Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Innovative Math

My roommate "Mike Jones," the math teacher, prepared to teach his students about subtraction with large numbers. (You have just gotten a paycheck for $1 million. A grill is $457,342. Some bling for your neck is $213,498. If you want a diamond, that's another $35,664. How much money do you have left to buy fancy clothes, car, house?)

Bad Paperpusher

Today I was given an official typed warning because I haven't turned in my lesson plans for this week. Oops. I know I should be in a no-excuses mode, so it's my bad. I've just got to work harder. The thing is, I know that the things the administration wants me to do are things that will make me a better teacher (like written interventions and way pre-planning lessons) but I'm still caught up on the basics (like lesson planning for the next two days, and performing little interventions when I see they are needed.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

My Kids

Yesterday, Ms. T-- came to my room with an adorable little boy holding all of his things. "This is J--," she said. "He's supposed to be in your class now, says [the principal]. I can't handle him, and his parents want him out of my class. You're supposed to give me one of yours." J-- looked up at me, adorably.

I said, "Okay. Hi, J--, I'm Ms. H--. Hold on just one minute." I ran across the hall to the storage room and lugged a desk back into my room and squeezed it into a middle row. "Sit right here." I didn't know what to do about giving up one of my children. I wasn't ready to say, "Here, Ms. T--, take R--." I have sevaral children who are difficult but they are also used to me. I love them. Nobody grates so horribly...

I didn't want to give her an active kid because that is what J-- is, and besides, I'm getting better at handling them. I might as well have four especially active children if I'm going to have any. So this morning, I took one of my little girls aside. She is not especially bad nor is she especially good. I haven't identified what makes her tick yet, so I didn't feel like she was losing out. She is sometimes hard to handle because she is a blamer/tattler. But she tries to do the right thing. I said, "R--, I looked at some of your work and I can see that you're trying really hard. You're doing a great job this year, and you're definetely a star learner. Ms. T-- needs another student in her class, and I was thinking you might be perfect for the job. She especially asked for a star learner and for someone who is really good at following directions. I know that you are really good at following directions, aren't you? Would it be okay with you if Ms. T-- was your teacher from now on?" She nodded happily and readily began to gather her stuff.

On my original roster, I had 22 students. Two never showed up. Now I've traded one with Ms. T-- (today, R--), one to Mrs. J-- (way at the beginning, the principal told me to switch K--, and I got one of her special Ed kids in return), and gotten one new student in the district.

I have put three students on extra behavior management plans to help them stay in their seats, and I think J-- will need one, too. But that's okay. I've got to squeeze in a lesson on "fair is not always equal" and we should be fine.

This morning, I didn't want to go to school at all. When I got there, I felt ill and I just was wishing with all my might for someone to say, "Oh, Ms. H--, why are you here? School is cancelled today." But for some reason, by the end of the day, I was just floating. At silent lunch (one of my punishments), I looked at the four kids that were sitting across from me (who included J--) and realized that I just adore them all and want them to succeed.

One of the reasons that I think this day went well is that I had a little time where I broke up some of the kids and three different activities were going on -- I was working with my eight least advanced mathematicians, my four most advanced mathematicians were playing an adding game, and everyone else was working out of their books, supervised by my assistant.

So tonight I'm working hard to give them more differentiated, interesting learning opportunities. I just got a LeapPad in the mail from some wonderful person that I've never met, and I'm so excited to bring it in and teach my lowest readers how to use it during Independent Reading time. I also got some new Big Books and tapes from the school. Soon, everyone will be able to read during Independent Reading!


So, Hurricane Katrina (now Tropical Storm Katrina) is passing through Northern Mississippi right now and it's a bit... anticlimactic. Our power flickered a few times and I lost cell phone service, but it's been pretty tame up here. I am very grateful to be safe.

My thoughts and best wishes are with those people who actually were hit hard -- the people who lost their homes, possessions, and especially to those who lost their lives. TFA has an outpost in New Orleans and I know that those teachers (and their students) are now in a much worse position than they ever expected to be.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Whether there will be Weather

It rained hard yesterday and our roof leaked into Michael's room before we left for Professional Saturday.

It was still raining on the way up to Helena, but it stopped as we drove over the bridge into Arkansas. Helena reminds me of Ithaca because it actually has hills. It is very pretty and very green. Everything that is not a hill or a tree (and even some of those) is covered in kudzu.

On the drive home, the weather was clear the whole way. At one dark point, I stopped on the side of the road, turned off all of the lights in my car, and looked up at the stars. Wow.

It won't stay clear for long, though. Hurricane Katrina is headed this way!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Jaguars Win!

By a little after 7 pm last night, the Broad Street Jaguars (the high school football team) defeated the Riverside Bulldogs in the first football game of the season for the North Bolivar School District. The game began at 5 instead of 7 because the lights on our football field are broken. It was a nice big flat field, though, with solid metal spectator stands on both sides. The concession stand sold grape- and orange-flavored sodas, slightly melted Snickers bars, nachos, and dill pickles. The crowd on our side was predominately African-American, dressed in school colors (blue and gold), and filling the stands. Students of all ages moved freely around the stands and the grassy area around them, playing, eating snacks, and watching the game. On the other side, the crowd was white and sparse (Riverside is an hour away). It was hot, but not unbearably so, and the mosquitos didn't come out in full force until the sun began to set.

My roommates and I were in attendance at the game, as were several of each of our students from the grades. There were some other teachers, other family members, and the two teachers from the Mississippi Teacher Corps (another TFA-like program) who both teach at the high school. I was tired after school and thought it might be a bit of a drag, but I was really happy that I went -- it was so much fun!

Three of my students attended. They were surprised and a mix of embarrassed and excited to see me outside of school. I was excited. M--, an adorable, chubby little girl who sometimes dozes in class shyly pointed me out to her sister. I walked past R-- (one of my sweetest, most invested little boys) on my way up the stands. I didn't see him (they look so different when they aren't in their school uniforms!) until he called out, "Mi' Hay'!" Later in the game, R-- found another little boy with the first name beginning with the letter R (I have 3 in my class, you've already heard quite a bit about the third). I spotted them heading up the stands as R1- pointed me out to R2- and R2- made his typical little adorable squinched up face at me. I was overcome with a love of my students. They can be so cute!

Michael and I agreed that we would rather live in Shelby than Clarksdale and really try to become part of the vibrant community there. I feel like Shelby is where I should be. It is where most of our students live, and while it would certainly restrict access to Walmart, restaurants, and our ability to act like normal party-hungry twenty-somethings, we both think it is where we belong while we are teaching here. Ashley and Patrick disagree and think that having a place away from the students is necessary to their continued happy existence. It's a valid point but I'm starting to think overrated.

Seeing my students outside of school didn't turn off my "teacher attitude," though. I got a chance to informally assess M-- and R1-. M-- knows the order of the months (although she thinks it's April) and can count to fifty-nine ("...57, 58, 59... 30! 31, 32..."). R1- doesn't know how to add but can do it when he demonstrates with his fingers. He can say what letter comes before and after other letters in the alphabet (indicating a good knowledge both of alphabetical order and of position words). Yay! R2- wouldn't sit still long enough or talk to me without scrunching up his face to get any scholastic information, but it was still fun to see him runing around, being a little kid, stealing sideways glances at me to see if I was watching.

My kids are so cute! If I can spare the time, I'm going to go to a church that I know some of them go to tomorrow. If I manage to find one with troublemakers in attendence, it will give me a whole new sort of leverage with my students. Not only am a more a part of their community, but I get to meet their families and their minister. Like whoa. The power of religion is pretty huge here, even if not so much with the first graders. Last time we went, a minister told Patrick and I that we "new teachers from the North," were an answer to one of her prayers. (With power comes responsibility.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

An Assortment of Thoughts

Last week, I spent three days giving diagnostics that I felt were inappropriate for my students. Well, really, the Language diagnostic was inappropriate, the Reading one was beyond their grasp at this point, and the Math one was fairly helpful. But the Language one was the first one I gave, and it was really way beyond the grasp of most of my students (who can barely read, if they can read at all). It included things such as correcting capitalization and spelling with editing marks. Anyhow, today I felt slightly redeemed when I spoke to the literacy coach, Mrs. J--, about finding the results on our test grading software. She frowned at the results -- all of my students were ranked in desperate need of remediation -- and I brought her the test. I explained that I thought it was an end of year second grade MCT (Mississippi Curriculum Test) and she looked at it, and it was. She was shocked that I had been told to give it and agreed that the results were junk. Of course my students didn't do well on a test that is two school years ahead of where they are expected to be!


I received my first gifts from Amazon today -- a Leap Pad, which is a device that reads books aloud, allows students to record themselves reading, and plays comprehension games with them, some books on teaching reading, some Leap Pad books, and the wonderful computer program Kid Pix. I was so excited!


Stories from the classroom:

This morning went really well. I'm trying to do engaging activities with my students. I spoke to another TFA teacher, who teaches kindergarten in Quitman County, for about an hour yesterday, mostly about classroom management. First graders without a recess need down time to talk to each other. I am thinking of including some of that time in my lesson plans. After all, conversation with peers is one of my benchmarks. J-- pushed positive reinforcement. I'm okay with that in the mornings, but it is harder in the afternoons, when they are rowdier, I am more tired, and negative reinforcement is so much quicker. I've got to get into a good carrot-and-stick (not literally!) routine so that I can keep them invested and involved and managed.

I finally got the IEP accomodations for my SpEd students. Every single one is supposed to sit in the front of the room.

I am sick of tattling but I don't know what to do about it because I don't usually see it when someone hits someone else. Also, the hitter almost always denies it, and I think half the time it is a mistake (unintentional flailing of the arms). Blah.

I assigned some jobs today. They are temporary positions and I realized that these students need some intenxive training on how exactly I want these things to be done. But giving away pencil management, paper passing, and paper collecting was a huge help. My next step with jobs is to train the directions managers. They need to ALWAYS be paying attention. Hopefully that will cut down on the amount of stuff I need to repeat.

A heartening moment: some of my kids came back from working with the resource teacher, including one who I really DON'T want to have pulled out because he is NOT behind, he is ahead. R--, one of my loudmouths, piped up, "We've really been having fun while y'all were gone." Score! We had fun today! We were discussing needs and wants in groups. My finding: Groups are Great. My finding number 2: we don't know how to work in groups yet. I need to figure out how to model that. For example, sitting in a circle so that everyone can participate. Or not crying when it's not your turn to hold the cards.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Wednesday, Week 3 of Teaching

First of all, I want to thank all of the people who have replied to my email and posting about donating school supplies. I really appreciate it, and it will make my classroom a much happier (and more educational) place for my students. (And me.)


Today was a 60% day, which means that the students leave 2 hours early and the teachers have to stay for "professional development." Today a woman from SERVE came in to talk about the school, and the progress that it has made over the last 3 years. According to SERVE, Brooks went from a Level 2 to a Level 3 school. Unfortunately, the state of Mississippi disagreed with that. According to them, we went from a Level 2 to a Level 1. (There are 5 levels -- 1 is the worst, and 5 is an excellent school). We were given the findings of SERVE, and asked to look over them in groups, present a piece to each other, and then make recommendations. While some of the "challenges" that SERVE identified are clearly challenges, I thought they were pretty evident without a separate firm having to come in (for example, that we don't have music, art, or PE; that there is not a Monday-Friday counselor, and that there are not specialized support services for English Language Learners.) Unfortunately (?) many of the things SERVE identified as positives (such as the America's Choice reading program and the DRA and STAR reading assessments) are no longer being used.

I have some challenges to add: the water fountain doesn't have potable water, two of the bathroom stalls won't stay shut and one doesn't have a door in the girl's room, and we are supposed to have lessons planned for every minute, which doesn't account for bathroom breaks or the fact that it takes a long time for everyone to get their backpacks and line up at the end of the day.

I know that the principal and the leadership team are trying to make Brooks a better school, but I often feel that the paperwork is overwhelming. The lesson plans, for example, take as long to write as they do to deliver, and I don't find the format easy to work with so I have to rewrite them my way again anyhow. I don't feel like I have a clear picture of what the school wants. Something will be mentioned in passing, and a few days later, an administrator with a checklist shows up in my classroom. (Perhaps that just means I need to be paying better attention and adjusting more quickly!) There are very strict requirements, for example, for Reading. I don't know if I am meeting any of them, though, because all I know are the components, and not how to put them together into a cohesive package and what counts as each component.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Plea

Dear Friends, Family, and Readers,

As you know, I started teaching first grade at Brooks Elementary School in Duncan, Mississippi on Monday, August 8th, after five weeks of intensive training in Houston and one week of in-service at the school. Today I am writing to ask for your help in getting supplies for my students.

I have twenty-three students (whom I call my “star learners”) who range in reading ability from not knowing their letters all the way to reading on an early second-grade level. Latisha (all names have been changed) is one of my most advanced students. She is excited about learning and she asks to borrow books so that she can read at home, where she doesn’t have any books. I have four students who are repeating first grade. All of them are pulled out for little bits of time by the special ed teacher, but one of them is right where he should be for the beginning of first grade and I’m going to work hard to keep him in my class as much as possible. Rayquotez and Jimbo are two with actual learning disabilities. They are very far behind. They know most of the names of the letters, but none of the sounds that they make. Melvin, the fourth, is most likely neither developmentally delayed nor learning disabled. He has a serious speech impediment, and he has been allowed to fall behind and misbehave because people assume that his intelligence corresponds to his garbled language.

My students like high-fives and anything with rhythm. They like doing pages in their math workbooks. They love the book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and the book “Pee-Ew Bertie, Is That You?” They do not like to sit still. They do like to know that I think they are smart and doing well, but they also love to tattle. Waltisha raises her hand and pumps it in the air, squeaking to try and get my attention because she knows she’s not supposed to call out or say, “Ms. Hayes, Ms. Hayes.” When I call on her, she repeats whatever it is I just said in a superior tone, turning her head to face the class. Dominick scrunches up his face when I ask him to do anything. He thinks he is tough, but on the third day of school he wet himself. We worked hard to keep it from the class, and I think that we succeeded.

Some of my students come from living situations that are very far from ideal. Many live in single-parent households with lots of siblings, others live with grandparents or aunts, and some are probably abused. Many have little or no reading material at home and the adults in their households don’t have time to read with them in the evenings. Kantiqua falls asleep regularly in class. When I called her home they told me they tried to have her in bed on time by ten o’clock every night. She is six years old! She needs more than eight hours of sleep! Perla cries in class without provocation, but she can’t tell me what’s wrong. Kyndal keeps a picture of her deceased father in his coffin in her desk and steals looks at him whenever she is allowed to open the desk.

Most of my students come from the town of Shelby, population 2,600. The other five or six come from Duncan, Alligator, or Round Lake, tiny communities of no more than 500 people each. North Bolivar County is in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, which is one of the poorest areas in the country. Over 50% of households in Shelby are below the poverty line, and about 75% of households with school age children are below the poverty line. Median household income is $14,000 (compared to $96,000 in Topsfield).

I work at Brooks Elementary School, which is the K-3 elementary school for the North Bolivar School District. It is a very poor district. All of the students are given free breakfast and lunch. My school is also a Level-1 priority school (low-achieving), which means that the state will be sending people to sit in on classrooms and we will have lots of extra paperwork. Unfortunately, it does not mean any more money. I will receive $200 for classroom supplies for the whole year from the school district. That money needs to cover any paper, pencils, books, organizing supplies, teaching resources, and manipulatives that I want to get for my students to use. I’ve already spent more than that just to start up the classroom (I got some teaching books, a meeting rug, sentence strips, a calendar board, etc.)

I’m writing to ask for your help and for the help of your family and friends. I need things for my classroom. My biggest desire is for books for my students to read. I have a very small classroom library and the school library only has a few bookshelves of books. If you have any children’s books you don’t need, please send them to me! I also need stickers, paper, pencils, paperclips, markers, tape, etc. I need manipulatives such as beans, pattern blocks, fake money, clocks, and puzzles (things for the students to touch/feel/count). My district does not have art or music, so I would love to include artistic and musical activities in class – any paint, easels, brushes, crayons, colored pencils, big paper, colored paper, drums, tambourines, recorders, kazoos, tape players/recorders, blank tapes, children’s music tapes, or other art/music supplies you have to spare would be wonderful. I have an Amazon Wishlist you could check out, too. (Click on the link, or go to, go to wish lists, and search for Jessica Hayes in Clarksdale, Mississippi.) Everything on it will make my classroom a better place for my “star learners.” It includes things such as teaching books, read-aloud books, computer games (I do have four semi-working computers because of a technology grant), LeapPads and LeapPad books (kids can touch the words and the LeapPad says what they say, which is great for beginning readers without people to read to them at home), mini whiteboards (to save paper and check for understanding), and tennis balls (to put on the bottoms of my footless chairs that screech across the floors).

Any help that you could give me in educating my twenty-three talented, intelligent, beautiful, needy, affectionate, multi-leveled students would be appreciated so much. Especially books – my classroom library is small and the books I do have are falling apart. If you have upper-level books you would like to donate, I can give them to my roommate, who is teaching fifth grade English, or to other TFA teachers in other grades. If you e-mail me, I will send you my address (I don't want to post it on the web).

Thank you so much for your help!


Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Delta Crud

I have caught the Delta Crud. This is evidently the term for the ubiquitous cold that spreads through the Delta several times per year.

My children all have it, and that's why several of them have missed school. Others are constantly up and down out of their seats to get Kleenex. A thin crust of dried greenish snot builds up around their nostrils and they raise their hands, covering their noses, and gesture towards the Kleenex in the back of the room.

When you have the crud, your throat gets dry and sore, then your sinuses fill and your head heats up to about 100 degrees Farenheit. When the fever diminishes, your nose fills with crud and then it runs (away with the spoon.) I'm not sure how long it lasts, because I still have it. Two other teacher told me that, since moving to the Delta, they have had different levels of "the crud" constantly.

I figured that it is the beginning of the school-year cold. Stick a bunch of six year olds in the room and you're all going to end up sick. But others tie it to the crop dusting. Llittle yellow planes buzz over the cotton and soybean fields that line both sides of the highway on which I drive South to school, raining powdered chemicals behind them. Still others tie it to the mosquito trucks, that drive nightly up and down the streets of Clarksdale, spewing cloulds of mosquito killer in their wakes.

Perhaps it is a combination of those three things and maybe even some allergies tossed in the mix. All I know is that I go through a box of Kleenex per day (there is no non-drowsy anti-runny nose medication.) Cruddy crud crud.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Classroom Math

Today five of my twenty-three students were absent. That left eighteen. Wow. We had to take a math diagnostic. For the last part, four of my eighteen students went with the special ed teacher. That left fourteen. Double wow. We were able to play musical chairs as a reward for good behavior and two students have now gotten five stickers for staying on their privilege cards, which earned them a piece of candy.

I had to send one student to the office (my last consequence is "out of the room" and the severity of the place where you go depends on what you did.) He hit, pushed, said "shut up," spoke out, did not follow directions. And I was still only going to send him to another teacher's room for timeout, but when I called him over to her room in the hall, he bolted in the opposite direction. I wasn't going to chase him -- he chose not to go into Mrs. H--'s room, so he chose to go to the office. Two other students reached the "out of the room" place on the chart. K--, whose only offense was repeated getting out of his seat/calling out/not sitting still, got a stern talking to in the hall. R--, who did all those things plus drew on her desk and pushed in the hall, went to Mrs. H--'s room. For me, violence earns the sterner punishment.

Math. We took a diagnostic -- end of 2nd grade MCT, for beginning-of-first grade students. Boo. One teacher minus one assistant for two hours wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. One teacher plus one little boy who thinks he has crabs... Hmm. Plus one little girl who won't ever put her hand down. I feel bad ignoring her in case it actually IS important, but it never is. I want to read her the story of the boy who cried wolf. Plus one little girl who told me she could read *anything* but when she struggled with one word on a page, gave up on the SpongeBob book. Plus one little boy who actually doesn't know his letters. Plus one little girl who keeps falling asleep. Plus one little boy who shouldn't keep getting pulled out for special ed because he is doing better than most of the other children. Plus one little girl who cries randomly throughout the day. Equals one math test I don't trust.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

No, really, I don't

I watn you to know that I don't really hate my job, and that I don't even remotely hate my children. In fact, I love each and every one of them (don't tell them, because that would totally undermine my authority) enormous amounts. Even the ones who drive me up a wall -- when I see them learn, or they actually show me what they know, I bubble over with love for them.

Monday was just a bad day.

Today, on the other hand, was great. R-- decided that he really wanted to be on his privelege card at the end of the day and he tried SO HARD. I had to make him flip his card at one point becuase he made a bad choice and he cried, even though he was still on green (warning, no punishment). I made a deal with him: continue to behave, and I will flip you back. It worked. He ended the day at the TOP of the consequence chart! M--, who can not really speak understandably, wrote a WHOLE, READABLE SENTENCE. Honestly, today went so well because R-- decided to follow the rules, which probably had nothing to do with me, and because J-- was sick (in class, noone could come and get her, so I let her sleep in the "library") and E-- was absent, and those are my biggest dicipline problems. So the biggest issue today was K--, a smart ADHD kid, although he was even better because I put a rubberband on the bottom of his chair and we made a special sign for him to get my attention.

Amazing. T-- raised his hand and gave me a thoughtful answer. I had my high readers take the reading test on a listening station, my easily distracted or low readers take it with Mrs. B--, and the rest of the class with me. When both my highs and my lows finished before my bigger middle group, I had one of my highs read a story to the rest of the group and she did and they listened! Ah, it was a great day of teaching...

Monday, August 15, 2005

I Hate My Job

I hate my job. I hate the children I teach, collectively. I hate the paperwork. My throat is so dry and scratchy that there were several times today I couldn't even talk. That tells me one thing: I have become a yeller. A voice raiser. A negative person. A mean person. And I hate it!

I know that it's my fault that my students haven't learned anything yet, that they don't listen, that they are never quiet. Other teachers keep saying to me, "Oh, I don't mind a little noise in my classroom." I don't mind noise either, if they are working in groups, or even if they are working alone and they want to ask a friend for help. But when I'm speaking, if your mouth is moving, you are not listening to what I say. And frankly, half the time when they are quiet, they aren't listening either.

Moment: we are taking a spelling pre-test. I have gotten them all seated with pencils. Those who have notebooks, have them out. Those who don't, have a piece of paper in front of them. We get into Listening! Learning! Position! J--, staring straight at me while I do the hand motions, doesn't move. I say, "We're going to do it again because not everyone did it with us. (the class groans loudly). I say, "Listening." They say "Listening." We wait until J-- and E-- put their hands in the air. Finally they do, half heartedly. Finally everyone is in Listening Learning Position. All eyes are on me. All mouths are quiet. A second later, most people are already playing with their pencils. I say, "Write your name at the top of your paper." They pick up their pencils. I walk around. Five of my twenty-two present students have put their names on their papers. The rest are staring off into space, or looking at me for the next direction, or trying to poke holes through their papers with the tips of their pencils. I point to the paper seventeen more times and say, "R--, put your name on your paper. E--, put your name on your paper. Right here. Right now. Write your name." Finally, all names are on papers. Those who listened the first time or I got to early are now divided into two camps: those who are still listening, and those who are daydreaming. Most are in the latter. We get in Listening Learning Position again. Several times. Until all eyes are on me.

I say, "I'm going to tell you a word and then I'm going to use it in a sentence. I want you to do your best to write the word down. If you don't know how to write it, do the best you can. This is called a pre-test. That means that it shows where you started out so that I know how much you've learned later. That's why we put on our stretchy thinking caps, so that our brains can grow! The first word is can. Like in the sentence, "I can tie my shoes." Can you write down the word can?" Nobody moves. I say, "Write the word can on your paper." I know that most of them can sound it out. T-- is absent, so only E-- doens't know his letters. This takes five minutes. I walk around. A-- gets up and comes over to me. I don't notice until she is tapping on my waist. "Teacher, I don't know how to spell that." I send her back to her desk with raised eyebrows, humming the Farmer in the Dell (which has a meaning in my classroom: Do not get out of your seat, Do not get out of your seat, You'll make the teacher CRAZY, Do not get out of your seat.) I review that you should just try your hardest. I ask her to sound it out. I give up.

As my textbook suggests, I write the word on the board. "This is how you spell can," I say. "C-A-N. If you spelled it correctly, give yourself a pat on the back. If you tried but this isn't a word you know yet, that's okay. That's why we're learning it this week. Circle it and copy down what I wrote on the board." Erasers rip at the paper. "CIRCLE it," I say. Chair legs screech. Desks wobble. "Don't erase, circle." My assistant wanders around, too, telling students who misspelled the word to write the correct spelling next to it. E-- has written nothing but his name on his paper. I go over to him. "E," I say, "Can you copy down the word can? I wrote it on the board. You write it. Right here." Meanwhile, the whole class has begun talking. R-- has fallen out of his chair. E-- is wandering aimlessly around the room. I steer her towards her desk. She begins to cry for the third time today. I don't know why.

And so on.

I was a witness to a paddling today, of one of my students. I hate it. He hit another student. I have to show that I'm tough on hitting. It's also a rule that if they hit, they should be sent to the office. He was one step away on my consequence chart. I had him flip his card. It was in line. Mrs. B-- took the rest of the students to the bathroom (they ALWAYS have to "use it") and I took Robert to the office. He got a brief talking to. Mr. R-- had him put his hands on the desk and paddled him 3 times. I looked away.

Michael administered his first paddling today. I am against paddling, personally. But clearly, I do not have control of my classroom. I need a longer list of consequences for the students to work through. Or some other "really bad" punishment. But that would be lower my expectations, which I'm not allowed to do in TFA. My roommates, within the first week of school, all decided that they were wholeheartedly in favor of paddling.

I hate my job because I am not good at it, and I don't know how to get better. I leave for school at 6 in the morning and get home around 5 in the evening. Then I take an hour off. Then I have dinner and work for the rest of the night, get nothing done, talk on the phone a little, and go to bed around 12 or 1, and then I wake up at 5 to do it again.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Day Four

My children get more and more affectionate with me. Monday, T-- gave me a hug. Tuesday, he wrapped his arms around my neck and pulled me down to his level and kissed my cheeks. Wednesday, he wrapped his arms around my neck, pulled me down to his level, and tried to kiss my mouth. I told him we don't kiss people on the mouth at school because it spreads germs and we don't want to get sick. Today he tried to kiss my cheek again several times and I finally had to reprimand him sternly.

First graders need a lot of attention. I'm learning that R--, a student who has ADHD and is unmedicated, needs me to focus him about once per minute. He is smart, and he can do the work for a minute before he gets distracted and starts running around the room or smashing his crayons into each other, or hanging around someone's neck.

My classroom is barely there. I thought I would have some time to work on it, but although the custodians stay until 7 every night, I don't have the time or the energy. My desk is a mess, with a computer sitting on top of it that isn't even plugged in. I have the desks arranged, though, and I'm slowly clearing through the things that the previous teachers have left. Some of it is useful, much of it is junk, and probably more than I know is useful or shouldn't be thrown out.

My assistant has turned out to be fantastic. I really like her. She doesn't interfere with my behavior system, she does many of my administrative tasks (pulling things out of homework folders, copying things, writing names in books), and she does what I ask. Today I had her read a story to the children while I diciplined some of the others out in the hallway. When I came back in, she was asking them great questions about the story, speaking softly, and she had their attention about at the level that I get their attention. It made me so happy.

The other teachers are nice, also. Today, Mrs. A-- gave me a ride home. She has been teaching for 23 years and is a native Deltan. There are some other new teachers at the school, three, to be exact. They are very sweet, too. One is my age and the other two are older and have children. All three are white (there is one other white teacher in the school, who teaches special ed) and just graduated from Delta State. One teaches first grade as well (the other two teach 2nd grade). The other first grade teacher is having a bit of a tough time (even more than I am) because her assistant is not great. In fact, her assistant has not come back to school the past couple of days because the two of them got in a fight.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Day Two

Two down, lots and lots to go. Not to be a downer, but I don't know if I am really cut out for this job. There is too much to think about and my memory, as many of you know, is not really that great.

Today started out very well. We were on target for timing, even ahead. I'm still not being mean enough. I just don't want to send kids to the office, but R-- is killing me. Yesterday, he had his head in his desk all day. Today, he still couldn't sit still, wouldn't do any work, and refused to walk correctly in line unless I spoke to him directly, and even then it only lasted 5 seconds. He moved all the way down my consequence chart, lost his privileges (not that anyone has any yet) and really should have been sent to the office.

I know I'm supposed to change things slowly, which makes sense because I don't have time to figure out how to change most things. Tomorrow it will be: firmer, and more independent work (and discuss how we do independent work). Enforce my rules to a T, including how you act in time-out. Time-out needs to be more of a punishment. Hmmm...

The rows were much better than the groups. They were all facing me, all the time, unless they turned around in their seats. Lots to think about, but I couldn't stay in school past 4 because I am wiped. The other new first grade teacher ended the day in tears, so I guess I'm doing better than her, sort of...

M--, though, came to class today, and he can't talk at all. How do I teach him phonemes and phonics when he can't make intelligible words? I don't think he's stupid, I've seen his tests, but he definetely needs intensive speech therapy and probably special tutoring to get up to where he could be if he could speak. Inclusion is supposed to be a great thing, but I don't think it's a great thing for first year teachers.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Day One

It didn't hit me that I was really going to be teaching first grade until I was holding F--'s hand and walking down the hall toward sthe other First Graders. It actually hasn't really hit me yet.

I would describe my first day as trying to hold water in my hands. When one child would stop talking, another one would fall out of her chair. When we had stopped giggling, it would take 5 mintues to get back on track and even then we are on the slow track. The things I took for granted in Houston are way beyond the current level of my students here. I'm sure it's mostly the age difference, but still.

Most taxing, but completely adorable, is T--. It is T--'s second year in first grade, although he claims to be six. He still has trouble writing his name and seems to lack the understanding that letters have sounds. He was up, tapping on my arm or leg every 5 minutes. "Hold one one minute, T--," I would say. "I'm helping K--." Ten seconds later he was back. The funniest part was when I was trying to teach the consequence system. He was the only one I could convince to act poorly, even though everyone wanted to. After I had him knock his chair to the floor and refuse to flip his card, I told him that I was going to flip it twice and he needed to take a timeout. He looked up at me, starting to cry, and I realized that although he had understood that we were pretending for the first part, he totally missed that we were pretending for hte second part. T-- takes 25% of my energy, instead of the approximately 5% that he might fairly be given. But he sure is a cutie.

I need to be stricter tomorrow. They listened for a little while when I acted angry with them, and running through my head was my CS saying, "Be dispassionate towards dicipline. Teach them that it is about choices." In tomorrow morning's lesson, we are going to make our privilege cards and then we are going to talk about choices and read "Strega Nona," where Anthony makes a poor choice. Then we are going to think about other choices that Anthony could have made and we are going to write a new ending to the story. We'll see how much of this actually happens, but that is one of my plans for the day. Yay! Basically, I'm doing today, second edition.

My students can tell you that we "work hard, get smart," and that we sit in "Listening. Learning. Position." They know we get marbles but seem to be unclear on how. So much to do. So much to do in our new rows. Advide to new teachers: no on the groups. No. No. No.

Morning of.

It's the morning of my first day of being a real first grade teacher. I woke up in the still-black after being chased asleep by a mosquito. It's still not quite real to me. But In 45 minutes I'm leaving for Brooks, and in two hours, my students will start arriving at the school...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Terror and Frustration

I have moved from "expectations" to "terror & frustrations." My classroom is not ready for Monday. I don't even have the rules nad consequences posted. I don't know where I will have the students put their homework or any supplies that they bring in.

Things that give me terror/frustration:

My principal
Terror: He asked to see my management plan. He says it is too wordy and complicated. (It's very TFA). He asked if I really wanted to try it. I said I did. He said, "Well, I guess we'll see how that works out." One of the other TFA teacherswho has already started school decided that he will make up the rules and consequences with his high school classes. Until that point, his consequences basically go 1. stern warning 2. principal's office for a paddling. I'm tryingt o have incremental consequences so that I can avoid the whole paddling thing.
Frustration: He said he's probably stay 3 hours late on Friday and maybe come in on Saturday. Friday, half an hour before the end of school, he told me he was not staying any extra time nor coming in on Saturday. I wasn't putting off the work for later, there's just so much to do and not enough time in my classroom.

My assistant
Terror: On the first day, just meeting her, because she is 52 and I am 22. Also, terror that I will not be using her skills effectively or that I will give her things to do that are beyond her skill level.
Frustration: She takes a very long time to do everything that I ask her to do.

Planning with others
Terror: There are two other first grade teachers, one who makes it clear that she is just subbing and she is retiring in a month and another who is as green as I am. Neither one likes to contribute to the planning. I don't know what first graders can do! It can't be all on my shoulders!
Frustration: It took so long ot plan, and I don't really know why. Hopefully it will become more efficient. Also, I don't like being tied down to this plan that we are sending home to parents. I know that it builds accountability, but what if I have to slow down because I'm not teaching effectively and it takes longer for kids to get it? Or what if I have to speed up because they do get it?

My own unpreparedness
Which I am going to try and remedy right now.

Southerisms of the Day

Fittin' to: A deep South varient of "fixin' to," this means something like "I'm about to," as in "I'm fittin' to take a break."

Evening: Any time after lunch, as in, "Sometimes you'll have an evening plannin' time, see here on the schedule, from 1:30 to 2:00."

Conversate: To chat, as in, "Don't you be going and conversating with a parent in the hall. Send 'em [to] Mr. Robey's office."

Y'all: As in, "Y'all have heard of this one, haven't y'all?" Scarily enough, it's slipping into my vocabulary.

That said, I don't want to lose my own wicked awesome dialect. When I need a drink and the water bubbler won't cut it, I just gotta have a soda or perhaps a frappe. Then I throw the cup in the rubbish (no recycling here) and drive around the rotary for a while. Whew.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


I had my second brush with the meeting of teaching and faith in the Delta, when, at our all-staff assembly, two boys read us a Bible verse (from Timothy, about teaching) and we all bowed our heads in prayer. My first brush was when I walked into my classroom and there were three Bibles on the shelf.

I also met my assistant today, a 22-year veteran of the school. Ms. B-- is studying the get a degree in Elementary Ed but has thus far been unable to complete it. She seems willing to do what I ask, although I am sure that she has some ideas of her own. I think that she will be fine, though. I did my best to look old; I wore my hair up and wore my glasses. I got a headache out of the deal and felt unattractive all day long. Memories of junior high, ahh. I'm trying to be very flexible and everything, but when she came back from an assistants' meeting with the principal and told me that she would be here all day tomorrow; what did I want her to do, I scrambled to find something I wanted her to do. Argh. If I can get my act together appropriately tonight, I can have her label things or something, but right now all I have for her to do is a bulletin board and some laminating.

Monday, August 01, 2005


In one week, I will really be a teacher. I will be a first grade teacher with 23 students, several of whom have names that (according to the rules of phonics) don't exist. Saturday and today were new teacher orientation, and the other four days this week will be professional development/in service days.

I think I will meet my assistant teacher tomorrow. She's been at the school at least three years. I know this because I found a 2003/2004 teacher handbook and she was listed as one of the assistants. Tomorrow I am going to dress my oldest, wear my hair up. W-- suggested glasses. It's an idea but I'm not sure I want to go that far. I'm worried that she will look at me and decide that she will need to run the classroom. Tomorrow I need to break out professional, assertive Jessica. Usually that Jessica takes a little while to enter the scene, but she is going to be wrenched from behind "restaurant voice" Jessica onto center stage tomorrow, or risk being steamrolled into the ground.

It will be good practice, because I will need to "be the teacher" in my classroom. My CS repeated that several times this summer: be the teacher. I take this to mean that I need to act the part until I am the part. I'm not the part yet, and that is terrifying. But then again, how could I be it yet? The word teacher only takes on meaning if there are students to be taught.

So far, I am overwhelmed, and I haven't even done very much. My management plan, which I spoke of knowingly to another first year teacher today, is really only a shimmery concept in my mind. I keep trying to nail down the details and waffling on things. One of the main problems is that my school has a pacing guide and a daily schedule that I will need to follow and I haven't gotten either one of those things yet. I want to make a long term plan, but I can't, because I don't have the pacing guide and I have no idea how comprehensive it will be. I also don't know my students' current skill levels yet, although I do know I need to teach them first grade concepts regardless. Once I get those two documents, however, I have no excuse for not nailing down everything.

I'm reminded of a character from the The Phantom Tollbooth that Milo meets as he enters the land of Expectations.
"I'm the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for
after all, it's more important to know whether there
will be weather than what the weather will be."
That is the stage that I'm in: Expectations. I need to know the whether before I can determine the weather. To but it another way, I need to know if and when I will be teaching homophones before I make a list of homophones to teach.

Speaking of weather, it is very hot in Mississippi. One might say muggy. Nineties. Not as bad as I thought it would be, though, because there is air conditioning everywhere. I've been setting up my room and I want to make it cozy but cozy doesn't really fly here. Cozy is for cold climates. Oh, well...