Teaching Love: Text to Bug

Teaching can really get you down these days.  It is hard not to get swallowed up in the stress and struggles that everyone is facing.  There are so many articles on the internet of amazing teachers who are leaving the profession because it is just too much.   Reading these articles is a strange sort of comfort.  At least we are all fighting the same battle, feeling the same frustrations.  After all, misery loves company.

However, at the end of the day, teaching is still the one thing I can see myself doing day in and out.  This was a good post explaining it –  I Wish I Didn’t Want to be a Teacher.  So we teachers continue through the struggle and the hardships of each day.  We take each challenge as it comes and just keep moving forward.

In an effort to combat the negativity, I’m going to start posting when I have those little moments that make you smile and say, “That’s it.  That’s why I’m here each day.”  I shall call these Teaching Love.

Teaching Love #1

My students have been SUPER into making connections recently.  It has not been the focus of my instruction for over a month, but they are really into it.  And hey!  It makes me feel great when they raise their hand to share a connection.  During social studies, a small group of students and I were reading an article about the bald eagle.  We learned it’s our national symbol and was once endangered.

John says, “Miss A, I can make a text to text connection.”

He pauses and thinks.  I have been helping my kids understand that it is only “text to text” when it is between two books.  Not every connection fits this classification.  After a few seconds he continues.

“No, a text to bug connection.  It’s like the praying mantis that you couldn’t kill.”


D’aww.  Not only did he make a fabulous connection, but TEXT to BUG.  Only in elementary do you get such things.  Thanks for the smile John :)



(Disclaimer: All student names have been changed)

Kool-Aid of a Different Flavor


In the teaching world, we LOVE to drink the Kool-Aid.  Depending on the week and school, you can get it in all sorts of flavors.

Cherry – Response to Intervention

Grape – Conscious Discipline

Fruit Punch – Backwards Planning

Orange – Learning Focused Schools

No matter what the school or flavor, I believe schools are coming from a good place.  We all go into education with the belief that all students can learn and want to help them to achieve this.  The Kool-Aid has been tested in factories (ie. schools) and the ingredients (ie. training, curriculum, etc.) are all listed.  So we drink it.  Rarely do we just have a cup.  We dive head in and guzzle the whole pitcher without really thinking.

Yes, each practice is research-based.  Yes, it is at least working in some schools.  What we forget is that EVERY school is different.  We are different in terms of our student populations, available resources, teacher strength/weakness, administration, and so much more!  Teacher are constantly told to assess students and make changes when we do not see our expected results, but sometimes this is forgotten when we work on a larger scale.

One of the most popular flavors right now in teaching in Response to Intervention.  Of course, this practice is research-based.  The idea is to find out where students are lacking and target those specific skills.  By doing this you are able to fill in the deficit before it becomes too big of a problem that is simply never addressed or requires support outside of the general education classroom.

Unfortunately, in the two schools that I have been in I have seen few results from RTI.  While I’m sure there are some good things that come of it, here are some of its downfalls.

-Once again we point out who the smart kids and dumb kids.  We don’t have to say it.  The smart kids get to do some fun activity while the dumb kids are stuck with a boring activity about short vowels.

-We say it is all about “skill and drill.”  Well here’s the thing, even if students progress, if they end up hating reading, haven’t we actually made a much bigger, much WORSE problem?


-We want kids to read faster and faster and faster.  I’ll be honest.  For most of my life, I have been a fairly slow reader.  If I am reading a textbook, I take forever making sure I am comprehending what I am reading.  Only when I read for pleasure where the text isn’t so taxing do I speed up.  Reading is about comprehension.  In the real world, that is ALL that matters.

-Lastly, so much time is wasted transitioning kids from one place to the next and back.  Time that we could be using for instruction.

I have a proposal!  After all it does no good to complain on and on without having a solution in mind.  At my school we do RTI for 30 minutes every other day.  I’d ideally like to designate a room in the building as the play room.  Of course, we will call it something more academic.  We could have centers set up just like a preschool or kindergarten classroom.  There would be a drama center, building center, book center, arts center, the possibilities are endless.  We can sculpt children’s learning by what materials we provide and what amount of choice they are given.  Kids would be learning and wouldn’t even know it.  With little effort we can embed literacy, math, science, and social studies into the centers.  They could develop much needed social and oral language skills.  Students of all strengths would be mixed together and could learn from one another.  The child struggling with academics can be the King of the Legos and feel pride when others OOOH and AHH at his tower.  Students could finally experience how learning can be fun and goes far beyond 1 minute fluency checks and completing graphic organizers.

We need to begin evaluating our practices and seeing which are truly helping our students and which simply aren’t working.  It is OK when you try something and it doesn’t work.  It happens on the classroom level ALL THE TIME.  It is not a flaw in one’s teaching ability or a district’s quality, it is the reality of the job.


What’s this year’s Flavor of the Year at you school?

Dance Like No One is Watching

And the vote is in…today I was told my students are the best dancers at our school! Woohoo!


For those of you who aren’t aware, the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB) is an INCREDIBLE organization.  Not only is it a highly-acclaimed dance program that sends students to some of the best performing arts school in the country, but their outreach is something to applaud.  CPYB has a program called DISCOER DANCE.  This is a 4 tiered program.

  • Tier 1: Exposes children in the capital region to professional, live theatre productions such as Hansel and Gretel, George Balanchine’s The               Nutcracker™, The Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake.
  • Tier 2: 1st and 2nd grade children are given the opportunity to experience a dance class in their own public school setting.
  • Tier 3: Interested and talented children are invited to participate in a formal fifteen-week workshop at CPYB’s studios in Carlisle.
  • Tier 4: Scholarships are awarded to selected students to fund their formal study of classical ballet at CPYB.

This is such a great thing for any student to participate in.  It is especially significant for students like ours who may never get an opportunity to be exposed to this genre of entertainment or participate in dance classes like this.

Today was the day that the dance instructor (a former student from our school!!) came to our school and taught the students.  The students worked on balance, classical ballet, stretching, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The instructor was captivating.  He had quite a way with kids and every kid was engaged.  We got a HUGE compliment from the CPBY instructors.  They said how impressed they were with every kid being focused the entire time.  They even commented about the one student who stood in the back and barely moved the whole time.  As the instructor put it, he clearly thought, “ok this isn’t my thing, but I’ll just stand here and watch and let everyone do their thing.”  I had a little boy who happened to be front and center who just shined and we all noticed.  He is incredibly sweet, but academics don’t come easy.  On the contrary, he got the dance!  By the end he was anticipating the choreography and saying the counts himself.  Overall, all the kids shined and got the gold star for the school :)

After a year that has started off in a cloud of negativity, today was just what I needed.  I laughed and loved watching my students just be kids who were willing to dance no matter who was watching.  I saw my students through the eyes of strangers who saw their strengths and talents without a second look.  Thank you to my joyful kiddos and the incredible staff at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet for all that you do for the kids in our community.

Check out CPYB.  It is an organization worth knowing.


I can’t post a video of my kiddos (Oh how I wish I had captured their dancing to cheer me up on hard days), so here’s Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Just imagine a group of diverse 7/8 year olds who learned this dance in a period of 10 minutes performing Thriller.  Go ahead, try not to smile.


Dear School Board – On Injustice in OUR Schools


Dear School Board,

Today I write to you on behalf of us teachers who continue to struggle in the world of public education.  I write to you on behalf of my students’ parents who have not yet learned that they have a voice and right to be heard.  Most importantly, I write to you on behalf of my students because they deserve more.  Quite frankly, what you have given them is unjust.

The research is clear.  Children who grow up in poverty have a much larger mountain to climb in order to be successful in school.  By age 3, children in families living on welfare have heard 30 million fewer words than children from high-income families.  Not only is there an alarming difference in the number of words heard, but the quality of language is often less rich and more negative.  These are facts. (Source: http://www.naeyc.org/tyc/article/the-word-gap).  The research behind the achievement gap is well-founded and easily accessible.

To best support Title buildings, you need to know the research AND act upon it.  Class sizes need to be smaller to allow teachers to build stronger relationships with children and families.  Class sizes need to be smaller to manage the often difficult and disruptive behaviors that occur when children come from environments with limited structure and academic support.  Class sizes need to be smaller to meet the wide array of academic needs.  To share the language that was so sorely lacking during the first years of life.  To catch students up on those skills that their more affluent peers have already developed by kindergarten and continue to build on with ease.  We need buildings that provide warmth, structure, love, and safety.  We need teachers who feel they have administrators and peers on their sides.  Teachers who feel empowered to change lives, not just test scores.

The school year has begun and the information I have learned is devastating.  In our building, classes range from 20-30 kids.  Our biggest classes are in prefabricated structures where the lack of space affects a teacher’s accessibility to students.  Our cafeteria is half of a gym filled with over 174 kids at one time.  It is a place where students are chastised every day for being too loud despite the lack of space for so many kids and where if an emergency should ever happen I fear we could not get all children to safety in time.  In our building, specialists travel with their teaching materials on a cart because their room has been given up to other grades and programs.  In our building once you enter the front door you have total access and there is nothing to protect those inside.thegap

Budgets are tight.  The state has underfunded education.  I could forgive all of the above except for knowing that it doesn’t have to be this way.  In our most affluent building, the story could not be more different.  In their building, money was found in the budget to hire 3 new teachers, so that in their building no classroom has over 15 kids.  (In contrast an additional 5th grade teacher hired in our building would have still left class sizes at 20 students.)  In their building, the facilities are new and beautiful.  Classrooms sit vacant just waiting to be filled.

I was so proud to work for your district, but in light of this discrepancy, I am not proud.  My heart breaks for my students who deserve so much more from a district who preaches about how our low-income population is growing and how we are always striving to meet their needs.  My stomach churns because I know that our families have not found their voices and you do not stand up for, advocate, and empower them.

I am simply a teacher.  I cannot walk in your shoes.  But I urge you to consider those voices that go unheard, to value the research and practice what you preach about our neediest students, to see this injustice as discrimination based on socioeconomic status, not just as something that happens.  Next year and in the future you have a choice. Please  consider true need and not just those voices that scream the loudest.  I look forward to the day I can brag about how our district made real change and difference in the lives of ALL children.  I look forward to the day I can brag about how we were the first and lead the way in closing the achievement gap.

Thank you for the work you do for the education of ALL our children.


A heavy hearted teacher

“May our daily choices be a reflection of our deepest values, and may we use our voices to speak for those who need us most.  Those who have no voice, those who have no choice.”

No Place to Call Home

This week I participated in the best professional development I have ever had.  For once we stepped away from report cards, common core standards, and data.  Rather than seeing our students as numbers, we looked at who they are as people, as children.  Our whole school’s staff participated in the “No House Tour” which was a half day tour through the homeless shelters and resources available in our county.  Working in a school with 2 of every 3 students living in poverty, this couldn’t be more relevant.


Life in a Shelter – preconceived misconceptions

Before our tour, my experiences inside of a shelter were limitedOnce I was in a shelter to drop off peanut butter sandwiches that we’d made at a Circle K event.  I remember feeling intimidated by the building and the people.  I assumed that people in a shelter were constantly moving in and out. Some may come back each night while others only came around when times were rough.  I thought that people would all stay together in a few large rooms and sleep on mat, cots, tables, or whatever was available.  I imagined them dark, dingy and feeling less than homey.  I did  not think they would be safe.


Well, we went inside 3 different shelters and each had their own look and policies.   However, I life with my eyes open.  I have a better understanding as to how the shelter system works.  I can now slightly better imagine what our children go through when they have no place to call home.


Life in a Shelter – What I Know Nowtrue-false-check-box-28678010

Life in a shelter is much more structured than I had imagined.  First, to stay in each of the shelters, residents were required to have a background check.  Often times there is an intake interview and residents are contracted into an agreement.  In exchange for shelter and meals, residents were required to set weekly goals, participate in therapy and do chores.  Often there is an employment requirement, although it is wrong to assume that those living in a shelter are lazy and unemployed.  The stays in the shelters we visited varied from 30 days (an emergency shelter) to 2 years (transitional housing).  Residents were given rooms.  Men were often in one area while the women and children another.  To give you an idea of how they lived, think of your college dorm, now cut off a third of it and move a family of 3 or more into it.  All of the belongings you have stay in that one room while you share  a common area and kitchen (only equipped with a microwave and refrigerator).  One shelter did match my preconceived notion a bit closer.  Residents could stay in the building during the day with a single locker (which was kept unlocked and searched weekly) to keep their belongings.  At night, specific churches opened doors where the residents could sleep at night on the floor with just a mat, blankets, and a pillow.  As for the aesthetic, this was pretty spot on.  These shelters, these rooms were not a home.  The staff did all they could to make situations the best they could but they were dark, dingy, and did not quite scream welcome.


Life in a Shelter – Why It Matters to Teachers

Being homeless is traumatic for all members of the family.  We get the children.  When an adult has to worry where the next meal is coming from and how to keep a roof over their head, there is not time for nightly reading and extra attention.  It’s not a lack of love, it is a matter of survival.  Our jobs as teachers is to teach and more importantly to love and provide security to these children.

untitledIt is frustrating when we try to teach kids to be organized and there seems to be no support at home.  Despite nightly reminders and friendly notes, folders do not get cleaned out.  That adorable snowman project you were so excited about is less than cherished.  Now I understand.  If I had one locker or one room to keep every one of my possessions in, I wouldn’t waste it on school handouts or silly crafts either.

Last but not least, a shelter is not a friendly place to be.  I have no doubt that all of the residents are grateful for the roof over their head and a warm meal in their stomachs.  I can imagine the workers go to and from work, much like us teachers, feeling defeated and knowing so many people need them to do so much more.  The shelters are temporary.  Privacy is limited.  Space is a rare commodity.  A child is this environment will need extra care and love in the classroom, as much as we can give.


I hope I can have a little more patience with families and students during this new year.  What’s difficult is while we can know where all others students live, teachers are not notified if a student is living in a shelter.  We have to be detectives and hear that which kids do not always say.  If you are blissfully unaware of what this life is like as I was, just keep an open mind.  When given the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes or peek in their windows do so while holding your judgment at bay.  There is so much we can learn from one another.






Summer Days Drifted Away

Well, we all knew it would be here before we know it, perhaps a bit too soon…the end of summer.  My emotions were varied when it came to the start of the new year.  At first, I thought, “Have I even done this before?” as I desperately tried to remember what in the world I taught last year.  Next, I played the game of “Where did I pack this away for summer?” and “Why is my brain mush?”  Finally, I reached my happy place.  My room was set, my classroom supplies color coordinated, and 24 new kids on my class list.  You see, over the summer it was easy to remember how much I dislike the seemingless endless piles of work during the year.  But once I was back in my room, I remembered the passion I feel for this job and just how right it feels.

Back to School 1Tonight we had our Back to School Night.  From this night there is no turning back, the new year is really here.  This night is always a little nerve-wracking.  To make matters worse our principal restructured the night so that for the majority of our interactions students would not be with their parents.  Believe it or not, many teachers dislike public speaking.  Give us 7 year olds and it’s great, but adults can be a bit scarier.  I made sure to be extra prepared going into the night.


I am now home from Back to School Night and could not feel better.  My kiddos seem sweet and, as always, energetic.  I am very optimistic about my new parents.  They were eager to discuss their children.  They shared their pride in all their child has become and their concerns of what is to come.  Mostly, they allowed me to just be a person and were people back to me.  I was not a teacher who felt I had to perform on the stage.


Highlights from the night from parent surveys…

“[BOY] loves to read and really wanted you as a teacher.”

“I hope you enjoy your school year and I wish you well in nurturing our children.”


The second specifically speaks to this blog post titled, “Dear Teacher, You’re Not Fooling Me.”  Thank you to my parent and all of those parents out there that truly see us.  We appreciate your support more than you know. http://alamocity.citymomsblog.com/2015/08/20/dear-teachers-youre-not-fooling-me/


Here’s to YEAR 3!  I can’t believe I am already here.  Good luck to all of you teachers out there!



Give Them Purpose

While perusing the internet this morning, I came across this really neat video.  It is about a father who started a Car Wash.  What’s significant is 35 out of 43 employees are on the Autism Spectrum.  Please take a second to hear about this business below.  This father, who has a son with Autism, has given a real purpose to his employees.  It gives them a chance to truly earn a living and be productive members of society.  It also brings together people who are like-minded to build friendships among adults who may find that difficult on their own due to Autism.



Here is another video from Conscious Discipline that shares how a teacher was able to transform a student’s life by giving him purpose.  He transformed from a gang leader who did not expect to live past 21 to a productive member of society who is now able to travel the US sharing his story and the power of Conscious Discipline.  (Side Note: I was about to see both DJ and his teacher at a professional development session and their story is pretty incredible).



The overarching theme here is that we HAVE to make it matter that people are present (especially those who may easily be overlooked).  In the classroom, this is the same way.  Make sure each day students know that you SEE them that it MATTERS that they are there.  I start each day by having a 5-10 minute Morning Meeting.  The very first thing we always do is a greeting.  I choose a different language to say hello in each week (we did about 30 languages!) and the Attendance Helper chooses a greeting (handshake, high five, fist pump, elbow tap, etc.).  Students must greet eachother with the hello and the person’s name.  If nothing else goes well during the day, at least within the first 30 minutes of the day I know this student has been recognized for being present.  If we’re lucky, this can be some pretty powerful stuff.