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. This...is first grade.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"You know...some days...you 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 Scholastic.com 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 days...you 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*