Sunday, January 18, 2015

Transitional Year

My first year as an educator was about survival.  Surviving an awful living situation, surviving a year round schedule, surviving living in a new city, surviving graduate school, surviving Teach for America (TFA)'s lofty expectations.  I stubbornly fought my way through the year and cried, more than once, in front of my students.  

Then summer hit.  I had a two week break because my (old) school converted from year round to 9 month.  I was due for a track break, but instead got to start over.  I used my "summer" to move into my own apartment without a roommate.

Year two was about gaining confidence.  I was overly reflective and made a lot of different changes.  That year brought inclusionary practices and co-teaching for the first time.  With that came challenges over responsibilities and expectations.  Year two brought graduation from UNLV with my master's degree and giving a speech at the TFA end of year ceremony, in front of hundreds of people including the (then) superintendent.  Talk about nerve racking! 

Year three I started to feel good about my teaching.  I was gaining more experience from professional development and starting to integrate technology more, which a majority of my students enjoyed.  Year three brought along the rumblings of what's next.  I earned my technology endorsement. I took more graduate school courses.  I served on committees at school and started being more involved with professional development.  I took summer courses and started to build a national teaching cohort, which is still in tact today. I got a new co-teacher and my original teaching team dissolved.  Suddenly, I was the one with the most seniority.

Year four was a year of leadership building.  I took on the position of grade level chair because I had the most experience.  I was teaching with others that did not share the same enthusiasm and commitment for the job.  I was also single for a good part of the year and determined to be the best teacher possible because that's where I wanted to exert my attention.  Looking back, I see their shorter hours as a necessity because they were balancing families. I was not.  Again, all part of the learning process.  I learned to be more accepting of others' work schedules (and day care times).  I learned to take others' needs into consideration when scheduling meetings, not just work around myself.  (I don't mean to sound like I was childish and selfish in my previous years, it just was something I didn't have to think about because I wasn't in the leadership role.)  I learned to take a lot of criticism and to be more patient with my peers.

Year five was difficult.  There was no grade level chair because I worked with three other extremely motivated and talented teachers.  I respected my peers and of course there were minor squabbles, but at the end of the day, we all shared a common purpose: to do the best we could to educate the children in front of us.  I had the best teaching team combined with the worst external factors.  The students were extremely difficult and the support from administration ranged from passive aggressive to non-existent.  If I didn't have my team, there were many moments I would have simply quit.  A year later, I still have anxiety and flash backs from the absurd and awful year.

So, I left.  I made a change.

This year is that change.  

I have a much more supportive administrative team who acknowledges that I am a person first and an educator second.  I have a new team and we get along fairly well.  I'm having to keep myself in check because with six years under my belt, I'm still the newbie.  I still have a lot to learn and I'm not the grade level chair. I'm not in charge.  However, my previous experience does mean I do have a lot of good ideas which aren't always heard, which is frustrating.  I'm new to a school site and it's demands, not new to teaching.  There's a big difference and that's often overlooked.

This year, I've taken a step back. I'm co-chairing the math committee, but we were uninvited to the district's professional development.  The five day courses I took last summer were on math strategies and were amazing.  The eight Saturdays were presented as being a continuation of that, but quickly changed into managing paperwork and running committees.  Those four hours quickly became a complaining session for teachers to harp on their colleagues and quite frankly, I'm glad we were uninvited.

I am co-planning math with another teacher on my grade level.  We are loosely following the Engage NY curriculum while imbedding Number Talks.  Our students came to us with very low number sense, so it's been an uphill battle.  There are a lot of copies to make when you aren't using the twelve year old text book at your school.  However, I feel positive about the math instruction.  It's taking more time than I'd like to go over the concepts, but my students understand what they're doing.  They aren't mindless robots following a sequence to get an answer, they are mini-mathematicians who are analyzing and solving complex, real world problems.  That takes more time to develop.

I'm not happy with how some other subjects have been taught.  I'm not happy with myself for not speaking up more.  Next year will be different.

Next year will have more science and social studies from the beginning of the year, imbedded weekly.  The map project should start in September, not January.  The map project should have roughly a month per region to truly hit landforms, environments, and the geography terms.  I think imbedding this throughout the year will help my boys stay focused because quite frankly, I think I lost a few of them during our literature heavy Esperanza Rising unit.  

I'll be planning differently next year.  I've made corrections now, but will be approaching planning very differently next year.  I'd love to have grade level meetings be more focused on idea and resource sharing, not one or two teachers presenting the next unit of study without allowing input from the others.  I also don't know how to bring this up to the group without sounding like a dictator.  I'd like long range plans done in August. It's been a strange year with no plans.  I don't want that to be the case next year and I'm accepting that it may fall on me.  I think our grade level chair does an amazing job and for once, I don't want to be in charge. I trust her completely. I just want more of a road map. I want to work smarter, not harder.

I've ordered a planner for next year. I'm going to spend some time over the summer to sculpt out units of study and find places where the content can overlap.  Will there be changes as the year progresses? Yes, of course. That's how teaching works. I just want a better plan, at least for my own sanity. I want a plan that I can tweak from year to year and that I can adapt to fit changing standards (and changing students).  I want to not feel like I'm continually reinventing the wheel.  

This doesn't mean I will be the teacher that has a week by week file and pulls out the same things each year.  As we, as a team, find better resources, we will use them. I'd just like a plan.

This year is my transitional year.  I'm finding my voice on a new team.  I'm learning the ropes of a new school while still holding on to teaching ideas that I know to be valid. I'm learning when to politely disagree, then proceed to do what I had originally planned (as long as it's what's best for kids.)  Robert Downey Jr. said it much more bluntly:

Next year will be my best. Next year  I'll have my voice.  This is just a weird, transitional year. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Happy Half!

In elementary school, birthdays are special.  Students are sung to, treats are had, and a cute certificate is placed on their desk.  They get to use this special chair sign for the day:

(That is of course, if they celebrate their birthdays.  Always check during the first few days of school! I do this by including a question on their family surveys.  Chair cover is from the Dollar Store.)

My birthday always falls within the first week of school, so I rarely expect presents...because they've known me for what, 3 days?

However, my heart aches for those summer birthdays who don't get celebrated.  So this year, I decided to change that.

We are celebrating half birthdays:

I sent a note home to all my parents in December who had students with June, July, or early August birthdays to let them know we'd be celebrating and that they're welcome to bring in treats.

One mom made these:

They were delicious!

There has been a lot of positive feedback from my students and their families, so I'll definitely be doing this again next year!

Exhaustion has set in

There is no time of the year like report card time.

I pushed a math test back until the very last possible moment to give my students extra review time.  I get that it was best for my students, and that's how I strive to operate my classroom (with their best interests in mind), but that meant I was at work for several extra hours on Friday grading and finalizing their report cards.  I didn't get home until almost eight at night.  It didn't help that we have a new system and I had a new school's expectations to figure out.  

However, there were some true gems while grading!

In one student's essay, he referred to his younger sister's meddling as: "She was all up in my business."  Well then, that's some nice voice there!

One of my new students, who is having a bit of a rough time adjusting to my high classroom expectations, simply wrote this on a math question:

Points for creativity? 

We've modeled our math test after some of the SBAC questions online to prepare them for their upcoming standardized tests.  More importantly, we've made most of the problems real world application problems. 

One for example is this:

Ms. Vice is buying pencils for the grade level.  She needs 168 pencils.  They come in packs of 12.  Each pack is $4.95.  How much will she spend, before tax?

It's a multistep problem that they have to reason through.  

There was some grumbling about how long it took the students and if it was appropriate, but I'm trying to block out the background noise.  I think it's a solid question. It combines division and multiplication in a real world setting.  Would a teacher need that many pens? Yes.  Would someone need that many say, oranges? No.

However, I shall rejoice in the fact that my school year is officially half over and my report card comments are done!  I will do some prep work on Monday, but no work for the next 48 hours!  

Even more exciting? All of next week's math plans are done.  When I say done, I mean that the smart notebook is made, the copies are sorted, and the manipulatives are prepared.  I'm least for the 70 minutes a day I teach math :)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Um, well then...

Kinder munchkins are adorable. I have brief moments where I consider teaching primary, but those are quickly dismissed after five minutes with the youngsters.

I saw a boy walking quietly in the hallway today. He had to have been a first grader at the oldest.  I was impressed he had his hands to himself and was using his walking feet, despite no adult supervision.  Those that have been in the presence of this grade level know what a feat that is.

So I paused to compliment him. I smiled at him and told him he was doing a super job showing me his HALLS line.

He glared at me and said "you don't know me" and kept walking.

Um, well then?!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Rethinking the Prize Bin

My first few years of teaching, I was guilty of spending too much money on my classroom.  Most of it stemmed from having a real adult salary for the first time with minimal expenses, but I also wanted my students to feel loved and cared for. I was at a title 1 school so my students didn't come in with everything they needed.  I had a bit of a savior complex and that hurt, financially.  I spent more than I should have on more than one occasion. 

I visited the dollar store and target dollar section to stock up my prize bin.  I spent a lot on crayons, pencils, and various other trinkets.  I bought flavored lip glosses and stretchy bracelets.  Of course I wish my students were intrinsically motivated to make good choices, but let's be realistic.  They're ten.  They thrive on positive reinforcement and small goodies.  I picked up some freebies from various places.  My students look forward to the prize bin, but many of the "good" prizes are snatched up quickly.  Some of the original things I bought are still sitting in the treasure box.

So I changed up my strategy.  I didn't want to keep restocking the prize bin, especially when I was still funding some of their classroom supplies and paying for other classroom rewards.

So I switched to coupons.  Yes, coupons.  Some of them are for individual rewards and some of them are for class experiences.  I'm still in the process of updating them to post on TpT, but some of the coupons are:

-extra iPad time
-extra computer time
-extra recess time
-sit with a friend for the day
-sit in the teacher's rolling chair for the day

My students love these coupons.  My favorite part? The rewards are free!

Friday, January 2, 2015


It's naturally that time to start thinking about resolutions, both professionally and personally.

In 2015, I resolve to:

-Find more time to be crafty.  I enjoy craft projects and DIY projects. I'm excited to redo our bathroom cabinets and rip out the carpet to replace it with tile.  (On a side note, no one should ever put carpet in the bathroom.  Silly choice, previous home owners!).  I can't wait to paint, but that's a long weekend project.  So I will fill my time with smaller projects, like this one.  I had a great time making this wreath over the weekend:

I can't wait to make more!  (On a side note, I needed 60 feet of burlap...not the 30 that pinterest suggested!)  It's for a friend, so I'm going to add her last name initial and a large chevron burlap bow. I'm excited for how it'll look once it's done.

-Go line dancing more.  I like the gym, but I'd rather go dancing with my girl friends.  It makes me happy, it's the same distance to the gym as it is to the saloon, so I might as well go there too.

-Take more time for adventures.  Go watch B's softball games.  Go for more walks around the neighborhood.  Try new restaurants.  When coworkers ask about my weekend, I want to have more stories to share.  Granted, there will be the occasional lazy weekend of binge watching Netflix, but that shouldn't be all the time.

-Read more.  It's taken me a few months to get through The House of Hades, which is a great read, but I'd like to carve more me time.

-Continue to develop products for my students, which will then be posted on TpT. 

-Give myself permission to leave work on time.  I get there early because that's when I function best, so I need to be okay with leaving after the parking lot is clear.  I will never have everything done for my classroom.  I will work on prioritizing what must be done and just be okay with a never ending task list.

-Finish those last 5 credit hours to bump up to my next pay scale.  Look into a second masters program.

-Stop comparing myself to other teachers.  The great thing about moving to my new school is I have so many teachers to learn from.  I am more than willing to try new things and have great ideas to emulate and make my own.  I just need to be more patient with myself and allow myself time to try new things. I have to give the new ideas time to see if they're effective.  I have to be open to constructive feedback, but shrug off criticism when it's rooted in anything other than a genuine desire to help me improve.

-Stop justifying my educational decisions to others (with the exception of my admin).  I'm not the type of teacher who is going to wing it. I'm not going to apologize for being meticulously prepared for things. I'm not going to apologize for veering off the lesson plan for teachable moments.  I'll do what's best for my students and the rest will just fall into place.

What are your resolutions?

Easing back into the school year

I return to work, for real, on Monday.  However, that didn't stop me from from going into work for a few hours this morning.  I had a bunch of copies to make and had to rearrange my room to fit the map.  A coworker and myself are going in tomorrow morning to crank out two weeks of math plans and finish getting ready for Monday. 

I've gotten some slack from other teachers for going in early.  Yes, I'm aware it's one of my last days for winter break.  However, I'm not willing to fight for copiers on Monday morning. I don't want to walk into work frazzled, especially since I'll have crosswalk duty.  I'm not being a martyr, I just know what I need for my sanity.  For me, that means I spend a little bit of my free time making sure Monday will run smoothly.  I want to spend my prep getting ready for Tuesday's lessons and leave shortly after the kids do.  More importantly, I want to feel relaxed and prepared because that will translate into my students feeling calm and welcomed back.

However, I did have this beast to tackle earlier in the week:

My pile is above, hers is below.  #teacherproblems

I had a teacher date with one of my best friends.  We went out to lunch, built a grading fortress, and tackled our work.  This, sadly, is a norm for weekends.  If you see a teacher, hug them.  Let them know they're appreciated.  There is no way this would ever get graded in a timely manner if I only worked during my contract hours!  It's a good thing I love my job, even the grading parts.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

It Returns

As I previously blogged about, my giant map from my previous blog, Project Postcard NV, will be returning to my classroom this year.

I'm really excited to use it to teach the 50 states and to use with geography, land forms, US regions, and so forth.  I'm excited to use some post cards to make literary connections to our read alouds.  One of the first post cards we'll put up is the Saint Louis arch since we're reading The Lightning Thief. 

This evening, after the arduous task of finding the map and post cards, I organized by region:

I decided this year, I want to add a little more.  I want to focus on colleges from each state to promote options to my students.  I want them to start thinking about their futures and making goals.  I want them to think outside of the box and that they have options besides UNLV.

If you are willing to send a post card from your college, it would be very much appreciated!

Ms. Vice
Iverson Elementary
1575 S. Hollywood Blvd
Las Vegas, NV  89142