concerns of a new teacher as I've listened to my daughter's concerns and questions. The first topic I would like to write about is conferences with parents. Parents are a child's first teacher. Cultivating close relationships with parents from the onset is one way to begin the year positively.

When preparing for a parent/teacher conference there are many questions to consider...such as:
  • When should you try to meet with parents?
  • What kind of information should you share?
  • Is it important to meet with all the parents?
  • How do you prepare for a conference?

Here are some suggestions to consider:

When should you try to meet with parents? If you are a regular elementary classroom teacher, it is helpful to meet with all the parents of the students you teach during the first few weeks of school (at least within the first six/nine weeks of school).

What kind of information should you share: If you have assessed the children, share the information you gathered--including their children's strengths and the areas of need. It is helpful if parents know the areas in which their child has needs in order for them to support their child at home. More importantly, it is critical to share their child's strengths and ask the parents to help you get to know their child.

Is it important to meet with all parents? It is important to meet with all parents. However, it is may be more important to begin by meeting with the parents of the students who are exhibiting the most concern. If parents can not come to the school, it is important to make contact either on the phone or through a letter. Set a goal to connect with 100% of the parents.

How do you prepare for conferences? This may be the most important question to consider. There may be school policies in which to follow, such as sending specific notes home in advance or gathering information from parents regarding the time of day that best meets their needs. Find out your school's policy and follow it. Gather information about the children through your school's assessment. Spend time analyzing the assessment, looking for the child's strengths and needs. Create an information sheet to record the conference details and ask parents to sign it at the conclusion. If there are specific promotion guidelines, share it with parents at this first conference. It is very helpful to share the materials the children will be using during the year. Having sample reading, math, science, and social studies materials on display is very helpful. Additionally, share any materials created by the child since the beginning of the school year.

During the conference, ask parents:

  • How do you think your child learns best?
  • If you could design any experience for your child, what would it include?
  • What do you think I need to know about your child that I may not have already asked?
  • Will you be my partner this year? Will you stay in close contact with me and let me know if something happens at home that you think will bother your child, such as a family member's death, an illness, loss of pet, etc.?

I hope this information is helpful in preparing for conferences with parents....always remember, they are the child's first teacher!