Friday, September 30, 2005


This afternoon, an announcement came over the loudspeaker that the father of our custodian is in the hospital, and if anyone wished to make a donation, they could send it to the office. Now, this was clearly aimed at teachers and assistants, but as it was announced to the whole school, the children heard as well. S-- raised her hand.

"Can I give him a dollar?" she asked. I said that was very nice of her. We got a snack size plastic ziploc (the closest thing to an envelope I have in the classroom). Mrs. Butler and I put in some money. S-- put in her dollar. A-- raised his hand and asked if he could put in his quarter (his snack money). Most of the children don't have any money at school. They are six, why would they have money? But I could see on their faces that they wanted to give something. R-- reached inside his nametag and pulled out two red tickets. "Can I give him these?" he asked hopefully.

Red tickets are currency in my classroom. If you get a red ticket, you can put your name on it and put it in a jar. Every day, I pull two names out of the jar at the end of the day and give those two kids candy. I also pull a name out when we sit in the meeting area and let that child sit on the "poodle pillow." Occasionally I will pull a name for another special treat or privilege (like sitting next to me at lunch, or erasing the board.)

Suddenly, hands with red tickets went up. K-- looked concerned. "I don't have a red ticket," he told me. "Can I give him a blue ticket?" Blue tickets are emergency bathroom passes, even more valuable than red tickets.

"You don't have to give him anything, sweetheart," I told him. Nevertheless, he offered me a blue ticket. I put it in a bag. Another child didn't have any tickets, but wanted to give something. She pulled out the sucker the librarian had given her and put it in the bag.

All in all, about half of my class really wanted to give something to Mr. C--'s father. I sent our messenger down to the office holding a plastic baggie with about $12.27, seven red tickets, two blue tickets, and a sucker down to the office. I know that Mr. C-- can't do anything with the tickets but I loved that my children wanted to give him something that they consider valuable. I told them how wonderful I thought they all were to give something to help another person.

Then I gave them some class marbles (we are *really* close to a class party now.)

They are so cute.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bad Day/Deltaisms

I was right in my prediction that today would not go well. At least tomorrow will be better (it couldn't get much worse than today.) Some of the bad things that happened:
1. R-- called R-- a "b*tch" (both R--'s are male and supposedly best friends).
2. K-- threw scissors across the room.
3. T-- chopped off a triangle of J--'s hair, which I didn't notice until after T-- left (he's a walker, so he leaves first) and when I asked why he hadn't told me, J-- said, "I tried to but you told me to sit down."
4. I went too fast with subtraction and my kids who were so confident about it on Tuesday now think they just can't do it.
5. I was evaluated and told me lesson would work better in small groups, which are still not happening yet.

I have picked up some new Southernisms, though:
Put it up = Put it away
Done told = Told

Also, the lack of pleasantries such as "please" and "thank you" appalls me, and I don't know if it's a how-you-were-raised thing or just a different culture down here. Conversations (heard and had) with children:

Teacher: "Put that up right quick."
Student: "I was fittin' a put it up!"
Teacher: "I done told you to do it it was five minutes."

Student: "I can use it."
Me: "Sit down, raise your hand, and use a polite question."
Student: "May I can use it?"
Student: "May-I-use-it-please?"
Me: "Yes."

Student: "Gimme candy."
Me: "Excuse me?"
Student: "Gimme candy."
Me: "No. First of all, I give people who are behaving candy, not people who ask for it. Second, you didn't even ask politely."
Student: "May I can have candy?"
Me: "No."

Me: "Your line is so nice and quiet!"
Other teacher: "Okay."

Me: "Ms. P--, I like your shirt."
Ms. P--: "Okay."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I am so cool.

Today was another good day. Usually short Wednesdays are not good, but today was good. School-wide, actually. I wish I could track it with the breakfast, because today they didn't have anything sweet and no juice. So we only had to take one class bathroom trip and all was good. I even got them sounding out words with books on their own levels (from a 0.0 to a 2.3).

Plus, most of the ones who took extra homework brought back extra homework. That's right, they did the same math mini-worksheet two or even three times. But today I was prepared. I gathered up all of my extra copies (I always make 1 extra of everything, and some days kids are absent, so they don't get it, or I decide to forgo an activity so I don't end up using everything...) Anyhow, I gathered them up and started handing them out. "If you want the privilege of getting extra homework," I said, "You need to be quiet and still right now." And -- BOOM -- it was quiet and still. Whoa.

The Special Ed teacher was in my room at the end of the day helping my SpEd kids do math and sort of hanging out (my assistant had left, who knows where). When we counted our tally marks to find out which group won candy, he was amazed that almost everyone called out the correct number when I asked how many points the group with 6 tally marks had. His eyes got huge when my kids begged for extra work and hushed their partners so we could clap for the people who stayed on their privilege cards. I have to admit, my head swelled just a tad.

I'm sure it will all come crashing down around me tomorrow (two good days in a row is totally unheard of, so three would be nigh impossible), but for now, it feels really good. Plus, our training today (we always have training on Wednesdays) was on our distance learning machines and I am totally going to be the first first grade teacher to incorporate them meaningfully into my classroom. I'm thinking of fifth graders at Shelby Middle reading stories to my first graders while I work with small groups. I'm thinking of classes in Massachusetts showing us snow and my class showing them... cotton? I'm picturing a penpal project where after two written letters you get to "meet" your penpal (TFAers in other places, what do you think? New York? Texas?). I'm picturing virtual mini-fieldtrips. Just one of those things would be neat.

Anyhow, it was a good day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My Justin Mali Moment

Homework had been passed out by my paper passers. I held up some extras (my assistant hadn't realized it was a half sheet, so she had made the full number of copies) and asked, "Did everyone get one?"

R-- held up a crumpled sheet. "Mine is ripped," he said. "Can I have another one?"

"Sure," I responded, handing him another one.

"Oh!" exclaimed J--. "Can I have an extra one, too?"

"Me too! Can I have two extras?" cried S--.

"Um," I said, overwhelmed, "It's the same thing again..."

"Please?" they asked.

"Okay," I responded, "But only if you're really good..."

Monday, September 26, 2005

Quotable Moments

Ms. H: "What do you do when you get home from school?"
J--: "I have a snack."
Ms. H: "What do you have?"
J--: "Cheese. The kind that rats eat."

(Administering the DIBELS Word Usage test, in which children have to use specified words in sentences.)
Ms. H: "Black."
J--: "I am black... and proud!"

Ms. H--: "What happened?"
M--: "I made a bad choice."
Ms. H: "Do you want to tell me about it?"
M--: "I bit J-- on the finger."
Ms. H: "Why?"
M--: "He touched my foot and I decided not to be kind in words and actions."

Ms. H: "Hold up 2 fingers. Now subtract one. How many fingers are left?"
M--: "T-- held up the bad finger!"
T--: "It was for math!"

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rita in the Delta

Because Katrina failed to do any serious harm in the Delta, nobody bothered to worry about Rita. Surprisingly, Rita was more powerful than Katrina here in the Mississippi Delta. Our damage was nothing compared to the damage in Louisiana and Texas (poor Louisiana, hit from both sides!) but my house did lose a fence and a window in the attic.

Broken glass from the attic window on the driveway.

The fence in our back yard.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Remembering the Accident

I finally brought the disposable camera that was with me during the car accident in to Walmart and got the pictures developed. (To read about the accident Lin and I had on the way to TFA Institute, click here.) And so, here they are... Lin and I in front of my 52-hour car at a rest stop, ready to drive to Houston and learn to teach some children. Lin, just after the crash, massaging his bruises and he stands, stunned, beside the car. Note the airbags, the placement of the car, and finally, in the last picture, the crushed front end of my car.

I still am a little skittish in cars. I didn't think I was until M-- slammed on the brakes about a week ago when I was in the car and suddenly I could smell that awful airbag smell and feel the way my face felt -- crushed and numb -- just after the crash. It just all flooded back: the taste in my mouth (blood and airbag and the aftertaste of the fried shrimp lunch from Long John Silver's); the beat of my heart, loud and fast... But especially that feeling in my face (like I'd been punched in the mouth and the nose), and that smell of airbag. The awful, awful smell of airbag. And I can't close my eyes in a car anymore (especially if I'm in the front) without a vague feeling of unease. Anyhow.

It really is a miracle that nobody was seriously hurt and the only possession Lin and I lost was the car itself. We were very lucky. Wear seatbelts. Drive defensively.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Pictures of the Fields

The cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, as seen through the car window on the way home from furniture shopping in Helena, Arkansas. Click on a picture to see a bigger version.

Sunlight on a cotton field between Clarksdale and Helena.

A pallet of cotton, ready for the truck.

It almost looks like snow, except that it's over 90 degrees outside.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Writing Happiness

This is by one of my repeating students who is often lost in space. His other writing has been garbled strings of letters. On Friday, I sat down with him and we wrote this together. By together I mean that I asked what he wanted to say and he told me and then we sounded out the words one at a time and then he picked and wrote the letters and told me what word was going to come next. I was a prompter. I love this. I found it again today in my pile of grading and I almost started to cry it made me so happy. For the uninitiated into first-grade writing it says, "--- is my friend. (He) play(s) with me."

Students who finished their journal writing early were allowed to write down what classroom job they wanted for this week and why they would be good at it. J-- wrote: "I('d) like to be the Marble Manager. (I would be good at it because) I am good."

I was handed this letter by one of my sweetest little boys this morning. He clearly had some help writing it and he had sealed it into an envelope with glue so it got a little ripped when I took it out. But how cute is it?

This is from my newest little darling. She told me, "This is you and your husband." Oh. My husband? I guess anyone older than 10 is a grownup to a six year old.

I just adore these children and I want to give them as much knowledge and as much love as possible. They just bloom with praise and attention. J--, who was a problem at the beginning, has settled down and begun to work hard. It makes me so happy!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Fabric of Our Lives

On the way home from Professional Saturday, Ashley and I stopped so that I could pick a ball of cotton. The cotton is in bloom and it is starting to be harvested. I've heard that this can go on until early November. Driving along Route 1 between Clarksdale and Helena, all of the harvesting stages present themselves, one after another: a verdant field, lush and green, where the cotton has not yet fully bloomed; then a mosaic of green and white, cotton plants full of white balls of fluff; then a wintery-looking field, already crop-dusted with defoliator, rows of brown stalks and lumps of white cotton like patches of snow caught in branches; and finally a razed, dry, brown field.

A Cotton Field in Bloom (click to see big picture)

According to the National Cotton Council, Mississippi typically plants a little over a million acres of cotton per year and harvests a little under two million bales of cotton. It takes about 3/4 acre to make one bale of cotton, which weighs about 480 lbs. With one bale of cotton, you can make:

215 Jeans
249 Bed Sheets
690 Terry Bath Towels
2,104 Boxer Shorts
6,436 Women's Knit Briefs
313,600 $100 Bills

I picked a few of the different stages of cotton that are visible now:

A Cotton Pod, Unopened
A Cotton Pod/Ball, Opening
A Cotton Ball, Ready to be Picked

Mississippi has the best-suited soil to growing cotton in the whole world. It is the fourth largest producer of cotton in the United States (which is second in the world to China in terms of production.) In terms of market value of agricultural products sold, the per farm average in Mississippi is $99,859. The average farm size is 323 acres. Other important crops in Mississippi include soybeans, sweet potatoes, rice, pecans, corn, and catfish.

For more information on cotton, check out:
National Cotton Council
Cotton Counts
Sustainable Cotton

For more information on Mississippi (including a list of our state symbols, like state drink: milk):
Mississippi State Profile

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Up, up, and away

Up: I had a good day with the kids. They remembered ABC order. They put numbers in number order. Over 75% did their addition homework, and it was even correct. They hugged me in the hall. I've found what makes R-- happy: hugs, sitting next to me, etc. D-- finally ate lunch (she's the little girl I got Thursday). We choral read "Ants" in the reader and they all read along with some ease. They love clapping for quiet. Groups are working out okay and team points bring in group accountability.

Up: The principal observed me during Reading and he liked what he saw. In our post-observation conference, he told me that my management was good, my lessons were appropriate and integrated, my kids were learning, my style was unconventional (really? that's probably because I have no training), my kids were the most difficult class, and he thought I was doing a good job. He said if I keep up this level of improvement, he will be sending people in to observe ME. Like whoa.

Away: My roommates are doing better, too. P-- has been getting intensive support from a TFA veteran and is doing better. A-- feels like she's getting the hang of it, even in a ridiculously chauvenistic school, even though she has the worst breakdown of kids (all SpEd in one class, for example), even with few books. And M-- was named Teacher of the Month and his students learned to multiply big numbers in two class periods.

A view of my classroomfrom the end of the first week of school (new pictures as soon as the configuration/transfiguartion is complete into groups with a Reading Rocketship):

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Feeling Better

I went to visit E-- this evening, and she said, "You're not creating a religion, are you?"

I said, "What?"

She said, "You aren't perfect. Your classroom isn't full of diciples. You're just a mortal. How can you expect classroom Nirvana?"

It made me feel better. Then I talked to my CS, who is a PHENOMENAL teacher, on the phone, and she told me that she, too, has to repeat everything 24 times in her classroom. That made me feel better, too. Perhaps I'm not an awful teacher?

Should First Year Teachers Teach First Grade?

I'm beginning to think the answer is no. I worry every day that I am doing my children a disservice by basically learning how to teach on them. First grade is a crucial year. Not to downplay the importance of every year of school, but first grade is when you must learn to read. And reading is so critical to continued success, not only in academics, but in everything.

80% of struggling readers in first grade still struggle in third grade. And if you can't read by third grade, you basically can't succeed beyond that year. Third grade is the transistion year from learning to read to reading to learn. Illiteracy has been identifiesd as a national health crisis. And yet, here in the Delta, where education could help these children so much, you have... me. Not only a first year teacher, but basically an untrained first year teacher.

Today Mrs. B-- went and helped out in Ms. T--'s class all day long. I had to practice giving DIBELS assessments on kindergarteners. I managed to get 4 of my 7 done during my "planning periods," but I still had to do 3 more while my class was going on. First graders are not quiet. Not when you threaten them with loss of priveleges or marbles (our class incentive system), not if you offer reward them with tickets or a classroom Animal-Crackers-and-Dancing-to-Jellyfish-Jam party. There is no such thing as 100% silence for more than 20 seconds, and no such thing as more than 85% silence for more than 3 minutes. In the end, I gave up and I yelled and felt so guilty. I made them follow along with a tape of their Basal Reader, and when they couldn't do that silently, I made them sit with their heads down.

I am not a good teacher. I am failing my 24 little star learners. How can they be star learners if I'm too busy raining in the black holes to let the supernovas sparkle? I cried at my ineptitude once they had all gone home and looked for support on the internet, where I found this article that told me I had no place in my classroom anyhow:

Trust Your First Grade Teacher

I hope I get to a point where all my children will be reading. But I can't do it without small group instruction (and preferably, a little bit of one-on-one time). And I can't do either one of those when I'm quieting them down all day long!

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Weekends in the Delta are warm and wonderful. They are my only chance to sleep in, catch up with friends, experience the Delta, and prepare myself for the coming week.

Yesterday I went up to to Marvell, Arkansas, to the Tri-County Fair. It's considerably smaller than the Topsfield Fair, with only about a dozen rides and half that many game booths. But there were animals and some quilts and preserves on display. There were corn-dogs, cotton candy, and sno-cones (I tried the alluring titled, highly recommended "Tiger's Blood," which was very strawberry/cherry). The ultimate attraction of the fair, however, was the Demolition Derby.

In a Demolition Derby, brightly-painted junky old cars with souped-up motores race around a soft-dirt floored arena, crashing into each other in an attempt to cause the most damage possible. The winning car earns about $1500 (enough to cover the cost of the doctor's bill?) and ETERNAL FAME. Evidently, people spend much more than that putting special engines and safety harnesses in the cars. The arena was packed with exactly the sort of people you would expect -- some in overalls, some with mullets, most from the surrounding small towns in poor, rural Southeastern Arkansas. Spirits were high. I didn't actually buy a $10 ticket to go into the arena, but instead stood on the back wall of someone's pickup truck just outside the fence to watch. One car had flames shooting out of a pipe on its hood. Still others never even got started that first time. We could only see a corner of the arena from our vantage point, but there were some fairly big pileups. They can't cause too much damage, though, because they try not to crash head-on (since the point is to cause damage to the other person's car, not your own), and they never have enough space to get to more than about 25 mph.

Today is a solid work day of lesson planning, grading, and preparing to teach my "babies." I'm really excited for this week because I am putting them back into groups (we'll see how THAT goes) and giving them more personal responsibility (i.e. if you're done, you can choose to do x, y, or z, but you need to show me your results).

They love having classroom jobs (we started that two weeks ago). The favorites are the water-bottle keeper (keeps track of and refills my water bottle), the marble manager (counts our marbles to put in the jar), the Super Nova (odd jobs), and the human vacuum cleaner (pick stuff up when I spill it). They also love our poems of the week. Last week's poem was called "Crocodiles" and we did lots of hand motions to go with it. (Crocodiles sun./Crocodiles charge./Crocodiles' teeth/Are very, very large.)

This week, we will be working in groups, reviewing ABC order, learning the names of the nine planets, writing about our friends, practicing the short vowel "i", adding number up to ten, making patterns, and listening attentively to stories read aloud. Yay!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Little Victories

Today was awful school-wide. I made a mid-day call home to my little face-maker's father at 10:30 because he was already halfway through the consequences for the second time that day. Another student told me he had to use it just in time to dribble "doodie" all the way down the hall to the bathroom. Mrs. H-- sent four children to my class for timeouts and I sent three to hers when neither of us have sent any for the rest of the week.

What did they put in the breakfast?

I also got a new student who just moved here from Illinios. Now I have 24.

Inexplicably, my in-sped-but-really-advanced student burst into tears. I have learned not to let tears bother me. I think I had four criers today -- E, when she tipped her chair over backwards and bonked her head; M, when I told him he had a time out in Mrs. H--'s room (he tried to bolt down the hall, again); J--, for no reason that he could tell me; and R--, when he first got off of his priveledge card.

On the upside, Mrs. B- finished transferring the answers on the tests.

And I'll be awful sometimes
Weakened to my knees
And I'll learn to get by
On the little victories

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Assist? Ha!

At first, i was worried about my assistant. Then, I was relieved that she did what I want. Then I began to get frustrated with her because she wasn't doing enough. Now I'm downright upset.

She had to run my class today from 9:00-12:30 (almost the whole day, because it was an early release) because I had a DIBELS training. I wrote out explicit instructions for her about what to do, broken down into 15 minute intervals. And she only did about half of it!!! Also, she let them go to the bathroom whenever they held up their tickets (the new system) AND she took them on two class bathroom breaks. Did she not listen when I explained the new system? Did she not realize? Grrrrrr.

The two take-away activities, one of which I wanted to use for my progress reports, which are due tomorrow, didn't get done. NOTHING productive was done! The bulletin board takes her forever and is not as good as the other bulletin boards. The tests are still not transferred onto the answer sheets. I just don't know what to do with her!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Today is Tuesday/Monday

I remember teachers saying how they dreaded the days directly before a vacation. Well, I've decided that I dread the day directly after a vacation (even a mini-vacation.) I have to have better, more engaging activities! Otherwise, they hit the walls and I can't get them quiet for more than 5 seconds. It's not even always intentional noise. There is humming, there is muttered repetition of everything I say, there is chair scraping. Argh! I can't stand the chair scraping. I finally bought some tennis balls to slit and put on the bottoms of the feet of the chair. Discovery: slitting tennis balls is no easy job.

Also, I don't get to teach tomorrow. This week is going to FLY -- a four day week with only 3 days of teaching! I have a full-day DIBELS (it's a reading assessment) training tomorrow. At least it's a half day for my kids, because they will be with my assistant all day long. Poor Mrs. B--. Poor kids. She just doesn't do exactly what I ask her to do, and so I never really know how much is going to get done...

My mother and my sister visited this weekend. That was really nice. They are probably my two most favorite people in the world, even if I was grumpy with them and all worried about school. But I certainly didn't get enough done!

Thursday, September 01, 2005


I came home from school today and cried on Patrick's shoulder for about 10 minutes. I have realized that the children can frustrate me, sadden me, or exhilarate me, but the principal can make me cry. I'm trying so hard to do what he wants me to do, and I feel like I just don't ever get it right.

We had to give our first 9-weeks pretests today, so we were testing all day. My poor little 6-year-olds, doing paper and pencil, listen-to-the-teacher-read-the-directions tests all day long. By the end of the day, they were stir-crazy, and not even 10 minutes of dance break got their wiggles out.

In the morning, we worked on our book of the month. It's a school-wide project: every class reads the book and then makes a bulletin board of student work outside the classroom. It's due on the first of the month. We got the book on Tuesday. I decided to do sequencing, so we read the book three times, then we talked about the order in which things happened, and each child drew a picture of part of the story, and then we put them in order (in four groups). I am trying not to be late getting any of my things done for Mr. Robey, so this afternoon, when I really needed to leave early enough to get to the bank and cash my paycheck, I stayed to try to put up the bulletin board. Mr. Robey, passing my classroom, commented, "Is that something you want or need to be doing, Ms. H--?" I responded that I thought we were supposed to have it up by the end of the day. "That's really something your ASSISTANT should do," he responded, walking away. I felt awful. I can't do anything right.

Take-Aways from today: I have really accepted the TFA indoctrination and I believe every success and failure in my classroom rests solely within my control, I love my children and want to give them the opportunity to succeed, and there are not enough hours in the day. And I will push onward, trying (in vain?) to please my principal.

When students finished their tests ahead of their peers, I let them draw pictures or write me letters. Here are two of them:

F-- writes: "I love my teacher... (something about) wet pants... I love you, is my best teacher."

J-- told me: "This is for you. This is you... and your husband." Oh. My husband???

At least my children think I'm noteworthy.