. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

“I was a Child Psychology Major.”

When a parent utters those words, it clearly indicates that the direction your parent meeting is about to go in is now out of your control.

But I'll get to that later. (Hope you're sitting in comfy chair. This is a long one.)

My team and I had two parent meetings today. Although we called the meetings to discuss exactly the same issues with both parents, the two meetings could not have been more different.

Meeting Number One

Me: Hello Mrs. Nguyen. Thank you for coming to meet with us in this miserable weather. I hope you didn't get too soaked getting here.

Mrs. Nguyen: No.

My Partner: Well, we asked you to meet with us to discuss Samantha's progress in math. While we feel that she is a capable student and she certainly demonstrates a good understanding of the math concepts when working with the class, she is getting very little independent work done. We're pretty sure, based on what she can do when we're teaching the concepts that she is able to do the work, however she is not completing it. We have noticed that she has a tendency to daydream. We think that is playing a big part in her inability to complete her work. Have you ever been told that she daydreams in the past?

Mrs. Nguyen: Yes.

My Other Partner: Have you found that she does it at home when she's doing her homework, etc?

Mrs. Nguyen: Yes.

(Wow, someone shut this lady up!)

Me: Well, since we all agree that daydreaming seems to be impeding her success; I would like to make a few changes with regards to her seating and set some work completion goals for her that she must meet to remain in my math class. If she understands the concepts but fails to meet the work goals, we'll need to meet again to discuss what else might be getting in her way and if changing her to a lower math group might help. I'll be sure to invest some extra time in Samantha to ensure I am doing all I can to help her stay on task. Does that sound like a fair arrangement?

Mrs. Nguyen: Yes.

My Partner: Do you have any questions for us or any suggestions that might help us out with her?

(Gosh! Give us something. Anything!)

Mrs. Nguyen: No.


My Other Partner: Thank you for coming in to meet with us. We feel strongly that when we work with the parents as a team, the students have a greater chance at success so thank you again for sharing with us.

Mrs. Nguyen: Yes.

(Preeeeegnant pause…)

After she left, there was a sort of emptiness in the room. I felt unsure if Mrs. Nguyen understood what we were trying to tell her.

I asked my Other Partner, who shares the same ethnicity with Mrs. Nguyen, if, from the Asian Perspective, our meeting was a success.

She explained that Mrs. Nguyen's reactions were "very Asian." She said that Samantha's mom would probably not feel comfortable questioning us, but that Samantha was most definitely going to catch it when they got home. She was willing to bet her first born son that Samantha's daydreaming days were over.

Time will tell, but I'm willing to bet my Other Partner's first born son that we will see some changes in Samantha as well.

Meeting Number Two

Oliver's mom was up next. Her son Oliver exhibited the same exact daydreaming tendencies in math class.

(Maybe I need to face up to the fact that I am just not that interesting as a math teacher?)

Me: Hello Mrs. Smith. Thank you for coming to meet with us in this miserable weather. I hope you didn't get too soaked getting here.

Mrs. Smith: No. I rather enjoy this change of pace. As a matter of fact… (Insert a loooooooooong story about her 35+ years of experiencing rain and its impact on her life as a child, an adult, and a parent who feels her children are her life.)

My Partner: Well, we asked you to meet with us to discuss Oliver's progress in math. While we feel that he is a capable student and he certainly demonstrates a good understanding of the math concepts when working with the class, he is getting very little independent work done. We're pretty sure, based on what he can do when we're teaching the concepts that he is able to do the work, however he is not completing it. We have noticed that he has a tendency to daydream. We think that is playing a big part in his inability to complete his work. Have you ever been told that he daydreams in the past?

Mrs. Smith: Yes. As a matter of fact… (Insert loooooooong story about Oliver's previous school and how abusive the teachers were and how neglectful and cruel they were, and how they made him stand in the hall for one hour and six minutes (exact quote) because he didn't finish an assignment but wouldn't tell him why he was out there as a power play over him (so she knows why now because…?), and how (she doesn't want to start crying now) cruel and abusive the other students were to her son simply because he's a creative and sensitive boy who happens to be one of her two children who are her life.)

(Wow, someone shut this lady up!)

My Other Partner: Have you found that he does it at home when he's doing his homework, etc?

Mrs. Smith: Yes. As a matter of fact… (Insert LOOOOOOOONNNNGG story about how when she was a child she thought that daydreaming was when you leave your body and can see yourself working while floating above yourself, and how she used to leave her body in class and watch herself working and when her teachers would regain her attention she would be startled to be back in her body again and that is why Oliver seems startled, and how she is sure of this because her children are her life.)


Me: Well, since we all agree that daydreaming seems to be impeding his success; I would like to make a few changes with regards to his seating and set some work completion goals for his that he must meet to remain in my math class. If he understands the concepts but fails to meet the work goals, we'll need to meet again to discuss what else might be getting in his way and if changing him to a lower math group might help. I'll be sure to invest some extra time in Oliver to ensure I am doing all I can to help him stay on task. Does that sound like a fair arrangement?

Mrs. Smith: Yes. As a matter of fact… (Insert … oh hell, even I don't care what she has to say at this point.)

My Partner: Do you have any questions for us or any suggestions that might help us out with him?

(Dude! Shut up! What are you DOING?!?)

Mrs. Smith: Yes. As matter of fact, I was a child psychology major and my children are my life. I don't know why he is not paying attention in class because I know he can do this math, but I have a theory… (Insert looooonngggggggggggggg story about how we clearly are a compassionate group of teachers (Thank you!) and he does not know how to handle kindness after all the abuse he's endured so he's waiting for us to be mean and doesn't know how to function in a caring classroom environment, and how I left him behind when we were packing up the other day and how he was scared and got lost finding the bus (That he's been going to for 4 months? Head out the door, hang a right, step on the bus.) and how he was crying when she picked him up from daycare because of the gripping fear he had of being left behind and lost (LOST!?!?!) at school that day (Here I asked her if Oliver was late for the bus and crying when he got to it, and she said she has asked was told he was on time and did not appear distressed when he got on the bus but that he was holding it all in until he was in the comforting arms of his mother) and how he felt distrustful of my Teaching Partner because he made Oliver's Social Studies project 2 weeks late when he insisted that Oliver finish it before turning it in and how if he could have turned it in as it was (unfinished) Oliver's work would not have been late and how Oliver was then not comfortable turning it in until it was totally finished because he's a very literal boy causing him never to turn it in because it had to be totally finished (So how 'bout he GET it finished then and turn the damn thing in?) and how we should come down hard on him to get him to get his work done because he will continue to take advantage of us unless we start to really drop the hammer on him, and how she never has to discipline him because their relationship is so strong and he completely trusts her and never lies to her (Soooo, the 2 math tests he hid from you and the letter regarding this very meeting that he hid from you leading us to have him call you at work to explain all that and arrange this very meeting fits in where?) and how there is really no need to be strict with him and it's not an effective method of motivation for her son, who is her life.)

My Other Partner: Thank you for coming in to meet with us. We feel strongly that when we work with the parents as a team, the students have a greater chance at success so thank you again for sharing with us.

Mrs. Smith: Thank you too. As a matter of fact...


Sunday, December 6, 2009

On the Contrary

And now, allow me to introduce you to Melinda. Or, as I like to call her…

The Contrarian.

She is the fourth grader who is ALWAYS the opposite of everyone else.


Simply to BE the opposite.




During Art:

Me: So I've cut this shape for the head. What shape did I cut?

Class: An oval.

The Contrarian: A square. To ME, that looks like a square.

During Math:

Me: Now that we have the sum, let's check our work. What's the opposite of addition?

Class: Subtraction.

The Contrarian: Backwards Addition. Well, it literally is, right?

During Reading:

Me: A hyperbole is an exaggeration used to help paint a picture in the reader's mind. For example, when I say, "These shoes are killing me," am I really dying from wearing them?

Class: No!

The Contrarian: Yes, you could be dying and just not know it!

And thus it went, day in and day out...every topic.

So finally, I had reached my limit and so had my teaching partners. Sometimes, for sanity's sake, we all have to learn to go along with the herd at times.

I decided to call The Contrarian in during lunch and have a talk about what it means to be a "creative thinker" and what it means to be "a contrarian," and how the two are NOT the same thing. While there are times when The Contrarian's oppositeness leads to advanced thinking, more often than not though, she is simply trying to gain attention by being the opposite.

She is a master at parsing things very thinly and enjoys arguing with others. She'll dance the dance of the righteous all night long if you're willing to sing for her.

We, her teachers, were done singing and were now going to give her consequences if we find that she was purposely being a contrarian. This was all done with the blessings of the school psych, who was working with her on exactly these social skills.

And that, oddly enough, led us to scientifically prove that whole "apple not falling far from the tree" theory.

Not long after our talk, The Contrarian got her first consequence for her behavior.

Something funny was said in her Math class and everyone laughed…

But she didn't. She wildly shouted "LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL!" at the top of her lungs instead.

Her math teacher gave her a mark on the behavior chart. A mark is a warning and students get three warnings a week before they are excluded from Fun Friday as a consequence.

That afternoon, an email arrived from The Contrarian's mother asking for an explanation about the mark and
the teacher explained why it was given.

The mother replied by wanting to know what was wrong with shouting out LOL in class. It's a socially acceptable form of communicating laughter in the world of texting.

The teacher responded by saying that if he had been teaching the lesson via text, LOL would indeed have been acceptable, however he was not.

And the mother responded by saying that LOL is simply a modern form of laughter.

So the teacher explained that indeed, LOL, in and of itself, is not the real issue here, but it's the bigger issue of attention-seeking behaviors on her daughter's part that we would like to address. According to the school
psych, her daughter's impulsive behaviors and need to one-up everyone has led to her complete lack of friends. While we want to foster creativity and uniqueness in each and every one of our students, we all must try to fit in sometimes if we plan on living around others.

And the mother responded by saying that how her daughter chooses to laugh should not have an effect on how many friends she has.

(Has this woman ever BEEN around children?)

Again, the teacher reiterated his position that the WAY she laughed is only symptomatic of a larger issue.

And Mom asked if he was planning on letting the World Wide Web know that he had banned LOL from public use.

(Apple – Tree…VEEERRY Close Together.)

I see children inherit more than eye color from their parents.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Listen, Think, then Do

That title is a phrase I have adopted from one of my teaching partners in an effort to help this VERY impulsive group of fourth graders make better decisions.

You see, every year the third grade teachers say, "Juuuust wait until you get THIS bunch of kids. You'll see how crazy they are!"

And every year things work out just fine.

Something tells me THIS year might break our streak though.

This bunch is a highly excitable, highly impulsive, highly deceptive bunch of kids. When we attempted to submit many of their names to our school psych for participation in the Social Skills class she runs, she informed us that she began the Social Skills intervention BECAUSE of this group when they were in the First Grade. They were so poorly behaved and cruel to each other she began an entire intervention program just for them. However, they had to eventually dismiss each and every one of them from the group because their behavior was too severe.


Now what? She is a truly gifted psych who has changed the lives of many students at our school and even SHE has all but given up on this group.

So we are starting with the basics. We simply want to help them be more successful in doing the small things in class, like getting out a pencil without chaos ensuing, so we began the "Listen, think, then do" campaign.

Let's look at this campaign in action, shall we?

Me: We are going to work on some math problems in our journals. Listen.When I say GO, take out a pencil. Think. What are you going to do? (pause. while students "Think") Go.

Students dive into their desks and many resurface with a pencil in their hands, however two come up with scraps of torn up paper and one with a pen. His neighbor has no writing utensil at all but does have tears streaming down his cheeks and one hand over an eye.

Me: Artie, why are you crying?

Artie: Frank stabbed me in the eye with a pencil!

Me: Stabbed you in the eye?!?!

Frank: Did NoooOOOoOT! I don't even HAVE a pencil! It was a pen.

Me: You stabbed him in the eye with a pen!?!? Artie, go to the nurse.

Frank: I didn't stab him on purpose.

Me: Can you explain how you stabbed him by accident?

Frank: I was taking the cap off and my hand flew back and stabbed him in the eye with the pen.

Me: Was the cap stuck?

Frank: No.

Me: Then what caused your hand to fly back?

Frank: The pen was stuck.

Me: In what?

Frank: The cap.

Me: Isn't that the same thing as…forget it. When I said Listen, what did I tell you to do?

Frank: Take out a pencil.

Me: When I said Think, what did you think about?

Frank: How much more fun it is to write in pen.

How did I not see that one coming?

It became monumentally clear that not only must I break down my directions into minute bites for them, I must also think aloud for them too.

I must verbalize what they should do,

how to do it,

when to do it,

where to do it,

and anticipate everything they might do in place of what I want them to do and warn them of the potential consequences.

Phew! Knowing that makes my job muuuuuch easier.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Billy and the Cliff, Revisited.

Remember the time Billy almost fell off the cliff on a fourth grade field trip?

Well, we went on that same field trip again recently. Thankfully, no one came close to Butch and Sundancing it this time.

Per my usual, I drove the "emergency car" while my fellow teachers rode on the buses, therefore I arrived fresh and ready for a hike…

and my coworkers placed a hex on my kind.

We divided the kids into groups, assigned parents and teachers to each of the groups, and started off on our hikes.

Although it is tempting to assign only parents to groups with the rowdiest kids, we thought it better that we be professionals about this and take those groups ourselves. We rock-paper-scissored to see who got the group with James in it.

(I know I haven't told you about James, but I feel that previous sentence speaks plainly as to his popularity among his teachers.)

I got his group.

So it was James, 3 girls who barely speak English, and 2 other boys who can hardly read.

Now, James is a smart young man. He's a good thinker and learns things very quickly. If only he'd use is powers for good. He does struggle with some severe ADHD issues and a "touch" of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Let me tell you, a "touch" is all it takes to drive every adult within earshot to drink.

Our first stop is the Plant Identification Station where students are given a clue card with a plant description on it and they must wander among the foliage and identify the plant on their card.

Did I mention about the non-English speakers and non-readers?

So this station became the "Three little girls huddled together giggling while two little boys pulled leaves off of bushes and James hopped up and down on a log" Station.

Stop One: check

At this point, our guide pulled me aside and asked about the group.
I just smiled at him and said that today he would earn every penny of his salary.

Next stop: bird watching.

When we arrived at the edge of the estuary, binoculars were handed out and students were given a quick demonstration on how to use them. There were about a billion birds within 50 feet of us, but my students were using the binoculars to look at bugs on the ground, up each other's noses, and at a drainpipe three feet away.

And then disaster struck.

The guide said, "Oh! I almost forgot to warn you. Never use your binoculars to look directly at the sun."

At which point, six little heads with binoculars firmly in place over their eyes snapped their heads back and looked directly at the sun.

I imagine the screams were audible several miles away, which is, I also imagine, where all the birds flew.

Sorry next group to arrive at bird watching…

"OOwwwww. My eyes burn!"

"I can't see anything! Everything is covered in splotches!"

"¿Por quĂ© el hombre mal nos dijo mirar el sol?"

Don't worry, I called the nurse and she said that if they only glimpsed the sun, the splotches should subside and they should be fine. I was to call back if they couldn't see in an hour.

Stop two: check

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. Their vision quickly returned to normal and we had a fun time digging in a midden and digging for "decomposers" in a dirt-filled shoe box with rubber worms in it.

All in all, not a bad trip this time!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tall Glass of Crazy, Anyone?

Have you noticed how teaching is much like a pregnancy?

The first trimester is the shakiest, with the most queasiness and unexpected pains.

The second trimester is more on auto-pilot. You're used to the weirdness of it all and are comfortable in the rhythm of it all.

The last trimester you begin to feel some anxiety. There's more pressure and more tests, and your excitement is tempered with a bit of dread.

I've recently completed my first trimester of teaching this year, year 13 (bad omen) in my career. Good news for my sanity though and that means I MAY have more time for my beloved blog.

Here's what I've been up to…

Last year, my co-4th grade teachers and I decided to experiment with teaming. We dipped our toes in the water by leveling the kids in math and each of us took a different level. As kids showed progress we moved them up to another level. If they needed remediation, we moved them down. Flexible and ever evolving groups designed to meet the needs of the kids.

It was a huge success. Our math test scores were the highest of any grade level in the district. (That's not meant to be bragging…)

Soooo, we thought that since it was such a huge success with math, why not try it with Language Arts?

In fact, let's see if we can't make it even more engaging for the students and, with our principal's permission, ditch the adopted language arts curriculum. Let's use science, social studies, and novels to teach the language arts standards!

And that's the exact moment we drank the kool-aid. Three cups of sugar and a packet of fruity crazy, in case you were looking for a recipe.

Hurdle #1: One teaching partner lost her spot at our school, so we had to convince someone else to drink some crazy. Luckily, our principal is very supportive of us and made it pretty clear to our new partner that she was onboard whether she liked it or not. Thankfully, she liked it (or she's the greatest faker in the world) and we've all worked well together.

Hurdle #2: We have 97 students now.

Hurdle #3: We must participate in writing of 97 report cards. (Hush now high school teachers. I know, I know.)

Hurdle #4: We MUST work well with each other. EVERYTHING we do affects the others.

Hurdle #5: About every hour, we have a new group of kids staring at us.

Hurdle #6: Every moment without students in front of us, is spent meeting with each other about the students, the curriculum, the schedule, and then the students some more.

Hurdle #7: Without an adopted language arts curriculum, there is no safety net. Every lesson must be written and developed by us and it must include the language arts standards.

Hurdle #8: Although we teach the same subject 3 times a day it is never the same lesson 3 times. For example, after I teach math to the benchmark students, I teach science to the benchmark language arts group, then the advanced, then the intensive.

The benchmark kids are like driving a Volkswagen.

The advanced are like driving a Ferrari.

The intensive are like carrying a Ferrari on your back.

Through the snow.


Hurdle #9: We can no longer use singular pronouns.

Hurdle #10: It is more work than any of us has done in our combined 28 years of teaching.

But it's not all hurdles. There are some great aspects to teaming for EVERYTHING.

Perk #1: I have learned what a wonderfully gifted teacher my new teaching partner is, however I still miss my old teaching partner.

Perk #2: Our 97 students have 3 teachers who care deeply about their success. They can come to any of us for assistance or just to chat and they have really responded positively to that change.

Perk #3: By participating the writing of 97 report cards, we all have a chance to have input.

Perk #4: Working so closely with each other allows us to steal all the best of what the others do. It also gives us the gift of reflection and perspective. We must be ready to potentially change things we have always done if it conflicts with the vision of one of the other teachers. More often than not, it's made us better teachers.

Perk #5: Every hour we have a new group of kids staring at us and a new chance to teach that lesson even better.

Perk #6: Although we meet A LOT, we enjoy each other's company. Additionally, we can warn each other if one student is having a rough day or if another needs a little TLC.

Perk #7: Our students are learning how to read and write and they don't even realize it. Science, social studies, and novels are so engaging to them that the fact that we're focusing on those mundane common and proper nouns doesn't even faze them.

Perk #8: Grouping the kids has not eliminated gaps between high and low students in each class, but it has lessened it. We can reach more students in a day and target what they need more effectively.

Perk #9: "We" and "Us" replacing "I" and "Me" has given us a voice at our school that few can challenge. In the famous nerd words of Spock: "The needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few or the one." Because we speak with one voice, our principal has been more accommodating of our requests.

Perk #10: Pretty much everyone with a job these days is working harder for less money. We are no exception. We get bonuses in the form of 97 smiles, 97 Good Morning Mrs. Lee's, 97 chances to make even a small difference.

It's all worth it.

But damn I'm tired.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Letter to the President

Dear President Obama,

I have a suggestion. I may not be the first to float this idea past you, but let me assure you of my confidence in its success. Here goes…

After attending a five-day training on a new math adoption, I think you should consider using school district trainings on newly adopted curriculums as a method of gleaning information from those "enemy combatants" we've been detaining.

This new form of torture, shall we say, is certainly more humane than what we've been using and can still achieve many of the same results. Critics of our current methods might also be more amenable to this newer form of "information acquisition." To that end, let me point out that CNN and MSNBC have never shown up at any trainings I've attended asking tough questions of the interrogators

…I mean trainers…

about their feelings on torturing people who may or may not have done anything wrong…

I mean TRAINING people who may or may not require five days of instruction on a program that comes WITH instructions.

So it's a pretty safe bet that using the proven methods I suggest, you can torture away without any interference from the media or other critics.

Take the now infamous waterboarding we've used in the past, for example.

Criticism of this method of "information acquisition" has filled the newscasts for months now. If I understand it correctly, interrogators simulate the feeling of drowning in an effort to "encourage" detainees to give up information.

Well, after only two days sitting in a five day math training on a relatively straightforward math adoption, I felt like I was drowning in deep pools of wasted time. Additionally, we were weighed down with more standards to teach than are humanly possible to learn in 180 days. Even if I could utilize the mountains of components available in the curriculum (which they made pretty clear we are required to do) such as the EL Handbook, the centers cards, the Advanced Learners (who?) Handbook, and the Review Workbook just to name a few, I'm pretty sure I will never be able to teach all the standards and sub-standards to a mastery level in one year.

Oh yes, dear Mr. President, I feel like I am drowning all right. All without a single drop of water (because water was unavailable due to budget cuts.)

What about the use of stress positions used in Guantanamo? Asking detainees to remain uncomfortable positions for hours on end, right?

Twenty-five year old folding chairs.

Need I say more?

By day three, my butt was worn so flat I was actually sitting on my pelvic bone.

Of course there are more techniques available at district trainings, but for now I'll leave with you with those above.

Think about it, Barack.

Just think about it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Swinging Balls

[Note to self: always preview a movie before showing it to your class, even if it's a movie supplied on the Discovery Education web site designed for children.]

So we all know that the last few weeks of school are filled with, well, time-killers. I really made an effort though to use that time to finish up some last minute science lessons.
You know… actual teaching.
Our district subscribes to Discovery Education's web site that has streaming videos on about every topic imaginable. I use it all the time because most of the videos are very well done and you can use whole videos or simply show applicable video segments.
So I was teaching about magnetism and energy during those last weeks of school and at the last minute I found a video on Discovery that looked very topical for our learning that day…
And it WAS all about energy…
And magnetism…
And, as a bonus I suppose, it had a more than a few opportunities to teach students about such things in ways that, when viewed through the overtly dirty minds of some of my fourth graders, appeared a bit racy.
Take the "swinging balls" experiment for example.

I believe the actual name for this thing is Newton's Cradle or Newton's Swing.

All I know is that all through this section of the video, the narrator kept saying things like:
"What do you think will happen if I lift one of my balls and then let it go?"
"Will all of my BALLS swing wildly?"
"Will none of my BALLS swing at all?"
"What if I lift up two of my BALLS?"
"How can I make all of my BALLS swing?"
I watched as the eyes of my boys darted around the room at each other, and little smirks grew on their faces. Then the soft giggles began and I admonished them for not behaving like scientists.
The giggles then became stifled snorts and hidden snickers….
from me.
Gimme a break! The dude kept saying "swinging balls!"

After the "Swinging Balls" experiment, the video went on describe how energy can be created using a bar magnet and a coil of wire.
Let me show you how to do it.

  1. Take the fingers on your left hand and curl them into an "o" shape. That's your coil of wire.
  2. Then stick out your pointer finger on your right hand. That's your bar magnet.
  3. Now, insert your "bar magnet" into the center of your "coil of wire" and repeatedly move it in and out.
SEE the problem?
So, I actually ended the year covering more science topics than I anticipated…
Energy, magnetism...
and reproduction.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Just an Update

Hello Old Friends! How I have missed you all!

I just thought I'd post a bit of an update and share a few stories just for conversation's sake.


My dearest is doing much better. He has damage to his kidneys from TTP. He receives dialysis three times a week and we hold out hope that he can eventually regain enough kidney function to sustain himself without the aid of a machine. Keep your fingers crossed!

On a happier note, after a mere 14 years together we've decided to make me a Mrs. Lee rather than a Ms. Lee. Wedding plans are time-consuming though so my plans to return to The Bits this summer may have to wait until after our August nuptials.

And now for some stories!

When did fourth graders stop thinking that the opposite sex has cooties? At the end of the year, we had a rash of "couples" who were meeting for make-out sessions. Not the innocent pecks on the cheek that might seem endearing to some, but instead the go-for-it, tongue-blasting, hands-groping make-out encounters seen on many high school campuses. First of all, I've worked in close contact with these students and their oral hygiene habits are questionable at best. So, eewwww is all I can say there. Secondly, they are nine and ten year olds who are not recreating a Norman Rockwell scene but instead are recreating a Jay-Z video. Not appropriate. When we discussed it with the parents though, they found the whole thing amusing.


Could part of the problem be our children's exposure to so much sexualized content on tv and in music? Have we all become numb to it? We had a talent show at school and a few students did a dance routine to the unedited version of the song "Get Low" which features such lines as:

Sweat drop down my b@lls

All these b*%ches crawl

All skeet skeet m*therf*&kers

And no one batted an eye or even seemed to notice except for the few teachers familiar with the song who watched in horror as ALL the students sang along.

Or how about the kids who danced to "Yeah" by Usher, with Ludacris' opinions on meeting women in clubs:

I won't stop till I get 'em in they birthday suits.
So gimmie the rhythm and it'll be off with their clothes,

then bend over to the front and touch your toes.

Really!?!? At an elementary school talent show?!?! The talent show acts were supposed to be pre-approved by the PTA, but I don't think they even understood the lyrics to the songs.

Somehow, those acts don't fit in with the other students who tap danced, sang a duet (in a make-believe language) with a puppet, or pulled a quarter from another kid's ear.

Here's hoping that things are less gross in your neck of the woods and everyone is enjoying their summers!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hi Everyone

Well my friends, you're not going to hear from me for a while. The love of my life has been diagnosed with a serious blood disease called TTP and I'm taking time away to care for him and get him healthy. As soon as our life gets some normalcy returned to it, I'll jump right back in the saddle.

Until then, I will miss chatting with you all and look forward to returning to The Bits.


Friday, March 6, 2009

The Good News and the Bad News

Sorry I have been so late in updating you about Sean's progress.

(Houseguests. What can I say?)

There is some good news to report.

Sean experienced recess as a blind student and felt the awesome helplessness that comes with being unable to see.

Would it be wrong of me to say it was an eye-opening experience?

The mobility teacher took him around with a blindfold and a cane and helped him struggle around the playground for 15 minutes.

He reports feeling lost and disoriented. He mostly felt nervous though because he couldn't see what might be flying at him at any moment.

We related that to the feelings the child he was bullying might have, and he really seemed to connect with his victim for once. (Yeah!)

The next day, we visited with our VI teacher and a VI student in third grade. Sean and I had developed interview questions ahead of time, so he just jumped right in with the questions.

He learned that our VI teacher, who is blind himself, likes to work with power tools, play catch with his kids at home (called "Bean Dad with the Ball"), skis in the winter, and loves to go bike riding.

Sean did not expect that.

He learned that his VI peer plays on a soccer team, loves reading, and wants to be a police officer when he grows up (just like Sean).

Sean did not expect that either.

Thank goodness, the kid he interviewed is just a ball of personality and a joy to chat with. He really made our experience fun!

Following the interviews, Sean and I talked about what he had learned and he found that he had still more questions for them like:

  • How does the teacher ski or ride a bike when he can't see?
  • How does his peer play soccer when he can't see the ball? How does he know when he's scored?
  • What kind of police officer would he like to be because Sean wants to be a K-9 cop.

So we went back for a follow-up interview and Sean learned:

  • The teacher skis with a partner who warns him about trees and other dangers. He rides a tandem bike with his wife (but he's pretty sure his wife doesn't participate in any of the peddling.)
  • The student's soccer team is comprised of blind children and the soccer ball has bells in it so they can hear it. He knows he's scored a goal when he hears the goalie say, "aawwww."
  • He would like to be a police dispatcher since they probably won't give him a gun.

Sean and I talked some more after the follow-up interview and we spoke about what Sean would like to do if he could hang out with either of them.

He wants the teacher to teach him how to read Braille, and he wants to play soccer with the student.

Ah Ha! Now we have things he can earn with good behavior and good choices! Currency! That's our next step.

Sean also feels like he's found a friend in the VI student. When we walked in the door for the follow-up interview, the kid said, "Hey Sean! Is that you? I was hoping you'd come back!"

When we left, Sean said, "That kid is really cool! I feel like we're friends now!"

Coming from a kid with no friends, that's quite a realization.

All and all, I think we're on the right path here. I have hopes for him. Not high ones yet, but hope is good enough for now.

Oh… the bad news?

Since Sean and I began working together, he's karate-kicked a kid, dug his fingers into another kid's back, and jammed his butt into someone's face. He's been banned from waiting in line with any other children now.

Hopes…not high ones, but hopes.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sx3 Rocks!

Good news, ya'll!

Well, good news for me anyway.

I won The Scholastic Scribe's Silly Sunday Sweepstakes prize!

For those of you not in the know, The Scribe hosts a weekly photo caption contest. I participate every week because it's just plain fun, but last week she offered up a prize to the winner with the best caption.

To my shock and surprise, I was selected! Yipeee!!!

To see my wit in action, read my blog.

No, what I meant to say was click here. (Wow, was I just rude!)

If you don't currently participate in the Silly Sunday Sweepstakes, or Sx3 as it's affectionately called, let me encourage you to give it a go next Sunday. It's always good for a giggle.

A great big thanks to The Scribe for the dandy Target Gift Card, or as I like to think of it, several new pairs of pants!

Monday, February 23, 2009


I'm so happy to report that my story about Sean has touched a few people. That is always nice to hear!

I received the following message via email and found it so heart-warming that I asked the author, Spedteacher from NYC, if I share it with all of you on my blog.

Your story elated me more than I can express. When I was in elementary school my best friend was blind. I used to carry his heavy braille texts and his heavy braille typewriter. I would lead him around the school and help involve him in our games during recess. I was the biggest kid in the school and nobody messed with Alan because that would mean messing with me. I was very peace loving (still am) but I know how to look very intimidating (still can do that, too).

In the summer before fifth grade I developed a (thankfully temporary) crippling condition that required me to use a wheelchair to move around. When we returned to school I told Alan what had happened and that i could not lead him around anymore or carry his stuff because I needed my arms to propel my chair.

Alan reached out and felt around my chair as I told him what had happened to me that summer. He asked if I could still see and I told him I could. He asked if I could steer the chair if someone pushed it. I told him I could. He asked if I could carry things on my lap and I said yes, I could. He thought for a while and said,

"Okay, I think this will work. You'll still carry my stuff, but on your lap. I'll push and you'll steer. That way you can still lead me and I can still get around easily." I was glad we could still work together, and he replied,

"You know, between the two of us we make a pretty capable person."

Your posting reminded me of Alan and how much I learned from him. I hope Sean learns, too.

Thank you, Spedteacher, for sharing your story with me and allowing me to share it with my readers. You are inspirational!

I asked Spedteacher what happened to Alan, but like most childhood friendships, they lost touch after Spedteacher moved away. Wouldn't it be great if they could reconnect after all these years? I want a Movie of the Week ending for Spedteacher!

Alan! Are you out there?!?!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Easy Target

Like most teachers, I have little patience for bullies. I despise hearing of students picking on each other.

I get especially hot under the collar when I hear about students bullying our visually impaired students.

Our school is lucky enough to be the home to the Visually Impaired (VI) class for our district, so that means we have about 12 students who are either totally blind or have significant vision loss. They range in age from kindergarten to sixth grade and all are mainstreamed for part or all of their school day in regular education classes. Some have an aide and all get around with the help of a cane and, at times, an adult or student helper. I am proud to say, we have no shortage of sighted students who volunteer to be a helper to one of their VI peers.

It is a wonderful opportunity for kids to learn from a young age how to live and work with individuals who are differently-abled than themselves. They have grown accustomed to seeing students tapping along with their canes, finding Braille tabs on all room numbers and signage, and seeing a working adult with a guide dog (because the teacher of the VI class is blind as well.) This chance to develop respect and understanding of others is not wasted at our school.

Unfortunately, those kids are also the target of bullies.

In my opinion, only the most desperate of bullies would choose to pick on a blind kid.

And in this case, the desperate bully is Sean.

Sean is not in my class. Throughout the year, he's been sent to me for time-outs by his teacher. We've developed a relationship of sorts, since he's in my room so much, and we even worked out a contract that would allow him to earn tickets from me that he can use to get popcorn on Fridays if he is behaving in his class.

That is until he discovered how easy it is to victimize a kid who can't see you.

If you want to join in on the fun with Sean, you too can run up behind a blind kid and shove him…

and then run away.

Or you could swoop in from the side and rake your nails down his arm…

and then run away.

Or, better yet, you can kick his cane out of his hands…

and then (you guessed it) run away.

And the beauty of it all is in the simplicity of it…

He can't see you to retaliate.

How Sean didn't realize the fun in all this before 3rd grade, I'll never know.

So he sheepishly darkens my door a few mornings ago, heavy-of-heart and note-in-hand from his teacher explaining what he's been doing.

Now, I don't get loud often. I'm more of a whisperer when I'm fuming because the growling whisper is far more fear-inflicting than any yell could ever be.

But I got loud this time.

I could not BE-LIEVE he would do this, which is exactly what I told him.

While I was railing him, my class was shakily trying to complete their morning work and listen in at the same time, which is exactly what I was hoping for because when I said that I was sure that there would be more than one student on our campus who would volunteer to step in the next time they saw Sean go anywhere near the other kid, each one of my students slowly raised their hands to be that volunteer.

I was so proud of them. At that moment, they were everything that is great about humanity.

I had Sean turn around to look at who was going to stop him the next time he attempted to victimize that boy and he was truly humbled.

I asked my class how they planned to do this without participating in bullying behavior themselves and they suggested that they would simply stand around the other student and make a human shield to preventing Sean from getting anywhere near him. They figured their sheer number would cause him to stop whatever he was doing. (I could have hugged each and every one of them!)

I then had Sean cover his eyes completely and had him attempt to fetch a pencil from my desk. He bumped into desks, walked into the closed door, nearly fell face-first over another student, never made it anywhere near my desk, and was teared-up at the end. When I asked him why, he said it was embarrassing to stumble around in front of others.

And then one of my toughest boys said, "You only had to stumble around in front of us, but that other kid has to stumble around in front of the whole world."

A little rough in the delivery, but the sentiment was all there.

So I designed an intensive program for Sean for the coming weeks. Tomorrow, he'll be working with our mobility teacher. She teaches our VI students how to use their canes and their other senses to make their way through the world. She will blindfold Sean and help him to make his way around the playground during recess time, the single most frightening time for a VI student, with only the help of her voice and a cane.

Then he'll be interviewing a blind adult (our VI teacher) and a blind student his own age to find out about how their lives are both similar to and different from his own. Then, he and the blind student will complete a compare/contrast diagram together about their lives. Then he'll research on the internet about blindness and write a report about what he's learned from all his work so far.

Finally, he and I are going to develop a plan for him to become a helper in the VI classroom. I'm hoping that if we make him an "expert" of sorts in this area, he'll become less of an offender and more of a defender of others.

I'll keep you posted on his progress.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Totally Worth It

Here's a Valentine's letter I received from one of my little girls yesterday.

Dear, Mrs. Lee

I LOVE you. You are the very bestest teacher I have ever had. I will always remeber you and all the things that you teached us. You can always make us lagugh and I will think about you when I am in 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and all the other grades that come after that. I really do love you

One of my favoritest memorys is the time you wrote a story about how Mya did CPR on a man in the park and saft his life. (By the way, Mya is my dog and is the main character in every story I model for my students. That particular story was on the topic of heroes.) I love bean in your class and I wish you could be my teacher for ever. You make coming to school very, very, very fun.

Love, always


P.S. I REALLY love you!!!!

Ok, it official.

This job…

Totally worth it.

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Welp, it's been 1 year and 1 day since I began The Bits.

Thank you for listening to me yammer on about a teaching life that is probably strangely similar to many of yours.

Here's to hoping more bizarre, story-worthy events continue happening to me at work (or else I'm not sure I can continue this job!)



Friday, February 6, 2009

Elton John Knows Best

Oh Harvey, Harvey, Harvey...

You, me, and your constant behavior issues had called a truce as of late.

Why couldn't you have just quietly gotten in line at the end of recess?

What WERE you thinking?

Announcing that "Ms. Lee sucks" and that "she isn't even smart enough to do 2+2" miiiiiight not have been your best move this year.

You see, I don't care if you hold me in low regard but all the other kids in our class evidently DO care because they







You see, Harvey, even though YOU thought you were sharing your feelings in confidence with your friends, THEY thought you were mean-spirited and ratted you out before you could finish the word "two".

And have you forgotten Harvey, that next to soccer, the best played game on the playground is "Fastest Tattler in the West" and some of them are pretty darn quick on the draw, let me tell you.

In addition to ostracizing yourself, you gave me 30 students anxious to assuage my damaged feelings and therefore readily behaved like perfect little angels for the remainder of the day; not to mention how they believed their efforts would easily rank them higher than you in my esteem.

But all the drama that ensued the next day could have been avoided if, when I pulled you aside and asked you why you said those things and if I had done anything that we needed to talk about (to which you said no), if only you'd apologized rather than simply hanging your head and nodding like a sad mute….

Or when I pulled you aside at the end of the day to say that an apology would have been appropriate, and you still just nodded your head, we could have put this to rest.

But you didn't.

And you showed up the next morning, smiling and all full of "Good Morning, Ms. Lee's" while your classmates stared at you like you were a foreign object in our room, and I simply said, "Good morning, Harvey. The principal is waiting to speak with you."

And you hung your head and nodded your sad mute nod.

And now your continued disrespectful behavior, both in school and at home, has earned you a dressing-down by the principal, a phone call to your father who dressed you down in two languages, a week in the hole (aka - library detention), a twice-weekly visit with the counselor, and a spot front and center in our police department's behavior boot camp.

Elton John was right…

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Now I’m Pissed

There is a primary teacher at my school who has a very challenging student.

We'll call him Floyd.

Floyd torments other students before class, during class, at recess and lunch, and after school. He's just a pill, as my mother would say.

His teacher always shares stories about what Floyd has done each day and she shared one with me yesterday.

Except… I'm not going to tell you that story.

I'm going to tell you what happened as a result.

You see, Floyd was up to his usual high-jinx yesterday and a gaggle of kids came up to the teacher to complain about how they'd been wronged in some fashion or another by him at lunch. Instead of hearing each case on the docket individually, she gave each student in her class a piece of paper and instructed them to explain the problems they had in a letter to her.

Most of the letters were filled with stories of ketchup packets and nasty language being thrown about by Floyd.

Until Robby's letter, that is.

It went a little something like this:

Dear Teacher,

My lunch went fine. I ate everything on my tray and cleaned up when I was done. I know that you are looking for people who had problems with Floyd but I did not have any problems with Floyd. The only problem I had was when I went to the bathroom I accidently peed on my pants.



Saturday, January 24, 2009

“What the…?”

So there's a new trend in my classroom lately. The frequent use of:

"What the…?"

No, they don't finish it. They simply say, "What the…?" whenever something is unclear or shocking to them, leaving me wondering how they might have finished that sentence if I weren't standing in front of them.

"What the…helicopter?"

"What the…fudge brownie?"

"What the…heck can I do to make Ms. Lee's life run more smoothly because she's the light of my life and the greatest teacher OF the world?"

Somehow, I think not.

But the use of "What the…?" has permeated my class, despite my constant reminder that NOT finishing that sentence is tantamount to ACTUALLY finishing that sentence in my book. Despite consequences, conversations, recriminations, and public stoning of repeat offenders (ok, not really), they continue to try to sneak it in as often as possible.

Can't figure out a long division problem? Look confused and say

"What the…?"

Lost the note the supervisor gave you for me? Pat around on your jeans' pockets and say

"What the…?"

Get your butt kicked at tetherball? Shake your fists at the heavens and yell

"What the…?"

Fail your vocabulary test…again? Throw on your mask of disbelief and whisper

"What the…?"

See you mom waiting for you after school…

in her pajamas…

and wearing heels?

Shake your head and mumble

"What the…?"

(Ok, I'll give 'em that one.)

Little do they know, we teachers would never STOP saying "What the…?" if it were allowed. They scenarios that we face daily with these kids and their wacky families topped off by our cracked out administrations could potentially leave time for little else but "What the…?" responses.

Parent complains that the kids line up in alphabetical order and their child is always last so he never gets to walk by you (even though you walk at the end of the line)? Scrunch up your eyebrows and think

"What the…?"

Seven hundred eighty-sixth child raises their hand on a Monday morning to share a "One time, when I was blah blah blah" story? Shrug and think

"What the…?"

Principal sees you in the office and says, "Edna! Come on in! I have a favor to ask." Frantically develop your next excuse to stay off of a committee and think

"What the…?"

See! We all have "What the…?" moments, but if teachers don't get to say it, neither do the kids.

What the ___ do you think of that?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Take This Doughnut and Shove It


Every month, a different grade level team brings treats in for the staff.

This month was my team's turn.

Our social committee even assigns a specific day for you to bring them, but the general rule is to bring them sometime during that week.

My team was told on Monday (first day back from vacation) that Tuesday was our treat day.

We shot for Friday.

One teacher picked up doughnuts, another brought muffins, and I was responsible for juice and coffee.

When I arrived at school this morning lugging an assortment of juices and 2 Starbucks' Travelers, there were five big boxes of freshly baked doughnuts and muffins laid out across the table in the lounge. Napkins had been decoratively placed in swirls and the room smelled like sweet heaven (for a change).

Oh, and one primary teacher was bitching to another about how stupid it was for us to put these doughnuts out in the morning.

And I quote:

"This is stupid of them. Who wants a doughnut right now? We've all just eaten breakfast at home. They should put them out later."

When would she suggest, at dinnertime maybe?

Exactly when IS "later" when you're a teacher? Recess? That's a great plan. Our recess is last, so more than half the staff would miss out during their earlier recess.

Or maybe we should we leave our classes to fend for themselves possibly a bit closer to noon so we might offer up these doughnuts to teachers at a time more suitable for their digestive systems?

Or maybe we should just be on-call all day for individual classroom doughnut deliveries once each teacher begins to feel a bit snacky?

Or MAYBE you can just take a doughnut NOW and stick it in your friggin'…




for later.


Like water off a duck's back, I let it go and began laying out the coffee, creamers, cups, etc. As I'm doing so, another teacher wanders in says:

"Oh goodie! Doughnuts! I'm glad they could figure out how to bring something good…

since they couldn't figure out how to bring them on the right day!"




I slammed down the coffee and said through gritted teeth:

"If one more, just ONE MORE, person makes ONE MORE comment about these doughnuts I am going to pile them up in the parking lot and back over them


Oddly enough, not one person made a single comment to me about the doughnuts for the rest of the day.

Oh, and the doughnuts were all gone by my recess so I didn't even get one.

Just as I suspected, teachers aren't going to let a little thing like breakfast get in the way when it comes to consuming doughnuts.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

So many of you have written asking where I have been. It's nice to be missed.

Where have I been?

Right here, just without much to say. Most of my material comes from my students and I have not been around them in quite a while.


I had a great student teacher who took over for several weeks, leaving me to plug away on my laptop in the teachers' lounge (where I completely shattered the bond between another teacher and her own daughter by proving to her that her practically perfect teenager did indeed have a Facebook page DESPITE her mother's admonition that she NEVER get one. OMG! She's normal!)

Then we went on Winter Break. School starts up again on Monday, so I should be ripe with material by 2:20 that afternoon!

On a happy note, annoying and forever ailing Travis moved over Christmas vacation!! His mother was The Screamer who got my year off to a rip-roaring start because of my "stupid, friggin' homework policy." They bought their first house in a town many, many miles away from our school. So many miles away that there is little chance he or his equally obsessive twin will drop by for a visit.

It was the single greatest Christmas present a student every unknowingly gave me.

On their last day, their mother made a big deal about complimenting both me and the teacher of the twin on our exceptional teaching skills. She raved about how accommodating we are and how our caring hearts made a huge difference in the lives of her sons. She wished that we could just move right along with them and continue teaching her kids. She topped it all off with a great big hug for both of us.

Is anyone else ready to puke, or is it just me?

In typical Travis fashion, he spent every moment at school talking about how he would be moving soon, how many schools he'd been to (that would be 3, in case you were wondering), how he would have to make new friends all over again (which is weird because he moved back to the neighborhood he came from and would be attending the school we went to last year), and forever reminding us of the countdown to his last day.

A few weeks before his departure, I was teaching about ecosystems. I posed an open-ended question to the kids and asked them to take 30 seconds to discuss it with the kid sitting next to them. Sitting right in front of me, Travis turns to his partner and says, "So…are you going to miss me when I'm gone?"

That was not the open-ended question I had posed.

In the nanoseconds before I could lean over and ask him to get back on topic his partner says, "Not really."

Ahhh, natural selection in action!

On a very sad note, my sweet, sweet seeing-double student who wore his brother's glasses to school has also moved. Right after we arranged for him to get free glasses, his parents' home was foreclosed on and they had to move. Every teacher on my fourth grade team will miss his infectious smile terribly.

Unfortunately, he is not the only student who left due to foreclosure. I also lost a little girl to the economy on the same day. She was a sweetie too.

It looks as if the economy is catching up to my little school's neighborhood in a bad way. I'm curious to see who I still have left in my class on Monday.

Well, thanks again for all your messages, both in comment form and via email.

I promise to be more diligent!