My First Classroom

Most little girls grow up dreaming of their wedding.

Not me.

I dreamed of my first classroom.

I've never wanted to be anything else but a teacher. At an early age I considered being a lawyer but realized that it was had to play pretend lawyer with no jury, judge, or prosecuting attorney.

Playing school was much easier. Set up the stuffed animals. Write on the chalkboard and teach. The silence of my audience just showed my skill at classroom mangement. Good students don't actually talk, right?

As I got older, baby sisters replaced stuffed animals and yes, I created my own homework papers just so I could grade them. I would come home from school and tell my mom that I wanted to be a teacher so I could show them how to do it right. My attitude hasn't changed much.

I've been waiting to have my own classroom for years! I love cleaning, organizing, arranging, color-coordinating, and decorating. If you can make it pretty, I want to and I have a good time doing it. My dream is coming true! I have my first classroom and so many ideas of what to do that I can't decide. So I am recruiting your help.

Let's start with a visual.

Enter my classroom.

Notice first, my SMART board, computer, and document camera!

Second, I have a stage. Yes, a stage! Who asked for a stage?!

Next, please observe my green chalkboard. Yuck. Hate chalk.

Means I'll be using Smart board more often.

And also, fugly bulletin board.

Notice the random chairs, desks, filing cabinets.

Big windows in the back.

Soon to be big empty wall.

That bookshelf is going to the back.

My computer cart is going on the stage.

First things first. A lot of this cluttery crap will be moved out by the janitors. The big honkin gray desk and tan partition on wheels in picture 3. Also the long blue table of computers in picture 4. I get four student computers in addition to my teacher one in picture 2 and the one connected to my smartboard in picture 1.

Color. I want to paint my walls! Teal and aqua are my favorite colors. I want to do the two short walls in picture 1 and 3 in teal. Then the big tall walls in pictures 2 and 4 a pale seafoam/mint green/bluish/aqua-y color. Not overwhelming. Calm and cool. Just see it in your heads people!

Seating Arrangement. I'll have two computer tables against the window walls in picture 3. My desk will kind of be diagonal to the stage facing the window wall.

I DO NOT WANT MY DESK ON THE STAGE. In case you were wondering.

I'm thinking of doing pyramids of 3 for the student desks. I have to fit 22 desks in there at the least and again, I have a stage! Which will make things awkward. I like horseshoe shapes too so I haven't totally decided.

Decor. I've gotten a lot of suggestions from my people on math related artwork, showing student work, using magnetic paint, posters, and plants. I'm a simple kind of girl. I don't do overly busy and lots of stuff. My motto is less is more. My whole idea I'm trying to create is a beach colored, calm, serene atmosphere. I'm thinking about a palm tree. I saw some cute hibiscus flower wall stickers. I like the idea of fake flower arrangements around the room to brighten it up. I have a couple of cityscape posters I inherited that I might hang up. I really like the idea of painting a section of the wall with magnetic paint and hanging student work or other important things there. Is it possible to paint a bulletin board with that stuff? Because that would just be handy dandy.

Hmm...what else. I thought about a cool carpet/rug on the stage. Both to make it prettier as well as more comfort for my feeties. I'd also like a mirror. Mirrors brighten up the room. Plus I like to look at myself almost as much as the teenagers do. Also might help me keep an eye on the class. ;) Should I put out some personal pictures? Like from my past vacations, when I was in school, family, etc. Keep in mind that I went to this high school, my younger sisters are currently in high school there, they all know someone I know, and vice versa.

Seashells. Books. Music. Lights. Other furniture. I'm open to suggestion. Any ideas? Please please please comment or critique. I'd love to hear what makes your classroom unique!



I haven't been able to post in a while for a number of reasons.

  1. I've been reading Blogush and dy/dan and these blogs are blowing my mind. I feel totally inadequate to even write or think a single thing. Seriously, my mind has no words.
  2. I was slightly depressed over my first experience with teaching summer school.
  3. With summer school over, the main office has recruited me back to office work.
  4. It's summer.
  5. I get lazy.
  6. I'm easily distracted by Twitter, blogs, books, shopping, food, and shiny things.
  7. I'm so overwhelmed with thinking about how to design my curriculum and decorate my classroom that my brain closes up and shuts down.
I told you there were a number of reasons. But, the good news is.....I was officially hired Monday night by the school board! I've been subbing at the school since January, chaperoning trips, assistant coaching, after-school tutoring, teaching summer school, grant writing, etc. So it's been a given that I would be hired. The delay (which was somewhat my fault) was in paperwork. I was certified in Missouri and had to apply for a license in Illinois. For those of you that don't know, Illinois is the oddball of America. In everything the states do, Illinois always has to be different. So, it's taken a while and I still don't actually have the certificate in hand but everything is done and I'm official and that's all that really matters.

So I've been spending a lot of time reading, thinking, planning, arranging, dreaming, and obsessing about everything school-related. Now that I have some more time, you will start to see those obsessions show up in real life. Well, as in real life as reading the blog of a person you've never met can be.



The Animal School

A Fable

by George Reavis

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?

Note: This story was written when George Reavis was the Assistant Superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools back in the 1940s! This content is in the public domain and free to copy, duplicate, and distribute. If you would prefer a full-color, illustrated book, one is currently available from Crystal Springs Books at 1-800-321-0401 or 603-924-9621 (fax 603-924-6688)


Not Smart Enough To Teach

This is the comment I just left on @paulbogush's blog:

This is the tweet I just wrote before I read this post:

Currently reading @paulbogush 's entire blog- realizing I can't do this. Not smart enough 2 b a math teacher! I have no clue what I'm doing!

As a first year teacher, I have nothing to fall back on. I want to have a classroom like what I think yours looks like but I have no idea where to begin. I have no experience to draw from and nothing to do if I can't create something cool. I have never experienced the classroom I want to have. I don't know anyone, maybe a few on Twitter, who has the math classroom I want. I can come up with all kinds of ideas for problem-based learning in social studies or english but not for math. Plus I'm afraid if I could create the problems, I wouldn't know the right answer. When I think about how these math concepts relate to real life, sometimes I don't know that they do. Why do I teach what I teach? I don't even teach yet! Grr. I am a combination of terrified, clueless, and frustrated.

I am currently watching @ddmeyer's dy/av videos on vimeo and taking notes. Yes, that is right. Next, I am tackling his blog, where each post usually makes me want to cry, tear my hair out, run away, or a combination of all three.

I have come to the conclusion that I have no clue what I am doing!

I plan on doing a lot of reading, twittering, and learning this summer. I also have to design my curriculum for the year. Where do I start?

The first thing I am going to do is declare "A Deep Thinking Day" (said in a deep-booming-movie-announcer voice). I am going to go somewhere away from my everything where I can be silent and really think about some things. That will be my foundation to start building my teaching curriculum. Here are some of the questions I plan on pondering...
  • What does learning look like?
  • How can I tell that learning is taking place?
  • What should teaching look like?
  • What are the real world/real life/ real job skills I want my students to take from my class?
  • What do I want my classroom to look/feel/sound like? (Thanks to @paulbogush)

More specifically for lesson planning,

  • What is my objective?
  • What’s the best tool for it?
  • Am I using the tool to the best of my ability? (All 3 via @ddmeyer)
  • Will my students like this lesson? (@paulbogush again)

And those are just the basics. Notice that none of those questions involved math.

I feel overwhelmed, lost, confused, anxious, excited, and like I have no idea where to start. But I'll just start here. For now...


Courageous Online But Still Cowardly Lion

Thanks to @paulbogush for inspiring the idea for this post. Check out his viewpoint over at Blogush. Same title, different perspectives. Which do you relate too?

I live two separate lives.

I have my at-school-I'm-a-teacher real life.

Then I have my I'm-a-teacher-slash-twitterer-slash-blogger online life.

Do they collide?

Sort of.

I think of my online-teacher-life as a secret nuclear weapon for my at-school-teacher life. I go through school life and encounter many scenarios, events, projects, problems, issues, etc. I go online and I present these to my people. I get responses, advice, feedback, new ideas, directions, help, support. I go back to school armed with all this useful ammunition, waiting to fire.

Online I am courageous- think anything, ask anything, debate with anyone, read, click, ask. In real life I'm like the cowardly lion- skipping along in arms with a few people who might protect me from all the scary stuff.

Why do I turn to my online world but not my real world? Why do I have to go online when I could receive these same resources from the people I walk past, eat lunch with, and park next to?

Part of it is my own insecurity. I don't want to be made fun of. I don't want my colleagues to know how nerdy I really am. [Although a lot of them were my teachers so they already know.] I don't know what they will think. I don't know how to explain why blogging and twittering is cool to the other teachers. I don't want to hear the negativity as they shoot down every new idea or positive thought that I have. I definitely don't want to hear their suspicions of why I ask questions, try new ideas, or ask others for advice. Who does she think she is? I bet the administration has her on their side. She thinks she can do anything because she's young. New teachers with all their _______. She thinks she can change the school. Is it evaluation time already?

The other part is pride. I'm a first year teacher. I want to prove that I am just as good as [if not better than] everyone else. So I keep my secret weapon to myself. Inwardly, I want them to wonder how I got so good. I am proud of what I can do that others cannot. Is that terrible or normal? I know it's honest. Why does my success depend on the failures of others? That goes back to my insecurity. My success should be based on the progress, improvement, and risks that I am taking. I can have success at the same time that others around me are succeeding.

How does this relate to the classroom? Maybe a better question would be how could this not relate to the classroom? Students feel the same as I do. Instead of sharing their secret weapon, they keep it all to themselves. And why? Having a secret weapon makes them valuable. Why? It sets them apart. No one else has it. Or so they think. What happens when a secret weapon is no longer a secret? Is a secret weapon as powerful without the secret?

Two things make a weapon powerful: the power of the weapon and the skill of the weapon's operator. If we all shared our secret weapons, we could increase our own skill in using the weapon which automatically increases the power of the weapon itself. What do you call a group of powerful people with powerful weapons? An armed force.

How are we arming our students? If we aren't arming them, then who is?

My colleagues, or for comparison sake, my "teachers" aren't arming me. My online world is. Same for the kids. We aren't arming them. They are going online to their safe world to spend time with those who can give them their own secret weapons. They use them at school and we are wondering where in the world they got them. They belong to a world we have no knowledge of.

How can we as teachers create an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their secret world? How can we share our own secret weapons and secret world? I bet some of you are thinking, "But I don't want to share my secret!" Why? We are afraid if one of our colleagues gets ahold of our secret, that they will take it and become better than us. We want to get paid more but we don't want anyone else to. Or, we're afraid they will laugh at us or criticize what we have come to depend on. [See above insecurity] We are placing our value in the secret of the weapon instead of our skill in using it.

Sharing my weapon does not take away from my value. I am still unique, even if my weapon is not. If we teach our students that the value of success lies in the skill of the weapon, then it's no longer as important to secretly acquire it and keep it all to ourselves. What takes priority is that we are acquiring new weapons, new skills, and interacting with different people in different worlds. If that's not 21st century skills, then I don't know what is.

Integrating technology is the lion finding his courage and taking it back to where he lives. It's not just using new toys but literally integrating our technological lives into our ordinary day-to-day lives in order to be more successful in each separate world. . That's the secret weapon.


Does Creative Equal Engaging?

Today was the First Day of Freshman Academy. This is a program set up for eighth-grade-going-on-ninth-graders who are struggling with math to earn half a credit. They come all day for two weeks during the summer doing reading and math. If they come to the after-school program during the year, they get the other half credit.

Out of about 40 students, eight chose to come. Today, Day 1, five actually showed up. And of those five, three are supposedly leaving next week to stay on campus through an Upward Bound program. That leaves us with two students. Two. 2. Dos.

I doubt the administration wants to pay me to teach two students.

So. Last week I was all excited to create my lesson plans. I looked through my twitter favorites, researched the web, and created my little heart out. All to no avail.

The eighth grade teachers said the students need a lot of work on geometry and measurement. I decided to begin with some geometry powerpoints introducing some terms and definitions. Then I read some ideas and decided to have students construct a line, line segment, point, ray, angles, and polygons out of pretzel sticks, butter creme frosting, and dots.

The students hated it. They complained the whole time about the frosting being too sticky, their wax paper wasn't long enough, the dots were nasty, this was stupid, are we done yet, and that they would rather be doing book work. They asked 'Where is everybody else?' They were debating what lies to tell their parents so they wouldn't have to come back tomorrow. I was shocked. How could my idea fail so quickly?

My 17-going-on-I-know-everything sister told me they didn't like it because they aren't 5 and that is lame to do and that she also would rather have done book work. What?!? I'm sorry, even as a 23-year-old, playing with food always wins over worksheets!

On the up side, I introduced the students to Wordle and they prompty became obsessed with it. I had each student give me ten words that came to mind when they thought about math. We entered them in and created our positive, uplifting, encouraging word cloud.

I let the students create their own and they did names of their friends, family, hobbies, and whatever else they could think of about themselves. They seemed to enjoy it, although probably because it requires very little work and even less math.

I am slightly discouraged.

I think I've just had my first experience learning that creative does not necessarily mean engaging.

What does an activity require to make it engaging for students?


The Concert

When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that the child was missing.

Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway on stage. In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out"Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy's ear, "Don't quit. Keep playing."

Then, leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child, and he added a running obbligato. Together, the old master and the young novice transformed what could have been a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience.

The audience was so mesmerized that they couldn't recall what else the great master played. Only the classic, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Perhaps that's the way it is with God. What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy. We try our best, but the results aren't always graceful flowing music. However, with the hand of the Master, our life's work can truly be beautiful.

The next time you set out to accomplish great feats, listen carefully. You may hear the voice of the Master, whispering in your ear, "Don't quit. Keep playing."

May you feel His arms around you and know that His hands are there, helping you turn your feeble attempts into true masterpieces.


What Do Teachers Say About Your Kid?

Continuation from earlier post...

This summer I will be doing home visits for the incoming freshmen. Our school is starting something new, where certain teachers are dedicated to be sponsors of the freshman class. I like to think of us as 'freshman mommas'. We will be doing home visits at the beginning of the year, homerooms with freshmen only, class sponsors for freshman activities, and forming a PLC just for freshmen. The PLC's will meet once a week to discuss any needed interventions, to collaborate, to work together, etc. We basically want a built-in support system for students new to high school.

In the last post on this topic, I asked other teachers what questions I should ask parents face-to-face. A lot of good answers came out of that and gave me a lot to think about.

Now, I'd like to hear a parent's perspective.

Two female teachers come to your house loaded with free school supplies for your child. They want to talk.  

What do you want to hear?

In general, we will cover the following topics:
  • School Supply List
  • School Rules
  • School Schedule
  • Sports/Extracurriculars
  • Schedule of Standardized Testing Dates
What specific things should we tell parents of children entering into high school?
I don't want to be cheesy or lame. I want to be professional, polite, and well...helpful.
I'm not a parent. I'm not sure what would be comforting or scary to hear from a teacher. I don't know what the parents are expecting from us. I don't know what the parents need to know.
Real mommas (and daddies) what shows that your child's teachers really care about the success of your baby?

Parents please comment below and give feedback for this one-question poll.
Your answers help me help other parents just like you!