Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School

Every once in awhile a really special book comes along. Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School by Melissa and Eva Shang is one of those books. Click here to read a fabulous interview about Melissa Shang, her viral American Girl campaign, and about her inspiration for this book.

Mia Lee is a sixth grader who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a form of muscular dystrophy. While she has difficulty with her motor skills, Mia does not let her disability define her. In many ways Mia Lee is a typical middle schooler. She has a best friend, Caroline, and together they experience the growing pains that can come as a result of growing up and growing apart. Mia is also a talented filmmaker, who enjoys making stop-motion videos in her free time.

Despite hesitation from her overprotective mother, Mia decides to run for Video Production Club President. She ends up running against Angela Vanover, the popular “mean girl”, who attempts to manipulate and humiliate Mia in the process. Through it all, Mia deals with real challenges middle schoolers face as well as her own personal challenges that come from living with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

I think that upper elementary and middle school students will really enjoy this book. It is funny and silly, but also deals with more mature themes such as bullying. Middle school is such a time of transition and self-consciousness, and Mia just wants to be seen as a “normal kid.” I think that kids and adults alike can relate to those feelings, and I love how this book encourages the reader to feel empathy not just for Mia, but also for the other characters in the story, including the bully, Angela.

Most books that address bullying focus on how the hero of the story overcame the bullying, without exploring the inner life and struggles of the bully. In Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School, we get a glimpse into Angela’s inner struggles. Angela’s mom seems to be only concerned with outside appearances and forces her daughter to take part in pageants and to run for VP Club President to boost her popularity. The reader is able to feel both angry at Angela for treating Mia so poorly and understanding of Angela’s behavior knowing how much pressure she’s under to please her mom.

Another aspect of this book that I think both teachers and students will enjoy is Mia’s ability to collect “brain files.” When presented with a new person or new information, Mia takes an assessment of a situation and stores the file away in her brain. This ability is presented as a benefit of Mia being confined to a wheelchair. Since she is still and sitting, she seems to be able to notice things that don’t register with other people.

I think these “brain files” are a great way to talk about making inferences with students. When Mia logs a “brain file,” she observes what’s going on on the surface, notes unspoken clues (such as Angela wanting to push her wheelchair only when other people were around and Angela talking to her really loudly and slowly in front of their teacher, Mr. Postin), and makes informed guesses about situations based on her observations and prior knowledge of the situation.

Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School by Melissa and Eva Shang is a sweet, thoughtful, and honest story that I think will appeal to students from all walks of life. I highly recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more books by these talented young authors.

GIVEAWAY! Leave a comment on this post and I will randomly choose a winner on 10/9/17 to receive a copy of this wonderful book. Good luck!

Cultivating Learners

My oldest started kindergarten two weeks ago. It has been a whirlwind of excitement, sadness, hope, and despair. His school seems to have a great new principal, and Keith and I both like his teacher. My overall feeling can be described as realistically optimistic. 

We decided to send him to public school for many reasons, the top of our list being diversity. We want him to be in new situations with new people to learn how to navigate being himself in a world where everyone is beautifully different. I volunteered in the school’s cafeteria last Friday, and amid the laughter and chaos, my mind kept drifting to flowers. 

You cant force a flower to bloom. You can pry the petals open, but all that really does is damage the flower. Flowers need water, sunlight, and the appropriate environment in order to thrive. Some flowers can bloom despite our best efforts to sabotage them, and other flowers simply can’t bloom unless the conditions are just right. We understand this about flowers. We don’t judge flowers. We ask ourselves questions like, Is the soil to acidic? Too alkaline? Am I watering it too much? Not enough? Do I need to trim the trees around the plant to decrease the amount of afternoon shade it receives? Is this flower just not suited to this part of my yard? Should I replant in a sunnier spot?

We don’t walk into our gardens and tell our flowers to try harder. We don’t show flowers their growth data from last year and expect them to all bloom on schedule based on growth projections. Sure, we can collect data on our flowers to notice patterns and chart growth. We don’t usually collect data on flowers for the sake of collecting data, though. We grow flowers because they clean our air and beautify our world. 

We don’t reward or punish flowers. If a flower grows particularly tall and strong one year, we don’t present it with extra water or sunlight. Flowers grow tall and strong because that’s what they’re designed to do under the right conditions. Similarly, if a flower shrivels up and turns brown, we don’t withhold sunlight or water to teach it a lesson. That idea is preposterous and absurd; we know that we need to give that struggling flower extra love and attention if we want it to flourish. 

Some of our kids are the most resilient of weeds and some of our kids are the finickiest of rare orchids. I believe most kids fall somewhere in the middle. We need to ask ourselves what we need to change to create the right conditions for our kids to thrive. 

Parents and teachers are the ones who steward the blooming process. We know these little humans in front of us, and we know what they need and how much the need and why they need it. Faster is not better. Measuring does not encourage growth. Punishments and rewards don’t motivate. Just like flowers, kids are designed to thrive under the right conditions, on their own unique timetables. 

The reality is that there are kindergartners (not mine) who are already reading. There are kids who already know all the sound/symbol relationships. There are kids who have physical disabilities. There are kids who have yet-to-be diagnosed learning disabilities. There are kids whose basic needs not being met to the point that they’re ready to learn letters yet. 

Reading requires a complex set of cognitive skills. It’s developmentally NORMAL for kids to learn to read some time between the ages of 5 and 7. We have known this for a long time, yet the people who make the decisions seem to think that rigor and higher expectations mean that kids should be learning more faster and that teachers should be ensuring that kids can read by the end of kindergarten.

That’s not a reasonable goal. We have to meet our kids where they are on the convoluted, windy, long, path to becoming readers. Everyone will get there in time, and teachers and parents should have the right to give kids the grace and space to bloom in their own time, when they are ready. 

What can we do to facilitate the process? How can we provide water and sunlight?

 Let’s talk to our kids and discuss what words mean and point out words while we’re at home and in the car. 

Let’s cuddle up with our kids and share good, quality literature. 

Let’s tell stories about where we come from and about things that we’ve experienced in our lives. 

Let’s look for signs of readiness and then help kids break the code of reading by teaching phonics and sound/symbol associations. 

Let's tell nursery rhymes and make up silly songs and dance.

Let’s help our kids when they ask for it. Let’s make sure they aren’t hungry or tired or that there isn’t something upsetting going on for them at home or at school.  

Let’s show everyone involved (including ourselves) a lot of grace. We are all just figuring it out as we go, even the so-called experts. 

Mostly, let’s check ourselves to make sure that our goals for our kids are what we truly want for our next generation of humans. Let’s don’t do the things that aren’t right for the little people in front of us. Harder, faster, sooner DON’T EQUAL BETTER. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, let's, "adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience."

Food Fun in the Science Classroom

Recently, I have started blogging about science topics over at The website offers an unbelievable assortment of science supplies for teachers and homeschoolers. Click here to view my original post about food fun in the science classroom.

Making Science Fun with Food

There’s nothing like food to get students engaged in a lesson.  Even the coolest of oh-so-cool middle schoolers will be putty in your hands after you tell them they’re going to have a chance to eat and learn at the same time.  Food can be incorporated into the science classroom in countless ways.  As long as it relates to your curriculum, the sky is the limit!

Here are a few tried and true ideas for food fun in the science classroom.  Feel free to adapt any idea to make it work for you and your students.  If your district has a strict food policy that doesn’t permit students to eat anything not offered in the cafeteria or packed by parents, you’ll have to consider revising the ideas so students can try these delicious lessons at home.

Soil Pudding

food fun in the science classroom Of course students are familiar with soil, but few know the ins and outs of soil’s different layers.  Making soil pudding is a great way to teach your students about bedrock, parent material, subsoil, topsoil, and organic matter.  Best of all, soil pudding tastes great with ingredients like Oreos, chocolate pudding, and gummy worms.  Click here to view a recipe for edible soil.

Edible Cells

Those of us who have ever had to teach the parts of the cell know how tricky it can be for students to memorize all of the organelles and their functions.  One fun—and tasty!—way to make the parts of the cell more concrete for students is to create edible cells.  Using materials such as Jell-O® (to represent cytoplasm) and sprinkles (to represent ribosomes) will not only help your students understand the parts of the cell, it will also help them remember them for years to come.  Click here to view a great edible cell lesson with worksheets.
*Tip: The recipe suggests making Jell-O® the old fashioned way.  I’ve found that just purchasing the individually packaged Jell-O® in small plastic containers is much easier and less time-consuming.

Soft Shell Ice Cream Ball

food fun in the science classroom
This cool device will amaze your students!  It is simple to use.  First, fill one side with ice and rock salt.  Next, add your favorite ice cream mixture (typically milk, sugar, and vanilla) into the cylinder inside the ball.  Students can then shake, rattle, and roll the ball until ice cream is formed.  This activity is a great way to teach phases of matter.  Also, students will learn that salt lowers the freezing point of water, which explains why salt is used on icy roads in winter.  An extension for this activity is to have students hypothesize what would happen if different types of salt were used.  Students can experiment by making ice cream with different types of salt to learn which type of salt works best and why.

Science Cookie Cutters

food fun in the science classroomThese cute cookie cutters allow you to make cookies in the shapes of beakers, test tubes, flasks, and atoms.  This set also includes a delicious sugar cookie recipe to use.  It would be fun to bake these cookies with students and enjoy them over a discussion about the different uses for different tools in the science lab.  You could also make a large batch of atom shaped cookies and have students represent different elements using candies to represent protons, neutrons, and electrons.  These cookie cutters would also be a fun teacher gift or raffle prize!

food fun in the science classroomCrunchy Flavored Crick-ettes

Imagine this.  You are starting a unit on insects or healthy eating and you pop a handful of bugs into your mouth.  Can you imagine the look on your students’ faces?  These tasty, edible crickets will get your students talking about different things that people eat all over the world, as well as engage them in learning about the unique properties of insects.

food fun in the science classroomCricket & Larva Licket Lollipops

These yummy sugar-free lollipops are another great way to hook students when learning about insects or healthy eating.  Who doesn’t want a little protein with their sugary snacks?  Selling these could even be a great fundraiser for your class or school, especially around Halloween!

Solar Oven S’mores

Image: NASA’s Climate Kids website
Image copyright NASA's Climate Kids website is a fun activity to do at the beginning (or end) of the school year.  Don’t attempt this on a cool or overcast day, because you need heat and direct sunlight to cook the s’mores.  You will need graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate bars, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, tape, glue sticks, and cardboard boxes with lids.  TIP:  Pizza boxes work really well and many pizza restaurants will donate free boxes to teachers.
Click here for a detailed explanation of how to make solar s’mores with students.  Extensions can include researching different ways solar energy is used throughout the world, and brainstorming new inventions that harness solar energy.

Helpful Tips for Food Fun in the Science Classroom:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask parents or your school’s PTA for help with these kinds of projects. Buying enough supplies to do some of these activities can get very expensive, especially if you are planning to do the activity with several classes.  Parents will probably be happy to send in a box of graham crackers or a bag of marshmallows if they know it will be used for their child’s learning.  I’ve found that it never hurts to ask.  The worst they can say is no, right?
  • Get organized. The first time you try a project like this it will seem like a ton of work and you may wonder what you have gotten yourself into.  After you get a system down for acquiring and distributing materials, it will get much easier.
  • Set clear guidelines up front for what you expect from your students. Is everyone supposed to wait to begin until everyone gets his or her materials?  Do students know when they will get to eat their finished products?
  • If students are not going to be able to enjoy their edible creations until the end of class, I like to give them some sort of taste at the beginning of class so that they can focus on learning instead of focusing on when they can eat. Handing out a graham cracker or a couple of M&M’s to each student works great.
  • Take pictures so that you can display your edible masterpieces later. Pictures are a great way to show administration and parents what all is going on in your classes.  Students also love to look back and see the learning they’ve done over the course of the year.

What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate food into your science classroom?

Micrography Portraits

 You never know what will be a hit with students. I have tried so many things that in theory seemed great, but turned out to be real duds in practice. That's one great thing about being a teacher. Things fail epically, and you just move on try something else. It also helps our students see that we're not perfect and that we only learn by making mistakes. That's at least what I tell myself when my grand plans blow up in my face.

 Sometimes you try something that actually turns out wonderfully. Enter micrography portraits. Micrography literally means "small writing."I have been coordinating a reading grant program for middle schoolers on Saturday mornings. We wanted to create something that would allow students to share about themselves in a challenging and engaging way.  Here are some of our students' finished portraits. I am obsessed with how well they turned out. The students loved creating them and they also loved hanging them to share with everyone else (which is not something that middle schoolers are always into, as we know).

Here are step by step instructions if you'd like to try this with your students, or just do it yourself or with your child. These instructions are adapted from this excellent post on micrography portraits over at Art.Paper.Scissors.Glue!

1. Print out a full size photo of someone's face.

2. Place tracing paper over the photo and outline the face and neck in black marker.

3. Transfer the outline to a sheet of nice white paper in pencil (It works well to do this over a window or light box if possible).

4. Come up with a list of 50 personality traits/hobbies/sayings/etc. related to the person in the photo.

5. Write the 50 words along the outline of the face/neck in pencil. Then go over the words with a thin black sharpie or pen.

I'd also recommend modeling all of the steps for your students by creating your own portrait. This project took us a few different sessions to complete. I'd also recommend breaking it up and only doing one or two steps per day. Writing 50 words about yourself would be a great first day of school activity!

Me, a Racist?

“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent."
                                                                                           - Philip Atiba Goff, PhD

A few years ago I had an African American student in my fifth grade class who we'll call Derek. Derek was popular and well-liked. He had very nice parents who were involved at the school. He was a great athlete. Tall. Muscular. Derek had a deep voice and he towered over the majority of our class, and he stood eye to eye with me, his teacher.

Derek was a typical fifth grader. He wanted to come across as a great student, but he also wanted to impress his friends. You could regularly hear his deep, booming voice projecting during appropriate (and inappropriate) times in our classroom. He had a close knit group around him at all times. His little clique consisted of himself and the other two African American boys in our class, and Derek was clearly the leader of the group.

I should also say a bit about the racial climate at our school. It was clear that African American students were seen as troublemakers, while many teachers took a “boys will be boys” approach when negative behaviors surfaced from white students (I use students loosely as we all know that boys are the ones typically getting into trouble at school). At some point during that school year, I heard one of the gifted teachers referring to an African American boy in another class as a “lazy n*****”. One of my biggest regrets in my life is not telling this woman how her hateful language is perpetuating these stereotypes she’s promoting. Another conversation for another day…

Back to Derek. One day Derek was talking during my class during one of the few times students were supposed to be silent. Maybe it was silent reading? I can’t remember. What I do remember is that I could hear his booming voice from the other side of the room. I remember thinking, “Can’t you even pretend to whisper?” I gave him a warning and then a checkmark (our team’s discipline system at the time), and expected him to quit talking and move on with his day. This didn’t happen, however. He flipped out. He stood up and started yelling at me about how he wasn’t the only one talking. He went on to tell me that I only got onto the black kids and that I let the white kids do whatever they want.

Whoa. I was speechless. Not because I had witnessed a student have an emotional outburst (those are to be expected from time to time), but because I felt deeply insulted. Me? The woman who was horrified at the comment made by the gifted teacher? The woman who prided herself on believing that all students can learn and are gifted in different ways? The woman who tried to make her classroom a student-centered place where students could work on what interested them? Me, a racist?

I am not proud of what happened next. I told Derek to go out into the hallway. I tried to calmly tell him that he was talking when he shouldn’t have been and now he had to face the consequences. Derek was livid. He continued to tell me how I treated him unfairly because of the color of his skin, only it came across that he was yelling, maybe threatening me even, because of his large size and deep voice. To me, this did not feel like a typical interaction with one of my fifth graders. I felt threatened, even though I wasn’t, and I sent Derek to the office.

I wounded our relationship that day. I actually wounded my relationship with my entire class, not just with Derek. I would give anything to go back and handle this situation differently. I would have Derek sit down and write out his feelings on paper. I would engage the class in a discussion about the realities of the racial climate in our school. Perhaps we could have learned a lot that day. Instead, I shamed Derek and made it clear to the rest of the class that I was not someone to be questioned. Looking back, I don’t think I would have handled the situation with a different student the same way as I handled it with Derek. If a white boy who came up to my shoulder tried to explain to me that he hadn’t been the only one talking that day, I don’t think it would have ended with a trip to the office.

At the time though, I didn’t realize these things. I thought I was totally justified in my behavior. I received a phone call from Derek’s mom the next day. She was furious that I had sent Derek to the office for talking in class, and I tried to explain that it was his response to getting in trouble that had been the issue. She wasn’t buying it. I can only imagine now how Derek’s mother was feeling. She had sacrificed a great deal to get her son into an out of zone, “good” school. She drove over 30 minutes each way to get Derek and his sister to school on time every day. She was doing a good job.

Knowing what I know now, it strikes me that I would not even engage with Derek on the issue of race. I couldn’t even tell him that no, race never consciously played into my decision to give him a checkmark for talking. I was terrified to discuss race. In my mind, I didn’t see color, and racism was a thing of the past. I found it strange and terrifying that one of my students would even bring it up. At that time I wasn't even willing to examine my behavior objectively to see if there was a pattern of me treating Derek and other African American students differently. I had my mind made up that I was colorblind, not racist, and that there must be something wrong with Derek to make such a horrendous accusation.

This is a scary place for white teachers and parents to be. We mean well, but I think it’s time for us to wake up and realize that it is our responsibility to have these tough conversations with the young people around us. In this Washington Post article about talking to your kids about race, an African American parent brings up an excellent point. She says, “We don’t have the luxury of deciding whether or not ‘to educate’ our children; this is our lives. These are the waters in which we swim. Join us.”

I am not trying to downplay the difficulty of having these conversations. I honestly don’t know exactly what I would or should have said to Derek and the rest of my class that day, but I know that saying something would have been better than saying nothing. To me, part of being a parent or a teacher is showing kids that it’s okay to try hard things, it's okay to talk about hard things, and it’s okay to fail at both. The main thing is that we show up and try. 

Teachers, let’s be aware of our biases. Just because students are more physically developed or have deeper voices or HAVE DARKER SKIN, they are still children. They deserve our love, protection, and gentle leadership. They need to be able to make mistakes and do dumb things and get the benefit of the doubt, because they are kids. Don’t make my mistake and think that you are incapable of discriminating against a student because in your mind you aren’t racist. Derek is by no means the first or the last young African American male who has been treated unfairly because of his skin color and physical size. We have such a long way to go on this issue, and I think we need to step back, breathe, and not be afraid to have difficult conversations with our students and colleagues about race and privilege. It sucks and it’s hard, but it’s time. 

When You Get That Kid In Your Class

The first day of school is upon us again. Every year around this time, I think of a student I had several years ago. Let's call him Kelvin.

I was aware of Kelvin years before he got to fifth grade. He could be found yelling weird mumbling cursing-ish things to teachers who got onto him in the hallway. He could also be found trailing behind the rest of his class by a couple of yards walking in line. He was a the shortest person in the class by at least a foot, and he had a tiny head. I suspected he had fetal alcohol syndrome, but I never knew what terrible things Kelvin had experienced to make him the way he was.

One year I got my class roll, and there it was. Kelvin was in my class. I immediately went across the hall to my team teacher and said something like, "I knew they would put Kelvin in one of our rooms!! That kid is insane. What are we going to do?" I then went so far as to look up Kelvin's behavior records on the computer. Big mistake. It turns out he had been suspended several times for attacking people (including teachers and bus drivers), and numerous other crazy things.

I felt a little scared. I had had aggressive kids in my class before and it hadn't been fun. I guess as a teacher you assume that if a kid has gotten to fifth grade and no one before you has been able to get through to a troubled kid, that you won't be able to either. It didn't help that teachers who came in my room to chat before school started freaked out when they saw Kelvin's name plate on a desk at the front of my room.

The day before school started I was frantically running around trying to make sure that everything was perfect in my classroom. These were the days when I thought that structure and order were the two keys to having a good school year. This teacher, who I admittedly thought was a little too sugary sweet for my tastes, came in my room. She saw Kelvin's desk, and she gave me some different advice. She said that she had gotten to know Kelvin a little and that he was actually a really sweet kid. She said that he had gotten a reputation as a "bad kid" and that everyone treated him as such which made him act like, well, a bad kid. I asked her for advice about how to start out the year on a good foot, and she gave me advice that I will never forget.

She said, "Make him a positive example on the first day of school. Point out something good he's doing loud enough for the whole class to hear. Also, give him a job so that he can see that you trust him and that he's important to you." I was skeptical, but I figured it was worth a shot. Even sugary sweet people who you find extremely annoying can have good ideas sometimes.

The next day was the first day of school. I stood at the door and shook the hands of my new little students. So many new backpacks and nervous smiles. I had instructions written on the board and all my little friends were dutifully putting away their supplies and making their lunch choices.

Kelvin walked in. He gave me a little mischievous smile, but I could tell he was nervous about the first day of school just like everyone else. He had nothing with him. Not even a pencil. I asked him to go make his lunch choice. Imagine my horror when Kelvin could not even reach the magnet I had made for him. I quickly helped him, and looked around to shoot a dagger from my eyes towards anyone who tried to laugh at the situation.

Later when we lined up for P.E., I made a loud comment thanking Kelvin for following my directions exactly. I heard an audible gasp from the rest of the class. I received looks from ponytailed girls that said, "You don't know how bad he is, do you?"

At another point in the day, we were discussing how to set up our notebooks. Kelvin was drawing in the notebook I had given him. I quietly said something to him, and the other students informed me that Kelvin just drew all day. He never did any work and their teacher last year had been okay with that. I told Kelvin that he wasn't going to be drawing all day in my class and that I knew he was capable of doing the work just like everyone else was. I could have sworn I saw pride on his face. Later when I needed an errand run, I sent Kelvin. At this point the ponytail club was getting frustrated. I could see some eye rolling and secret glances cast between friends. I even had a few kids come up and try to inform me that Kelvin wasn't really the one you sent to run errands. I stood my ground. I had made the commitment to myself that I wasn't going to treat Kelvin any differently. What was the worst that could happen?

It turned out that my attitude set the tone for Kelvin's year. He was pleasant. He tried his best. He turned in assignments. I worked with the guidance counselor to make sure that Kelvin had the school supplies and clothes he needed for school. The administrators and other teachers were shocked when I gave them a positive report about Kelvin's behavior. Kelvin and I developed a great relationship, and I smiled when I saw that tiny kid walk into my classroom every day.

One day Kelvin wasn't there anymore. The next day he didn't show up either. After about a week, I finally got word from the guidance counselor about where he was. Apparently, Kelvin had been abandoned in a house with no power or water. He had been sent out of state to live with a foster family. He was never able to come back to get his things or say goodbye.

I often wonder what happened to him. It is one of my greatest regrets in life that I wasn't able to be there to take him in when his family left him. We have so much power and influence as teachers. As this new school year starts, let's use that power for good. Leave your preconceived notions about kids at the door. Better yet, don't even try to get the scoop about these kids. Give them a clean slate. Give them responsibilities. Treat them as though they were part of the ponytail club. They might just surprise you and you might just surprise yourself.

Why I'm Glad My Baby Doesn't Sleep

Time really flies when you're not sleeping having fun. Usually this time of the year, I am starting to stress over upcoming standardized tests. This year, I am without a care in the world. Can I tell you why?

I am the proud mother to a little 8 month old who is 20+ pounds of pure sugar. I love this little boy, especially when he is looking like a little distinguished gentleman.

Here he is channeling the "World's Most Interesting Man".

I am so lucky this kid hates to sleep. I know you're wondering how this can be. I'll tell you as long as you promise not to get too jealous of me. Here we go.

1) I have been able to perfect my rocking skills. It is really a learned talent to be able to rock hard enough to soothe a baby without banging into the wall behind you. Also, I have figured out how to lay baby boy vertically down my body since he's too long to fit across horizontally without bending his legs. I can't wait to add "rocking aficionado" to my resume. 

2) I get to sleep listening to the loudest white noise machine known to man. I'm not sure if the white noise helps baby boy's sleep that much, but it soothes me as I lay in bed at 3am holding a baby who's WIDE awake while listening to a snoring husband and whining dogs. Sometimes the train will even go by. Pure bliss.

3) I get to check Facebook A LOT. And at all hours of the day/night. Jealous yet? I have found that baby boy will go to sleep faster/easier if I hold him without making eye contact. I pretend that I'm asleep, and then as soon as his eyes start to close... bam! I get out my phone and I am reading statuses like there's no tomorrow. It is really awesome. Really, really awesome. I'll start to think, "Maybe I'll just hold him for a few more minutes so that he's really in a deep sleep when I lay him down." Ten minutes of good facebooking go by. I get up to lay him down, and as soon as that sweet head hits the bed... yep. He's awake again. So, we go back to the chair and do it all over again. I get to read, to the second(!), about what people are having for dinner that night. Oh yeah.

4) Once he makes it clear that he is most certainly not going to sleep, I get to relax and nom on his fat cheeks.

I have been so inspired by the fantastic Sarah who blogs at Nurshable. She has put words to everything that I have felt about baby boy's sleep (or lack thereof). I am fine to "wait it out" until he's ready to sleep for longer stretches. Until then I am going to keep enjoying the cuddles.

It's Not Rocket Science

I know people mean well with advice. Parenting is a little like teaching, in that everyone has personal experience with both. I wrote this post about everyone having an opinion on what it means to be a good teacher. Similarly, everyone is either a parent or has parents, therefore everyone feels like they are an expert on parenting.

Sometimes I wish that I were a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon instead of a parent and teacher. If you are a rocket scientist, you are open to critique by very few people. Not to mention that the majority of people think you're brilliant and talented just because of your job title. I don't remember ever hearing that someone was a parent or a teacher and immediately assuming that he/she was capable and intelligent. The phrase "It's not teaching," has yet to catch on.

I have to admit, it is much easier to judge when you are not "in it." It makes me think of the scene in the movie Garden State where Zach Braff's character is sitting by the fire, and Natalie Portman's character says, "You're in it right now, aren't you?" I remember being "in it" during my first few years of teaching. I was terrified that I was going to do a bad job. I remember being very thankful for advice from veteran teachers. I also remember being incredibly annoyed by unsolicited advice. At the end of the day I had to go through it on my own.

Lately, I have found myself becoming very annoyed with people's unsolicited advice about my parenting skills. Again, I know people mean well with advice. However, I also know that the lady at Target with the open sores on her arms meant well when she stuck my son's pacifier back in his mouth while I was checking out. (Yes, that actually happened. I should also add that I didn't notice the lady with the sores because the lady checking me out was trying to give me advice about how to get my baby to stop crying.) Where is that road that is paved with good intentions leading to again?

I am certainly not claiming to be any sort of parenting expert. I need advice from time to time, and I enjoy talking to other moms about what has worked for them. Goodness knows I research and agonize over every decision we've made as parents. Sometimes you are so "in it" that you need an outsider's point of view. I am forever grateful for the advice we've received from friends and family that has resulted in baby boy sleeping and eating better. However, I also know that I am the one that spends all day every day with him. I know him better than anybody, and I think that there is something to be said about a mother's intuition about what is best for her children.

I am beyond annoyed with the questions about whether or not my baby sleeps through the night, and about whether or not he is a "good baby." How sad is it that our society deems a baby "good" if he or she doesn't cry and provides minimal inconvenience for his or her parents? Under that definition, my baby is certainly not good. We are all made in God's image, and who is more innocent and blameless and "good" than a baby, regardless of whether or not he or she cries all the time?

I guess the moral of my story is that parents will ask for advice if they want it. It is very hard to be a new parent who is just realizing that taking care of a child is a lot harder than it looks. Also, don't put babies' pacifiers back in their mouths if you have open sores on your arms. If you still aren't sure about parenting advice, here are a few examples for you. :)

From The Mini Safe Baby Handling Kit

Two Words Every Teacher Should Know

There are two simple words every teacher should know. Well, I guess teachers better know hundreds of thousands of words in order to be able to communicate intelligently, but these two little words in particular are very powerful. These words are magical. These words will get your class to be instantly quiet, and they will immediately get the focus back on the teacher, or whomever the focus is supposed to be on. These words require no yelling, and are actually more effective the more quietly they are spoken.

I'll wait.

It's as simple as that. If you are getting ready to teach a lesson, or if you just need to tell your whole group something, you only need those two words. Your students will know that what you are about to say is important and that they need to listen up. They will also know that their talking, being out of their seat, humming, tapping, etc. must stop before the day can continue.

I have been in classrooms where teachers feel they need to yell at and threaten kids to get their students' attention. I have also been in classrooms where the teacher starts talking and half the class isn't listening or paying attention. I can count on one hand the times I've had to raise my voice. I can also say that I make a point to be sure everyone's hands are still and everyone is looking at me before I start talking to my students as a whole group. I learned that lesson the hard way after watching a video of a lesson I taught while student teaching. I was up at the front of the room, completely immersed in the math lesson I was teaching. The lesson went exactly as I had planned, and I was excited to get to view the lesson and show it to my supervisor. Uh, that is until I played it back and watched in at a student siting near the camera who stared at the camera and made faces at it the. whole. time.

I learned to wait and survey the entire class to make sure I had everyone's attention before speaking. All it takes are those two little words.

I'll wait. 

I should also mention that you have to follow through once you say the words. If you say, "I'll wait" and then start talking before everyone is ready, it obviously won't work.

Here are a few variations for different situations.

I'll wait for you to be quiet before I give directions.

I'll wait for everyone to be in their seats before we get started.

Let's wait for everyone to be ready before you begin your presentation.

I just love how simple it is to tell students you'll wait on them. It makes them responsible for their actions. Also, it is a non-humiliating way to get that one student in line who seems to have his or her own agenda. If you keep having to stop and say "I'll wait" for one student, you better believe they'll get the hint. The best part will be that you didn't have to raise your voice or get upset. Also, you never had to call that student by name, which would have either humiliated him or given him the attention he was seeking.

There are so many fantastic ways to get students focused in the classroom. I know there are some awesome Whole Brain Teaching strategies that I can't wait to use. I just thought I'd share what works for me. Leave a comment and let us know what works for you!

On another note, I was interviewed by Teacher Certification Degrees recently, and here is the article!

Teacher's Survival Kit

I decided to link up with Corrina at Mrs. Allen's Fifth Grade Files and share what I would put in my "Teacher's Survival Kit". Head on over and link up too!

1) Lighting - I know this might seem like a strange thing to need for survival, but hear me out. I can't handle being under fluorescent lights all day. I felt like my head was going to explode by the end of the day most of the time during my first year of teaching. I finally broke down and bought some of these flourescent light filters. They changed my life! They give everything in the room kind of a yellowish tint, but you get used to it. This is the best 35 dollars I ever spent. I even had one sweet student come up to me and tell me that he had been having headaches before, and that they went away as soon as I put up the light filters. They are magnetic and super easy to put up. While we're on the subject of lighting, don't you just love the lighting situation in this classroom?

2) Snacks - I don't know about you, but I have to have a little something to munch on in the afternoons. This is especially if I have the dreaded 10:30 (or earlier!) lunch time. My favs are Sour Patch Kids and Twizzlers. I can't say I always have these on hand, because if I have them I eat them all! I also like to keep little individually wrapped things like mints, lifesavers, Hershey's kisses, etc. so that I can pass them out to my students if the mood strikes me. Nothing keeps behavior on point better than knowing the teacher could randomly decide to pass out snacks at any moment! I have also been known to go dump a big pile of candy on the one-student-who-is-doing-what-he/she-is-supposed-to-do's desk. My hilarious coworker suggested doing this one day when I was complaining about all the talking going on in my room. Try it sometime! :)

 3) Raffle Tickets - I love having a raffle every Friday in my classroom. I have a simple jar, and whenever I see students doing something great, I give them a raffle ticket. On Friday we will raffle off some type of small prize. I get parents to sign up to donate raffle prizes at Open House. Using raffle tickets is a quick and easy way to reinforce good behavior. I have never been able to get into the complicated systems like classroom economies and homeworkopoly. Simple and easy works for me, because I know that I won't stick with it all year if it's too complicated.

4) Change of Clothes and Shoes - I am generally clumsy and I taught science, so I always kept a change of clothes and shoes in my car. The time I spilled water on myself from an "ecocolumn" that was full of dead fish and snails comes to mind. Ew. I also have been known to blow out a flip flop on occasion. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to be taken seriously with one shoe on.

What's in your "Teacher's Survival Kit?" Head on over to Mrs. Allen's 5th Grade Files and link up!