Thursday, September 15, 2016

The First Week of School or Complete Insanity

And so I started school last week.  On the first day back, with no kids yet mind you, I drank a bottle of wine when I got home.  Don't judge.  Thursday, the first day with kids, lasted 87 hours.  It did, I swear.  And now 4 actual school days with kids under my belt, I am already looking forward to the first 4 day weekend, like a sailor looking forward to shore leave.  Why? I like my job.

Look at me teaching.  I look happy and engaged, right?  I do.  I'm animated, enthusiastic, gung ho.  But I am completely shot.  I wanted to go for a manicure today between the end of school and Parent Welcome Night, but I forgot my wallet at home.  I don't remember the last time I did that.  And while we were standing in the hallway chit chatting, we all realized we're beyond done.  On the 4th day of school.  And then it hit us.  It's September.

The worst month of the school year is March, hands down.  It's really long and there are rarely days off.  In NYC, it is also test prep time.  It's bad. The weather is bad.  Everyone is tired and cranky, but we all expect it and power through.  September is a close second.

I teach 6th grade.  My kids are brand new to junior high.  For the first time, they have multiple teachers. May and June were a joke filled with field trips, graduation practice and senior activities.  They haven't been real students in about 4 months.  So now they're back in school, dazed and confused.  They need a lot of help, they're not sure how to do anything.  They think school is the same party it was in June.  Getting kids back into a routine is a Herculean task.  And that's why I'm so exhausted, just like every other 6th grade teacher I work with.

But knowing your problem is half the battle, or so they say.  It always passes, the kids remember how to be students.  I remember my wallet and can get a manicure.  And we all learn and grow together.  I hope I make it!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hard Work; Is it its Own Reward?

As the school year gets ready to start once again in NYC, I start to go into full on panic mode.  September 6th is my first day back and I anticipate getting a solid 2-3 hours of sleep tonight.  Why?  This is my 16th first day of school.  I know what I'm doing.  I'm a good teacher.  Why the anxious, nausea inducing feeling that I've gotten nothing done?

It must be because I'm panicky by nature, and I am.  But it's also that I always have to have something cooking, brewing, you know a new project in the works.  I've been teaching for 16 years, right?  I should have every lesson down pat, memorized verbatim, ready to go.  But that bores me. I teach ELA and I have quite a bit if freedom in the books I can use in my classroom.  I could use the same books year in and year out, but I don't.  The one unit that always remains in my non fiction unit on animals, it's a personal passion, and even there I switch it up with one new book every few years.  Last year I added Oogy, a book about a former bait dog adopted into his furever home.  And at the end of the year, I added Cinder.  

Two new books in one year.  That's a lot of work.  This year I'm adding Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and Breakout Edu boxes (I'll share that in a future post).  This is hours of work for me.  Frustrating, cursing, wanting to throw things across the room work.  So why do I do it?  The kids love the books I used last year, my kids this year will love them too.  Why add all of this extra work, when really I'm the only one who knows?  

Because I'm a masochist.  Most teachers are.  But really it's because I like the challenge of completing a project.  I like seeing a deadline and working to get my project done by that date.  And it keeps me connected to my kids.  They are always working to finish something on time.  It's difficult to work hard and know your only reward is a good grade.  That's not tangible and we all know kids love tangible.  It's takes a lot of strength of character for a 10-12 year old to sit and work when there's no immediate, physical reward, and yet they do it.  The hard work is its own reward.  

By constantly updating my repertoire, not only am I keeping my teaching fresh and new, introducing great new books to my students, but I'm also connecting with them on a more subtle level.  Yes, you have to do this assignment.  Why?  Not because you will get in trouble if you don't and not because you might fail, but because you will get a feeling of accomplishment that will carry through to adulthood.  So yes, hard work is often its own reward and that is one of the best lessons I teach my kids every year. 

And now here's a tangible reward for finishing my blog post.  Enter to win 1 of 2 gift cards, a $50 Amazon gift card or a $40 TpT gift card.  Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 29, 2016

Print This (That and Everything)

Once about ten years ago, we were going on a field trip to Ellis Island.  During the discussion about the trip, one of my boys said he wouldn't want to live back then because he liked the world in color better.  We'll just gloss over the fact a 13 year old thought the world used to be black and white and get to the point for this post.  We prefer color.  Black and white can be beautiful, especially in film noir movies but color is so much better.  But printing in color costs a small fortune, right?  Nope!

I have put printer ink on Donors Choose (see last week's post) every year.  I won't have to ever do that again. Why, you ask? Because of HP Connected.  How is it possible I just found out about this? Well, it doesn't matter any more because I know now, and so do you.

How does it work, you ask? Ridiculously simple. It may costs a little money up front.  I didn't have an HP printer that was in the program, so I had to buy one.  Mine cost $60, not too bad.  As you add the printer to your computer they ask if you want to join the Instant Ink program.  And yes, you do! There are a few levels to the program. It all depends on your needs. There a low, mid and high level print plan.  I did the 300 color and 300 black and white copies a month plan.  It's only $9.99. For 300 color copies.  If you run out of ink, they'll send you another cartridge.  It takes up to 10 days which may be a bummer but they send it when they see you're running low, so it isn't too bad.

As if that isn't great enough, you can print from your tablet or smart phone.  Oh, and for a crazy Jetsons add on, you can send documents to print to your personal HP email address and it will print out the papers even if you're nowhere near your printer!!!!!!!! Yes, this is amazing. Another bonus? You get 3 months free when you sign up, you, change the plan at any time (high plan for beginning or the year, mid plan for mid year), or cancel at any time.  I can't think,of a single reason why you wouldn't want to join.  No, I'm not getting a kick back, I just want everyone to have a beautiful, colorful classroom, like I do!

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Teacher's Best Friend

Who doesn't love this song?!?

Unlike a girl, a teacher's best friend is not diamonds (although I really, really wish they were).  A teacher's best friend is Donors Choose.  For those of you who don't know what DC is, get ready to have your mind blown.  It's a website where teachers write proposals for materials, trips, visitors they want for their classes, people donate money and you get your stuff.  (It's only for public school teachers in the USA, sorry everyone else!)

It really is that easy.  I have been a member since 2005.  In that time I've had over 200 projects funded.  The average project was about $200.  That's $40,000 worth of materials I've gotten for my kids!!!!!!!  What have I asked for?  It's more like what haven't I asked for.  I've gotten dozens of class sets of book (When You Reach Me, Cinder, Divergent, The Hunger Games, The Lost Hero, Oogy), hundreds of individual books for my classroom library, 30 Chromebooks, markers, pens, paper, field trips, you name it.  My biggest project was definitely the 30 Chromebooks, but many of my projects are $100-$300 projects.  

Kids on Chromebooks on (both funded by DC)

Need a book? DC has that covered.

Every kids gets their own copy of  When You Reach Me.

Another DC Double.  Colored paper for Interactive Notebooks and The Lost Hero books.
When a proposal is funded, you have a few expectations to meet.  First you confirm that you still need and want the materials by writing a quick thank you note and choosing a date to have the final thank yous done.  Then when the kids get the materials, you need to take photos of them using the materials (make sure you have permission), write a more detailed thank you note from yourself, and sometimes the kids have to write thank yous too.  I like this part the best. Some donors want them, others don't.

Who wouldn't want to get this in the mail?

Does every proposal get funded? Of course not.  One of my proposals for Kore Active Stools just expired because it didn't get fully funded.  Bummer, but not the end of the world.  The donated money goes back to the donor and you can always repost.  I recommend starting small, a $100-$150 proposal.  DC works on a point system.  Each project is so many points.  You get points for completing steps and the more you have the bigger projects, you can post.

On the serious side Donors Choose does an amazing job, especially for school hit hard by natural disasters.  The tornado that went through Moore, OK, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, even the Flint water crisis have all affected schools in those areas.  And DC was there every time to help rebuild.  Right now Louisiana  is having the worst flooding since Katrina.  If you've watched the news, you know just how bad it is.  But then again, you don't.  Unless you live there, you have no idea how truly bad it is.  Once again Donors Choose has stepped up to help.  

If you're a teacher, get onto Donors Choose immediately, open and account and start writing proposals.  And if you can, help out our fellow teachers in Louisiana.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Too Close to Home

Daniel Fitzpatrick

Cute kid, right?  Looks like a boy you'd love to have in your class.  Looks happy, wouldn't you say? Yes well, looks are deceiving.  He killed himself August 11th.  Hung himself from a belt in the attic. His sister found him.  Because he was being bullied.

I have huge issues with the bullying push going on today.  I think all of the attention is doing more harm than good.  Reporting on stories of kids killing themselves, gives other kids ideas.  Well he or she couldn't take it anymore and neither can I.  Also I think they bullying message is being misrepresented.  What bullying is and what it isn't.  You did something embarrassing in class, you farted, your pants ripped, you busted your butt while giving a presentation, and everyone made fun of you for a few days or a week isn't bullying. But a lot of kids seem to think it is.  I can't tell you how many kids come up to me and say, "So and so is bullying me."  And when I look into it, so and so is being mean today.  Just today.  Of course, I address it but I have to explain that's not bullying.

Bullying is when you have no respite from the torment. Day in, day out you are the relentless target of someone whose sole purpose is to make your life a living hell. This could be going on for a few days, weeks, months, whatever.  This is way harder to address.  My kids know I have no tolerance for any kind of mean behavior.  That is laid out on the line for them on Day 1.  They are told that the behavior will not be tolerated, and if it really is bullying, I will personally call the cops (bullying incidents are mandated police reporting in NY) and make sure the matter is dealt with.

Does this help at all?  I like to think so, but does it?

I've read the suicide letter.  His parents posted in on Facebook. He names the teachers who did nothing, and the one teacher who tried to help.  I don't ever want to see my name in this context.  So am I doing enough?  What can I do differently?  How can I make this never happen to any of my students?  I don't know the answers.  Be available?  I like to think I am.  Be tough?  I know I am.  But does it help at all?  

Why did this case make me write this post?  There are cases like this everyday.  Why this one?  I know his parents.  I grew up with them.  I hung out with them.  No, we never got along.  There was one memorable bar fight started because of an incident concerning the three of us.  But I know them, and even if we never got along, this is something so horrific that I wish I could say something to make them feel better, less horrified, less devastated. What can I say?  What can I do?  I wish I knew. I wish I could spare all other parents this pain. All I can do know is trust that what I'm doing is helping, look out for the signs of bullying, and intervene when I think there's an issue.  Bullying will never end.  Kids will never stop, that's what some kids do.  No, I'm not being pessimistic, I'm being realistic.  Being realistic is the best way I know how to deal with this problem.  I hope it helps. 

Daniel Fitzpatrick GoFundMe

His older sister set up a GoFundMe page.  They met their original goal of getting enough money to bury him. With the extra money, they want to set up a foundation to help other kids.  If you're interested, please click on the link above.  Thank You.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Five for Friday!

What was my week like?  Hmmm!

1. Summer heat. Call me crazy but I love the heat we're getting in NY.  Yes it's sticky and gross, but it's summer and that's the way it's supposed to be.

2. Victory for Rescue dogs.  NJ just passed a bill that all new pet stores can only sell rescue dogs.  A small step but we're looking at the end of puppy mills!

3. Time for lunches.  I know a lot of you are back at school already, but I have a few weeks of summer left.  Yesterday, I went to work with my boyfriend and then lunch. It was a good day.

4.  I started my own Facebook Group, TpT Blogging Buddies.  So far, it's going well.  I think!

5. Fresh, raw oysters.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Catching Up with an Old Friend

Yes, I was obsessed with Harry Potter for many years, not as obsessed as some, but enough.  I first heard the name while getting ready to go to work in Manhattan one day.  On the good morning news, there was a piece about 2 children's books that had been on the NY Times best seller list for over a year.  Odd, I thought.  Odder still, all of the adults were raving about them.  So I went online and ordered the first one.

I devoured it while sitting in the park across from the Plaza hotel.  It's a tiny little park with a memorial to William Tecumseh Sherman.  I sat on the lip of the monument and read that book every day at lunch.  Then I bought the 2nd book and devoured that one.
My Harry Potter reading spot

Now I had a problem, there was a whole year until the next book.  But I waited and it was worth it.  Another year.  But this time, something was wrong.  The book was different, darker and I wasn't sure I liked it.  Our relationship cooled off a bit, and the next year I didn't get the book the day it came out. But I couldn't stay away long.  I taught 5th grade by then and it came out at the end of June.  My kids had graduated unofficially the day before, so very few kids came in to school that day.  I let them play games, draw; whatever made them happy.  Dong brought in a copy of the book, and in one of my less fine teacher moments, I took his book and read it while he played with his friends.  (I did give him the book back at the end of the day and bought my own copy on my way home from work.)

And that was that.  We were back together.  I pre-ordered all the remaining books and they were delivered bright and early on release day.  I opened them up and read straight through them.  With the exception on the final book because one of my girlfriends had the audacity to plan her engagement party that day, so I had to stop reading it to show up.  It's still a sore spot between us.

And then the friendship was over.  Harry and I moved on and even though I saw him sometimes in pictures or movies, it wasn't the same. Until this year.  I cried when I saw a new book was being released.  I immediately pre-ordered it.  And I waited.  Well, the wait is over and I've read it.  I won't give anything away.  I understand he may be your friend too, but it was worth the read.  Was it the same?  Of course not, you can't go home again.  But it was just like meeting up with an old friend after a few years, and I enjoyed every second of our time together.