The Rocker

Saturday we visited my sister and brother-in-law. They live 2 1/2 hours away in Wisconsin. We hadn’t seen them since Christmas since they spent six weeks in Florida. I was so nice to catch up in person and celebrate her birthday. We enjoyed a meal together, playing a bit of cribbage, a walk and a chance to see some old pictures. I don’t have many pictures of myself as a baby, the few there are are in an album my sister keeps. It was fun to see them. One stood out, a picture of us in a rocker as a child of the sixties with a sister two years older sitting side by side. I always loved that rocker. I took a quick shot of it behind the plastic page covering.

As an adult I rescued it from the basement of my parent’s house where it had been sitting, dusty and with a broken rung. I’m not sure how old it is, I just remember my parents calling it a Priscilla Rocker. It had been painted red and covered in a yellow vinyl. It may not have looked like much, but to me it was a treasure. I spend time stripping the paint and then finally sent it for refinishing and had it covered in black leather. Today it sits in our living room welcoming visitors and reminding me of my parents. 

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Trying to Build Connections

Our school is large, with over 500 students. We have three  prep periods during a week when students go to art, music or gym and three different lunch times. The school is on two levels with each hall housing a single grade. We might see one another as we walk in, use the copy room, or pass in the hall, however seeing staff outside of your grade level often only happens at meetings. Meetings are focused, so they don’t provide many opportunities to talk either. Building connections isn’t easy with staff on other schedules.

Fridays students leave early and we either have meetings or prep time. Much of our prep time is spent in our rooms or with or grade level teams. It’s always nice when we get a chance to visit with another teacher from other areas. Yesterday I was able to catch up with an ESL teacher who stopped in to return a map I had lent her. It was nice to catch up and hear about her son and daughter. While we exchange hellos in the hall they isn’t much time beyond that. I was happy to see her and catch up.

Our schedules, the design of the school, and few preps keep us apart. It made me wonder what we could do to become more of a community. We need to find ways to become more connected, to share ideas, or just talk about families and life outside of the classroom. It’s hard to build a community when we spend such a limited amount of time apart. I’d love to hear ideas from others.

CPAs, Chefs and Teachers

We met with an accountant yesterday after school to discuss our taxes for 2018. I had already organized everything, which surprised her. I use to prepare our taxes, but always seconded guessed if I was doing the best job. I am not versed in tax laws, and ours are a bit complicated since we pay quarterlies and work in two states. I was just happy to hand the job off to a CPA who knows that tax laws better. We finished in half an hour rather than the scheduled hour, which was a nice surprise.

After leaving the CPA’s office we decided to eat out. There was a restaurant I wanted to try. I drive by it every day and it looks intriguing. How can you pass The Chocolate Sanctuary without noticing? We decided to try it out. Everything was delicious and

Screen Shot 2019-03-22 at 6.35.15 AM.pnginfused with some type of chocolate: butternut squash soup, ribs, scallops and risotto. The most amazing part was dessert, a chocolate turtle torte in the mist, a decadent piece with thoughtful presentation.

These moments made me think about the many skilled individuals from CPAs to chefs who make our life’s more memorable. Teachers do this too with their lessons and understanding. I need to continue to learn about new ideas like the CPA and find ways to capture my audience like the chef.

Thinking of the Positives

My husband keeps reminding me to think of the positives. He asked me last night at dinner what went well. Here’s my list:

Four of my students went to a morning movie as part of a group of 3rd – 5th graders being recognized for great behavior. Our part time counselor organizes this trip each year.

Most of the students still in the room in the morning worked on a fraction activity with me on the rug and many finally seemed to understand equivalent fractions. The dean even stopped in for a minute and saw them working giving them a complement for their efforts.

We had a sub for art so I was able to get a prep. I used it to meet with a parent whose child has been having some behavior issues recently. It turned out well and she told me she was happy I was his teacher.

I had six student lunch guests who completed all of their homework for the week and had great behavior. It’s always fun to talk with them and listen to a bit of KidzBop.

It was 42° at recess and the rain held off so we were able to be outside.
My Wednesday afternoon volunteer was there helping students complete work after our group lesson.
We had time for a short science lesson and a read aloud from a few chapters of Wonder.
There were issues today and I had to write a few referrals, but there were also positives. I need to keep remembering that.


I’ll Try Again Today

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Friday as I returned from a meeting all of my stuffed animals were pulled from the top of the cabinets were they were part of a display along with inspirational quotes. A chair recovered in outdoor fabric was also removed. All of these things placed in a pile outside my door. Other rooms had piles as well. No more pillows or chairs unless they are covered with vinyl or are plastic, wood, or metal. No more cushions in the classroom library area. So much of the flexible seating in our room was gone. There isn’t a clear reason why, only a new mandate by the district which already stated only one lamp can be in each room and no electronic appliances no matter how small. The electric pieces, we were told, was to reduce electricity costs.

Monday after school we needed to remove or over all instructional materials to get ready for state testing. The tests are given on Tuesdays and Thursdays for three weeks, so the room will be even more bare. I tried to make it a little less institutional by placing a Dora and Nemo ocean scene over the math charts. I added more inspirational charts to cover anchor charts we’ve been using. I took down the alphabet and number line. While the students noticed they didn’t react much. I think they are so used to have things taken from them in their lives, they don’t spend much time thinking about it. It’s just the way things are for them.

Friday we learned our current principal will be leaving at the end of the year. He’s only been here since October. In my two years I’ve already had six principals. A few students ask if I’ll be back next year, they’re used to teachers leaving. I had to tell them I really don’t know. Part of me wants to stay, to try again. I just don’t think I’m strong enough. There are so many behavior issues that get in the way of lessons. So many parents that think of the school as a baby sitter. “Don’t call me about any problems, they are your problem when they are at school.” They are also the parents who believe what their kids say without hearing the whole story. Beyond that there are fights, furniture tipping, yelling, and occasional items considered dangerous including brass knuckles and look alike “toy” weapons.

Yesterday was tough. It was the first day of testing. The first time my third-graders would be taking the state test. We’d spent time last week reviewing the tools and looking over the practice tests together. It didn’t make the first test any easier. One student disrupted the rest and wouldn’t sit down, running around and screaming. When asked to sit she put herself in a corner and began crying loudly. This is daily behavior, and not test behavior. I had to call for support and she was finally removed from the room. We were 40 minutes behind by this time. While students knew they needed to stay in their seats, be quiet and not distract others, I was continually reminding them. We even have incentives for good test behavior, that didn’t stop many of them. Sitting still isn’t something they can easily accomplish.

My husband reminds me everyday to stay positive. To think about what is going right. To remember how so many are making progress. To look at the many notes and pictures so many give me. To embrace the hugs. Today I will work on that some more. I need to be courageous, to remember I am here for a reason. I’ll try again today.

A Quick Write on Spring

Tomorrow Spring comes in, I’m so ready. Even with the mud created by melting snow that seems to draw students during recess. The warmer weather and sunshine make up for it. The flowers will begin blooming, the birds are coming back. Soon the grass will be green. No more winter coats or boots. While our Spring Break isn’t until the end of April, it brings that closer too. Welcome Spring! I missed you.

Monday Morning Thoughts of School

It’s Monday morning and my thoughts are returning to my school, my classroom, my students. This is my second year at this school. It so very different than where I have spent the prior 34 years. My first two years I was in a small school, 110 students, where I taught social studies to 5th to 8th grade, coached and directed musicals. My next thirty-two were in affluent suburbs, nine in one and twenty-three in another. Now I’m here, by choice, after retirement from another state. I wanted to make a difference in a place, where free breakfast and lunch is given to all students, where the struggle is greater, where most parents aren’t involved, where resources are not as plentiful.

As teachers we deal with extreme behaviors every single day. Students flip furniture, run out of the room, hit, fight, cuss and are defiant. This is an elementary school. It’s in all of our rooms. We have students suspended and yet it continues. There are many children that do try to learn but they are traumatized by the others who disrupt learning daily. It’s why there is such a high turnover rate here. Last year fourteen teachers left, many grades had only one teacher returning. I was that one this year. We have also had six principals since I’ve been here and just learned our current interim will be returning to his former role as a vice principal at a middle school after this year. No one seems to have answers, I have fewer now than I did a year ago.

We learned last week that we can no longer have any pillows, cushions or even stuffed animals in our rooms. We needed to have them removed by Friday. We are only allowed one lamp in our rooms now too. Our efforts to create welcoming spaces and areas for students to take time out when needed are disappearing. As I returned from an afternoon meeting, 30 minutes before the end of the day, anything I hadn’t yet packed up was in a pile in the hall. The custodian with his ladder was making his rounds, no room was left untouched. Tears filled my eyes as I retrieved my belonging and brought them to my car. These kids have so little and yet we are forces to take away more.

A friend from one of my former districts asked if I’d be coming back next year. Honestly I don’t know. I know I’ve made a difference for many. The kids need me, but so many barriers are in place. I’m not sure I’m always safe here as students rage out of control. The stress of dealing with these constant behaviors isn’t healthy. We don’t have the support needed to make things better. We are like a MASH unit in triage, saving what we can.

It’s Monday morning and my thoughts are returning to my school, my classroom, my students. I have two returning from suspensions and one out today for threatening another student putting a straightened paperclip to his throat. I have to remind myself that they are only third graders, that they need a safe place, that I need to keep trying.