The REAL Situation

It has come to my attention that I may be displaying myself incorrectly to you as a teacher.I share cute quotes from my kids, inspiring things they may say and fun crafts I make for and with them.

This is NOT my life. My life is not one big, inspiring, shining moment of world class teaching.

I actually just laughed a little bit after writing that. I am not an incredible teacher. Yet. I am not anywhere close to who I aspire to be. But I’m okay with that. I am in my second year of teaching in a school that challenges me in every possible way. If I’m completely honest with you, last year was so trying I didn’t know if I would ever be the person I dreamed of being. I was so afraid of failing that I was ready to give up on myself and more importantly (and devastatingly), I was ready to give up on the kids who really needed me.

When I graduated from college, I was on top of the world. I felt so passionate about my career and was riding the wave of success from student teaching, I just knew I was going to be an awesome teacher. I was prideful. My image is what mattered to me. I am so thankful that my first year of teaching broke me out of that ridiculous shell. I am no longer dependent on how people view me, but on how God views me. I wasted so much energy last year on perception that I forgot my purpose in my classroom: to LOVE my students and do everything in my power to help them succeed.

This summer I spent countless hours reflecting on my mistakes from the previous year, determined that this one would be different. After my major paradigm shift I was able to focus on this verse: Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

I share this with you, not to ring my own bell, but hopefully to do the exact opposite. I never want pride to get in the way of the important work I have been called to do. Ever. So if you ever think that I am anything more than I am (a very average person), credit it to God and say a prayer for me. I am ALWAYS in need of a reminder of who my savior is and what he does for me each day. My life as a teacher is a constant battle but it is incredibly worth it. I feel nothing short of blessed to be able to be a teacher to my 26 little angels. God has placed them in my life so I can be a blessing to them and they can be daily reminders of His grace, compassion and love.

Thank you so much to those who pray for me. I truly believe in the power of prayer in my life and the lives of my students.

“I love love!”

I kid  you not. One of my students said this during class today.

One of my ‘big goals’ for the year was to have a really great community within my classroom where students could feel safe to be open and simply be themselves. I’m proud to say I feel like my classroom is well on the path to being a family.

We were working in centers this afternoon and I had been having a rough day. Whenever I’m feeling exhausted or distracted or just tired of my kids’ antics, I really try to look for at least one student who is doing exactly what I wish they all were doing. I walked around from center to center and noticed one of my students helping a friend. I walked over and just asked a few questions. I commented “I love how you are helping your friend rather than ignoring her. I can really see that you want her to succeed just like you already are.” That’s when she popped out our title followed by, “I love everyone in this class. We are really the best.”

And you know what? I think so too.

Two of my boys worked diligently at their center to complete this massive puzzle! I was soooo proud of their hard work and their team work. They are the first group to complete such a big puzzle in such a short time. Proud.

Dear Friends…

So I’m not much of a blogger…or haven’t been the past year. My life is so much different now, though, and I have so much I want to share. Last year was a struggle (to say the least) that I talked to many of you about. I was discouraged and didn’t do much that I felt like sharing with the world.

This year is different.

I have my amazing husband by my side. I teach Kindergarten, which I LOVE. I have amazing team mates that help me with every question I may have. My students are sweet and excited about learning, and I am just generally a better teacher.

So I’m going to start posting again. It will be a mix of adorable pictures that I don’t want to post on facebook, successes I have felt, funny stories from my lovable kids, and anything else I may decide to share on a whim. Posts will probably be sporadic, short and sweet.

My students with our class cheetah. We used a bar graph to name him – what did they decide on? His new name is Banana Split. I love 5 year olds.

More than anything, I want to share my incredible journey with my amazing students.

Making Words on a Budget

So one of my favorite things to do when teaching phonics is “making words” as a class. It’s so fun for both the students and me! For those of you who aren’t teachers or haven’t been lucky enough to try it yet, I’ll give you a quick run down.

The teacher instructs all students to get specific letters. This could look like letters on paper, letter tiles, magnetic letters, etc. The teacher then instructs the students to create words with different prompts, like “a three letter word that starts with ‘c’ and ends with ‘t.’ It has the ‘a’ sound in the middle.” Then the teacher checks that the students have spelled “cat.” Next the teacher might say “switch one letter to spell the word ‘mat.'” See! Fun! You create all sorts of words with the letters that have been brought out and even let the students make a mystery word that uses all the letters. There’s a great book (found HERE) with tons of lessons that are completely guided. Students LOVE them.

I’ve been racking my brain on how I could bring this into my classroom this year. I knew I couldn’t afford to buy letter tiles or even make them from tiles found at a hardware store. Paper was out of the question considering the extreme budgeting we are doing at our school. I gave the whole system up as lost until a teacher friend offhandedly suggested using foam.

GENIUS.

Today I decided to head to Hobby Lobby with my 40% off coupon in search of foam and a way to store my letters once they had been cut. It was a huge success – I found a 50 pack of fun bright foam pieces for $6. Once I used my coupon, it was only $3.50! I was pumped. I looked around for storage and was not disappointed – Hobby Lobby had plastic jewelry storage for $2 – I got 2. The whole project cost me about $8!!! I call that success!

Once I got home and finished planning my week, I allowed myself to work on the project I was so excited for! I started by figuring out how exactly I wanted it to work. I decided that 1×1 inch squares would be perfect. I would cut one inch strips and then cut them again. Each piece will have a capital letter on one side that lowercase letter on the other.

I cut the strips while watching Pride and Prejudice so it felt not only enjoyable, but quite productive :) I have 23 students in my class so I decided to put 25 letters in each slot compartment for the time being. I made 50 Os, As, and Es so accommodate words with several vowels. I’m also sure that I will need doubles of some letters so I cut extra squares in preparation.

The consonants are all yellow or green and the vowels are hot pink!

Tomorrow I will finish writing the letters and it will be ready for use in my classroom! I am also using the rest of my foam pieces to make large letters to put in my pocket chart. That way I can do a large example as my students work on their own at their desks. I’m really excited to do this activity with my kids because I know they have not been able to do it before and they LOVE hands on learning. I’m going to introduce it as a privilege at first so they understand that they need to treat the materials with respect or we won’t be able to do it anymore. Hopefully they’ll love it as much as I do and we’ll get to do lessons all year!

I also hope that you were able to find this useful and maybe even make your own set for your classroom on a budget! :)

Faith in the Positives

Well my friends, I am writing to you at the end of a very long, challenging, distressing week. I have had a few “wins” and many discouragements. I am priding myself in the fact that I can keep moving and keep working.

This week was more than tough. It was grueling. My kids are testing me more than ever. Their behavior is close to the “out of control” point and I’ve had complaints of fighting and bullying. They’re first graders. I NEVER expected to have a student crying from bullying at the age of 6. It was disheartening to say the least. I feel like much of my time this past week was spent recovering from mishaps and things that just plain went wrong.

Despite the discouraging past few days, I was able to leave school today with a list of goals for myself. I’ve discovered, through this process, that I am actually a positive person. People have been telling me that for ages and I never really believed them or fully understood what it meant. Even though I find myself feeling cynical much of the time, I have the ability to look forward and keep moving. That doesn’t sound too impressive, but it’s what I needed this week. All I needed was to keep moving, keep trying, keep loving on my kids. I struggled with the last one but I know next week will be better.

So with my goals for this weekend (better establishing my library, creating classroom jobs, tightening up procedures, mapping out my next week and getting my printing done, etc…) I am able to move forward from this not so great week and turn my energy towards positive solutions.

Here is my anchor point for these next few weeks

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

 

Thank you so much for blessing me with your thoughts and prayers. I appreciate any that you send my way – especially during the school week. I need it! Today during lunch I was able to relax in the knowledge that there were people praying for me. You all are wonderful and I dearly love you.

Behavior Strategies I’m Pumped About!

So, I was sitting on my couch, eating ice cream, watching Gilmore Girls. Pretty typical. I figured I deserved it considering the planning I accomplished earlier this evening. I planned my whole week, complete with lessons, timing and objectives. YES. So satisfying.

Then I began to contemplate my behavior issues. Well not mine, my students’. (Okay, maybe sometimes mine…but that’s beside the point.) I’ve recently started using this really awesome website: http://www.classdojo.com – it’s an AWESOME way to keep track of student behavior, both positive and negative. It allows you to input all students, upload your own images (or they have cute ones available), and choose your positive and negative options. I chose to make all of the negatives our class rules – that way when they break a class rule I can immediately reprimand them and they see the repercussions. This is what my page looks like: They have green numbers for positive and red for negative. I love it because even if they are having a rough time, they can improve. It’s really helpful for my students who are really struggling with behavior but want to be good. The other great thing about the site is that when you “end class” you can see individual and whole class report cards. It shows the percentage of positive vs negative behavior. You can set it up so the student’s specific behavior can be sent by email to parents each day. Obviously I can’t get enough of this website!

If my students get an 80% overall on behavior, they get a letter toward a class reward. If they get 95%, they get two letters. They LOVE this.

If one student gets to negative 5, he or she loses recess or specials. If it gets to negative 10, it’s an automatic phone call home. As we get into the year those numbers will get more strict. I’m trying to give them some leeway since we’re getting used to the rules.

This is the other part I’m super excited about: business cards. I ordered these today! 250 for free from vistaprint.com

When a student gets 10+ points, they get a punch in this card! Each student will have one in their pencil pouch – there will be 10-15 sharpie dots in the blank space. They’ll get a hole punch. Once they fill their cards, they’ll get a big reward!

I really think my kids are going to love these cards. It will be a great personal and class motivator.

So, in the interest of being positive (I’ve been having a really tough time with behavior), I’m ready to try some new strategies and get these kids in line so we can learn! There is a statistic that says many teachers spend 50% (FIFTY PERCENT!!!) of their time in class on management. If my students are going to reach their academic and social goals, that CANNOT happen in my class. We need to stay on track to get where we need to be.

Hope this was helpful to my fellow teachers!

Music to My Ears

Last night was open house, round two at my school. I hoped for a great turnout but knew it was unlikely.

I had two parents come.

TWO.

Yep. That was definitely not my goal. Fortunately, I was able to have great conversations with both of these parents. One was the grandmother of one of my students – we’ll call him Calvin (as in Calvin and Hobbes….yep). Calvin is a little charmer. He makes teaching interesting to say the least. I was able to sit down with his grandmother and have a serious chat on how best to help her little darling learn in my classroom.

Then I got the common (and dreaded) question: how many years have you been teaching?

Me: Oh, well this is my first (said a little sheepishly)

Her: Oh really?

Me: Yes (backtracking now…) but I can assure you that I have every intention of making this year the best and most valuable educational experience Calvin has had. He is going to be on or above grade level in math and reading and will have 100% mastery in his sight words….(babbling continues…)

Her: That’s nice. Well I can tell that you really care and that you’re not just here to sit for a paycheck. I can see it in your eyes. I know you’re going to help Calvin learn this year. We can keep him on track together.

music. to. my. ears.

After this conversation, I was walking on air. There is nothing more affirming than talking to a parent who REALLY cares about her child and truly feeling her confidence in you as the teacher.

That’s all. I really just wanted to share my small victory with you.

No Internet, First Day of School, and Sickness. Oh my!

“Whirlwind” does not even seem to do justice as an adjective for the past two weeks. I have trained. And trained. And trained….and trained some more. I thought I was really sick of training, actually…and then the first day of school happened. OH that I could go back to my life of sitting in trainings once again ;) My WHOLE first day is a bit of a blur to me, actually. I can’t really remember anything that happened. It may or may not be because of shock.

Bottom line: Teaching is hard!

Without internet last week to get me through, I struggled. Some silly person at my apartment complex broke into the cable box and unplugged my internet cord! My lovely internet provider could not come out to fix the (then unknown) problem for a week. I think my least favorite phrase is “we can come out a week from Saturday between 8  and 11 am.” Really?! That’s the best they can do? I despise my dependence on internet, really. So in my week of stress and complete confusion, I had no escape, no outlet, no way to keep up with the lives of most of my friends. That being said, I did unpack the rest of my boxes. I found that without the distraction of internet, I can be quite productive! Who knew? So it wasn’t a total loss, I suppose.

My first three days of school were definitely very eye opening. I’m teaching in an inner city, very low income school without many resources. There’s no gym. The art and music teachers do not have classrooms. Our library is a resource used mostly by the older grades. When I asked when my students would visit, the answer was an undefined “ohhhhh…maybe in a month.” My classroom library is currently a disaster as well, with everything from one-word-a-page books to several installments of the Babysitter’s Club series. I haven’t let my students in there for fear that they will be as overwhelmed as I am by the stark dichotomy and complete lack of organization. Other supplies are scarce and I find myself looking for alternate routes of educational experiences to avoid using any supplies at all.

The situation most definitely has it’s challenges and I am a bit overwhelmed, but I’m mostly excited. I’m excited about my students. When I first met them, I was scared of our differences. We have so many: age, culture, background, areas we were brought up in, family dynamics, I could go on and on.

But then I got to know them. I asked them about their likes, their dislikes, what they were good at, why they were excited about being first graders…

They. Are. Awesome.

That’s all there is to it. They’re so excited to learn! When they understand something for the first time, it is truly magical. They grasp onto new concepts with joy and enthusiasm and they are SO smart.

I’m definitely not saying it’s perfect. They have already given me a headache (on more than one occasion). SOMEONE gave me a cold (grr!). They test me because I’m new and I look different than them. They excitedly burst out with any thought that pops into their head, despite our class rules. Behavior management is definitely something I’m still trying to hone (and probably will be for many months).

But we’re going to make it. I have high expectations for each and every one of them, and I KNOW they’re going to reach them.

I’m excited for you all to join me on the journey of my first year as a first grade teacher with my OWLs.

Outstanding

Wonderful

Learners

Thank you for blessing me with your interest and thoughts. I love you all.

Kelly :)

12 Days

Well, Friends, it has been 12 days since my last post, and what crazy 12 days they have been! I have wanted to update you all for a while now, but I did not have internet in my  brand new apartment until last night.

That’s right. I live in my own apartment! Crazy!!!

So excited to move in!

I have tons of other pictures, but this is the kitchen with the living room on the left, the dining room on the right and my bedroom behind. Soon I’ll be more settled and can post before and after photos :)

So events since I last posted:

I finished institute – OH MY WORD! I never, ever, ever have to go back :D

But I will seriously miss all of my little cuties! I will have new little ones in a week and a half!

I drove my Mazda3 rental car to pick my mom up from the airport on Saturday morning.  I made it to OKC much faster than when I drove my poor little crunched Tercel.

OUCH

My mom and I got our first look at my apartment and I signed maaaany papers. It was all worth it for this:

The view when you walk in my front door

Then we had a few whirlwind days of finding necessities for my apartment (i.e. lawn chairs for my living room), filling my massive closet with clothes, and running countless errands like joining the Oklahoma Educators Credit Union to get a car loan. Seth arrived on Monday and he and my mom traveled to Bartlesville on Tuesday to bring me everything from my storage unit. I, on the other hand, got to attend training. Yay.

So my apartment was now full of semi-useful stuff and I was training all day, every day. In the midst of all of this was a looooot of car shopping. My brother and mom spent tons of time researching frantically for a car within my budget that would be reliable for a long time. It was a challenge, to say the least. We spent an unfortunate amount of time in places like this:

Waiting, fruitlessly, at yet another dealership.

We spent a lot of time playing the waiting game with our precious amount of time in dealerships. It became VERY obvious that I should never buy a car (or any other valuable object) on my own. I am much too lenient on car dealers who are not very nice.

It was starting to look hopeless for me, and then my brother found this beauty:

My new car!

I was sitting in yet another training when Seth and my mom went to check this one out. They drove it to me and I loved it! It was the perfect fit in every way :)

This very same night, I met teachers from my new school (yippee!) and discovered that I will not, in fact, be teaching PreK as I thought. I am going to be a first grade teacher! I am SO excited! I have to make a few mindset changes and get ready to teach tougher concepts, but I think it will be really awesome! We visited the school earlier in the week and got this shot:

Outside my new school!

And then we got the opportunity on Thursday to see my actual classroom and the rest of the school. That was overwhelming but super exciting! They were waxing my floor so this was the best shot I could get:

My soon-to-be classroom!

I have a Smartboard and lots of space! It was so good to see where I’ll be spending the majority of the next 2 years :)

So to recap, in the past 12 days, I finished my intensive training, moved to Oklahoma City, signed the lease papers for my apartment, attempted to furnish it on a limited budget, bought a CAR (still can’t believe it!), found out I’m teaching first grade and saw my classroom for the first time, and went to a lot, a lot of trainings. Since I have internet now, I should be able to post updates more often – you will be able to see all sorts of pictures of my classroom! Until next time… :)

The “Why”

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I’m humbled by the amount of people who read my post from yesterday and wanted to answer a common question that was asked: why.

My “Day in the Life” post outlined a hectic timeline that I have been calling daily life for the past four weeks. Many friends exclaimed in mock outrage at my military-like schedule with Teach For America (TFA) considering the fact that I graduated with a college degree in Elementary Education less than two months ago. That naturally spawns the “why” question. Mainly: why would I spend my summer at an intensive training when I already have the skills and requirements to obtain a job in the same field?

Well, friends, I have been given an incredible opportunity. There is no way around it. Teach For America is an incredible organization that I am blessed to be a part of. I discovered (long after I applied and was accepted) that it is a prestigious program worthy of members from all the Ivy Leagues as well as many other notable universities around the country. The fact that I was able to join the program with such little knowledge of it’s history, successes and future is a miracle in itself. If you do not know much about TFA, I really recommend visiting the website and exploring by clicking here.

The above paragraph alone is enough for me to trudge through a difficult summer. It inspires me to think about the brightest young leaders of the United States, devoting 2+ years of their lives to making a difference in the lives of children around the country. Sure, I could have gone into an inner city, applied for a teaching position, and most likely been hired. I thought of this route but found it unappealing. Here’s WHY. TFA works to teach it’s Corps Members the best possible ways to reach families in low income communities. It not only focuses on how to be a great teacher, closing the achievement gap, TFA works toward educating and empowering students and their families to advocate for themselves in a world where they have very few advocates.

Through TFA, I’m learning how to really inspire change in my students lives. Academically, socially, emotionally. I realize I am a little “starry eyed” and it won’t be easy to work toward such a transformational goal, but I have the ability to dream big for my students now as well as the tools necessary to make those dreams a reality. That realization gets me through each day and is the promise that pulls me every closer to my career where I can truly make a difference.

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