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!

Parent-Teacher Communication Through Facebook

I read this blog post today about a teacher not being allowed to communicate with parents through a Facebook group. There is so much wrong here, in my opinion. 

How many people out there have created an amazing classroom website, blog, etc. for your classroom? Okay, now how many people have had said classroom website, blog, etc. completely be ignored by 90% of parents of students in your class? (I'm visualizing many people with their hands raised). Most parents desperately want to be informed about what is going on in the classroom, and most teachers desperately want to inform them!

The reality is that many of the parents out there are stretched unbelievably thin. They work multiple jobs and can't find the time to check a blog or website to know what is going on in their child's class. I have had many a parent conference where the parent says, "I want to help __________ with her homework. How do I know what she needs to be working on?" In my head I would scream, "HAVE YOU NOT CHECKED OUR BLOG OR READ OUR NEWSLETTER?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!" Our loud, I would very calmly remind them about the blog and newsletter, and tell them to call or email me if they had any trouble finding it. As you can imagine, I would find myself with that same parent later in the year discussing the same issues. Most of my frustration came from the fact that I had spent so much time and energy creating said blog and newsletter.

Now, I could be wrong, but I would guess that most of the incredibly busy parents out there check Facebook at least once a day. Some probably check it at least every hour. This is not meant to be a criticism of anyone. I can't imagine how hard it is to work all day and then come home to a house full of kids who need help with homework, projects, etc. I doubt at the end of the day there is much time for classroom websites and newsletters. However, I think the situation might be different if classroom reminders and homework assignments came up in the parent's Facebook news feed.

Wouldn't it at least be worth a try? It is sad to me that the teacher who wrote this post made sure that the Facebook group he created was completely private and secure, but he still had to quit communicating with parents through Facebook. I feel like parents these days would love to streamline their lives. One great way to do that, in my opinion, would be to communicate with their children's teachers through Facebook (in a safe, private, and controlled way of course). I know that it is the job of administration to protect the best interests of everyone involved, but when will teachers be seen as competent professionals? It is sad to me that teachers are being discouraged from using technology to communicate with parents. What do you think?

It's Not Unfair, It's Just Different

Breastfeeding. Everyone's favorite topic (insert sarcasm here). We know that breastfeeding is best for babies, yet it skeeves many people out. Don't believe me? Mention breastfeeding around a man without children and see what kind of response you get. I did this once and saw a friend's husband's face turn green. Now I bring it up around him just for fun.

this is probably not an exaggeration

According to Elizabeth Gilbert, "Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it's what you want before you commit." Breastfeeding is also a commitment. Maybe it's like getting a tattoo on your ankle. 

When you breastfeed, you have the piece of mind you are doing what is best for your child. (Disclaimer: If you have great difficulty breastfeeding, cannot breastfeed for whatever reason, are suffering from postpartum depression and breastfeeding is making you feel worse, etc. -- formula feeding is totally better for you and your baby. This post is not meant to be judgmental in any way.) Nursing creates an incredible opportunity for bonding. Also, to be honest, the lazy side of me loves not having to sterilize and wash bottles. I cherish those sweet moments when baby boy looks up at me and smiles after nursing. I also love how nursing seems to be the only thing to calm him down when he's really upset. It is also an amazing feeling that I have given my chubby cheeked, 15ish pound, 3 month old all of the nutrition he's received since birth.

On the flip side, being an exclusively breastfeeding mom makes you feel like the primary caregiver. If your little one is like mine and has decided he doesn't really like bottles,  it's all you. It's all me at 2am. And sometimes at 3am, 4am, 5am, 6am, etc. If you are in a marriage that involved you doing everything all the time before you had a baby, then you will probably be fine with this schedule. My marriage was and still is not like this. Thankfully I have a wonderful husband who doesn't mind doing housework. He even does his own laundry and has always packed his own suitcase without a second of help from me. If anything, he is the one who helps me pack my suitcase. 

Enter having a baby. It's all me. Of course my husband is still his wonderful self. He gives baby boy baths, plays with him, changes diapers, etc. Can he just give him a bottle in the middle of the night? Not really. Does this sometimes bug me? A little. Can I be away from baby boy for a few hours? Of course! I will go get a pedicure, go the the mall, whatever. Can I be away from him for more than a few hours? Not really. Can I be away from him for a day or a weekend? Not a chance. 

Sweet husband is going out of town in a few weeks to see some friends and go to a football game. I'm happy he's going. Tennessee football is his favorite thing, and he will get to hang out with some friends that he rarely sees. This feels like a weird shift in the order of things. As my friend Laura put it, "It's like we've traveled back in time to the 1950's." Is it unfair that he can still do things like that and I can't? Even though it feels like that at times, it's not unfair. Just different. Baby boy does not rely on my husband's body for food. My husband also misses out on all that precious bonding time that happens during those feedings. Someday I'll be able to leave my baby boy overnight or for a weekend. Right now I'm just going to enjoy the cuddles and appreciate knowing that he needs me so much.

The Teacher Mom

Going from teaching to being a full time mom has been an interesting transition, to say the least. Is one easier than the other? Not sure. I can tell you one thing - both are hard! Is there any bigger responsibility in life than being responsible for a child/children? Whether it is your own child or a classroom of children, teaching is a hard job that never ends.

I am starting to think of my new role at home in the same way that I thought of my role as a classroom teacher. Here are the things that I have found that motherhood has in common with teaching.

1) You must have coffee. This is the most essential step in the day.

2) You must get dressed to feel competent. I remember showing up to school a few times looking rough. Maybe I had greasy hair or I was wearing pants that were wrinkled or too tight. You have to have confidence to tackle the day, and looking presentable is an important step. I find now that the days I don't change out of my pajamas seem to be the most stressful, draining days.

3) You have to have some sort of routine. My students and I thrived on routine in the classroom. I currently have little to no routine at home and it's so hard. This "on demand" parenting is best for my baby, right??

4) You have to have some adults to talk to or you will go insane. Said adults must also be going through the same things you are going through at roughly the same time. I remember not being able to wait until lunchtime at school so I could tell my teacher friends about the shenanigans that had taken place in my classroom that morning. Now I call my friend who had a baby a few weeks after me. I called her this morning and said, "If you're looking for positivity or encouragement, you're not going to get it from me today!" I was able to go on and on about all the things that are frustrating to me right now, and it was okay because she understood. We share war stories until one of our babies becomes hysterical. Strangely, that baby always happens to be mine!

5) Fake it until you make it. I'm talking faking smiles when you're exhausted, faking that you're an adult, and faking that you know what to do in any given situation. I'm not sure if the "make it" part ever happens though!

6) You have to have hobbies.  I love blogging, and my newest obsession is blog design. I have been slowly teaching myself how to do things, and I'd eventually like to start designing blogs for other people. Anybody want to be my guinea pig? :)

7) You have to enjoy the small stuff. The smiles, the hugs, and the light bulb moments make it all worth it. If you're having trouble focusing on the positive at any time, repeat step 1.

I have to admit that I got a little sad when I saw all my teacher friends start back to school this week.
I try to remind myself that what I'm doing now is the same, just different. Except for the whole getting paid bit. All parents are teachers when it comes down to it. Just like with actual teaching, it is our job to pray, plan, and do the best we can with what we have.

Best Read Aloud Ever!

Let's face it, it is hard to choose which books to share with our kiddos since there are so many great options out there. With the popularity of books like the Wimpy Kid series, I sometimes worry that my students won't relate to the classic books that I enjoyed as a kid. Some books don't stand the test of time very well, or are written in a style that is too long-winded or dense for today's average fifth grader.

Enter Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. This is the sweetest story of a boy named Billy Colman and his two hound dogs. There is action and adventure, but mostly it is a beautiful story of love and faith. I had never read this book until about a month before I decided to read it aloud to my class. I listened to the audio version while driving from my parent's house in Georgia back to Alabama. Normally I get incredibly annoyed listening to audio books because the narration is usually either very overdone, or incredibly boring. Anthony Heald does, in my opinion, a fantastic job of capturing the conversational tone in this book.

I drove down the interstate at 8 months pregnant listening to this book. I became so emotional, it's a wonder I made it home alive! I couldn't even stop to get something to eat or drink because I was crying so uncontrollably. I can only think of a small handful of books that have moved me as much as this one. I started to worry that I shouldn't read this book with my class, because I didn't want to upset my students. (**spoiler alert**) Then I remembered that pretty much all the classic young adult books out there deal with death in some way.

Reading this book with my class was one of the best decisions I've made.  I think it awakened something in even my most reluctant readers. The biggest problem we faced was that everyone went home begging for their parents to get them some "good hounds"!

I found the movie based on the book to be awful, but then again, I can't think of a movie based on a book that I've really enjoyed. The students liked it though, and it gave us something "educational" to do on those last few days of school. Ha! We also watched Where the Red Fern Grows Part 2, which was truly horrifying. There is one part where Lisa Whelchel's (Blair from The Facts of Life) boyfriend kind of forces himself on her. Pretty inappropriate for this age group. Once again, I should preview things I show my class! While I'm on the subject, never, never show Bill Nye- Germs to your class. It goes into some pretty, ahem, detailed descriptions of how one can contract HIV. My students didn't know what hit them with that one!

To me, Where the Red Fern Grows is a great read aloud because 1) It is very well written. 2) It appeals to both boys and girls. 3) It has an excellent audio version. If you're like me and teach more than one section of reading, you get really tired reading aloud. Usually my students prefer for me to read, but they told me they definitely preferred the audio book in this case. 4) There is an awesome Literature Unit: A Guide for Where the Red Fern Grows that goes with it. I usually hate these premade things, but this was is excellent, in my opinion. Have I convinced you yet? What read alouds do you love doing with your class?

Second Day of School Morning Work

The first day of school is rapidly approaching! I uncovered a little gem this morning and I thought I would share with you guys.

I created this activity to be placed on students' desks on the second day of school when they come in in the morning. It is an easy, non-threatening way to get the day started. Also, it gives you some insight into how the kiddos feel the first day went! Enjoy!