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Monday, June 29, 2015

This is my story and I'm stickin' to it

One of my blogging buddies is hosting a party! It is about our teaching story and the lessons learned along the way. Read everyone's story and get inspired! Maybe you will even be inspired to tell your own story.

I have decided to share my story... even the parts that are still recent and let's face it, a little bit raw.

In a way my teaching story starts long before I became a teacher. When you get admitted to the Teacher Education portion of school you have to write about teachers that inspired you and what kind of teacher you hope to be. I had some good teachers, I did. But most of my memories are of the bad ones. The teachers who let me know that I was not the kind of student they desired to teach and in fact portrayed to me that their opinion of me as a person was less than positive. I remember one teacher who made faces when she had to hug me. I was not a stinky child! But my family was not from the "right side of the tracks." This teacher was my Dad's cousin and she was the teacher that I remember being the most openly hostile toward me, the message that I was not "okay" or "as good as" the rest of the kids was very clear in her class. Sometimes I wonder how much this shaped my path in life, and I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that it made me think that the dream I lived out in my room "teaching" my little sister for hours on end was impossible for someone like me to achieve. Along life's path as I have opened a daycare in my home, managed a convenience store, taken care of children in a child care facility, and waited tables more times than I can expound on, I have discovered what research tells us to be true. If someone tells me I can do something, I can. If someone tells me I am good at something, I AM good at it! I generally live up to the expectations placed on me!

As a single mother, at the age of 40, I decided to go back to school to become a teacher. I was working in the daycare center and many of my youngsters were leaving for the summer because their parents were teachers. I just decided to apply to college and go back to school. The decision really was that sudden. I had the idea and just did it. No one told me I couldn't.

I loved school and I loved online classes. I don't know how many people have told me that online classes are hard (harder than face to face classes), but a fellow FHSU grad who got her teaching degree through the online program just like I did, made a very good point. We don't know anything different, so it is not that hard. Well, I guess that is not entirely true. I went back to school to get my first BS degree when my daughter who is now turning 11 was just an infant and I did degree completion classes. I like online better. I loved being a Fort Hays student and I excelled at it. I did however forget a couple deadlines. I don't know how or why, maybe I was juggling one too many things. But in both my PE class and Music Appreciation I missed a couple assignments deadlines and brought my grade down to a B, bringing my GPA down to a 3.9.  Yeah, 3.9!! Whoot! I was disappointed in myself for not keeping my 4.0, but ecstatic that the kid who had a 2.0 or something like that in High School, was graduating with high honors.

In student teaching, I wanted to make that transition as smooth as I could for students, to minimize the differences in teaching and teaching styles for part of the year. So I adopted much of my mentor teacher's habits and procedures. And because she was an amazing teacher, I have great teaching procedures burned into my brain now. My mentor nominated me for a student teaching award, and I feel a lot of pride for being nominated for a "potential for excellence in teaching" award. One of my friends received the award. But I felt honored for the nomination. My university supervisor, who was also my adviser and who just happened to be the chair of the education department, told me that I was a close second for this award. I don't say this to brag (well, you know, maybe a little), but to point out that I worked really hard to excel in college and that it showed, I did excel. Someone told me I was a good teacher and I worked very hard to make sure that was true. I think of this so often in regard to teaching my students.

My confidence was certainly lacking though. I have never been able to secure an interview in my own town. I am consistently saddened by this. But I did get interviews! However, in spite of all my practice, I did not interview well and though I went to three interviews in the time that teaching jobs were just beginning to be slashed with a vengeance and experienced teachers were in the market again, I had good enough references and a strong enough resume to be offered interviews. But I tended to go into those interviews not sure of what I really had to offer those schools. So after graduation, I ended up waiting tables and crying. I cried before work, I cried after work. I didn't usually cry during my shift. But it felt such a slap in the face to work so hard to get this degree and light this passion in my soul and then be back to waiting tables.

In the middle of the drought and the great heat wave of 2012, I got an email from a principal in the Oklahoma panhandle. She had just secured the principal job and now had to replace herself as a Kindergarten teacher. Kindergarten was the grade that I had student taught in, and I knew that Kindergarten was my passion. The kids and I decided to go to the interview. And we made that four and a half hour trip in about six hours that day, waiting on construction for as long as 30 minutes in 100+ temperatures in an old car that did not cool when sitting still. This principal and I had been communicating for about 3 weeks by the time we finally made it down there for the interview. So I felt at ease and I was extremely honest about my strengths and weaknesses and just exactly what my expectations would be of her as a principal. I was offered that job. It meant packing up moving away from everything and everyone to a desolate place where housing is scarce (and therefore outrageously high) and we knew NO ONE. I put my principal as my emergency contact on my kids' enrollment forms. That was the best and most difficult year of my life all rolled together into one. My kids were originally my biggest cheer leaders and encouraged me to take the job. They said, "Mom, you have done so much for us, we think you should do this for you." What I didn't realize that at 8 and 16, they didn't have the ability to really adhere to this train of thought. I know, in retrospect, it makes sense, but at the time, I was like.... "oh, okay, everything is going to be paradise!" The things that were paradise-like were my principal, the autonomy I had in my classroom, and my teaching partner and colleagues. There were some less than ideal things as well. A student who would start screaming at the top of her lungs if she didn't like something or if she had a bad behavior (like hitting another student) and the fact that nearly half of my class didn't speak or understand English, and another quarter of my class understood English but were not proficient at speaking or writing it. There was the fact that as a first year teacher, I spent exorbitant hours at school, to the neglect of my girls. And the fact that my children had grown up in a largely white community and thought they would love to live somewhere more diverse but were devastated to actually be submerged in a culture where there was racial tension and they were a minority. This was ultimately the deal breaker. The more I know about poverty, the more I think that allowing my kids to influence me to move back to Kansas was probably the wrong move, but I could not stand the thought of my girl completing her senior year of high school without me.  Which is what she told me she planned to do.... complete high school in Kansas, even if it meant moving in with her dad. So back to Kansas we moved. Back to the home we love, which probably played a part in our sorrow moving away and influenced our move back as well. And back to family and familiarity, but not to a job. I interviewed at least three places before we moved. No job. I finally accepted a certified non-teaching position. This was a position working under the reading specialist teaching guided reading groups and Title one intervention groups, getting paid an hourly rate for only the time when I was at school. Not ideal for a single mother. So.... yet again I interviewed and applied for jobs until I was blue in the face. I even applied and interviewed for pre-K positions that my license did not cover. Year number three of interviews. Boo. I practiced, I coached myself, I said affirmations. I analyzed.... What kind of teacher am I really? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What do I need to work on? Of course, I am great at taking myself apart and finding myself to not be good enough. So the "what do I need to work on" column was always long. But then I got to, "what is my passion?" and "what kind of team member do I hope to be?"

In June, I got a call from a small, project-based learning school in a district outside of my town and county. I was late to the interview because I didn't plan for the bridge to be out. But the interview itself went well, and lasted an hour and a half! I've never had that long of an interview before! And I have been on a lot of interviews, remember. I saw the beautiful classrooms in a school building that I would call new, a building of less than 20 years, built in 1997! I was in awe. And everyone who is anyone knows that project-based learning is the wave of the future. Right? The position they were hiring for was for grades K-4. Yes, really. Five grade levels. This was not a deterrent for me. I was inspired and felt like it was the right move for me.  And let's face it, I was also without a job. So when the principal called, I didn't need 24 hours to consider the job, I knew it was "the one" for me.

I had the epiphany before school started that I might only be here for one year, that the district was actively searching for ways to close the school. And I was overwhelmed. I had limited experience with grades outside of Kindergarten and especially with 3rd and 4th grade. I started off the year certain that I would somehow marry the vast differences in learning at so many grade levels and put that together effectively with PBL. Slowly, I realized that I might have to accept that fact that it would definitely be a year of adjustment and survival might be a key ingredient to success this year. It was also a year of loneliness. A BIG plus, however, was that even though my class size was quite manageable, I had a full time aide, allowing me freedom to work with small groups all day as she helped independent learners or grade level groups. She and I developed a great working relationship and non-verbal communication, such as.....well, mostly she read my mind. This was a life saver in so many ways. As it was a small school with only two classes (K-4, and 5-8), I was limited on colleagues and comrades. I soon discovered that even though the teacher across the hall said in the interview that she knew how to agree to disagree this was not the experience. I found out that if you were not in agreement with her, then you were against her and considered the enemy. I found this out the hard way when I stated that I felt like we were taking venting about a situation to the level of gossip and tearing a person down and that I didn't want to be a part of the conversation anymore. This happened early in the year and was the turning point in our working relationship. This was the start of the silent treatment, closed doors, and whispers in the mornings which developed into full blown hostility sometimes passive/aggressive and sometimes just aggressive and even openly posted disparaging remarks on social media. This developed into a long year of not really learning as much about project-based learning as I'd hoped and long hours researching grade level standards, checking papers, planning lessons alone and trying to make sure that my students were progressing toward the next grade level. This outcast status was in addition to a general and open hostility within the district toward the PBL school and general lack of community at professional development training and staff inservice days. I'm a fighter though and I have loved teaching from the moment I started back to school, so I went to school with a love of teaching and learning and a desire to see my students succeed. My students were progressing. Many came to me behind the grade level expectancy, which is one reason parents looked at alternative learning opportunities. I didn't get all of them to their next grade level expectation, but all students made significant progress and some of them made remarkable gains. One student came in as a first grader missing most of his Kindergarten readiness skills and is now on target for his next grade level and reading at a beginning second grade level.  So I hold this near and dear to my heart.

As the governor of the great state of Kansas continues to steal funding from education, our district found itself in a crisis situation. And the project-based learning school that they had intended to give five years to grow and reach other students, suddenly (or maybe not suddenly, but it felt sudden to me) came to be on the chopping block.  And in March of this year, they voted to close the school. There is some process involved with this choice and they had to give a public hearing and have a final vote, which turned out to be a lot of red tape that changed nothing. The vote was the same, 4-3 in favor of closing the school. So once again, this left me looking for a job.

I learned so much this past year, but it has been shrouded in a cloud of self-doubt, and being stretched too thin, and a general all over feeling of being overwhelmed constantly. So again I was going to interviews not really knowing what I feel like my strengths are and where I wanted to go in the future. But the truth is, I know this: I am a Kindergarten teacher. I like to do projects, but I am not sure I am an authentic project-based teacher, and I love teaching kids to read. I am excited that it has become okay to teach kids to do math in whatever way they might best learn it and not just one set way. This is also scary this old soul, but it is good. Kids shouldn't fear math like I did. As I grieved for the closing of the school and very special group of kids with individual learning needs that I was having hard time letting go of and trusting that someone might meet those needs with them, and as I search for a job, a parent said to me, "yeah, but you can look at it as a new start, your chance to do whatever you want to...." and somehow that was a turning point. I DO know what I am good at and where my heart is. I am a good Kindergarten teacher! I am passionate about hugging Kindergarten kids, and making sure they eat, and teaching them phonics and letting them know they are safe in my class and they can learn as much as their little brains will let them because I will love them and accept them when they excel and when they struggle. Whatever flipped in my heart showed through in my next interview. And I was offered a Kindergarten position in a bigger district that is a shorter commute than last year. I am SO happy and excited and my confidence is soaring these days. I feel good about not being placed in such a tenuous position as last year and I hope that my feet have found their landing place and that I will be teaching here for many years to come. Today I know that the hardships in my three years as a licensed teacher have taught me so much. I have learned more about how to treat students, how to treat human beings, and how to be a good friend than I thought possible. I have learned a lot about just how tenacious I am when the going gets tough. If I ever doubted it, I know beyond any doubt now that I am not a quitter. Now, don't get me wrong, if something is not working in the classroom (or at home or in my personal relationships for that matter) I can change what I am doing, I don't have to pursue something to death's door. But I won't give up on my student, on relationships that are worth pursuing, or on myself.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Points to Ponder

Last night I met up with some other Central Kansas teachers. Most of them were First grade teachers and many of them were within the same district. So... I think I get an extra cookie for stepping outside my comfort zone and going even though I was definitely the odd one out.

I did have some inspirational moments though. One of the teachers that attended brought a picture of the new table she had made for her room. It was amazing. It's coffee table height and chalkboard on the top and painted a bright green. It made me think.... what if I provide some kind of table that is coffee table height? Kid could kneel or sit on a pillow and use it for writing or reading or other center activities. So, bright idea number one. I'm on the hunt for a cheap or free coffee table for my classroom.

I heard of a superhero hotline that only the teacher can use! She can pick it up and have a direct line to superhero headquarters and give a good report! I'm pondering a way to tweak this to make it work in my room.

I like the idea of a cape for superhero birthdays!

I was super excited to hear about some other grant ideas than just Donor's choose. Donor's choose is awesome. I haven't designed a grant on there yet, but I am happy to hear of other options!

That's the bulk of what I took away from last night's teacher meet up. It was fun and exciting. Let's do it again soon!

Friday, June 19, 2015

My Friday Five....

Join Doodlebugs teaching for the party! Head over and read and possibly join up.
1. Flower gardens. Gardens. Work. *sigh* Deep breath. Let me back up a little bit. I had forgotten how therapeutic it is to dig in the dirt. Then one day, I pushed myself to just do it. Water my plants, take care of them, weed them and it made me remember how much I love to dig in the dirt, it reminded me that I love the smell of dirt and I take pride in my flower gardens. I had forgotten because this is how my flower bed looked.

  Progress. Hooray for progress.

Here are my irises. My beautiful irises.

More progress. This is how it looked when I quit for the day yesterday.

2. The other side.... this is the garden that I'm loving this year so far. And in the back corner is the glorious tomato plant. The day I pushed myself to get out there and water and weed and surprise.... there's a red, ripe tomato on the plant. It was SO exciting! And now I have even gotten a second tomato off of that plant.

This little beauty was bright red when I found it! Yum!

I picked this one a little bit early to let it finish ripening inside, I so don't want the birds to find my tomatoes!
This picture is really for Michelle at BTL! These are my cherry tomatoes! Can you see them?

3. This little one! This precious little one is my niece. She was very, very sick yesterday. I was glad she could hang out at her Aunt Carrie's once she felt better. I know what it is like to have sick kids, I wanted to sit with her parents while this one was being cared for by professionals. I was lucky enough to live in the town where they went to the Doctor. 

4.I found this random picture from earlier this year. Reminded me of Kid President. Gotta love that kid. He is truly inspiring to me.

So go out and be awesome people!
5. The pets. They are spoiled rotten. When you see this picture you can tell where my daughter had been sitting on the couch.
Sammy was first sleeping in the corner and then The Redhead sat down and the pups had to join her. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Monday Made It! I did it!

I was inspired by Mr. Greg to participate in Monday Made It! He showed us his alphabet manipulatives last week, and I loved them. Mine are not all the way dry yet. I will attempt to get a photo of them though.

It's obvious that the mod-podge is not dry.
Here is my next item. Well, actually, my first item. A mini-clipboard for write the room! I want to be more mindful of math this year and I was just going to put the word WRITE on this cute little board, because you can write for any reason.... language arts, reading, or math, or whatever reason you come up with. BUT.... I put my thumb on the paper at the bottom of the clipboard and ripped the paper. Boo! So I covered my mistake with more little letters and added the word LAUGH. Because who doesn't want to bring more laughter into their Kindergarten classroom. Good laughter, helpful laughter, we-are-having-so-much-fun laughter. Not unkind laughter, not the kind where you are laughing at someone else's expense. But I already know that my class family will not engage in those kinds of behaviors because we will talk about them. We'll learn about how to treat each other and how much fun Kindergarten is.

I started with a cheap-o Walmart clipboard and then I used: scrapbook paper and mod-podge. First I brushed my clipboard with mod-podge. Then I put on the scrapbook paper and mod-podged over it. Next I cut the letters out and brushed the mod-podge on the back of them and placed them as I wanted them. Then I brushed mod-podge over the top of everything. I did a little smoothing out with my fingers when it was wet to keep it from bubbling. But I like the way it looks! Ready for Write the Room.

Go to 4th Grade Frolics and read about everyone's Monday Made it!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Summer Bucket List Linky

I have been on summer break for a month already! Hard to believe! I am joining up with What the Teacher Wants for the Summer Bucket List linky.
I am reading Guided Math: A Framework for Mathematics Instruction by Laney Sammons, and engaging in a book study. My partner and I just purchased Kindergarten Guided Math Lessons for an Entire Year: The {growing} Bundle, by Kristen Smith. I want to implement guided math this year and so I am working hard to get ready and start the new year organized!
I have a new teaching partner this year! We hope to get a fair amount of planning done this summer and teach together. I don't even know what all to say about this.... I am excited about my job, my partner, and Kindergarten! Hooray for Kindergarten and for getting organized!
Our school district uses Fundations which I have a limited knowledge about and have never used at the Kindergarten level. I have heard really wonderful things about Fundations and I am excited to learn as much as I can about it.
I am involved in two book studies this summer. I am studying Guided Math: A Framework for Mathematics Instruction and The Next Step in Guided Reading.
Read! First of all I love to read. But also, I hope to better myself this summer through reading. Currently I am reading: On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman. I just received two more books in the mail (thanks Amazon Prime! for the two day shipping!): Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey; and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Becky Bailey is the author of the Conscious Discipline books that are widely used in schools. The choices are overwhelming. So I chose the book I thought would suit me for both school and home. And then there is Daring Greatly. I chose it because my friend is hosting an online study and she speaks very highly of the book. I have big plans to consume some purely "fun" books, mystery thrillers, James Patterson type of books.
Last summer, I bought paint for my living room and dining room. That is right, I said, LAST summer. So.... wouldn't it be great if I took care of it this summer?
I have loved garden'ing. But in recent years, I have had a fickle relationship with gardening. I love it on some level, but I haven't really been motivated enough to do it with any level of success. This year my Dad helped me build I really nice garden in the front of my house. I planted my vegetables there this year. It was really designed to be more of a flower garden, something that is visually appealing from the curb. But I'm trying to get my gardens in order this summer. Because digging in the dirt is therapeutic after all.
Friends! I have neglected my friends and I need to reconnect. I need it for my soul. Because the next year will most likely be brutal as well. Although I am beyond excited about this next year and being back in Kindergarten. I know I need to nurture my friendships this summer, rebuilding them and rejuvenating... for myself and for my friends! Summer is the time to meet up and reach out.
I want to have with my family! We made memories and went to Kauffman Stadium to see my Royals play baseball. I hope and pray the memories are larger than life for my girls like my memories are from when I was a kid. We went to visit family in St. Louis over Spring Break and we are going back in July! Hooray!
Swimming... yeah, not so much a fave for me, but my kiddo.... she is a favorite of mine. And she loves to swim. So I plan to do some swimming with the kids.
Friends.... I already mentioned that. I gotta connect and reconnect.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Five for Friday!

I'm so excited because I feel like I really have things to share! This past year was a learning/growing year for me and much of it was not enjoyable, so I didn't have a lot of share at times. AND.... we have been out of school for almost a month already. I am so ready for the new year and all the promise that it brings!

 1. Mini-Vacay! Yay! My kids and my folks and I went to Kansas City last week to watch the Royals play. Unfortunately, our Royals kind of stunk when we were there. But we had a fantastic time and hopefully great memories for the kids.
In front of the K waiting for the gates to open
I don't know if you can quite tell from this photo, but we had GREAT seats!
My little Punky and her Grandpa stood by the dugout for almost an hour, but she got her glove signed!
Sadly, this is how our night ended.... wearing our stylish rain ponchos back to the car from a game that ended in the middle of the 8th inning due to the rain.
We found some fun things to do the next day as well. We had never eaten at Granite City before and we discovered a fantastic waitress and great gluten free food for my Punky. Then we went to Moon Marble Company in Bonner Springs. Fun, fun, fun. It was quirky and quaint.... trendy and touristy.... earthy and hippie. All things that appeal to me!

Marble making demonstration. The bestest part! It's obvious that a few demonstrations have been given from here before. They give demonstrations for field trips for schools. It is just very cool to watch.

2. Books! I love to read and I am reading for PD this summer as well as for personal growth. I plan to consume some fiction as well. Right now I am reading: The Next Step in Guided Reading and I'm reading Guided Math: A Framework for Mathematics Instruction. I am getting REALLY excited about math this year! Did I say this already? I am reading On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman. It is really eye-opening about how people in poverty, especially young minority boys/men, are targeted by police and how hard this is to overcome. The poverty mindset is not just in the minds and hearts of the poor, but pervades our entire society, especially in underprivileged communities like those found where Goffman researched, in the inner-city of Philadelphia.
I am finding my long-standing conservative views being challenged and my desire to see real change in my world to be increasing and the question is, how will I change my world?

3. Back to the books and love of reading. A couple things actually. Go with me, it will all come together in the end. Okay, supposedly, if I want to curb/end poverty in my life/world I will need to work more.... take another job, or jobs or find alternate ways to make money. So I think to myself, I love reading, I love writing, how can I use these things to make money doing things I enjoy? Hmmmm. So I start looking. Well, reviewing books is a real thing. I know, sounds like the perfect job! Right? But there are some things to do to make this come true. One is to start reviewing and build credibility. I need to develop a following. So I created a blog for this. I have not reviewed anything yet, as I will start with the books I am currently reading. I have only written an introduction, but you can check it out if you'd like! You know, I love to see stats saying I have visitors to my blog!

Getting ready for next year! I am so excited to start Guided math and teaching students about centers and activities. And the fabulous Mr. Greg at Smedley's Smorgasbord had a great idea on his Monday Made it! Check out the tutorial HERE.
This is Mr. Greg's picture, not mine. So cool though, right?
I was at the $ store the other day though. So now I am ready to create my own alphabet gems and some number gems too!
I found a lot of stuff I can't live without for my classroom! But you can see the alphabet stickers and gems in with all the loot! I can't wait!
5. No photo for this one.... love, love, love the summer schedule! Sleeping in and pj pants all day! Whoot! I am working this summer part time as a server at a restaurant, but I'm still enjoying my summertime schedule! Awesome sauce!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


I can hardly believe it is June. 2015 is flying by! It's time to link up with Farley for Currently.

I love hear the birds sing and the quiet in the house before everyone else is up.
I am loving that I will be teaching Kindergarten next year! I can't wait! Kindergarten is where I student taught and taught my first year of teaching. It is a magical place and I am so excited to be back in Kindergarten! Thank you all for the prayers, good thoughts, and so on! I could definitely feel them!
Thinking.... ignoring these ants has not corrected the problem. Now we have flying ants invading our eating space.
Wanting my book studies to start already! I know that sounds terrible, especially since some of you are still in school but this is my 3rd week out of school and I just want to get ready for the next great adventure!
Needing to get serious about this painting! I bought the paint last summer and never got any painting done! And I read last night that if carpenter ants are nesting in my house, and it certainly seems that they are, then I will need more than a can of ant spray to get rid of them.
I have not been to a baseball game since I was a teenager. We are going to watch the Royals at Kauffman stadium on Thursday night. I am SO excited!
I *tried* to do a sugar detox. I was mostly just miserable. I think if I could have stuck it out, I would have felt the difference. But alas, a mocha cupcake was placed within my reach and it was all over. *sigh* I am still trying to eat healthier and have had a soda in over a week. I have added back in some carbs and boy can I ever tell!! I am walking, today I will push it from a mile and a half up to 2 miles. The Punky and I are going to do a 5K in August. I planted a vegetable garden in my front yard, in one of my flower gardens. But I haven't really spent much time caring for it. Yesterday I got out there and pulled all the weeds. Aaaahhhhh. I love gardening and all things digging in the dirt!
Here's the heavenly or devilish culprit that brought me off my sugar detox!
Here are Farley's Rules for posting. I love the rule of 3. I will just comment that I read far more than those 3 blogs and I try to leave those comments, but if you don't link directly to your Currently, I don't read your post. I hate hunting down the right blog.
 Texas has been devastated recently. Read Farley's idea about donating.