Monday, December 20, 2010

Did We Make It?

Did we make it through Christmas week?

Yes, we did.

I can proudly say that despite the butt-kick of a week it was, I made it through my first Christmas Week experience, the week before school gets out for the Christmas holiday, where my students were hyped up on candy, wrapping paper, and ornament making. Oh, and let us not forget the epic Gingerbread house creations we so eloquently put together on Friday morning.

Story 1: The Dreidels

If you know me well, you know that I do enjoy art. I like having art time and doing art things, but I really like art that the students can do independently and on their own. If it turns into something that I am mostly doing-- punching holes, tying string, gluing things-- then to me, it's a teacher's art project and not the student's. It is art like this, however, that exists during Christmas Week. I could barely hold it together.

Thus, for our Christmas Around the World rotations, I opted for a game instead of a craft. Each first grade teacher was assigned a country/holiday to represent, and our classes rotated to each room for 45 minutes each. I couldn't handle another mostly-teacher-created-art-project, so I decided that for Israel/Hanukkah, I would have the classes play Dreidel. What a good idea! Dreidel! And that way, at the end, I can let them have a piece of candy or two and they will enjoy that.

The night before I was creating Israeli culture in my classroom, around 11:00 pm, I was talking to my dear roommate about the ongoings of Christmas Week. I told her that I was proudly having my students learn and play the Dreidel game when it suddenly hit me-- I do not have any dreidels. I grab my purse and rush out the door and begin my search at Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart, to end up empty-handed and without dreidels for the next day, where I would have four classes full of eager first graders reading to do something Hanukkah-esque.

I looked up Party City online and discovered that they had dreidels, so in desperation at about midnight that evening I call my sister to ask her a huge favor-- to go and get the dreidels at Party City in the morning and bring them to me at school. She was reluctant but agreed.

However, the next morning, she calls and tells me that there are no more dreidels left in Party City (apparently Hanukkah is over...) and that she was sorry. I pace over next door to my neighbor first grade teacher and tell her my dilemma and how I embarked on a massive search the night previous and how my sister was out of luck with the small wooden spinning tops. And my neighbor simply tells me, "I have dreidels." and goes into her room to get them.

I stood there with the dumbest look on my face, ever, as she handed me 6 wooden dreidels and sent me back into my classroom.


There was a lot to be joyful about this past week, despite the craziness and holiday cheer abounding in our little jungle. I helped assist our music teacher with putting on our school's Christmas show, where the 4th and 5th grades put on a Christmas concert and play for parents and teachers on Thursday night. I wasn't sure if we would be able to pull it together by then, but the kids did fantastically, and I couldn't believe how great it went. I was so proud of them and how precious and great they were. It's been really fun to get to know the older kids in the school too. Three of them brought me a card and present on Friday morning, even. It makes me wonder sometimes if I could teach the older grades, but then I look at my babies and think, nah...not yet. :)

Friday was our best day of the week, surprisingly. Maybe it was because I had 4 sets of extra hands, eyes, and ears, as I had some parent helpers assist with the snowman making, Gingerbread house creating and decorating, and class Christmas party. I have a great group of parents, who are very supportive and helpful and giving. I couldn't be more blessed with that. I really enjoyed Friday and being able to just indulge in the Christmas joy, as I hadn't allowed myself to really do all week. It was too jaded with the stress and activities and art projects that I forgot to really just enjoy it all. Friday I was able to see that and fix it, and really pass the short half day well with my students. I was glad that God allowed our final day to be smooth and a beautiful one.

The topper of the entire week was this: One of my students, whose mother is a 2nd grade teacher at FVE and my closest friend at school, decided what he wanted to get me early on in the Christmas season. He took his mother to the store and went straight to this gift.
"That's what I want to get her, mom."
"Oh...well, I mean, are you sure that's your only option? You don't want to look for anything else?"
"No, mom, this is what I want to get her."
She went on and told me there was no other option for her son, that he was dead set on getting me this gift, and that she attached the gift receipt just in case I found it as strange as she did.

On Friday morning, this child excitedly watches as I unwrap a bright, royal TCU purple Snuggie. His eyes lit up and a smile spread wide across his face as I exclaimed, "oh, YEAH!" and went in for a high five.

My joy was made complete. And now, as I type this post to you readers out there who find my humorous 1st grade teaching life entertaining, I am wearing this bright purple Snuggie and thanking God for a great first semester of teaching. Until January 4th...

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day of Boredom

For the past few weeks, I had a few students who seemed to be constantly complaining.

"Miss Leiss, I'm hungry."
"Miss Leiss, I'm thirsty."
"Miss Leiss, school is so boring."

It was the last one that really got to me, because I will tell you this now and stand strongly by it-- school is not boring, because my class is not boring. I am worn out day in and day out by the way that I run my classroom. My students do not sit in desks all day and do worksheets and seat work. Actually, they rarely sit in desks at all. My kids are usually on the floor, able to use pillows and cushions and little seats to sit on. They have lap boards that they can do work on anywhere in the room. They have a huge smart board that features a Daily Routine powerpoint presentation that runs our entire class from start to finish, with interactive games, songs, and activities. My kids have access to more technology than I do-- 3 iPod touches with instructional games on them, a smart board with abilities to use for learning web sites and games, and a computer in the back of the room to do the same. All of our learning is hands-on and interactive. My students do not have to keep their mouths closed all day-- I want to have them talking! I want to hear their voices, let them sing and chant things, and have them learn how to effectively discuss ideas, communicate with others, and socialize. Music is a constant in my room. We are either singing songs, chanting, or playing Pandora radio overhead as we work. All of our activities have game components, spelling activities include play-dough and stamps and pipe cleaners, even math is done in game-format with addition and subtraction games out the whazoo. We never rest. I never sit. I don't even have a desk in my room--I told them to remove it before school started because I knew that the way things would be in my room, I would never be sitting there. I would constantly be with my kids and running activities and teaching.

Needless to say, when my kids said that school was boring, I began to take notice of such comments happening more often. This generation truly is affected by our world full of technology and devices and their attention spans are so increasingly short. It's insane. I finally decided to show my kids what a boring day at school really is like. Hence, the name: Day of Boredom.

Day of Boredom occurred on Thursday. I pushed my smart board to the side of the room and turned it off. I turned off my TV-- no powerpoint presentation today. No Pandora radio or music. No iPod touches, no computer in the back. I xed out any and all technology possible. No math games. No stamps and playdough. Nothing fun.

I started the day off by making the kids go to their desks and do their morning work page. When they walked in, I was less enthusiastic and joyful than usual, mundanely telling them to only do the top morning work on their desk and then get their book bags and read to self AT THEIR DESK. Usually I let them read to self anywhere in the room, get comfortable on pillows and such. So this was different to them. "In our desks?" they would say. They were so confused.

I then announced that we would be having a Day of Boredom and that there was no talking allowed all day. Absolutely none, or I would change their colors. (Remember days of changing your color? They still exist.) My kids started to argue and ask questions but I would throw out warnings to them. It was utterly and completely silent. It was so eerie...I couldn't believe that some teachers actually operate their rooms that way.

I made them stay in their desks following morning work. Usually we have a routine of singing a Welcome song or two on the carpet, and me going around in a circle telling each friend Good Morning and I love you. None of that on Day of Boredom! No "Welcome to School??!" they all cried. My kids were devastated. "No Welcome to School, no songs...because those are fun, and we can't have fun on our day of boredom!"

Other such comments:
"No pillows today?" "No, no pillows today, because pillows are fun. And we can't have fun on our day of boredom!"
"No math games today?!" "No, no math games, because math games are fun. And we can't have fun on our day of boredom!"
"Are you not giving out good choice sticks today Miss Leiss?" "No, no good choice sticks, because good choice sticks can be exchanged for fun THINGS, and we can't have anything fun on our day of boredom!"
Oh, they were so aggrivated. Heh.

Calendar time was the same way. No songs, no games, no activities. Usually we do calendar on the smart board where they can interact with the weather graph, write money amounts, etc. Not this time. Calendar time was the most boring thing I may have ever taught-- simple, unenthusiastic, to the point, and fleeting. I sent my kids back to their desks and told them we would be taking our math assessment, and when they were finished they had 3 math worksheets to complete. Their eyes googled over the stack of worksheets and seat work on their desks. "We have to do ALL of this TODAY?!" They were beside themselves. "Yes, all of it. You said school was boring so I decided to show you a truly boring day today."

I felt so bad, let me tell you. I also didn't know what to do with myself. I was doing random organization things around the room, checking my emails constantly (something I never do during the day usually because I'm always engaged with my students)...I was so bored too! I had 2 kids crying (trust me, I did not expect that! I felt AWFUL.) They did not want Day of Boredom to continue.

At the end of Day of Boredom, I asked my kids: "Do you think Miss Leiss's class is boring now?"
"Do you ever want a Day of Boredom again?"
"NOOOO!!!!!! Never again, Miss Leiss! Please never again! It was so boring! We want our class back!"

The following day was pure as gold. Back to normal, love and learning abounding, relationships building, communication thriving, music and joy returning. Sometimes you have to learn a lesson about appreciating what you have...and I think my kids learned about that on Thursday. :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Last Thing I Truly Am...

is a teacher.

It has hit me hard today, that the last thing I really, seriously am to these kids, is a teacher.

Heck, I teach first grade, and they are asking me today to teach them multiplication, please.

I teach first grade, and 13 out of my 18 students are now on 2nd or 3rd grade reading levels at this point in the year.

My kids are supreme. They rock. Really. What am I doing here?

It has occurred to me, that really what I am here to do is love them. That's it. Plain and simple. They would all do fine without me. Academically they would be ready to enter 2nd grade and could hang with it. They don't need me for that. Of course, that's what I am here to DO...but they don't need me for that.

They need me to teach them how to be a friend. They need me to teach them how to love one another. They need me to teach them how to serve others. They need me to give them hugs everyday and tell them "good morning" when they walk in the door. They need me to tell them daily that I love them so they can hear it. They need me to intervene when arguments happen. They need me to put bandaids on the most insignificant and smallest of cuts or scrapes, but the bandaid will cure all in their minds. They need me to laugh with them at silly things. They need me to instill the LOVE of learning in them. They need me to show them that school and education is important. They need me to transfer the desire and excitement of school into their minds and lives.

That's really what I'm doing here. A humbling experience, by far. I got an amazing group of kiddos for my first year of teaching. God chose to bless me in this way, immensely. I know that any group of students would be incredible-- but these kids take the cake. I feel like I'm a mother of 18. I would lay down my life for them.

Ridding myself of pride, embracing a spirit of humility.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kiwi Eyeball, Jackie...and our dog Lucy

1. The Story and Origination of Kiwi Eyeball

I have a student in my class who, since the first day of school, has bewildered me. Not only is he super, super intelligent-- reading on a 3rd grade level, knowing the most random facts and information ever, and picking up on information and new concepts faster than any child I've ever seen-- he also is extremely gifted, talented, and creative.

This student, however, has insisted for the past 3 weeks that his name is Kiwi. And as of last week, his full name is now...Kiwi Eyeball. Kiwi Eyeball corrects me when I call him his actual name. "No, Miss Leiss. My name is Kiwi. Kiwi Eyeball." He won't let me go on until I formally correct him.

"Miss Leiss, since my name is now Kiwi, I would like for you to change my line leader name tag to Kiwi."
"Miss Leiss, why do you keep forgetting? IT'S KIWI."

Kiwi Eyeball writes, well, Kiwi or Kiwi Eyeball on all of his papers. The kids in our class have begun actually calling him Kiwi, and now also correct me if I call him his regular name. And...sadly enough...I have even begun instinctively calling him Kiwi.

2. The Story and Origination of Jackie

Kiwi Eyeball has a beloved black puffy jacket/coat, affectionately named, Jackie. Yes, our friend Kiwi has named his jacket...appropriately, Jackie. Kiwi gets mad at Jackie from time to time and throws her on the ground in the hallway or on the carpet in our classroom. One particular time he got upset and threw Jackie in the hallway on our way back to the classroom.

"Kiwi, please go and pick up Jackie."
"No, I don't want to."
"Why not? Are you mad at her?"
"No, I just don't want her. I don't need her. It's not cold."
(other student) "Miss Leiss...I'll go get Jackie."

Thus, Jackie has also become a familiar character and part of our classroom community.

3. The Story and Origination of Lucy

One day I was out for a math training, and my substitute left in her note:
"I'm sorry about the dog, Lucy. I wasn't sure how to handle that situation and I told (Kiwi) that you would handle it tomorrow."

Dog? I thought. What dog?

The next day I asked Kiwi about the note. "Who is Lucy?"
"Oh. Lucy is my pet dog. She's with us right now! She's going to take the spelling pretest."
"Kiwi, we are going to put Lucy away for the spelling pretest."
"NO, Miss Leiss! She wants to be here, she wants to take it!"
"Kiwi, we need to put Lucy away for the rest of the day. She needs to rest and I don't want her to distract you or other students."
"She won't distract, I promise. She loves to learn too."

This is my story. This is my life. first grade.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"You know...some just gotta laugh."

This week, I decided to reverse our daily schedule. Mistake #1.

I decided that the kids were a bit more rowdy in the afternoon during English/reading/LA time, and that after lunch they are pretty much spent. Since math is so hands on (not that ELA isn't, but it's just different) I thought that after lunch they could regain their energy if they were doing things like math games, etc.

I've tried this new schedule the past 2 days, and I don't really even care to wait to see if it eventually will work. Kids THRIVE off of a schedule, off of a day that they know exactly how it will work, and after 3-4ish months of following the same schedule everyday, they are COMPLETELY thrown off.

This week, I decided to change our daily calendar songs. Mistake #2.

The kids are used to the same songs in the same order: Months of the Year, Days of the Week, Today/Yesterday/Tomorrow, Weather, How Many Days have we Been in School?, and then one of the following: Money song (Mondays), Time song (Tuesdays), Shapes (Wednesdays), and Patterns (Thursdays). This week I decided that since we were doing math in the afternoon, and they had gotten the months/days/tyt down, we would cut those songs out of our routine.

Today, our high school "pals" came at 12:15, when usually we have ELA, but we have math at that time now...but today, a live podcast was playing online on and featuring a representation of the early pilgrim settlers and Native Americans. So I decided to let them watch that with their pals instead of going straight into math. Watch the podcast, talk about Native Americans and what they lived in, and create our own tee-pees. Complete schedule upheaval AND an art project. Mistake #3.

So my kids were thrown off already, and now they were even more thrown. The pals left, we scrawled out our tee-pee designs and met back on the carpet. It was 1:15. And we were just now getting to calendar?

Calendar time was a joke. We were pushing through it when finally I just started laughing. My kids were laughing too. Uncontrollably. I started using a lot of humor and trying to make calendar time more engaging. I kind of threw the rulebook out the window today and was extremely real with my kids. Completely me, not someone else, letting my personality and weird sense of humor push through. And they loved it.

We usually make a train and sing one of our skip counting songs (count by 1s, or 2s or 5s or 10s) and today we made our train and started walking around the room counting by 1s. A few friends decided to lay on the floor and be road blocks for our train to jump over. Don't worry, they were still counting and participating...but just adding a new element to our train counting time.

When we came back to the carpet, everyone was laughing. I asked my friends, "Why did you decide to be road blocks today?"

One of my boys spoke up and said, "Miss Leiss, no. We were being dead ants."

The class erupted with laughter.

As did I.

After we had calmed down, I said to the class, "You know, some just gotta laugh. We've had a rough day, and we just need to laugh right now. But normally, on normal days, I want you to remember that rolling on the ground like dead ants is not allowed during counting time. Normally, --"

"WE LEARN!!!!!!!!!!" (interrupted by a friend who yelled this and threw a mighty fist pump into the air). Now, the reason this was so funny was because we had a HUGE talk about how our number one job at school is to learn just a few hours ago. And this little boy was being dead serious, passionately pumping his fist into the air.

I couldn't control myself. We were all laughing so hard, me and my little class full of 6 year olds, who really might not get a chance to laugh much at home, who might not have anything funny or amusing or enjoyable happen outside of school. We got through the rest of the day, and although it was rocky...I'm glad that I just kind of let go and let God do his thing. Because it's not about me anyway, it's about him. And today he told me to laugh with my kids.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quotes of the Week

"Miss Leiss, I'm off the HOOK! Off da hook off da hook THIS IS SO EASY."


"Miss Leiss, you need to change my line leader name tag to Kiwi. That is my new name. Kiwi."
"Oooo! Can I be Kiwi the II?!?!?!?"


"Foo! Foo! Get yo reader out!"


"What job did you draw yourself doing in the future?"
"Oh, that's me, runnin' a liquor store."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Watercolor Adventure

***Update for you: The class economy has been going super, super well since day 2. I knew it would. It just took us 24 hours to get over some sadness. It's really been awesome seeing my kids settle into their duties in the classroom, demand payment, complain when I tax or fine them, and question about inflation. It's been quite entertaining and such a cool approach to teaching these skills. I am really pleased with it.

Now on to.....Watercolor Adventure.

Fridays are a bit more strenuous for my kids. We do all of our assessments on Fridays: math assessment, science/social studies assessments, comprehension test over book of the week, comprehension assessment on a cold reading, phonics test, and spelling test. Whew. It's kind of nuts. I don't just gruel my students to death, I promise...I just want to use Monday-Thursday to teach and for my kids to learn, practice, rehearse the information, work with their hands, etc.

Usually on Fridays, if we finish all of our assessments for the day and do it well we get "Free Choice Friday." This is where the students can pretty much do anything permissible-- board games, playing teacher, free art, computer time, iPod touch time, etc. They really look forward to Free Choice Friday every week, and I know that after a long day they need it.

I decided today, however, to give them a mind-resting activity at the end of the morning assessments too. I had been feeling that our art activities have been a little lacking in modalities and excitement, so I told my students that if we finished our math, science, and social studies assessments/activities that we would have...da da da DA: Watercolor Friday. I had retrieved the watercolor materials from the art room yesterday and was really excited for my kids to get to paint a bit. I really enjoy seeing their artistic expression and freedom, and they also had been asking to paint sometime. I realize that I had been letting them cut, paste, glue, paper art, modeling clay, playdough, etc. but hadn't painted yet. It was time.

You really think you're prepared and overprepared and then things just happen, you know? Everyone I talked to today after Watercolor Friday was like, "Oh, wow, you're bold." or "Oh, wow, you're brave." It was completely worth my excited 18 little faces afterwards, but the "during" part of Watercolor Wednesday was just insanity. After teaching and going over watercolor skills, paintbrush dipping, water sharing, and the like, I had 18 little paintbrushes eager to dip into water and begin.

Colors began splashing on paper...and the desks...and their clothes...and the floor.
Water began dripping...on the paint...on the desks...on each other...and the floor.
Cups began tumping over...on their paintings...on the desks...on each other...and, namely, the floor.
Water was getting dirty and needed replenishing. Brushes were getting flattened. Colors were disappearing from tables. Friends were dripping their paint onto other friends' work. One student kept insisting he was messing up and needed another paper...4 times.

Clean up was epic. It actually went far smoother than I had expected...except that I suddenly realized I had no where to put these paintings. The students needed to clear them off the desks and tables so they could wipe those things down with clorox wipes. I had no hooks or anything to hang them. So, uh...just put them on the floor, in the back of the room, back...there.

Students were stepping on each other's paintings trying to dump water cups in the back sink and wash paint brushes. Chairs were accidentally finding themselves smushing art creations. One student of mine kept INSISTING his painting was dry (which, it seriously was not at all) and wanted to put it in his locker.

We did make it to lunch. We made it...and we survived Watercolor Friday. The carpet might have a new fun embellishments. But we did it.

*sings "We are the Champions" in my head*

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Week Hilarity

1. Several of my students came to school today with crazy hair for Red ribbon week. Among my favorites was one of my girl students who came in with completely dyed-blue bangs, bright orange hair on her head, and a fully green ponytail. She told me she wanted to make her hair my favorite colors (green and orange) but that the bangs needed something extra.

2. One of my students had a loose tooth today, and if you know me, you know I do NOT do blood/loose teeth. It is among one of my many cardinal rules...others being "Miss Leiss never wants to hear about the line" and "Miss Leiss never wants to hear a tattle." The third rule is "Miss Leiss never wants to see you sitting there with a bloody kleenex wiggling your tooth unless it is dangling by a thread and about to come out." (A long cardinal rule, I know, but my kids know it.) However, this student REFUSED to let me or the nurse pull it out. It was seriously dangling there and he would cry but wouldn't do anything about it.

At recess a student from another class ran up to me.

"Miss Leiss, your student is playing on the slide."
"Well, yes, that's what a slide is for honey."
"No, Miss Leiss, he is throwing his tooth up the slide and letting it slide back down."

I seriously laughed out loud, snorting around students, at the mere fact that my student was throwing his tooth up the slide...hahahaha, seriously, this is my life. My name is Miss Leiss and I teach 1st grade and deal with situations like teeth sliding down the slides at recess.

3. On our phonics test, instead of spelling the word "chug", one little friend wrote the word "thug." He complained when I told him it was incorrect.

4. Assessing my students' knowledge of wants and needs in social studies, today we had to cut pictures out of newspapers and magazines and post 3 on one side of a piece of manila paper for needs, and 3 for wants. One male student cut out a picture of a woman in silk pajamas and boxer underwear and pasted it onto his "wants" side, telling me "Well, Miss Leiss, I really don't need those guess this picture goes on the want side."

5. When explaining to my students about name calling and how we don't call each other names, one of my boisterous boy students raised his hand and had a story to share.
"Miss Leiss, I know exactly what you're talking about with name calling."
"You do?"
"Yes. The other day on the bus, there were these 5th graders calling me Samantha. And that is NOT my name."
"Oh. Well...that's not exactly what I'm talking about. But I'm glad you made a connection."

6. "I love you so much, Miss Leiss." Greatest words I could ever hear, and one of my small African-American students today told me this with the biggest hug around my knees I have ever felt. So. Awesome.

7. We watched James and the Giant Peach today...which, come on, movies in class are killer. We just finished reading the chapter book as a class and it is so cool to see my students discussing the differences between the book and the movie. So cool!

All glory to God in the highest, He is so good, He is mighty to save.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Miss Leiss...what IS a drug, even...?

This week is Red Ribbon Week: Be Drug Free. Most flavorful class discussion to date. I wish I had tape recorded the whole thing. I will give you bits and pieces of what some of my little first grade friends had to contribute to the conversation.

"Miss Leiss, why are we wearing these red ribbons anyway?"

Me: "Well, let's talk about that for a little bit. This week at school we are celebrating being Drug Free. That means we are deciding not to use drugs."

"Miss Leiss...what IS a drug, even...?"
"My mom smokes."
"MY BROTHER HAS DRUGS...IN HIS ROOM...MAYBE...?" (<-- this student's brother is maybe 5 years old, at most. so I didn't take it seriously.)
"Aren't drugs good? Like medicine?" (<--- innocent student)

Me: "Yes, some drugs are good things, like medicine. But, even medicine when it isn't used in a good way, can be bad for you. If you take too much of it, it's bad for you. Or if you take medicine that isn't yours, it's very bad for your body. It can be harmful to your body and your health. Remember when we talked about harmful last week when we talked about heat?"

"I didn't know medicine could be bad for you. Too much of it! Never thought of that!" (<--- GT student)
"Miss Leiss, once my dad drank some drugs, and he drove, and he got pulled over by the cops. I think."

Me: "Ohh. Well, that's the law."

"What's the law?"
"Are drugs against the law, Miss Leiss?"

Me: "Some drugs are against the law, yes. It can depend on how old you are, but some drugs are just off limits all the time." (<--- trying to be as vague about kinds of drugs as fervently possible, but truthful)

"What happens if you eat those drugs?"

Me: "Well, you could get in a lot of trouble. You could get tickets from the police or even go to jail." (<--- getting uncomfortable)

"Yeah you guys, it's called JUBY."
"Yeah, juby!"

Me (trying to wrap up where the conversation might go): "Okay, so we know that drugs are things that are harmful to our bodies and they can harm our families too. Miss Leiss has been drug free her whole life so it's possible. There are ways to be drug free."

"You HAVE?!?"
"Just say no! Right?"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Never Want to Miss a Day of School Again.

I never want to miss a day of school again.

Oh wait...I'm out on Tuesday for math training.

Oh wait...I'm out next Wednesday for First Year Teacher Academy.

Oh...wait...I'm catching every single sickness that my children might even remotely carry in their tiny little bodies!

Sigh. I just hate missing school. Even in college, I never, if rarely, missed class. It was like a bone in my body that existed mainly to make me go to class. I never missed. Only if I was deathly ill.

I was out this past Friday and when I'm out, I feel like the world is crashing down. I luckily had a superb sub this time around, unlike the last time where the earth crumbled and all broke loose, and I feel like my kids did a great job with her. I got a really nice note from her. A few things were unkempt around the room but not too much. Not like the last time...thank heavens.

But still, I REALLLLY hate missing school. I hate being away from my students, and I hate feeling like I have to catch up. I feel like that's what most of this year has been so far for me-- starting from scratch, having to basically catch up constantly as more and more things are thrown at me. I feel like I've been doing a good job and I'm not drowning by any means, but the ice is getting thinner. I know I'm a first year teacher and it's not supposed to be perfect, and it's not even contended to be a "good year"-- but I want to be good! I want to defy the odds. I want to prove wrong the theories and common conceptions that first year teachers suck.

I also feel like I really need to be here for my kids. I need to be consistent in their lives. I can't disappear or run out on them, I need to be here, and I hate when I'm not. I need to have more grace on myself, but my grace is running low. God is always sufficient, I need to keep reminding myself.

Things just aren't the same when you miss a day of school. You have to pick up the pieces and start all over, it seems. I just hope tomorrow is a good day. Like my kids and I sing every morning, "I'm gonna make today a great day!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Our Class Learns Economics

This week we started a new unit in social studies: economics. The past two days we were politely discussing wants, needs, jobs, money, and all of that shebang when I had a seemingly brilliant idea: let's make our classroom its OWN economy.

I already give out "Good Choice Sticks" to students who make good choices and they are able to redeem 10 of them for a trip to the beloved treasure box, where they can pick out a super cool pencil or tub of playdough or, recently added, a new silly band. (Oh, silly bands. The pogs of this generation.)

But instead, I decided to make a real-life economy in our classroom and use the sticks somewhat like money. I created classroom jobs and each student was going to get a job. Every day if they did their job well and diligently, they get paid 1 stick. They can also earn bonuses (extra sticks) if they are seen making extra efforts or extremely good choices.

Then I created things that the students could buy with their sticks when they save them up. These things include: Pillow Use for a whole day (5 sticks), No Shoes in the Classroom (8 sticks), Powerpoint Helper (8 sticks), iPod Touch Time (10 sticks), Computer Time (10 sticks), and Treasure Box (12 sticks).

I thought, oh my gosh this is going to be so GREAT! My kids are going to LOVE THIS!

I forgot, though, that I probably have THE most sensitive class in the entire world. And? It's the BOYS that are sensitive!

It was the biggest ordeal of the entire year. I almost started crying, I was SO frustrated. The first round I decided to draw kids' names out of a hat and let them choose their job. This took FOREVER because nobody could decide so I decided to instead draw for the JOBS the kids' names and assign them. Oh. My. Gosh. Tears. Terential fits and upset children. Kids were crying because they didn't get the job they wanted. Some wandered into corners to pout. It was like an outbreak. I was completely at a loss. So for the THIRD go-around, I decided to put the JOBS in a cup and let the kids draw one out. "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." Right? It just turned into utter confusion because now the kids had changed classroom jobs 3 times and...I just felt like a terrible teacher. I had the whole thing planned out SO well! Powerpoint slides to help me teach it and everything! We were going to discuss needs, wants, how to make choices with our stick money...

Some days I just really don't know what to expect. I think the day is going to go so so well, I over-plan and get super excited for what is to come. And then it doesn't always go that way. I'm just trying to continue to roll with the punches. AND I also hope that this Class Economy thing is going to really work. I can't wait to see all my students settle into their jobs and do them with ease, earn their money, save and make choices to buy's GOING to be good. I know it will. Just...the first day was a bit rough.

Something I told them today, though, was: You don't always get the things you want. And this is the real world...this is real life. You don't always have the JOB you want, either. Some people do...and they love it. Others don't...

It really got me thinking. How beyond blessed am I that even with meltdowns and outbreaks and crazy jungle animal students, I still have grace and mercy on them because of the one who lives inside of me... How beyond blessed am I to do what I absolutely love?

I hope they learn. Most of all though I hope they learn to love.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Life Could Be Reality TV

Starting with Monday: We had an all-day teacher inservice on Columbus day, where I first felt that I was sick and that something was wrong. I went to bed that evening unsettled and not feeling well, but knowing that I had a day of staff development the following day so all my sub plans and activities for the next day were already ready, set out for the sub, and I would be good to go no matter what.

Tuesday: Turns out I was sick. I woke up in the morning hardly able to move or speak. There was no way I was going to make it to math training. I went to the doctor that day and he told me I just had a regular cold and just to take medicine, rest, and that I should be able to go back to school on Wednesday.

Wednesday: I enter my classroom and it is a disaster zone. War zone. Tornado eruption. I found pencils, crayons, papers all over the desks and under chairs; I found my Daily Calendar completely messed with and things stuck all over my chalkboard; I found my Lunch Count clips all over the floor and under tables. The substitute left me NO note. That tells me one thing: He was ready to get the HECK out of there at the end of the day. Which leaves me thinking: What happened...?

I try to clean up as much as possible before the kids got there Wednesday while I'm still sniffling and blowing my nose and dizzy from my head cold. I am not happy with them and the way the classroom was left and, it also seemed, that they really didn't do much of anything that I left the sub to do with them. It really did seem like his fault. So our day was already off to a not so great start, and I could barely speak or sing because of my loss of voice and accumulation of phlegm going in and out of my nasal cavity.

But here is where the week gets interesting. Wednesday after lunch I'm running Daily 5 stations with my kids when all of a sudden my nose starts bleeding profusely. I mean, not just your run-of-the-mill nose bleed. It's running hardcore, dripping down my face and falling onto the carpet. I catch my nosebleed with my hands and run and get tissues, flinging open the door and shouting to my teacher-neighbor to watch my kids while I run to the nurse. I go to the nurse and try to get the bleeding to stop for about 10 minutes. It finally subsides and I return to the classroom.

The beautiful icing-on-the-cake part about my week this week was that it was my first group of 18 Parent/Teacher Conferences. 6 per day, Wednesday-Thursday-Friday. I had absolutely no down time in between activities, and my usual planning period was spent with parents, who I adore and was so glad to have come to school and speak with me, but I sounded (and probably looked) like a wreck. Many of them even commented on my stuffiness and asked if I was feeling okay. I mean, great first impressions were given by yours truly.

But then, after school my nose starts bleeding profusely again. This time it won't stop for about 30 minutes. And I am not kidding! I promise! It's like, shooting out of my nose, like a fountain or something. I can barely keep up with it, I'm going through boxes of Kleenex at a time. It's ridiculous. I can't get any work done and my teacher friends ask if they can drive me home, etc. because they are worried. I finally got the bleeding to stop and said, no, I'll be okay. Only to have it start spurting out blood again in the car on the way home.

By now I'm getting kind of flustered and worried myself. Why is my nose some sort of blood gun. I was so irritated but also scared. It happened again when I was at home later that evening. I slept with a towel on my pillow; what could happen when I was asleep?

Thursday: I awoke the next morning and was in a huge hurry. I had woken up late and had a Parent/Teacher conference at 7:30 and I really needed to get dressed and go. I felt stuffy, so absent-mindedly I blew my nose. This caused the Nile River of Blood to once again flow out of my nose. I could not get it to stop for 20 minutes, sitting there putting pressure on my nose and pinching it tilting downwards. I know the right things to do! I had done this before! But nothing was working. Of course, it caused me to be late (about 2 minutes, but STILL) to my conference that morning.

But not to fear, because we had a field trip on Thursday. To make my week even crazier! We as a first grade walked down the street to our city fire station. It was exciting and I felt really cool about taking my very first class on their very first field trip. All was well as we were learning about the size of the hoses on a firetruck when my nose starts shooting blood AGAINNNNNNNN by this time I am just annoyed. I rush into the fire station and, not seeming to be able to find the women's bathroom, burst into the men's and grab paper towels to stop the bleeding. There were definitely some awkwarded-out firemen that came in and saw me and got me ice, I mean at least they helped me, but I definitely weirded them out and they really didn't believe I was a teacher until they later saw me in action with my class.

Thursday day and afternoon I had 6 more Parent/Teacher conferences, one being particularly intense. I was really upset afterwards and debating what to do next when suddenly, I sneezed. I had to go blow my nose and as this is happening, blood starts bursting from my left nostril for yet another time. It's flowing for about 45 minutes, and I mean, it's not stopping. It's like a stream of constant blood. I began to feel really dizzy and light-headed. I had been losing way too much blood and I was beginning to get really scared.

I called my teacher friend Vicki and she came and picked me up and took me to CareNow, which turned out to be Care...Not? I was sent away with really no answers and nothing to walk away with to help me understand why I was bleeding so much out of my nose. The doctor said that if it happened again, to apply direct pressure for at least 10 minutes without letting go, and if it didn't stop after that, to go to the ER.

Friday: So I go through my whole day today just fine. I thought it was going to be a heck of a day, and felt very unprepared since I hadn't gotten any work done after school the day before, but it actually was a great day. Especially for a Friday, my kids were amazing and I felt like I was on top of my A game again. And, I got through the whole school day and parent/teacher conferences successfully! No nosebleeds, nothing.

But, about 1 minute after my last parent teacher conference... I sneezed.


It bled for an hour. An HOUR

Vicki rushed me to the ER. And the doctor sent me away with nothing, again, because the bleeding had stopped. I told him, well, let me sneeze or blow my nose and I can make it bleed for you. He didn't seem to understand my concern.

So. Frustrated and with way too much money out of my pocket due to this dumb nose, I decided to park it here at my house for the evening, get a pizza, watch How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days and get way too emotional over it, spray my nose 4 times an hour with saline solution, and hang my hat on this tornado of a week.

Things that made it all better:

I had a student draw 3 things in his writer's notebook today that were quite questionably male body parts. And I, alert, asked him, "!!! What are those??!"

"They're, you know, those masks? With the two eyes and the long nose sticking out the bottom. That's what they are, those funny masks, Miss Leiss."

"...Oh...Yeah, I...see it." Trust me, I handle these situations with the utmost respect and class.

Or, when I asked this question on a comprehension test:
What did the Bad Guy want to make Bill into?
Real Answer: Suitcase
Child's Paper Answer: Suck

I mean, he tried.

It's the little things in life. And this, is the life of a teacher. You are there everyday, you are 100% there for the kids and their parents, you don't miss a beat, you are on top of things, you HAVE to be. It doesn't matter if you have been to the ER because of lots of blood loss and you can barely function and you're getting no sleep at night-- you are there at 7:30 am because a parent wants to conference with you and by golly you better be there. On time. Looking perfect. All files, papers, necessary discussion items in hand, ready to go. Because that's what's expected. The expectations for the teaching profession are the highest out of any profession, and anyone who wants to argue with that, I'd like to whip you into reality.

But... I LOVE it. I had a student write in their writer's notebook: "Miss Leiss, I love you a whole lot. I want to hug you forever." And that's all that matters.

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Kids' Thoughts on Giving

As a school district, Birdville ISD supports United Way. We have been collecting coins in a coin drive as well as having days like Dollar Hat Day to raise money for United Way. Yesterday was Wear you Sunglasses Day and my kids began having their own little discussion about it.

"Why are we bringing money to school for this stuff?"
"You guys, you guys. It's to raise money for the HOMELY."
"Yeah, the homely!"
"Like, people that don't even have any food."
"Are we feeding the ho-bos?"

At least they're concerned, right?


One of my little friends during one of our lessons began walking around and celebrating. It sounded like he was saying, "DA CHAIN!" and doing a fist pumping action. Here is our conversation.

"The...chain? Is that what you're saying?"
"Is that what you all say now? Like, off-the-chain?"
"NO! Cha- CHING, Miss Leiss!" (precedes to walk around the room doing the cash-register-esque arm motion)

Oh. Right. Cha-ching...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Deep Thought: God Hurts

Today was the first day that I think I hurt one of my student's feelings. Through my discipline and classroom management, plus my best efforts to try and manage time and my run of our daily activities, I let it slip somewhere to be thoughtful and still give each of my students my undivided attention. When reflecting on my day, it occurred to me that the reason my student was sad at the end of the day was because I had done this to him all day...I had been harder on him than usual about his work habits and behavior, and had failed to recognize when he did things well or exceptionally. I also realized that I failed to call on him for ideas, didn't take a picture of his work when he requested me to, and really just...didn't love him well today.

And I am hurting so much because of this. I feel terrible that I have hurt him and have caused that pain in him. He is only 6 years old...where was the loving Father that lives inside of me? Where were my good intentions?

And then, in the midst of my sadness for causing him to hurt, I realized something huge. If I am this sad about hurting my student, I wonder how sad God is when he sees us hurting? I bet God really hurts and is sad when we hurt. I bet He feels terrible when He has to challenge us, push us, cause us pain. But, the difference between me and God is that He does it with the best of intentions. He does it lovingly, to stretch and mold us, to allow us to gain endurance, perseverance, strength. He allows us to go through trials in order for us to be more like Jesus. He loves us more than we can fathom, so much that He gave up his most prized and beloved Son to save us from ourselves and reconcile us back to I know that He must meet us where we are when we are hurting and be that strong tower for us.

It just blew my mind. I feel like God must feel when he hurts for his hurting children. But not even close to how he must hurt is just a breath compared.

Thanks, God, for allowing us to know and love you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Darndest Things My Students Say...or Do

1. The smallest student in our class is a little boy with a really funny personality. He often moonwalks down the hall pretending to be Michael Jackson-- the King of Pop with another student who worships Michael Jackson in every form possible. This little boy often has revelations in class, suddenly and sparsely throughout each day, during the most inopportune times for such revelations, such as in the middle of a story I'm reading or a math lesson. A few such revelations are:

"Miss Leiss Miss Leiss!!!!!!!!" (in the middle of reading There Was An Old Lady who Swallowed a Chick)
"I FREWED UP IN KINDERGARTEN!!!!!" (huge grin on his face)
"Well, I'm glad you are so proud of that."

(in the middle of reading James and the Giant Peach, another student sitting nearby sneezes loudly and thickly on him)
"Baby, just go get some hand sanitizer..."
(precedes to go over to the hand sanitizer)
After a minute or so, the smell permeates the entire room. I look over to find him BATHING his arms, hands, and face in hand sanitizer.
"(my gasp of surprise)!! What are you doing? I think you have enough."
"Ok, Miss Leiss."

And, the last of this little boy's stories for now, we were making maps of the classroom in social studies last week. We were learning about map keys and how we make a map key to let people know what the things in our map are or stand for. I look over and he is snappin' his fingers, rolling his head side to side and rapping: "I made a map key, *snap snap* I made a keyyy *snap snap*" and dancing in his chair.


2. During TPRI testing, the students have to read a story out loud to me while the rest of the class is silently doing other activities. One of my boy students who speaks at an exceptionally loud and voracious volume, is supposed to read the following sentence.

First, Pam and Dad went to look for seats.

He reads: FIRST, PAM AND DAD WENT TO LOOK FOR SH*TS. (continues reading as if nothing was wrong)

I kid you not. The air got tight in the room in that moment.


3. Recently learning about the letter Digraph "ck", we were using letter tiles and magnetic letters to make new words using our new phonics. One of my rather blunt students loudly asks me:

"Miss Leiss, I want to spell cock now."
"Um. Well, why?"
"Because. I know how to spell clock. And now I want to spell cock. But I need another o, Miss Leiss."
"Why don't we just stick to the words on our spelling and sight word lists?"
"Ok. Well, I still want to spell cock. What is a cock, Miss Leiss?"
".............Like, you know, a male rooster. I think. You know, how they say Cock-a-doodle-doo?"
"Oh, right. Okay. Cock."


More to come as the year progresses. I do need to mention here, and in every post I blog, how much I adore, love, and treasure each one of my students. They are blessings...and quite entertaining.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

No AC Sundays

Since the beginning (or, rather, a few weeks before the beginning) of school, my Sunday afternoons usually consist of the following: my computer. my handy-dandy EZ grader. paperclips. and an 85 degree classroom.

In fact, I'm experiencing this majestic setting right now as I type. Pandora Radio playing sweetly and boldly on my speakers as I listen and jam to Hillsong and Shawn McDonald, while I swelter in sweat grading assessments and entering grades into the computer, constantly watching out for runaway cockroaches coming from Roach Motel (what we have so appropriately named the large cabinet in our class bathroom that hosts a small community of roaches that like to surprise us and join our learning from time to time), and gazing out at the sun pouring in from my side window, pretty much teasing me and telling me I am a loser for being up at school on a Sunday.

I do pray, however, that over time my No AC Sunday appearances will become few and far between as I get better at this whole teaching thing.

Well, I'm going to go type up our spelling words for the week and try to figure out my students' maps of the classroom so I can assign some sort of grade. Happy Sunday! Let us rejoice and be glad in it...especially in a No AC Sunday kind of day.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will praise you -- Psalm 63

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chuck E. Cheese and Shattered Dreams

Yesterday was my first attendance, appearance, and survival of a Chuck E. Cheese Fundraiser Night. I have heard these events to be quite hectic, crowded, and packed with bustling students and their parents being pulled from one game to the other, putting tokens in their mouths and wiping their snot on the Skee-Balls. But, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, it was really refreshing to see my students outside of school with their families. I was surprised that so many came with their families in general.

Upon arriving I scanned the arcade for a familiar face. I began to get that creeping feeling of not-knowing-anyone-and-feeling-ten-feet-tall when I finally spotted my new best friend at school. She teaches second grade at Foster Village and her son is in my class. He is 6 years old and the biggest goofball you'll ever meet. Definitely a fun, interesting, wacky yet loveable and helpful student. Apparently however, in preparation for the fundraiser last night, he asked his mom if he could change into his favorite Mario and Luigi shirt, spike his hair in a cool different way, and brush his teeth so his breath smelled good. She was confused and asked him why he wanted to do all of these things. His answer? Because Miss Leiss is going to be there. He even asked his mother to smell his breath before they left the house. Oh dear.

The rest of the evening I tagged along with them. It was really entertaining to see that I still had a flair for some of the all-time favorite games, like the one with purple creatures popping out of the holes and me banging on them with a gavel. I actually got up to 600 points on this game and it stopped letting me score, the purple creatures spazzing up and down in the holes. I guess I'm just that good. The sad part was that my favorite game, Sidewinder, is no longer present in the video arcade.

The evening took a turn, however, when my mouth beheld the wonder that is Chuck E. Cheese pizza. As a child, I thought their pizza was THE greatest, most delicious pizza in the entire world. And, until yesterday night, I still thought it was. I don't know why I remember this to be so, but I was unexplainably excited about eating that pizza last night. I thought about it all afternoon while I was getting ready for school the next day, making assessments and arranging desks and pillows. I was so ready to taste it again. Now was my chance to actually be at Chuck E. Cheese with a purpose, and not just because I want to creepily go in there just to have some pizza.

Anytime I have passed by Chuck E. Cheese the past several years, I always wondered when I would get to go back to taste this delicacy. And last night, my dreams. were. shattered.

It's not that good. Really, it's not even good. It's...not.

However, there was a highlight of the evening. My friend and I excitedly led her daughter over to a game that was a horse-race. You got on the horse and had to basically ride it while it interactively moved forward on the screen. But, I mean, you had to RIDE it. If you know what I mean. My friend and I could not stop laughing. I felt like I was in junior high again. It only got worse when her son had a turn on the horse and asked her, "Mom, how do I ride this?" and she goes, "You just have to...have to...just, like, buck it." We looked at each other and could not contain ourselves.

Thank you God for giving me friends at school...and my first affirmed 6-year-old student crush.