Sunday, March 9, 2008

This is Why I'm Here

Okay, so I'm here to teach and to form impressionable young minds. We all know that. But sometimes it's hard to remember or understand exactly why I was called here, because I do believe I was called. So, I just quickly wanted share something that I heard at church last week because I think it's something we can all employ in our lives with many different people.

I think I have a different approach than TFA a lot of times. My job is to teach and to "close the achievement gap," but, as corny as it sounds, I believe in educating both the heart and the mind. My job is to teach the letters and patterns and basic literacy and math. My job is also to teach these kids that someone loves them and, therefore, they should love themselves enough to work hard and learn to follow their dreams in life. School is a place that is safe where people love them and will take care of them.

For several of my students, I think that this approach is what will (hopefully) "save" them from being the 13-year-old fifth grader. They won't be so disruptive and angry (i.e. T) that they don't learn anything and are held back year after year, ultimately dropping out or incarcerated. As much as I hate to admit it, there are certain students of mine for whom I fear this future and I'm trying to teach them enough love that they can make something of their lives. It's so corny, I know, but it seems to be working for some of them. The saga of T will probably be a near-future post (I could have a blog just on him).

The results make me believe that this approach works for me and my students, but more importantly this is what I heard in church last Sunday. A couple from Emmaus Ministries (not the Emmaus of the Emmaus walk) work in Chicago and in Houston with men who are homeless hustlers (male prostitutes) and drug abusers. Of their work (which can be applied to anyone), they said, "You can't tell somebody about love. You have to love them. They have to know what it is to be loved so that they can experience love at the table of God." How incredible is that? It is our job to love one another, especially those who don't know love, so that we can all experience the indescribable love of God. That's why I'm here, to love these four and five-year-olds, some of whom have no concept of what love is. These little babies who, when I say, "Just come and talk to me, I'm not going to yell and I'm not going to hit you" when I'm upset with them, respond, "That's right, only mommies hit."

"'A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.'" John 13:34-35

It's a Quick One

Alright, I know that I keep saying that I will do more updates soon...and I will. Things have been crazy, good and bad. I'm going to give you a real quick update on me, personally, then a short funny story from my room.

So, I bought a new car in January, a 2007 Saturn Ion. So, for those of you who knew me in college, my awesome wagon with the billion bumper stickers, Fred to those of you who knew me well, is gone. I was really excited because I've never bought a car on my own before and it really felt like my car. My parents were amazing and got me the old car in high school to replace an awful deathtrap that my grandfather gave me (I feel like that car was sort of symbolic of our relationship, but I digress). So this car was really mine. I knew that I was going to get a new car in two years after TFA because Fred was 10 years old and was not going to make it back to the east coast (which presently is where I'd like to go back to, even though I have no idea what I want to do with my life anymore!).

So, I went in to the dealership just to look around because there was a possibility I could get some money from the state to replace my car with a car with better emissions. It turned out that I didn't qualify, but I could get 0% interest on the Ion and Saturn had just discontinued the Ion, so there were really great deals. I couldn't afford a brand new car before, but I could afford this one with all these deals. I kept thinking about it and my financial situation isn't going to change a whole lot over the next two years. So I decided that this was the perfect opportunity and took it. So, for one month I had this brand new car and I really liked it and made one payment on it.

Then, after driving home from church, I was rear-ended on the highway. Traffic stopped, I stopped and the car behind me didn't. It hit me and pushed me into the SUV in front of me. It was very scary, but I called On-Star (because my car came with it) and they called the police, my mom and finally EMS (because I hit my head and kept telling them it hurt- I didn't go to the hospital, though). My friend, Keena, was amazing and came to get me and took me to the doctor. I just thank God that the Nissan Sentra hit me and not the SUV. Fortunately, Saturns are really super-safe cars because they have great crumple zones and the car takes more of the impact than you do. Unfortunately, that also makes Saturns much more likely to total out. So, my new car is dead. They showed me the bottom of the car and it was a wreck. I'm really fortunate that I really didn't have anything wrong with me- my back is still sore sometimes and things pop and crack that I didn't know existed, but truly I'm blessed.

The problem is that once you drive off the lot with a new car, your car devalues. So, even though the insurance company of the guy who hit me is paying for the value of my car, it doesn't cover the whole car and they can't get me 0% interest and amazing deals back. Fortunately, I had gap insurance, so that's taking care of the value of the loan that the insurance doesn't cover. Unfortunately, that means I couldn't get a brand new car. Truly, it's not a huge deal considering everything that could have been and comparing my "misfortunes" to those of my students. However, I must confess that I was initially very disappointed. I have a "new-to-me" 2005 Saturn L300 with 55,000 miles (instead of 2,000). It's a very nice, well-cared for car and I do really like it. The thing that really gets me though is that my payments for my used car are higher than those for my new car. Oh well, this is life.

So, now that you're caught up on the crazy bit of my personal life over the last two weeks, let me share a funny story from this past week.

Now this story is funny and a little bit sad to an extent. When I was a kid, I had a really stable environment and awesome parents and didn't even know half the things my kids know and do. Like, I played house and I've caught them playing "Getting arrested." So, from what I remember from preschool, this conversation would never have occurred in my class as a four-year-old, but did occur in my four-year-olds' classroom.

So, theoretically I am supposed to teach all subjects, including social studies and science and I just can't seem to get them all in. Also, I can't use some of the resources my school has, like only the fifth grade is allowed to use the science lab because they're the ones who take the science standardized test and our school fails it every year (correlation possibly?). So, I teach some science, but not a whole lot of social studies.

Thus, I was supposed to teach about Texas for the last two weeks (do I even know anything about Texas other than their pride is ridiculous and often completely unfounded?). I think I read them one book about Texas. But I had to make this stick horse craft project with them as my team has caught on to the fact that I write my own lesson plans and don't follow theirs, so they were checking up on me to make sure I did it (I don't believe in giving Pre-K worksheets all day!). To add some academics to it, I made my kids "write" a story about their horse and give an oral presentation (tell us your horse's name and what you like to do) on it because their language skills are really severely lacking.

The presentations are reasonably predictable. Everyone's horse likes to eat Happy Meals at McDonalds and play on the slide at the playground. The names run the gamut, from "Fluffy" to "Princess" to "Soulja Boy" complete with song and dance. (If you're not familiar with Soulja Boy, you clearly don't listen to hip hop or teach in the inner city. It's not exactly an appropriate all, but it's catchy and has a cool dance so the whole school is obsessed. You can watch it on YouTube here ---> This is the slightly edited version, the word "ho" has been replaced with "oh".)

They're a little wound up and I've got J (the Chucky baby kid) pinned down in my lap because he's particularly fired up that day. I'm absolutely convinced that this child has ADHD (not joking) and I've been to some trainings with some checklists of probable indicators and I can check every one off on him. He truly can't control his body and he was running around, screaming. So, I've got J and little M is about to give her presentation. Oh M, I love that baby, but she needs so much help in so many ways. She's the only one that can't write any part of her name. At least To is To and J is Jo. But M is absolutely convinced that any random string of letters is her name, so if I get a paper with QXRPWY, I know that's M. She's babbling in front of the class, so I ask her what the horse's name is and she says "Sexy" (oh heavens).

**Pause real quick to get some background in case you haven't read the Chucky Baby incident or don't remember. At home, J's family ONLY calls him Sexy. I refused to call him this at the beginning of the year and had to teach him that his name was J (he didn't know). All his school supplies came in with "Sexy" written on them and I was truly confused for about a month until I heard his mom calling him Sexy.**

After M announces that her horse's name is Sexy, J becomes incensed. Absolutely upset and starts yelling, "That's not Sexy! I'm Sexy! He's not Sexy! I'm Sexy! I'm Sexy!" I couldn't help it, I just laughed at them, while the rest of the class just looked at me and couldn't figure out what was so funny.

I live and work in Crazy Land.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

If You're Looking for a Way to Help...

New updates will be coming soon. A lot has happened...the best week ever, one of the worst weeks in a long time, my big evaluation that determined whether I was certified and still had a job, my latest observation by my ACP supervisor...whew!

But tonight I am tired and I have been lesson planning like it's my job (oh wait, it is!). So, I just thought I'd post this small little tidbit.

Many of you have helped me in so many ways, sending books, prayers, support and unconditional love. And I cannot describe how much I appreciate it. Thank you for everything. A few people have asked how they can help and I just thought I'd put this out there.

There's this awesome website called Donor's Choose. It allows teachers to post things that they want or need for their classrooms or for specific projects that they hope to undertake with their students. Believe it or not, teaching is an expensive job. I spend a ridiculous amount of money on my kids and trying to keep organized in my classroom. Not to mention puppets, my newest obsession. They could care less if I'm talking...but put a stupid piece of cloth on my hand and they're right with me. Yelling, "That's you talking!" Doesn't matter, my little friends, you're paying attention... But I digress...

So anyway, I posted a request for an MP3 player on Donor's Choose. My kids learn so much from music (and it keeps us all sane). But here are the two real things that I need. #1 (ALWAYS #1): Prayer. Prayer that I will keep my patience, that my project will be funded, that my students will be safe and they will learn and that I will find ways to reach them. #2: If you could pass this link along to someone that you know that might be interested in funding a project, even if it's not mine. Some teachers have some pretty awesome things going on in their classrooms and could really use some help. I know that there are people who are always looking for something to donate to, so if you happen to know one of those people, if you could let them know about the website, it would be incredible. :)

Anyway, I just wanted to take a minute to let you know about this... Hope you don't mind that this isn't such an interesting post. Also, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this, to care for me and to care enough to take the time to check up on how things are going. Love you all!

If you want to read the "official" letter, I'm supposed to send out, here it is:
Spread the word: Tell everyone how simple it is to make a real
difference in your classroom!

Dear friends,

I want my students to have as many great learning opportunities as
possible, but sometimes I just can't get the funding I need. To address
this issue, I turned to

Here's the scoop. At this nonprofit website, public school teachers
(like me!) submit proposals for materials or experiences their students
need to learn. These ideas become a reality when concerned individuals
(like you!) choose projects to fund. Donors who complete project funding
or give more than $100 receive photos and personal thank-you notes from
the kids they helped. It's easy - and very rewarding.

The great news is that my project proposal, Sing To Learn, is now posted
at! Check it out at:

Take a look. Also, please consider supporting my students and me by
forwarding this message to others who may be interested in improving

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Hey, It's Progress...

I am learning to celebrate the big and small things in my classroom. Which is good because the small successes are what lead to the big ones. Additionally, I am learning that the small successes are the more dependable ones. Naturally, they're more frequent, but they are also more constant. When I say that, I mean that I typically continue to see progress from the small successes more than the big successes. For example, if we have an incredible day one day (big success), I can almost guarantee that the next day will be hell. But, while I see ebbs and flows in the small successes, I can expect them to build upon each other rather than simply be there one day and gone the next.

Both big and small things happened this past week. It was kind of a crazy week. I was out for professional development on Tuesday, meaning that I had my second sub for the entire year. I prepped the kids for the sub, explaining to them that I would be back, but if they acted a fool for the sub, I probably would not be back. I reminded them of the time we read "Miss Nelson is Missing" where the nice teacher leaves because the kids are bad and a mean teacher takes her place. Thankfully, they did a pretty good job for the sub, or so she told me.

We also had two major assemblies/programs this week. When I say major, I mean 2 1/2 hours each. Which is an awfully long time for my kids to sit and be quiet and listen. They did alright, but it did throw them off for the rest of the day, which is why I HATE programs and I really hate them first thing in the morning. And we had a fire drill. Craziness.

But despite all the insanity, I was surprised at how well they did...and pleased.

So now we get to the breakthroughs.

One of the programs this week was a Silent March in honor of Dr. King and the upcoming Black History Month. My kids and I did a lesson on Dr. King, which was really daunting for me. How do you teach four-year-olds about segregation and prejudice? I mean my kids know life isn't fair, more than I do, but that's such an abstract and sad concept to teach them about. So, we read a book about Dr. King and discussed it and it actually turned out to be one of my more successful lessons. They LOVE Martin Luther King now. When we walked past a poster in the hall, they flipped out and started yelling, "We found the man! We found the man who made it fair for us to be in the same class! Dr. King, Dr. King!" They now wave (sort of) silently to the poster as we walk down the hall.

Of course they also identify with him for reasons that were sort of unexpected to me (why they were unexpected, I'm not sure, I should know this is coming by now). The first was good. We talked about how his father was a pastor and he was, too. I wasn't sure that they knew what a pastor was, so I explained that it was the person who talked in church. The mention of church got them really excited and they started telling me about who in the class went to their church and so on. So, that was good. Then, we got to the part where Dr. King organized protests and was occasionally arrested. Which, naturally, started a chorus of "He went to jail? My daddy's in jail." "Your daddy's in jail? My daddy's in jail, too." "Sometimes my mama and my daddy are in jail." I cut that conversation short real quick.

But I was very proud at what they wrote for our banner for the Silent March. On their own, with only very, very slight guidance from me, they wrote:
"Martin Luther King had a dream. I have a dream. We are all friends. Martin Luther King made all of us be in the same school together. We are glad we are in the same class. He made it fair."

Anyway, we were practicing for the Silent March and I just could not get them to focus or practice. Khadijah was crawling down the hallway. J kept yelling. And so on and so on. So, I took them to Mr. Bolt's room. Mr. Bolt teaches second grade and he's awesome. He organized the programs and did a great job of teaching the students about the history rather than having the programs for the sake of having the programs. Mr. Bolt did a mini lesson for them and helped calm them down. In the midst of all this, he realized that T is the little brother of a student he had last year. He told me that he might have some influence with T.

Oh T. He has singlehandedly raised my blood pressure and probably shortened my life this year. He spent most of the beginning of the year under a table or tearing my classroom apart. He also terrorized the other students, hitting, kicking, throwing chairs and pushing over tables. But I truly do love this kid. It's hard sometimes, but he can't help being the product of his environment. He knows no other way to get attention that in a negative way and he is DESPERATE for attention of any sort. He gets a lot of "whuppings" (in his case, this means beatings) at home and is the angriest child I've ever met.

So, Mr. Bolt offers to help and sheds a little more insight into T. It turns out that some of his anger stems from his resentment and his dad's lack of involvement in his life. Mr. Bolt's position as a caring, nurturing, successful African American male sets him up to be a great mentor for T and he agrees to do this.

Beyond being desperate for attention, T is desperate for love and affection. I tell all my students that I love them and care about them. I just think it's important and, for some of them, I suspect that I may be the only person who tells them that they're special and that someone cares. I can't quite quantify or explain it in words, but the first time I told T, one-on-one, that I loved him, there was this tiny, minuscule spark and there was this slight turning point. So, I know that that's one of the things that he's after. He already gets to go see my friend, Kristen, when he does a good job. He eats it up. But on Thursday, when I told him that Mr. Bolt told me he loved him and he wanted to see him if he worked really hard and made good choices, he worked his little tail off. He was incredible- a whole different child. So, I sent him to see Mr. Bolt, along with a note from me and a book that T had made (with his name written on it, his whole name, not just a T!). But I guess T got nervous when he got there because he just shoved it under the door and ran away. However, Mr. Bolt came right before dismissal to find Trevon and that kid lit up like a Christmas tree. He was so proud of himself and so glad that this teacher cared enough to come find him.

So, that was a big success. Thus, I braced myself for Friday. Big successes are usually followed by big disasters. And the morning on Friday was looking like it might be a big disaster. He was all over the place and he's smart enough to know which kids are followers and gets them off track. If we can get that kid on track, he could really grow up to be somebody. He wasn't being violent or terrible, but he was disruptive and he certainly wasn't learning. So, I was frustrated, but I completely ignored him. That, I've found, drives him bananas. I can yell all I want, but that usually just triggers a nuclear meltdown. Ignoring him often gets him to do what I want-maybe not in my time frame-but what I want nonetheless. He even tried to talk to me a couple of times and I simply acted as though he wasn't even there. So, after lunch he and I discuss my expectations for the rest of the day and how proud he will make me if he works to meet those expectations. And he did a fabulous job during work stations and earned the right to participate in a joint project with Kristen's class- releasing ladybugs.

However, it went sour during journals. The kids were writing in their journals and, as usual, T was having difficulty sharing the crayons. I guess R took one of the crayons T was hoarding and T slapped him. Not just a little slap either, there was a huge red mark and R was lying on the floor, crying. I get after T and comfort R and T hides under the table. Naptime comes and T heads toward the computer because I let him work on the computer on alphabet and counting games (to avoid the havoc he likes to wreak otherwise). He's academically low and could use the extra practice (because he spends his time causing trouble instead of learning- the kid's really smart otherwise). But I call him over and explain that he may not use the computer today because he slapped R. I get myself ready for a meltdown.

Let me stop and explain these meltdowns so that you can truly understand how significant this next bit is. These meltdowns typically involve screaming and crying, kicking/throwing chairs, hurting other students, pushing over tables, etc. They occasionally involve kicking/biting/scratching/hitting me. They're always extreme and usually long. Three weeks ago, it took two people to remove him from my classroom during one of these episodes. One took his feet (after they removed his shoes because he was kicking them so much) and another grabbed him under the armpits and pinned his arms down. He's five and he's not a big kid; this is how out-of-control these tantrums can get.

So, I'm ready for a meltdown. And it starts out semi-typical. He gets mad and says, "I can't do nothin' wit you!"- his favorite phrase during a tantrum. Then, he just sits down in my rocking chair and just cries. Just cries. There's no incessant pattern of "I can't do nothin' wit you" and "I hate you." There's no kicking, no hitting. No chairs are kicked or even hit. Just sitting and crying with his head down. This is bizarre. I'm waiting for Jesus to come and end the world.

And we go on with the day. Dismissal comes. Dismissal is usually a very ugly time. If he's had a good day, he gets the "good" stamp on his folder and a prize from the prize box. But if it hasn't been a good day, there's a tantrum where he demands a prize and he refuses to leave my classroom. There's crying and screaming as he lies on the floor and I refuse to stamp his folder. I used to give him what the kids refer to as the "bad" stamp, but he would just throw his folder out the bus window and I'd never see it again. Which, truly, I can't blame him. If my mother told me (in front of the teacher) that next time the school called, "they'll have to call the police to get me off of you I'm gonna whup you so hard," I would throw my folder out the window, too. So, he and I came to the agreement that I just wouldn't stamp his folder if it wasn't the "good" stamp. But sometimes he thinks he should just have the stamp regardless of his behavior and major tantrum ensues.

I'm sitting at the teacher's table passing out folders and finishing assessments and T walks up to me. He says, "I been good today?" I said, "Not really. What you did to R was not nice and it made me really sad." Again, I prepare myself for an end-of-the-day tantrum. Instead, he just says, "Okay," and SITS on the carpet. (Sitting on the carpet is nothing short of a miracle for him.) After everyone has their things, I call for the bus riders to leave. Not only does T leave without asking for a prize, but he runs up and gives me a hug and says, "Are you going to be here on Monday?" I almost die in this moment. Never has T initiated a hug with me. He'll give me hugs back when I hug him. He'll vie for my attention, screaming my name or pushing someone. But this is new. This is a good new. And this gives me hope that we have truly reached a turning point, that he is learning that positive attention is better than negative attention, that he wants to learn and that school is a safe place and that we do care about him.

This is both a little thing and a big thing. But while to an outsider, that hug was just a hug, to me that hug was a promise. A promise of trust and affection. A promise to try. A promise that that little boy has a future.

"But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." Romans 5:3-5

Friday, January 25, 2008

What the hell is a chongo, anyway?

So, the Lord works in mysterious ways... Although this has been, unquestionably, the most difficult season of my life, there are many things for which I am grateful. One is that, in the eighth grade my parents forced me to take Spanish instead of German. (Okay Mom, it's acknowledged, there is no need to bring this up the next time I call home.)

As you may or may not know, most of my students are Hispanic and many of them are bilingual or learning English. Additionally, a cursory knowledge of Spanish helps get "in" with a lot of other people at the school (who it helps to like me), like the custodians (who don't get as angry when my kids make ridiculous messes, projectile vomit all over the classroom-it's happened, or grind playdoh in the carpet), the lunch ladies (who let me pay them back when I don't have money) and the aides (who can help get me stuff). Additionally, it helps me clarify for my student who knows very little English. (And I know a lot of the curse words, so I know if they're potty mouths in Spanish- which they're surprisingly not, the F word is sufficient, I suppose).

I can say:
"No tocas otros ninos."- Don't touch other children.
"Manos a tu propia persona."- Keep your hands to yourself.
"Puedes ver tu mami despues de la escuela."- You can see your mommy after school.
"Sientese a la alfombra."- Sit on the carpet.
"No mientes a mi."- Do not lie to me.
"Ojos a mi."- Eyes on me.
"Que es el problema?"- What is the problem?
"Porque estas llorando?"- Why are you crying?
And other useful phrases.

But I'm learning Spanish like I never did when I minored in it in college. A lot of them speak in sort of Spanglish slang and there are things that they just don't have the English word for.

At the beginning of the year, it helped when they were constantly code switching between English and Spanish. I knew what Jos meant when he said, "Miss! Miss! No puedo tie mis zapatos." ("I can't tie my shoes.") and "He has mucha!" ("He has a lot!")

For example, they use the word "pica" for just about everything. Now, I knew what they meant when Mi brought lime potato chips and they kept telling me that they were very "pica" or spicy/tangy/flavorful. And I know that they use "pica" to refer to sharp things like staples and push pins. But when Mi told me that she had a "pica" on her foot, I had no idea what she meant. I still don't.

Oh and piojos. Let me tell you, on my next resume, I ought to put that I am expert in piojos. I can detect those little suckers like it's my job. At the beginning of the year, I had never even seen one before (my mother drove the fear in me from a young age), now I can spot them from a mile away. You see, piojos are lice (more specifically the eggs, but lice nonetheless). For example, today when I checked her hair, M informed me, "I don't got no piojos no more." Which wasn't exactly true. My classroom is a piojo infestation site. They are the reason why I NEVER wear my hair down. If I do, there are suddenly little hands wending their way in and let me tell you I will NOT get lice. I have way too much hair for that business.

And then there was the chongo. The chongo was probably my first introduction into this slang business. It took me forever to figure out what a chongo was. Probably close to a month and a half. And they talked about chongos all the time. Chongos were a huge source of conflict in the classroom. Someone was always taking someone else's chongo and then there was tattling and since I didn't know what it was, I couldn't really fix the problem other than to say, "Give back the chongo." And of course, the chongo culprit was invariably my token white child who clearly had no clue what a chongo was, either. It turns out that a chongo is a ponytail holder. It can refer to just about anything that goes in your hair, but specifically, it's what holds your "little colita."

Oh the new skills that I have acquired this year...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Daily Review

While I cannot honestly confess complete and total happiness with my motley crew today, I must say that they were much improved from yesterday (although, while I hesitate to say it because believe me they'll prove me wrong, I'm not sure they could get much worse). As a case in point, as I picked them up from the cafeteria today, Jo informed me "We weren't acting no fools today." To which I responded, "Good, you better not have." Happily there was a green star to carry proudly back from lunch.

Now I am trying to balance these blogs with levity and seriousness, as well as the good, the bad and the ugly. So here are some high points.

T and I had two minor breakthrough moments today. During journals this morning, Jos threw a huge tantrum. If I remember correctly (this was the first of a few), it was because I told him not to stick his tongue out at T and that he would receive a consequence (code=time out from recess). In that moment, I called over T and said, "Do you like it when Jos acts like that?" Resounding and adamant no from T. "How does it make you feel?" "It hurts my ears." "Well, how do you think we feel when you act like that?" He thought about it for a minute and then, almost surprised, answered, "It hurts your ears?" I don't think it ever occurred to him that his fits were the least disruptive and, while he had one or two today, they were noticeably quieter.

Secondly, I try to bribe T with earning a prize at the end of the day. You may feel free to agree or disagree with said policy, but I also invite you to come and deal with him for the day. (The first and only time we had a sub, I wrote an apology letter beforehand.) This has varying levels of success and I do reward for "changed choices." I'm not going to punish for a terrible morning if it's gotten better and we've had a fantastic afternoon. The problem is, he seems to think that he deserves a prize regardless of his behavior. This often results in a showdown where he refuses to leave the classroom at the end of the day and I tell him "I'm more stubborn than you are and I am going to win, so if I were you, I'd stop now." (My mother, I'm sure, would be glad to confirm the reality of this statement.) Today, he certainly did not deserve any kind of reward. However, he wasn't horrendous and I think a lot of his problem comes from a lot of negativity (and excessive "whuppings") at home. So I told him, "I will give you the good stamp in your conduct folder, but you did not earn a prize today." As I braced myself for war, he simply responded "Because you have to be good all day," took his folder and sat down in his chair. I nearly had a heart attack in that moment. Success!

I'll take what I can get.

Highlights of the day:
1. During naptime, R, S and I played a counting/number recognition game involved a caterpillar and flowers. The following conversation evolved from that episode.
S: "Where's the caterpillar's other head?"
R: "That's not his head, that's his booty."
S: "Haha. Booty. Look at my booty."
R: "The teacher's got a booty."
2. To went home early because she pooped on herself and didn't tell me for what I now think may have been two hours. After she changed herself, one of the bathrooms was rendered unusable based on the odor.
3. Je has gotten smart enough to gauge my stress levels in the classroom and flashes me "I love you" in sign language (which we learned as an alternative to giving the finger) whenever he can tell I've just about had it.
4. N: "It's cold, I'm going to cover you up in my jacket."
5. We got to use the parachute that my mom sent for the first time today. They had the best time and we practiced listening and following directions. It also made the recess time outs ten times as effective and is now an excellent reward to work for as a class (or something to lose in the event of a day like yesterday).

Sad moment:
M: "This is a picture of my mommy crying because Joseph slapped her. But my mommy was good yesterday so him no whup her."

"If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast." Psalm 139: 9-10

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What ARE you thinking?

I don't want to become a crazy blogger, but this is a good way to communicate to a large number of people what is going on. :)

Today was Wild Wild Wednesday. I am really glad that Wednesdays are short days. :) The whole school is standardized testing except Pre-K and tensions are really high. I think that the kids are feeding off of those tensions and acting out as a result. They have simply been off the wall this week.

One of the expressions that I know I use frequently (because I hear the kids saying it to each other) is "What are you thinking?" Now, I find myself becoming increasingly ghetto fabulous (which I actually love), so I think it takes on a different flavor in person than online, but you'll just have to do your best to imagine. I can't even tell you the number of times I said that today. (Around 2:30 there was a complete coup d'etat, but everyone survived.)

As a case in point, I will use the letter we wrote as a class after lunch. It's easily the best story of the day and, while my kids gave the aides hell in the cafeteria, this letter gave them a good laugh.

Now, they haven't been great before lunch, but it hasn't been complete chaos either. There haven't been any outright tantrums and T and I have only had one fairly minor showdown (he didn't throw or kick any chairs and he only refused to sit with the class for five minutes, during which time I completely ignored him which made the fit no fun). This is reasonable. We've done better, but for a rainy day with high stress levels, this is manageable.

So, imagine my surprise when I come to pick them up from lunch and find out that they've earned a red star.

Pause and let me explain. Red is bad news bears. In my class, red equals consequence. In the cafeteria, the kids can earn green, yellow or red stars depending on their behavior. Green earns them rewards. I don't accept anything less than green. This does not mean we always get green. Jd may bite someone or T hits somebody and it's all downhill from there. But this is the first time in recent memory that we've earned a RED. This is bad.

Needless to say, I'm not happy. That's really quite a nice way of putting it, but I will not be resorting to the language that my students use so commonly (Can I tell you how we will never rhyme words with duck again?). There's some recess time or work station time to be lost now to be replaced by a worksheet or some other heinous task.

But then, oh but then, I find out what they did. I actually only find part out, they spilled their little guts later on, but we'll get to that. Mrs. Camarillo tells me that Jo was throwing food. Not only was he throwing food, but he was putting it in his mouth and spitting it at people. The rest of them spent their time screaming and yelling their way through lunch. Clearly, lunchtime was not the product of good choices.

So, they get in line while I yell at them and inform them that I had better not hear a single sound in the hallway. I tell them how ashamed and embarrassed I am and how they ought to feel about themselves. They try to blame the whole affair on Jo, but I let them know that screaming is similarly not tolerated. Knowing more about the situation now, this blaming business makes me even less pleased. Thus begins the silent march back to the classroom, which they did fairly well.

After sitting in the dark with their heads down for a few minutes after I give a lecture that includes several "What were you thinkings?" and "Where did that seem like a good ideas?," I inform them that we need to write an apology letter to the aides, which some of the well-behaved students will take to the cafeteria. As we write the letter, they begin to tell me an increasing number of their cafeteria indiscretions, many of which were contained in the letter. The letter, which they dictated (with some minor guidance from me) went as follows:

We are sorry for throwing food on the floor. Sorry for screaming and yelling in the cafeteria. Sorry for not listening to the ladies. To says, "Sorry for eating off of the floor." Sorry for not eating the food on our plate. Sorry for getting red. Sorry for making bad choices. Sorry for not getting green. We will get green tomorrow.
Love Ms. Stacy's class

I certainly hope they get green tomorrow. Eating off the floor, really?

Sigh. But I love them anyway. But I certainly didn't like them very much today.

The things that seem like a good idea in the heat of the moment.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Classroom Prayer List

Note: Names changed in article to protect my students' identities.

I often catch myself thinking different phrases throughout the day. It's frequently "I'm going to kill myself after school today." Not that I actually would, but in that moment the thought of coming back the next's nearly insurmountable.

Another one, especially when I'm at home, or even at school, is "Oh God, please bless my babies." I mean, on the one hand, I'm so glad that I'm not a 3:00 I am READY to give them back (I'm actually ready around 12:30, but HISD says that school ends at 3:o0). However, there are a couple of kids that I wish I could bring home with me. Not because they are oh-so-cute (even though they often, but not always, are), but because I am terrified of what happens to them at home.

Like O. In October, for 2-3 weeks, I had to literally carry her out of the school screaming "Don't make me go home! I want to stay with you!" At that point Alex was still trying to run away to go home. She's had lice 7 times this year...really bad. She almost never smiles. She is the saddest little heartbreaking thing.

Then there's M. Fortunately the social worker is involved now. I pray for that one so much and I hope you will too. I worry constantly about her and her brothers and sister. She's so cute and says some really funny, endearing things. Then she told me that her daddy was in jail because he and her mommy were "fighting" and her sister (who is 5) had to get the knife to help mommy get away. Then she told me that her stepdad broke her mommy's arm and hurt her brother (who coincidentally, or not, didn't come to school that same day). Today she said her mommy was "bad" and her stepdad had to "whup her." I am terrified of what will happen to those kids.

Please pray for my students. I don't know anyone else who needs it quite like they do. They are broken, battered little people and they're only four years old. They're so damaged. I have to be really careful to handle certain situations certain ways so my kids don't freak out or shut down. For some of them, I think that I'm the only one who tells them that I love them. They break my heart everyday. The violence they have seen, the terror they have experienced. No one should have to live that way and they are just children.

It's nothing short of tragic.