Saturday, August 30, 2014

I See Your True Colors Shining Through…

Well sweet friends, we made it through the first week of school. We made it through the early mornings, the mountains of paperwork, the sorting of planner money/T-shirt money/PTA money, the dismissal changes/schedule changes/transportation changes, and the sheer physical and mental exhaustion that always comes with the transition back to school.
Whatever. I got to use brand-new crayons this week.
I know. Unless teaching is your life’s work, you probably don’t understand the blessed appeal that is hidden in those words, but there is just something about new crayons. They are sharp, bright, and organized in an identifiable ROY G. BIV formation. Crayons could undoubtedly be a metaphor for all that is right (or wrong) with the world, but for this time, I’ve decided to focus on the tiny microcosm that is my classroom and my family and my very own little world.
When I taught first grade, we always read The Crayon Box That Talked during the first week of school. Click here to read more about this great book.
My fifth grade son brought home a personality test the first week of school called the True Colors Test. You answer a few questions and are given a color that crudely outlines some of the intricacies of your personality. The theory is that if you understand your people’s personalities, you can relate better. Our staff has taken this test before, so I knew what I was, and I knew what my husband was before he even took the test because I’ve known him since I was 13 years old. My son is EXACTLY my color, which comes as no surprise to anyone that knows us well…we are passionate and manic and emotionally present and affectionate. I loved the process of discussing this test as a family because it highlighted the character traits that define each of us and celebrated our uniqueness. It also pointed out how necessary all of those colors are to create a happy home, a harmonious classroom, and a beautiful picture.
God bless. A harmonious classroom. My new group of third graders is full of color. There are all sorts of oranges: active, playful, and spontaneous. There are brilliant blues: tender, dramatic, and poetic. There are glistening golds: organized, practical, and orderly (NOT ME IN 100 MILLION YEARS), and thank God for the greens: cooperative, clever, and competent. I am so thrilled I get to be their teacher this year, as we work to create a masterpiece, of which, we can all be proud.
I hope your first week back was as fantastic as mine. I hope your year is filled with wonder and bright colors. And I hope you get to use new crayons.
“So don’t be afraid to let them show, your true colors are beautiful…like a rainbow.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

This is Where I Belong…

Teachers begin their work long before they are ever given a class list. One of the very first tasks we tackle is creating a space that is functional, inviting, kid-friendly, and fun. It also needs to be organized enough that a classroom full of children can move comfortably, find what they need, and maximize their learning time. For me personally, the classroom environment I create is extremely intentional. During the school year, I spend more waking hours in my classroom than I do in my very own home, so it’s important to me that it’s a space I love. I used to put up a bunch of nonsense that I thought belonged in a classroom, but the longer I’ve taught, the more stingy I get with the space. I read one time that when people walk into your room, they should be able to immediately tell what it is you value. I value books, self-sufficiency, fun, and conversation, so I put a high priority on creating spaces in my classroom that reflect this. Allow me to take you on a tour of this year’s classroom…

This space is my little corner of the world. I try to make most of the classroom available to the kiddos, but this little area is kind of like my home office. It has my computer, bins for each day of the week, a board with funny quotes, pictures of former students, love notes from my kids, and my EVER-present Sonic drink. My BFF of 16 years moved to a new school this year, so the front of my desk is decorated of pictures of us with all of our different hairstyles.

This wall will eventually house our mathematical thinking. Patterns we observe, math vocabulary, and anchor charts, will all be on display here. The kiddos' cubbies are underneath that will house backpacks and book boxes.

IMG_5716This is the back wall of our classroom. The Math Daily 5 headers are on the cabinets and will be filled with activity titles once they are introduced to the students. The black coffee table is a workspace that is available to the kids anytime. Photo props were out for BTS night! The book jackets are hung from string with clothespins.

I’m pretty sure that if kiddos want to be in my room, it’s all because of this bathtub! I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when a teacher friend was retiring and I’ve had her bathtub ever since! This year, I added the books about bathtubs, and the bubbles hanging from the ceiling. I have a rotation system so that each kiddo gets a regular chance to work/read in the tub.

This is part of my classroom library. I am super-excited about my new book pillows that I got from ETSY. The books in the black crates are leveled by Lexile level and the books in the white tubs are organized by genre, topic, or author. The empty shelves on the wall are for the kiddos…Each time a student finishes a book, he/she gets to create a book spine to add to our class shelf.

Here is another section of our classroom library. The open-face bookshelf gets changed out seasonally- right now it’s all books about school and third grade. The book tubs on the left are mostly arranged by topic, author, or book series. Please note the AMAZING picture above the shelf. My sister is AWESOME at gifts and she had the lyrics to one of my favorite songs made into a canvas print that matches the colors of my classroom. Such a special gift.

Here’s the other big hit in my room…our couch! There is a rotation system to determine who gets to be the, “couch potatoes,” for the day. The front carpet is kind of like our gathering place. The kids come up front when I read aloud, when we’re solving tough math problems, or when we’re having class meetings. I found the cool Work Hard pillow at Marshall’s and felt like it was a necessary school supply.

Brain research, classroom experience, and common sense all point to the fact that learning is optimized when kids feel comfortable, know where things belong, and are in charge of their own space. I got to meet my new roommates this evening, and I am so excited about all the learning and fun that we’ll get to experience together this year!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Magic of a Meltdown

Well people…it’s time.

My mom says, “You’re in transition.” My husband says, “Here we go again. What dinner should I bring home?” My non-teacher friends say, “Just don’t go to work! It’s still summer!”

My teacher friends say, “Let’s go eat queso; I had mine yesterday. Or five minutes ago. Or both.”

This will come as no shock to those who know me well, but I have emotional, um, freak-outs tendencies. I’m a crier. I feel things deeply and then the depth of all the feelings about SEEMINGLY DUMB THINGS make me bawl. Maybe it’s in a Hobby Lobby. Maybe it’s when a song comes on in my car. Maybe it’s when I’m standing in the middle of my classroom or in the shower or in my kitchen or ANYWHERE I AM EVER STANDING.  It’s who I am. It’s what I do. And I have finally decided to be OK with it.

Here’s why.
A meltdown means it matters.

I’ve melted-down (yes, that is now a verb) at my kitchen table filling out ADD paperwork for my son. In a staffing with administrators and other teachers over a student that was struggling with his place in the world. In my car when my best friend of 16 years drove back to her new home to her new school in her new town to be with teachers each day that ARE NOT ME. And last year…sweet mercy. Suffice it to say a grade level change shouldn't seem like a huge deal, but I pretty much cried my way through the entire school year because it was important and hard and scary.

The upside, if there is one, is that an emotional release can be cathartic. My dictionary app even said, “psychological relief.” Yes, please. I always feel better after I cry. I look like I’ve been stung by bees on my face, but I feel better on the inside.

I’ve decided it’s OK to be emotional. I’ve battled with this one for most of my adult life. My personality could be described as passionate at best…manic at worst, but I’m not going to apologize anymore for always getting so, “worked up.” One friend of mine calls it being, “emotionally present.” Isn’t that FANTASTIC?!

I have also determined to really look deeper from now on. People that don’t know me well are usually confused when I’m doing the Lamaze breathing-shelf tears-quick blinking-trying-not-to-cry-thing because there is seemingly no clear reason for the emotion. But, it’s not the paperwork, it’s the feeling of inadequacy that maybe I didn’t do enough to help my son. It’s not the meeting that’s making me cry, but the feeling of helplessness that there may be a student or a situation that I just cannot help. It’s not that I’m not THRILLED for my sweet friend and her new adventures, but the selfish feeling that I will miss her being the only one that can recognize my post-meltdown state. “You have cry-eyes…tell me what happened.” It’s not the song on the radio, but what it reminds me of…

I have decided to embrace the meltdown. I have decided to surround myself with people I love and that I know love me. To eat queso and have girls’ nights and binge-watch Pretty Little Liars. To listen to music that I know will make me cry and then to play music that is SURE to make me feel better. (Please download All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor and your life will be better. You’re welcome.) To teach my kids that it’s OK to be, “emotionally present” if you can learn from the feelings and use them to help others.

To all my friends who need to have the meltdown…I hereby grant you permission. Then, please call me and I’ll take you out for queso.