Holiday Spirit

The holidays are here! Around this time one year, I got a homemade Christmas card from one of my third graders. Clearly he wanted me to know that his holiday wishes were only given under threat of grounding.

To ms. Sharh, ms. Tasha and ms. Linzy


Blog Carnival

Hooray for the blog carnival! Pat at Successful Teaching has included me in the most recent blog carnival. Check out other education-related postings!

Loud Pills and Ad-Libbing

Please forgive still more posting about showcase, but really--it's pretty much all we've been doing. Sure, there's been a dash of addition, a pinch of writing, and a handful of geometric shapes, but mostly it's been rehearsal after rehearsal this week. The school performance last week was better than I had expected. I did not, in fact, have to toss a rubber chicken on stage and pretend the whole thing was supposed to be avant garde, as the random spouting of lines during rehearsals had caused me to fear.
  One thing I did not fear, but apparently should have, was that when one of the actors failed to cross to stage right at the correct time to deliver a line, Michael would loud-whisper, "Get your butt up here!" In front of an audience. We had a chat after that.
  This week, we had plenty of rehearsal time to polish the performance into a well-oiled machine sans "butt." We even delved into the finer points of acting technique. When Sabrina messed up the exact wording of her line but still kept the essence of the line in tact, I introduced her to the concept of ad-libbing. If you don't remember the line exactly, you can make up some stuff that's pretty close and fits with the plot. Sure enough, the next time through her scene, Sabrina showed off just how well she had taken that message of on-the-spot improvisation. In fact, her "ad-libbing" of the line was rather premeditated. She tried out several versions of the line in subsequent rehearsals, each slightly different than the last. "We sure need an airfoil!" "Yes--an airfoil is definitely what we need right now." "We certainly could use an airfoil." She even asked to add in a new line later in the play that she felt her character would say.
  Another development this week was the introduction of loud pills. After some barely audible lines, we had a sudden burst of projected voices. Wanting to continue this trend so the play could actually be heard and its corniness fully appreciated, I promptly prescribed and dispensed some loud pills. Despite their invisibility as I doled them out one by one to each actor, they very much worked. The play last night was the best it had ever been! The lines were remembered, they were delivered with feeling, the loud pills kicked in, and even the temperamental balloon jet prop worked without a hitch! And now...I definitely don't have to hear anything about an airfoil. An airfoil is certainly what I won't be hearing about. Better's winter break! Just in time for a supposedly major blizzard hitting DC the first day of vacation. Is it too much to ask for these multiple feet of snow to happen on a school day??


Well, tomorrow's the big day. The day to say your lines and say them with FEELING and preferably at the correct time. The day when the audience comes and thus there is NO playing around on pseudo stage. It's finally showcase!

Rehearsals today were a step up from yesterday when I was getting rather worried. Our runthroughs at some points throughout this week were less like a play and more like lines popping up randomly. One or possibly multiple students would hear an uncomfortably long pause in the dialogue, fear that it was his or her line, and just spout the next line he or she could remember. This did not so much lead to a smooth and coherent performance. We're closer to being ready, though, after today, so fingers crossed for a successful play tomorrow! I'm hoping for no freeze-and-walk-offstage situations and for that electricity that having a live audience brings to a performance.

Tomorrow the kids will also get to share their planes which they flew today in the final flight contest. After having to embrace the crappiness of the first draft of the flying machines, I was glad to see that, in fact, the second round of planes flew generally farther and stayed in the air longer. Move over Wright brothers!

Hello Winter

Second grade is going to be abuzz about THIS on Monday! Maybe this year we'll actually have a snow day or two! Last year was a dud for school cancellation, but it really doesn't take much to close school in Washington, DC.

Today's Lightsaber Update

As it turns out, what Jerome and I would talk about today was...still lightsabers. The latest development with Jerome's lightsaber is that is has now become visible. He got his hands on a long thin cylinder from the blue foam blocks and presented it to me outside this afternoon. Unfortunately, though, it was out of juice, so he was on his way to the lightsaber doctor. I'm guessing I will get a full report on how that went next week.

The Lightsaber Bond

I am very much NOT a fan of Star Wars, but Jerome in the other second grade class and I have bonded on the playground over lightsabers. Jerome struck me as the kind of guy who might make a good friend for Sam in my class, so I staged a very manufactured coincidence one day to get them to hang out on the playground. After noticing that Sam was playing some sort of lightsaber....well, whatever it is one does with lightsabers, I sidled up to Jerome and asked if by some pure coincidence, he might possibly like Star Wars. Well, sure enough, he did, and my grand plan was well underway. Next step--"happen upon" Sam and his zzwooshing saber of light, introduce the boys to each other, and point out their shared love of lightsabers. As Sam stood there zzwooshing away, I offered Jerome the imaginary lightsaber that I keep in my back pocket at all times. He accepted and off they went.
  A few days later at recess, Jerome came up to me with a wide grin and displayed the loaned lightsaber that he still had with him. Today on the playground, he rushed over to tell me that he has now purchased his own lightsaber. I asked if he had gotten a good deal on it, and indeed he had. If the goal of my plan was to strike up a friendship, I think it has succeeded. I wonder what Jerome and I will talk about tomorrow!

The Bathroom

The bathroom causes no end of problematic situations in elementary school. There's the not making it on time, there's taking too long and playing in the bathroom, not washing with soap or using up all the soap, stalls locked from the inside that have to be opened by sliding underneath, paper towels on the floor, a roll of toilet paper all unrolled, and the list goes on. Clogs are their own special brand of problematic bathroom situations. Sometimes trying to correct one of the aforementioned bathroom problems only leads to further complications.

One day we found that someone had unrolled a whole pile of clean toilet paper onto the floor. I asked Javonte, on his way into the bathroom, if he would rip off the toilet paper and throw it away. He dutifully did as I asked, but a few minutes later he came out of the stall and announced, "The toilet's overflowed!" I realized then that I was not as clear as I should have been about exactly how he was to dispose of the unwanted trash. “But I ripped it up!” he explained.

Readers' Stories

New mini story from Alexis in California under "Readers' Stories"--take a look!

It Really Really Tastes Right

I swear this is not vegetarian evangelism, but I always do a turkey persuasive writing around this time of year in class. The kids decide if they're going to manufacture some mostly made up arguments and proof for eating turkey, or some mostly made up arguments against.

You should eat turkey. Please eat turkey. It is so delicious! eat turkey because you will get strong. You should eat turkey because it is in KFC. You should eat turkey because you eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

People should not eat turkey. You could get bird flu. You wouldn’t like it if someone ate you. I’m nasty. Do not eat turkey.

Don’t eat turkey. Why do you want to eat me? I’m chewy. You will be chewing me for a month or 2! In anchient egypt, they worsheped us. So don’t eat little young me!

You showd eat turkey because you wont starve to deaf and you really will not turn into a turkey it really really taste right

Embrace the Crappiness

I am going to EMBRACE THE CRAPPINESS OF THE PLANES. That's my new mantra for our science expedition on the physics of flight. Embrace the crappiness.
  The kids have learned about the forces of flight and are now building planes for our flight contest. The last time I did this expedition, we bought a bunch of balsa wood kits, separated out all of the different plane parts, had 4 or 5 different choices for which wings you could choose, which plane body, which tail, and which rudder. There was also a choice of making it a glider or a propeller plane. They had to think about each part they chose and explain why they had chosen it for their plane. Still, though, many kids just picked the blue wings to go with the blue tail to go with the blue rudder, because they were the coolest-looking ones and seemed to go together. The planes were cool, but mostly all looked the same, with a couple of interesting adaptations - a couple of sets of double wings, and one with helium-balloons attached to give (in theory) more lift.
  THIS TIME around, we wanted to make building the planes more of a design and revision process, so we are not using kits! Oh--the potential for unique designs! I envisioned them thinking outside the box, without the confines of the kit pieces! We ordered large sheets of foam with limitless flight possibilities. We planned to have two flight contests, so if their first design did fly how they wanted it to. They'd come to the understanding that if something doesn't work the first time, you revise, and try again. "Mistakes help us learn!" they'll certainly cheer in unison at some point.
  We tried to scaffold their plans to help them decide how to get more lift, less pull of gravity, less drag, and more thrust. They could choose what parts to make, the size of each part, the shape--even the materials to use. They could choose different thickness of foam based on what we assumed would be their carefully considered design specifications. At the last minute I even threw in sort of a red herring choice of materials--corrugated cardboard. "Maybe one or two kids will pick this" I thought. "But surely most kids will see that foam gliders will have infinitely better performance than using the practically leaden cardboard."
  We've been building the planes and doing some preliminary test flights. And...they're a disaster! Many of the kids have been making theses miniscule planes that fly practically no farther than past the end of their shoes. So tiny! Some planes are comprised of an oblong, vaguely plane-ish shaped body and a set of tiny wings stuck through. They drop like a ton of bricks. In our reflection this afternoon, one student said, "I thought it was going to stay in the air a lot longer, but it just went straight down." A surprising number of kids ended up choosing cardboard, and it's not working out to be the optimal material they thought it somehow would be. I've been standing along the runway/hall, watching spectacular crash after spectacular crash. Some planes go no farther than you could just THROW a wad of cardboard. And I've been getting really frustrated about the possibility of ever ending up with planes that actually FLY.
  Today I realized that this was THE POINT! We're going to REVISE after this first draft plane, and learn from our mistakes. The more terribly your plane flies this time around - the more chance you have to improve it. Revision is not neat and tidy, and it sometimes takes a while to get to the improved version.



You can sit on it and wiggle around to your heart's content. Sound like a cool new toy? Nope--it's actually a tool. It is always rather difficult to adequately convey to the rest of the class the single most important feature of the plastic, air-filled, fun-looking seat cushions that we have in our classroom for a few students to use. They are to help you move around a bit in your seat so that your focus stays on the lesson. They are not inflated instruments of entertainment. They are tools for kids who need to use them.
  There are a variety of other tools that physical therapists have suggested. The stretchy, plastic "focus fidget" is also not a toy but a tool to help your hands move around so that your focus stays on the lesson. This refrain of one's focus and where it should be appears in pretty much all of my explanations of the tools. The stretchy band around your chair legs is for your feet to kick and move around so that--everybody say it with me now--your focus stays on the lesson.
  One day, Andrea decided that it was about time for her to have one of these nifty little tools. However, her rationale had nothing at all to do with focus.

Ms. S I need a tool because my butt hert

  Sadly, I was unable to fill this request because the stated problem did not fit with the intended purpose of the tool. They are for helping with focus, for keeping kids from tipping back in their chairs, for keeping kids IN their chairs, but sadly, not merely for the comfort of one's behind.

Her Mom's a Secretary

My cousin was in from out of town this weekend, and we showed him around the DC sights--the Capitol, the monuments, the many stately embassies. To add to the excitement, there's always the possibility in DC of running into a government rock star--or of having one run into you. My husband saw Bill Clinton on the Georgetown campus. He also crossed paths with Jenna Bush when she was teaching second grade at a school across the street from our apartment. My brother, a chef in DC, cooked lunch for Laura Bush at his restaurant. My contribution to the government celebrity count was to get rear-ended by a cabinet member's Chief of Staff. I've seen the Vice President pulling out of the White House late one evening as well as multiple motorcades, and one of my former students' parents worked for a cabinet member.

Ellen shared at morning meeting one day about her mother's job with the Secretary of Commerce. After she finished the share, she took questions and comments. Mykell had clearly misunderstood the job title, but this did not prevent her from trying to one-up Ellen. “See, her mom is a secretary" explained Mykell. "My mom is a manager and HAS a secretary.”

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Elementary school children love money but have very few opportunities to earn it. Sure, they might earn a little allowance for cleaning their room, doing the dishes, or they might find loose change under the couch, but this does not always satisfy their need for cold, hard cash. I distinctly remember seeing a huge container of lollipops at Costco when I was younger, and having the realization that I could SELL them for MORE MONEY than I paid, thus achieving instant wealth. I set them up as a stand in my front yard, and had fairly decent sales until neighborhood parents started wondering where their children were getting all of this candy.

One year, I busted a similar scheme in my classroom by the cubbies. I found Landon selling the baggie of watermelon his mom had packed him to Kyron for the rather inflated price of five dollars. I explained to the price-gouging Landon that we don’t run a black market fruit stand in this class and also threw in a few basic economic tips for Kyron—namely that just because you have five dollars doesn’t mean that five dollars is automatically a bargain price for four melon slices.

Another year, Daniel and Rafael inexplicably began collecting leads that had broken off of pencils. They brought in first a small glass jar, and then a larger, much fancier tin container decorated like a treasure chest to house their goods. They planned to have an auction for said pencil leads, and posted an auction notice on Daniel’s cubby.

Meanwhile, we were having trouble finding enough pencils to write with that hadn’t been cannibalized for lead. We had to put a ban on collecting pencil leads in class.

The next year, no longer in my class, Daniel and Rafael continued collecting pencil leads and trying to turn a profit. They even drew up a contract to establish rules of governance for the pencil lead organization, now known as the P.D.W.C. Rafael’s mom emailed me the contract, which is written in sufficiently convoluted and contracty-sounding terms such as “hereby” and “amongst.”
Apparently, perhaps due to the down economy or perhaps after a retooling of their business plan, Rafael and Daniel have decided to add color to their pencil leads, as well as scent. They painted them green, and crushed mint into the leads.

This blog does not generally advertise for products, but if you are in need of any painted, minty-smelling pencil leads, I strongly urge you to purchase from P.D.W.C.

Can You Handle How Amazing This Is?

Brace yourself for something EXTREMELY exciting. Yes my friends, FREE HOMEWORK PASSES HAVE COME TO THE SECOND GRADE. These are the first homework passes I've given out this year, and let me tell you--the kids are besides themselves. This past Friday, I gave out free homework passes instead of extra recess for anyone who completed their homework all week (I know, a little odd--if you do all of your homework, you don't have to do your homework). I explained what the homework passes were and built up the excitement. "If you have a homework pass, you can play all afternoon, take the night off, and NOT do your homework. BUT, I will mark you off as HAVING DONE the homework! Even though you haven't. Wow! Imagine the possibilities." This was loosely how my explanation went.
Denard interpreted the concept of using a free homework pass to NOT do homework but to STILL be counted as...cheating. Well, he's pretty much right. It's a rectangular, purple slip of paper that gives you permission to cheat the system. As I wrapped up the details about the passes, Denard couldn't contain his glee about this condoned fraud and blurted out in a singsong voice, "Cheat-ing!"
I have seen a sparkle in the eye of many students planning to use the homework pass already tonight. "Do you have your homework?" I asked J'Nai at the end of the day. "I'm going to use my...[sly smile]...homework pass" she replied. Michael was also planning to use his tonight, also gave me a sly smile when he informed me of this plan, but then asked if kids were allowed to do some of the homework for tonight, even if they were using their free homework pass. I consulted the official rulebook of free homework passes and informed him that yes, it was OK to do some of the homework anyway.
Some students, though, if past years are any indication, will save up their free passes until the year is over. Sometimes savoring the amassed potential to not do homework is better than actually "spending" any of the passes.

One Less Spider

Taking a trip into the depths of actual nature with a class of city kids is always an adventure. Today we went on the annual trip to Great Falls National Park for a hike and some information about animals from Ranger Mike. There were picnic tables for lunch, restrooms with running water, and a flat path to walk on, so clearly I am using the terms, "actual nature" and "hike" loosely. Nonetheless, it was much more nature than we see in our day-to-day concrete-filled, city lives.
  City kids marvel at every aspect of nature. One year, even on the drive to the park entrance, Terrance stared in awe out the bus window at the huge trees that lined the road. "Is that real?" he asked. Yes, Terrance. They are real trees, and it is a real forest, and it is not plastic. Today as we made the same drive to the park, Zoe spotted a house along the way. "There's a house!" she exclaimed, completely surprised that people would actually think of living way out here in all this nature. A house in the woods--what will they think of next?
  As we pulled into the park, Jaylen informed me that she had seen a "wild deer" before. "In the zoo." We forged ahead through the real trees, and while we didn't see any non-zoo deer, we did get to pet a real snake and touch a real fox pelt. We also happened upon a real daddy long legs, which drew a crowd of at least ten kids, oohing and ahhing as the spider made its way along a boulder.
  When the spider met an unfortunate, shoe-related fate, Bryson lamented the loss of this small piece of nature. "Man," he said. "Now there's like one million spiders. Before, there was one million and one."

An Even Scarier Thing

This time of year is filled with frights--and I'm not even talking about Tristan's squirting blood. No--there's something even scarier than kids going around with costumes. Kids going around with germs.
There were several kids out sick in our class last week, and Lucas claimed that he is "really close to having Swine Flu." Is he anticipating catching the flu in the next few hours? Does he have something from nearby in the animal flu kingdom--Bird Flu perhaps? To keep all of these germs as contained as possible and to not get Lucas any closer to Swine Flu than he apparently already is, we're reminding everyone to cover their coughs, wash your hands with soap, use hand sanitizer, etc. These were some tips that the assistant principal got at our whole school meeting the other day when she asked for ideas on staying healthy. A few kids also offered suggestions that they clearly have filed under the broad category of "Health, Good." "Brush your teeth" one child called out. "Eat vegetables" volunteered another. Yes--all good things, but the main thing we're trying to impress upon you, children, is DO NOT GET ANYONE ELSE SICK.
To further reinforce this goal, I'm even bringing in some of the professional literature on the topic. I was flipping through the guided reading books the other day, and hit upon one cutting-edge medical treatise called, "Germs! Germs! Germs!" The book's illustrations include various multicolored, amorphous representations of microorganisms with extremely menacing grins as they hold up their germy appendages, ready to pounce. "We're on the ground. We're in the air. We're GERMS and we live everywhere!" begins the book. I challenge you to find a Halloween story that's spookier than that!

Scariest Thing

While we don’t celebrate holidays at our school, or allow the kids to come in costume, the room is always abuzz towards the end of October with talk of the upcoming candy extravaganza that is Halloween. From my lunchtime conversation with a group of kids one year, I learned that we had a Miss America, a Hermione Granger, and one Generalized Embodiment of Scariness that included fake, squirting blood.
  “It’s probably the scariest thing I’ve ever been for Halloween” Tristan informed me as he finished his peanut butter sandwich. His seriousness implied that this was really saying something - that in all of his seven Halloweens since birth, he had donned some rather frighting costumes and that this year's was scarier than even the ones he wore as a baby or a toddler--if you can believe it.

I Am Very Fancy Today

For Friday, I have to finish planning out the math lesson and plan what the student teacher will help out with at literacy centers. There's the plan for what activity to do at morning meeting as well as one other important plan: what to wear for picture day. I always put serious thought and consideration into my outfit, and will likely try on up to four different sweaters the night before--all so that twenty years from now, someone doesn't find her second grade class picture and think, "My teacher was a terrible, terrible dresser."

I suspect that there will be many second graders also giving extra careful consideration to their appearance on Friday. Clothes make a statement, even in elementary school. Sometimes that statement is simply, “I LOVE YELLOW!” Other times it’s “BATMAN IS MY IDOL” or “I ATE CHOCOLATE PUDDING FOR LUNCH.” When I was in the third grade, I picked out my most special outfit for picture day to project just the right image. This special outfit consisted of not just one, but two shades of pink, a combination achieved via a dark pink turtleneck under a short-sleeved, ruffled, light pink dress. White sneakers and white socks pulled up to my knees made the outfit extra special. And of course, no outfit is complete without rainbow shoelaces. Clearly the statement I wanted to make on picture day was, “I AM FANTASTIC.” And yes, if you're wondering, that is a banana clip in my hair.

I'm expecting many statements to walk through the classroom door on picture day. There will be suit coats, pouffy dresses, new hairdos, and even clip-on ties that all will scream, "I AM VERY FANCY TODAY." Fancy clothes are particularly appealing in a scaled-down size. It's also entertaining to see the children doing very kid things in very businessperson clothes. You might almost mistake the classroom for a board meeting...until you notice that one of the board members is sitting on his knees, with his tush in the air as he finalizes the details of the meeting agenda.

The poses on picture day also contribute to the statement. Some of the picture packages such Option 4-Barnyard Background even come with props on which to pose. The statement that Da'Mon made in his pint-sized three-piece suit one year was, “I AM ON MY WAY TO A RATHER IMPORTANT ENGAGEMENT JUST AS SOON AS I REST MY ARM AWKWARDLY ON THIS WOODEN FENCE FOR A MINUTE.”

With or without the wooden fence, I'm sure that picture day will bring lots of sharp little outfits!

Principal Pencils

If you've ever wondered how to identify a principal from among a crowd of people, Sam had this litmus test this morning: the fanciness of the person's pencil. A rather high-tech pencil had been left behind in our classroom after yesterday's teacher workshop. Sam found it and immediately labeled it as too fancy to belong to a second grader. It was mechanical after all. I mean, second graders do lose dozens of pencils a day, break or rip off erasers, and sometimes have paint-covered hands after art class.
  Clearly a pencil of this caliber would not last ten minutes in the hands of a student. It must belong to a grown-up. Further, it apparently seemed a little too fancy, even, for a teacher. I'm not sure what level of pencil I'm at as a teacher, but perhaps one that's somewhat but not too fancy - a hologram print, let's say, or a pseudo-mechanical one with the seven or eight very small leads that you remove when dull and then put back into the pencil from the end, pushing a sharp very small lead to the top. Or maybe teachers are known for their comically oversized pencils like the one I got from a student one year. It made a great prop when I had to exaggeratedly write down important teacher things like science.
  But no, THIS marvel of lime-green plastic had a oval-shaped BUTTON that you press with your index finger to kick out more lead. Definitely the instrument of someone with his or her own office. He pinched it delicately between his fingers and brought it over to me. "I think this belongs to one of the principals." When I chuckled and asked him why it couldn't belong to a teacher, he referenced the oval-shaped button and its overall fancy-shcmancy-ness.

Unfortunately, Sam's pencil hierarchy theory was debunked when I happened to run into both the principal and the assistant principal in the hall, and neither was missing a fantastic green pencil. Could it possibly belong to a superintendent??

It's Jerome!

It’s important to know where your friends are at all times in elementary school—especially at recess. Should you misplace a friend at this crucial time of building and chasing and roaring, it will be very hard to build a sufficiently tall structure out of blocks, nearly impossible to chase, and everyone knows that the best roars are duets. Our playground is smaller than a classroom, but even in a compact area, a recess friend could be just out of sight behind the twisty slide or under the bridge.

The other day, Jerome came outside a few minutes after the rest of the class—but an important few minutes. While Jerome was depositing his eyeglasses safely at the front office, his friend LeRoy had managed to blend in with the recess landscape, and was nowhere to be found. The building! The chasing! Roars! Jerome needed to find LeRoy—and fast. He stood at one end of the playground, cupped his hands around his mouth, took a deep breath and tilted his head towards either the sky or the playground gods. “LE-ROY!” he bellowed, and looked around to see if his buddy had come out of hiding. No luck. Perhaps LeRoy had heard his name being shouted from over by the slide, but hadn’t recognized the source of the calls. “LE-ROY!” Jerome bellowed again into the playground air. “It’s Juh-ROME!!”

Better Than TV

The second graders are going to see a play on Thursday--Ferdinand the Bull. Hopefully it'll be as good as the year we went to see Seussical the Musical. As we were walking out of the theater that year, I overheard one second grader comment to another, "That was better than TV--don'tcha think?"

Better than TV--the highest of second grade compliments for live theater.

Tear Here

Lunch items of various descriptions have been particularly hard to open this week--Thermos caps that won't unscrew, juice pouch straws that won't poke, fruit snack pouches that won't "tear here." Often, students do not even attempt to infiltrate these impossibly secure lunch containers before seeking my assistance. The task usually requires either fingernails or brute strength. Fortunately, I possess both and thus children in my class do not starve.
  After making a valiant but ultimately failed attempt to open his own ketchup one day, Julius commented, “It should say, ‘Tear and get frustrated here!’” I try to give on-the-spot instructional demonstrations on exactly how students can free that fruit roll from its silver wrapper without me, but it is much, much faster if I just use my fingernails to perform the special little rip. Then we can all get back to our food with a minimum of frustration.
  Unfortunately, frustration is not so easily minimized when it comes to academics. Just when students are starting to think they have a pretty good grasp on the world, some completely new and different piece of knowledge is forced into their realm of consciousness and throws everything off. They’re rolling right along, getting the hang of adding and subtracting numbers, even multiplying and then all of a sudden a seven gets replaced by a slanty n. “When did letters become math?” moaned Ayeisha, head in her hands, the day we started algebra. Yes, you’re right, letters can now be math and “sh” can now be spelled with “ti.” Welcome to second grade—it’s frustrating.

Lots of Milk!

The art teacher is having a baby this month! The teachers organizing her baby shower asked all of the staff to share some advice for the new mother. Seeing as I have very little expertise on being a mom, I turned this task over to the second graders who have had experience caring for little brothers and sisters. As with their marriage advice, they shared helpful tips, but also some stuff they just made up.

-When I take care of a baby, I would sit in a rocking chair and rock back and forth.
-Make sure she has a nap by 2:30 or 2:45.
-Don't overfeed it.
-This goes for when it's zero to one and a half: Give it mommy milk and don't let it eat bad food.
-Let it sleep from 11:00 to 2:00.
-You have to give the baby care so he won't be sad.
-Sing it songs. Sleep 13 hours a day. Lots of milk!
-Give it baby clothes.
-Give the baby 2 naps.
-After it gets food or milk, burp it or it is going to throw up.

I'm E.T.

What to talk about on the long walk to the field for P.E.? How about assigning yourself the title role from a movie, and then informing your friend Michelle what she can play in this pretend scenario? I just walked by a snippet of the conversation, and Michelle and Rodney didn't appear to be doing any particular actions to embody these assigned roles, but hey--you've got to get everyone's part straight. Oh--and if someone's part calls for her to achieve a certain level of cuteness, you have to tell her that up front.

"I'm E.T. and you're the cute little girl."

More Dead Class Pets

Especially given the title of this blog, I just have to tell about a panicked phonecall I got this morning. So I was going about my morning school preparations (which today included copying, jamming the copier, unjamming the copier, jamming the copier, and unjamming the copier), when I got a phonecall from one of the first grade teachers downstairs.

"Meg said to call you because you had a class pet that died" he said. Apparently word has spread about my fish-killing incident (still being passed around years later) and I've now become the go-to source for any class pet deaths. Nothing whatsoever qualifies me for this responsibility--I don't like animals, I'm not in any way skilled at disposing of the dead ones, and I find it just as hard as the next guy to break the news of a deceased pet to children. Yet, there I was, giving advice on how to handle his situation.

"Our hamster that we got Friday died over the weekend. It wasn't eating. The whole room smells like dead rat." I reassured Tim that he wasn't the first person to kill a class pet and that he wouldn't be the last, though I didn't offer to come down there to help with the disposal or the smell. I did, though, suggest that he take the cage out and tell the kids that the hamster wasn't eating and wasn't doing well, and then have the rest of the day to think about how to tell them the next day. Maybe even bring in the counselor for reinforcement.

If you know of anyone who kills a class pet in the near future--apparently the thing to do is to send him my way!

The Turtles

Phew! I successfully managed to navigate a dangerously close class mascot near-disaster. The process of voting for a class mascot always takes some very careful vote manipulation. It begins with the brainstorming, where any and all suggestions are taken. Well, except for that one year when Bryce suggested, "Illegal Aliens," and I just blatantly shot that one down.

Once an extensive list is in place, there's an initial vote to see what the top vote-getters are. At this point, if the winner is a winner, you can go ahead and end it there. However, if the top vote-getter is not something you'd particularly like to have the class be known as forevermore, just declare that it's time for round 2 of voting now that some choices have been eliminated. This often works to change who's in the lead, but didn't this year.

I began to get very worried in class the other day when the kids narrowed down our list of possible mascots to the top four choices: the turtles, the lions, the cheetahs, and the chipmunks. Chipmunks? I could NOT holler that out on the playground. "Chipmunks, line up!" Chipmunks are not only unferocious, but they lend themselves way to easily to commercialization (Alvin, Simon, The-o-dore).

So...we voted once again to get it down to a top two mascot-off. I was cringing inside when it came down to just turtles vs. chipmunks. No love for the lions or cheetahs? Either of those would have been the right level of animal kingdom superiority but with the big cat family out of the running, things were looking dire. I categorized the situation as a mascot emergency and put the whole thing on hold until I could figure out how to rig the outcome while still maintaining the appearance of democracy. to convince everyone to opt for turtles? I decided that propaganda was the way to go, and found a bunch of fantastic turtle clip-art that we could use for our class newsletter. I showed this off, full color, the next day, and told them how slim the pickins were for chipmunk-related graphics. Plus I had cool facts on my side. Did you know that turtles can live to be over 100 years old, live on 6 continents and that their shells are made of over 60 different bones connected together? Chipmunks are related to RATS. I had even talked over this dilemma with the principal who pointed out a very helpful tip--mascots are often associated with the local geography of the region. The fact that our school is named after the rivers of Washington, DC sealed the deal.

Yes, there were a few grumbles, but there always are, even if the winner is chosen by actual votes. So--we're officially the Turtles. Still not particularly ferocious, but it's growing on me. I wish turtles had a sound that I could close this post with....

Second Grade Moments

So. Second graders. A big switch to go from eight-year-olds at the end of third grade down to six-year-olds! Second graders do things like kiss their Reese's peanut butter cup that came in the Lunchable because they know that candy is not allowed at school. Before putting it away until after dismissal, they pucker up and give it a big, "until we meet again" smooch. And they are not embarrassed by this.
   Second grade classes also have some different kinds of problems than third grade classes. Don't get me wrong--hogging the markers, kicking under the table, and calling names are all issues that plague second grade just as they did third grade, but in the first week of second grade this year, we also had a problem of too much hugging. A boy came up to me, arms out wide one day, and gave me a hug. About 5 minutes later, as the kids were walking over to line up, he was headed my way again, in search of another cuddle. "We just hugged." I had to tell him, putting my hand out in front of me in a crossing-guard-type 'stop' gesture. "Maybe again later at recess."
   Second graders are also still just catching onto phrases and figures of speech. On the P.E. scavenger hunt, the kids had to find a classmate who had traveled to another country, who wore glasses, or whose birthday was on a holiday. Lots of kids filled in Jack's name in the "has broken a bone box," and when we shared out some of these fun facts at the end of P.E., Coach asked Jack if he had broken a bone. "Sure! I've broken a wish bone lots of times with my dad!"

I hope I'll never...

From the beginning of year survey one year.

I hope I’ll never...
-get in trouble.
-get out of shape.
-sharpen my finger.
-go on a trip with my cousin.
-fight again.
-lost more than one thing per week.
-see a tiger.
-get into another fight at recess.
-repeat a grade.


It’s been two years since I’ve taught second grade, and I had forgotten what it’s like to read a second grade sentence. In adjusting from almost-in-fourth-graders to fresh-out-of-first-graders, I had to re-activate the very creative part of my brain that can decipher six-year-old spelling. Third graders definitely still make spelling mistakes, but they’re things like using the wrong kind of your/you’re or forgetting a silent k. To read some of the second graders’ writing, on the other hand, you have to completely suppress the part of your brain that knows how to spell.

Each word on the page triggers an exhaustive mental search of any known English word that might possibly resemble the collection of letters masquerading as the intended word. When encountering the letters g-r-o-m, my brain cycles through “grom,” “groom,” “grome,” “jom,” “jorm,” “drom,” and “drama” before realizing that Diamond was trying to write “drum.” You have to take in all of the letters, and then visualize all possible arrangements of those letters until you come up with something recognizable. If that does not work, say the letters aloud phonetically in your head, and then substitute all of the sounds with other letters. Completely ignore the silent “e”s that seconde graders think terminate almoste every worde, but remember that all of those extra “e”s hav ben takn out of othr words. Any of the “d”s could really be a backwards “b,” and really all of the vowels could be filling in for another vowel.

I worked my way through all of these techniques with no luck the other day when Thomas wrote the word, “randr,” before realizing that in his free time, Thomas really likes “R and R.”

The First Day of School

With the prospect of cursive looming ominously on the horizon, or the knowledge that math will now be a whole year more difficult, it’s no wonder students get nervous on the first day of school. Similarly, the prospect of having to deal with all of those anxious children all day who don’t even know yet where the glue sticks are kept is enough to make teachers jittery that first morning. Not to mention the fear that a few students will fail to abide by the First Day Statute of Good Behavior that says that everyone must be perfect on day one in order to impress their new teacher. There’s also the possibility that those recurring school nightmares that started in July will come true. Really, there are many good reasons for all involved parties to be nervous.

On the first day of school every year, I give students a survey about the first day as their homework assignment. One of the questions asks students to tell what their biggest worry was going into the classroom on that first morning.

my biggest worry was to not act up

knowing my math

I was worry about my test score

to make a real big mistake

name put on the board

When I thought I wasn’t going to make friends

That we would have to do a lot of homework

Whin I met my new teach I thot she wont like me

My biggest worry was spelling.

I thought I was going to have a mean teacher

Actually nothing

Wish me luck tomorrow!


There used to be a charter school above a CVS in my neighborhood and I was always a little bit jealous of the extreme convenience I'm sure those teachers enjoyed. Out of construction paper in the classroom? No problem--just run downstairs right quick and stock up. Short on blank CDs but need to burn the math PowerPoint onto a disc? If the teacher was in the middle of a reading group, maybe she could even send a responsible student downstairs with a twenty. This CVS-adjacent school was definitely well covered in an office supply or even vitamin or hairspray emergency.

My old school in small-town Louisiana was not really anything-adjacent. There were some horses in a pasture across the street, but I very rarely found myself in need of something a farm animal could offer. Other than that, the school was surrounded by residential neighborhoods. Short on construction paper or blank CDs? Out of luck. The nearest hope was one of three dollar stores--a large number of dollar stores, I must say, for a town of 2,000--but they were across town. The nearest teacher store, Staples or Office Depot was 35 miles away, and even Walmart was a good thirty minute drive. And forget about IKEA. If you find yourself in need of a new Gles or some Kalas in rural Louisiana you'll just have to make do without.

While my school in DC certainly has more neighboring business establishments than in Louisiana, there's really no convenient way to quickly solve a folder shortage. We've got plenty of carry out food if that's what the situation requires, which is far more likely to be the case than an urgent need for horses, but that's about it. There are some wholesale markets across the street for fruit or cheap imported socks, and an industrial supply store across another street for those pressing exhaust fan emergencies in the third grade. While the neighborhood, sadly, cannot accommodate any of my teacher needs, there is one adjacent business that came in VERY handy yesterday.

Leaving school around 6 pm with some friends, on our way to meet up with some other friends, I found my left rear tire flat. As I was gearing up for a call to AAA for a tire change and tow, and trying to see if I could remember the steps in changing a tire myself, there it appeared, magically, out of the oblivion of familiar sights you never really notice. What my school's location does have going for it is a moderately sketchy 24-hour tire place literally next door. We walk by its drive-in entrance frequently with the kids on the way to the field for PE, and I have it mentally categorized as a minor nuisance to deal with, having to check both ways as we walk by to make sure no flat-tired cars are going to run over the children. But yesterday, Mac's Tire Service and its all-night glory was my savior and the epitome of ultimate convenience. I drove the quarter of a block on the flat from where I had parked into Mac's and was in and out in 15 minutes with a brand new tire. Thank you Florida Avenue. I had misjudged you.

Googly Eyes

Yes, I have them. I have googly eyes because in elementary school, you just never know when the need will arise for googly eyes. The eyes googly-watched me dig through a large tub of what we'll just call teacher miscellany. The search for the leftover science lesson sandpaper I knew I had led me through D batteries and wire--other science lesson remnants, Hotwheels cars, mini carabiners, magnet tape, and a bag full of white beans. There will come a day when I realize that the perfect supply for a the next day's lesson is--duh, golf pencils! Yes, I have them too. And if the perfect supply is not golf pencils but confetti, felt, plastic Easter eggs, or terra cotta markers, well I'll be prepared for that as well. The lesson that requires magnet tape and a Koosh ball--it's no problem for Pack Rat Teacher Lady. Beads? Check. Silver garland? In stock. The Googly Eye Tub also houses those little paper pockets that hold index cards, that plastic piece that connects a pair of two liter bottles to make a water tornado, some confetti and a bag of glass rocks.

Clearly, this tub is a dumping ground for leftover supplies. If there's even a slim chance I might ever some day need that item again, into the container it goes. There are even materials that I've never used for a lesson but which could possibly have some future purpose in the second grade. The tub is also in theory the most convenient craft store / hardware store / teacher supply store that's always open even when an idea strikes me the night before at 9:00 pm.

And so, the lessons we learn from this magical tub are a) never throw anything away, and b) if anyone has a googly eye / carabiner / sand paper emergency--I'm your gal.

The Drawer

Phew! My home office is CLEAN! All those piles of papers have been filed away, and the little bags of junk I didn't know what to do with have now been dealt with.

When I cleaned out my classroom at the end of the year, I also had a few little containers of junk I didn't know what to do with. One of which was The Drawer. The Drawer houses all manner of items I have taken away from children during the school day for one reason or another. The Drawer often provides temporary housing for action figures, oversized green plastic sunglasses, miscellaneous electronic amusements, and red and blue swirled rubber bouncy balls--objects that are so fun that backpacks or pockets never seem to have enough power of containment for them--they always find away to escape and make an appearance during writing. If there's already been a reminder about one of these funnest of objects, into The Drawer it goes for retrieval at dismissal. These are often remembered and claimed in a timely fashion, but seeing as I sure am not going to give enough thought to Melvin's super squishy stretchy ball to notice that it hasn't been around for a few days, The Drawer slowly accumulates the more forgettable toys.

In addition to an unofficial "No fart- and burp-noise machine" policy that I have, we also have an official "No candy" policy at the school. Lunchables, the pre-packed, lunch-in-a-box company, does not share this philosophy, though they do apparently subscribe to the creed of miniaturization. Anyone with a "fun size" chocolate bar or a baby bag of Skittles removes the candy from the Lunchable, leaves it on my desk, and sits back down to enjoy her miniature ham and miniature cheese or her tiny taco. Into The Drawer go the small Lunchables candies, nestled snugly between any other wayward sugary treats spotted around the classroom and the fart- and burp-noise machine. Our most frequent Lunchable eater one year would usually forget to retrieve her daily treat from The Drawer, and we amassed the equivalent of about a half dozen regular sized candy bars before sending it all home with her one day. Loading a child up with an armful of miniature Butterfingers and Reese's peanut butter cups seems an odd way to enforce a no candy policy.

During teacher appreciation week, when our class "adopted" one of the special ed teachers, I found out that she really liked peanut butter cups, and bought a pack of individually wrapped Reese's to dole out to her each day of the week, along with cards from the kids and tokens of our appreciation. As she unwrapped the final gift of the week with a crowd of children around her and found even more of the peanut butter cups at the bottom of the gift bag, Ms. Lesley exclaimed how much she loved Reese's. "They're from the Lunchables!" shouted one of the children. I had to clarify that we were not re-gifting confiscated candy from students' lunches, but that I had actually bought those peanut butter cups at the grocery store thank you very much.

At the end of the year, The Drawer still managed to have an assortment of unclaimed items--mostly candy. Below is a list of the junk food I cleaned out of The Drawer after the children had left for the summer.

-3 mini Butterfingers from Lunchables
-Bag of Doritos
-3 Airheads candies
-A lollipop
-A Fast Break candy bar


Oh, the dreaded annual filing day. It's the day over the summer when I file away all of the blank maps, reading passages, folders of math games, and poetry overheads that have somehow managed to not get put away. All year. Who has time to file these things? The filing process involves lots of little piles as I work my way through a huge stack of papers, and sort them according to subject, then take each pile over to the appropriate drawer for further sorting.

During this process, lots of papers wind up in the recycling pile and I feel lighter with each sheet that fills the bin. It is extremely liberating to be rid of so much paper! I just threw away a few stacks of tests from February that I thought I'd get around to grading at some point, that for the next several months just made me feel guilty every time I saw them. They're definitely not getting graded now!

As I sift through the endless mounds that will shortly stop cluttering the desk and floor, I experience the school year once again, but backwards. I just passed some Back to School Night agendas, so hopefully that means I'm near the end/beginning! I've also found several notes from kids detailing various infractions that fellow classmates committed over the course of the year.

Melissa wrote:
Dylan was Jumping one side of the cobit to the overside. From: Melissa

After considering for a minute what, exactly, the "cobit," was supposed to be, and knowing that we don't have any cabinets in our classroom, I figured out that she meant that Dylan was guilty of moving around from one side of the carpet to the otherside. Phew! Good thing she informed me of that. Even if I hadn't figured it out, though, I found a second note from Keisha in reference to Melissa's note.

Melissa note is SPellEd rong carpet other side
form KeIsha


I just woke up thinking about place value. It must be summer! My dreams from the past couple of weeks have shared a rather similar configuration of location, time, and lesson plan status.

-Second grade, first day of school, incomplete
-Middle school, first day of school, incomplete
-Second grade, before the first day of school, in progress

Come on! I should be dreaming about George Clooney spreading peanut butter on a cat or something!

Fills Like Summer

So far this summer I have received exactly no letters from students. I'll admit that I'm a little disappointed that I haven't gotten to hear about camp or driving to Grandma's. The kids are at their best in letter form, because they're as entertaining as during the school year, but I don't have to tell anyone to sit down, get in line, or stop playing rough. Well, I'll settle for dipping into the ol' mail bag from past summers.

Dear Ms. Garb

Thank you for the pen I love it I can’t wait to see you after the trip you know what it doesn’t even fill like summer but school past bye fast well I hope you’re Doing good. If you Are you going to see your parents please send me a postcard.
P.S. can you send the envelope Back I lik to colecte the stamp’s

I Don't Love You

From grade three we now go to age three...

This week we visited some friends in Massachusetts who have a three year old boy, Declan. We were chatting with them in their living room when Declan was dropped off from his preschool summer camp. He sat down on the couch and set about taking off his shoes--the first step in getting down to some serious playing. I was pretty sure he didn't remember me since our last visit a whole year ago, so I introduced myself. Declan answered by clarifying what I would not be getting out of this afternoon's relationship. The actual conversation went as follows:

Sarah: "Hi Declan! Do you remember me? I'm Sarah."
Declan: "I don't love you."

I'm assuming the conversation from Declan's perspective was this:

Sarah: "Hi Declan! Do you remember me? I'm much taller than you and a stranger who doesn't look like anyone in your family. Should we love each other?"

Declan: "Easy, lady. You are definitely not my grandma and I'm 85% sure that you're not one of my aunts. Those are the people that I love, but you are none of them. So, if you're thinking that you're just going to walk into my life and I'm going to embrace you, you are mistaken. We could probably play my Dora the Explorer Memory game, but that's the level we're at."

But That's Math...

Ah, summer. The season of visiting pretend towns with your family. I’m personally familiar with such pretend towns, having grown up close to Old Sturbridge Village, where colonial-garbed women spin wool into yarn and a blacksmith perpetually hammers away at a new shoe for his horse. You can tour the old homes and purchase quills and ink at the general store. I even went to summer camp at one of these old-time setups and learned how to churn butter. This summer, these old fashioned villages will surely be brimming with girls such as Milena, who one year saved up her money for months to dress as a girl from the 1700s.
   Milena was explaining one day at lunch about her family’s upcoming trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, and about how you can rent old fashioned clothes there. Milena was saving her money and although she wanted to buy some other things, was putting those on hold until after the Williamsburg trip. She was very serious about those colonial dresses. She listed off the money that she had saved--$8 from Tyieshia for her recent birthday and $5 from Becky--and explained there was still five weeks of allowance to be had before the trip. I asked how much, then, she would have total with the birthday cash plus allowance. Milena looked at me as if I had asked an absolutely ridiculous question that she couldn’t possibly be expected to answer and said, “Well, that’s math, so….”

Fourth of July

Somehow, in book club one day, the need arose to refer to our nation's birthday.  Byron made sure to clarify for the other group members what he was talking about.   

"The Fourth of July--when the Earth was created."

As with many holidays, children know there's something special about them....but aren't always 100% solid on what that something is. 


Ahhh! Resisting temptation is so hard! Nate was eating some Five Guys fries the other day, which are cooked in peanut oil. I am allergic to nuts and have been to the emergency room my fair share of times for some rather unfortunate accidental walnut and pecan situations. I actually ate Five Guys fries a few times before finding out they cook everything there in death oil, as I like to call it. The fact that I survived those death oil fries means one of two things: either peanuts just aren't that bad on my nut-allergy spectrum, or I'm faking! Still, I avoid eating at Five Guys.

But those fries! The smell was irresistible and I admit that I did eat a few. My defense sounded a lot like that given by third grade Thomas a couple of years ago, who was lactose intolerant. One afternoon, he was doubled over with a stomach ache after having eaten cheese at lunch. "Thomas," I asked, "why did you eat cheese if you knew it would make your stomach hurt?" In light of my inability to resist those amazing but potentially deadly French fries, I can't really blame him for his reply, delivered in a rather pathetic-sounding moan. "Because it's du-LI-CIOUS!"

No Need to Bring Soap and Water Into This

As Samuel exits the bathroom on the hiking trip:

Ms. Sarah: “Did you wash your hands?”

Samuel: “No. I had my gloves on!”

Two Hours of Summer

Dear Ms. Sarah
Wow! I cant believe I’me already writing to you. It’s been a great two hours of summer so far. Right now I am painting flower pots to sell tomorrow.
Have a great summer,

The Deal

One day Nina asked what she needed to do to earn some free reading time. Curling up and reading in the classroom library was Nina's favorite thing to do and we were using this reward as a way to help her improve her behavior in class. We explained that she had to meet her goals—things she had been working on getting better at all year. The key to free reading in the library would come in the form of: following directions, asking permission, putting in a good effort, and being kind to others. Nina replied, “I just don’t do those things.”

Meat with Plants IN IT

Deonte: "You don't eat meat?"
Ms. Sarah: "No, I'm a vegetarian. I don't eat meat."
Deonte: "Why?"
Ms. Sarah: "I think it would be better for the planet if people ate only plants."
Deonte: "Well. I eat meat. With plants IN IT. And broccoli and cheese."

Find a Shiny Nickel

Kindergarten studied economics at our school this semester. You may be wondering if a five-year-old's investigation into economic principles covers such hot topics as AIG. Well--this is at least what my third grade student Devon wondered when he heard about their subject matter. So, Devon is clearly up on the current economic crisis, but nobody else in the third grade seemed to have any idea what he was talking about.

A couple of weeks ago, the kindergarten classes shared at our all-school meeting about what they've learned. Sub-prime mortgages did not make it into their song lyrics--very hard to find a rhyme. No, the kindergarteners stuck with singing about finding a shiny nickel and putting in a pocket. The other kindergarten class then launched into a lovely ballad about the economy--"Some things cost money and some things are free." The rhyme there writes itself.

During the song, Devon leaned over with a disbelieving smile on his face, half-laughing as he said, "I thought the economy was serious!" As anyone who's even so much as glanced at the evening news in the last year knows, the economy these days is no laughing matter. "Certainly not an appropriate topic for a CHILDREN'S song!" I imagine Devon thinking to himself. "What are they thinking??"

Fresh as a Daisy

Earlier this week, the principal came into our classroom during lunch. Rodney and Angelo were talking to him, when Rodney exclaimed, “You smell clean!” Angelo, clearly wanting to be able to fully appreciate the principal's cleanliness as well, asked, "Can I smell you?"


Well, it's getting to be that time. Our final performance is over, we're doing the end of year tests, recess is getting very sweaty.

At this magical time we call the end of the year, I ask students to share what they value about each other. Many children believe that one’s net worth as a friend is determined by some combination of how tall you are and how fast you can snap your fingers. They write compliments about their classmates, which I then compile and type up for each person to keep.

Knowledge of math facts is universally acknowledged among third graders to be quite admirable. Bravery with regard to ferocious animals, while less common, also appears to be a trait worth having. Some of the compliments are extremely specific and remarkably accurate. You know, Da’Von is quite skilled at unjamming the stapler, now that you mention it.

He is brave. He is not scared of dangerous animals.

What’s great about Melvin is that when you ask him to scoot his desk over, he does it nicely.

She is gentle. She never push when she is trying to go somewhere.

He is very smart and cool because he helped me with riddles.

She is a very good dancer. I seen her dance at recess

He can snap really fast.

He has great information about Dragon Ball Z.

Some compliments are a bit of a stretch.

She is very athletic for a girl.

She is the tallest girl of girls and boys in the class.

He is short but still smart.

Tips for the Budding Actor

Last night was the big performance of our D.C. government play! Let me tell you—you ain’t seen nothin’ until you’ve seen the D.C. City Administrator pop out from a giant government guide. Watch out Broadway! For anyone wanting to make it big in the acting business, take some tips from the third grade.

-For one, make sure to do lots of putting your hand on your hip. This is how you know you’re really “acting.” Putting more feeling and energy into your performance is as easy as increasing the angle at which you thrust your hip.

-Avoid breaking character. Also avoid apologize to the audience. Darius tried both one year in the class play, and it didn’t go over so well. He was flipping through the pages of a fake bill and walking across the stage as he delivered his line about laws. When stage fright hit mid-way through the line, Darius froze, lowered his head, and said, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do this” before exiting stage left.

-There's one more very important tip that every aspiring actor should take to heart. As Marquel pointed out during our last-minute review before the play started: "No burping." Right—definitely no burping in acting.

Memorial Day

Joelle: "What is Memorial Day?"
Ms. Sarah: "It's a day to remember people who have died in a war."
Joelle: "'s when the pool opens."

Inspector General: Superstar

Multitudes of third graders across the country want to meet President Barack Obama. Sure--it would be pretty fantastic to meet the leader of the free world. Just as long as you're home in time to finish your homework. We took a survey the other day designed to generate some hilarious and/or poignant responses for use in the school yearbook. If you could meet one person, who would it be? What's one question you would ask the president? LeRoy would like to meet either "Tom Brady or President Obama because Obama is the president and Tom Brady is the best QB ever."

Many of my students have laundry lists of things they'd like President Obama to accomplish, from ice cream parties at school to laws against guns. They have the standard questions at the ready should he ever pop in unexpectedly to join us for snack. "Is it hard being president?" "How did you pick your dog?"

I'm sure that large numbers of children in the District of Columbia would also not turn down a chance to meet the mayor. Judging by how cool they thought the life-size photo of Mayor Fenty was when we visited his office last week, my students would probably be just a little star-struck to meet the man in the flesh. They'd most likely have similar requests--if Obama won't support the ice-cream-for-lunch cause, perhaps they'd have better luck with the local government. The kids had asked tons of great questions on our field trip, though one did manage to slip past the censors. It was not my proudest moment as a teacher when Dominick asked the Mayor's Federal Affairs Advisor, "Do you have a tissue?"

In decreasing order of elementary school popularity, we now come to the lesser known government jobs. Admit it--you don't really know what the Inspector General does or the term length of the city's C.F.O. Neither did I, until we started researching D.C. government this semester. The relative obscurity of these non-president, non-mayor public officials didn't stop Chloe from developing quite a love for the job she was researching. When asked on the yearbook survey whom she would like to meet, if given the choice of all people who have ever lived in all of history, of all fictional characters ever imagined, Chloe wrote that she would most like to meet Charles J. Willoughby, the D.C. Inspector General. I would be willing to bet that Mr. Willoughby has never been the answer to this question.

We dropped Mr. Willougby an email the next day to inform him of his status as a veritable hero to one studious third grader. Sure enough, his secretary called us a couple of days later to set up a visit.

Just a Nibble

Darnell: “Jonathan bit me!”
Ms. Sarah: “Jonathan, did you bite Darnell?”
Jonathan: “No! Well. I just nibbled.”

Need a Folder

I love notes where the front matter exceeds the content of the note. Well, that and getting mail addressed to, "Garb."

To: Garb
From: Trina
Date: Oct 7, 2004
Time: 1:22
When: evening
Where: at school
Reason: Need a floder

Ms. Garb I need a center floder because my floder is tore if you don’t have anymore can you tell me where you get them.


Why take the time to say two separate words when you could shorten it to just one? "Hand" + "sanitizer" = way too difficult. Derrick has renamed it, simply, "hanitizer." Hey, call it what you want--I just care that you use it. Swine flu is nobody's friend.

I'm Not Really Into Girls

On the heroine in King Kong:

“Her beauty saved her.”

“Was she beautiful?”

“I’m not really into girls—I’m more into Godzilla.”

Every Second

Dear Ms. Garb,
I need much, much more help in math I trie my best to understand how to do my work I need to learn math every sekend and min I really need help with ever subject I relly do.

PS. write back Sincerely

Whatever He Said Happened

Dear Ms. G,
What ever Ronny told you is not true. Anyway what did he say. Let me tell you the truth I was not even in the room when whatever he said happened. Ronny is good at acting out lies.


Teacher Appreciation

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. Grab the next teacher you see and appreciate him or her! One way to do so, if you're looking for something very straightforward, is to take the Shawn Miller approach. Shawn walked into class on Monday, walked straight up to me--backpack and coat still on--and declared, "I appreciate you."

Certainly, teachers would also feel appreciated by, let's say, a salary raise. However, not all students would agree with this. One year, our morning journal was, "Who do you think should get paid more, a teacher or a professional baseball player? Why?"

A professional baseball player should get paid more because they do more work like practice and teachers just teach. they don’t practice nothing.

For a Clue

Dear Becky,
I don’t like when you sing a song about me. I well be nice to you if you be nice to me.

Well you be nice to me

yes no

for a clue
you could pick yes

Please Don't Tell My Mom

This past weekend, my husband and I found ourselves aboard paddle boats with some children we had just met. After returning the boats, Nate was standing with the 6-year old by the side of the lake as the boy chucked rocks into the water. Perhaps he hit a duck or something, but Nate definitely heard him exclaim, "Shit!" Nate asked, "What did you say?" and the boy scampered off.

Lots of things "just slip out" in the third grade. Oddly enough, the things that are unintentionally released from the mouth very rarely tend to be compliments or math facts. Maybe the curse words that have recently been written in the boys' bathroom also just slipped out of someone's hand....

I did not me to say that I gest slip out my mouth I sorry gest pleas don’t tell my mom




I would like to move to a different table because the silivea on the hand, finger in the nose, I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!!!

from Joey

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If you have ever worked in a classroom or office that has has a phone extension matching the local area code--you know what I'm talking about. Last week was particularly bad for the 202/202 confusion, but in general it goes like this: The phone rings, I sprint across the room for the third time in ten minutes, a child either asks for her mother or just breathes into the phone, and I silently curse my classroom and its location between rooms 201 and 203. With after school tutoring canceled due to testing last week, several kids were not picked up after school and got on the phone to call home. Or, well, to call room 202. I gave many many tutorials last week on the dialing of 9 first.

I'm not the only one teaching kids about correct phone usage. One Saturday I received this 3-part parent-child phone tutorial led by Ka’Von’s mom on my home phone.

2:12 pm

Ka’Von: Mommy—how do I call?
Ka’Von’s Mom: Stop—wait a minute.
Ka’Von: What’s the button?
Ka’Von’s Mom: I said wait a minute.
Ka’Von: Yeah, but what’s the button?
Ka’Von’s Mom: Wait.
Ka’Von: No, but it’s—
Ka’Von’s Mom: Ok, wait a minute.

2:15 pm

Ka’Von: Huh?

2:18 pm

Ka’Von’s Mom: Leave a message. Leave your message—‘This is Ka’Von…’
Ka’Von: This is Ka’Von.
Ka’Von’s Mom: Please call me at 202
Ka’Von: Please call me at 202
Ka’Von’s Mom: 555-3297
Ka’Von: 555-3297 and again it’s 202 555-3297 and my mom’s number is 202 555-2035.
Ka’Von’s Mom: And the time is two eighteen.
Ka’Von: And the time is two
Ka’Von’s Mom: Two eighteen.
Ka’Von: Two eighteen pm. Thank you very much. I don’t know what to do now!

A Little Incident

“I had a little incident with Derrick….and Derrick had a little incident with me…we seemed to have been grabbing each other.”

Dead Class Pets

A few days ago, my husband, Nate, made his annual appearance in the third grade as a special visitor. He shared with the children all about his work in philosophy, as represented by a Wittgenstein finger puppet which the kids took turns waggling around from their pointer fingers. Even though the details of what Mr. Nate does for a job were greatly overshadowed by the philosopher puppet's cute little bow tie, I consider Nate's visit this year to have been quite successful because it was incident-free, an accomplishment which I do not take for granted. Two years ago, on a rather cold March morning, Nate paid a notably more incident-filled visit to the third grade.

As the guest of honor, he had many duties for the morning. He helped hang our new classroom clock, kept me company at the copier before school, and got to meet all of the little people he had heard so much about at the dinner table. He showed a picture of our trip to Australia during share time, participated in a group game of “Elf,” and killed our class pet. Yes, that’s right, my husband killed our class pet.

Well, it was actually our not-yet-class pet. This bluish purplish reddish little Betta fish never got to know the thrill of being overfed, underfed, poked, scared, teased, taunted, shaken, or any of the other things I can only assume would have constituted his constrained little life in the third grade. Instead of living to experience these and other joys of being a class pet, he never made it past the initial stage of being just the teacher’s pet.

I don’t like animals, I’ll just go ahead and put that out there. I’ve never owned any myself or had any desire to get one for my class. One student last year wrote a note and put it in my mailbox, asking if we could get a class pet. I told him I’d think about it. My careful “deliberation” carried us through June.

So when Kira approached me one day this year begging for us to get a fish, I told her I’d think about it. The next day she brought in several pages from the Internet detailing various aquatic setups. She persisted, and finally I had to admit that getting a class pet would be a very third-grade-teacher-ly thing to do, and of all the potential pets, a fish seemed the most tolerable. I figured we could “earn” the fish when we reached 100 class points, but the mystery prize pet remained a secret in case I opted out of adopting a living creature and just ordered pizzas instead.

The day we hit 99 and a half class points, I ventured into PetSmart. “Look,” I told the man in the fish department. “I want the lowest maintenance fish you’ve got. I don’t want to have to feed it a lot, clean its tank often, deal with a huge aquarium with a thermometer and water filter, or really spend much money either.” He led me to the Betta fish. “These only need to be fed once a week.” A few minutes later, I was out the door with my new pet.

The next morning before class began, I handed my special guest the bowl, the fish, some water softener, and two bottles of water, and let him get it all set up while I made a poster about reading comprehension. Now, it’s not particularly original to kill a class pet. Every third grade class has their obligatory dead pet story. But to kill one off within an hour of bringing it into the classroom, that’s got to be a record of some sort. “Oh no,” gasped Nate. I looked up from my block lettering to see him staring, shocked, at the fish bowl. The not-yet-class pet was an unmoving bluish purplish reddish ice-cold lump at the bottom of the bowl, submerged under two full bottles of thoroughly car-chilled spring water.

Heavy with guilt and still in disbelief, we stared again at the low-maintenance Betta fish, now gone to that big glass bowl in the sky.

The students began to file in, and I introduced them to our special guest as we got started with our day. “Children, this is Mr. Nate.”

He killed your fish.

Fortunately, for this year's introduction, I was able to present him with less finger pointing and more finger puppets. "Children, this is Mr. Nate. He brought Wittgenstein."


Elementary school students require a lot of advice. Sometimes the advice that students need relates to things like what to do if they run out of room on the front of their paper. Nobody said all of the advice requires much ingenuity, there are just vast quantities needed.

This week is standardized testing week here in D.C! Testing can cause much apprehension and can cause students to need lots of advice. Students’ letters around testing time when I taught in Louisiana would often start to sound like a “Dear Abby” column.

Ms. Garb I’m afraid that I’m not going to pass the leap test. Do you think I’m going to pass it? Sincerely, Trina asking for advice

Get a Prenup

Mr. Nate and I are coming up on our third wedding anniversary soon! The year that we got married, I asked my third graders how to know if someone is right for you to marry.

If they do stuff for you
If he’s cute and doesn’t argue.
Only if he never cheated you before.
If he comes home right after work that means it.
Think about the good times and bad times. If you had a lot of bad times, he is not your man.
You have to be in common. Try identifying him to find some things you have in common.
If he loves you for your money, no. But if he doesn’t, yes.

Fortunately, Nate is cute and also doesn’t argue, so he passed that test with flying colors. Next I asked what Mr. Nate and I should do to have a happy marriage. Much of it is actually very good advice. A strong relationship definitely requires honesty and asking personal questions. However, some of their responses suggest that the third graders seemed to be envisioning Mr. Nate’s role in our marriage as a weekend childcare provider or gold digger.

When you are on your honeymoon, ask some personal questions.
You should try not to fight and be happy.
Don’t lie to Mr. Nate.
Ask how your day was.
Don’t look at other men.
Be kind, but honest when your husband asks your opinion of something.
If you have a bad day, tell Mr. Nate.
Talk to him about anything. Don’t be scared
Buy him something. At the reception party give the present to him.
If you have a baby, Mr. Nate can always keep the baby on the weekend.
Get a prenup so if you have a divorce, you stick with your money.

Life Outside of School

It's hard to know exactly what kids think I do when I’m not at school. Perhaps some of them actually envision me out and about doing teacher-personal-time things such as hunting gems, riding unicorns, and then returning to take a nap in the little bedroom I’ve fashioned inside the classroom closet.

One morning, I observed another school’s all-school meeting and came in to school late, around 10:30. While the kids were in the hallway on their bathroom break, I came into the classroom, hung up my coat and put my bags into the closet. Michael came back into the room as I was coming out of the closet. “You were in there the whole time?” he asked, incredulous.

Little Baby Tampons

Third graders have fairly loose standards for word usage. Many of them seem to operate under the philosophy that if a word falls within a few letters of the word they’re looking for, it’ll suffice. Their filing system for unknown words defaults to alphabetical, so when we read the word “grungy” in a poem, they open up the mental file labeled, “Words Beginning with ‘GR,’ ” reach in, and pull out “grumpy.” Eh, close enough. While this system actually does work for related words some of the time, “close enough” can be quite far indeed.

One afternoon as we cleaned up from lunch, a group of about six kids gathered around the deep red blossom of our newly blooming amaryllis plant. The various plant parts fascinated them and Vanessa leaned in close to examine the pollen-bearing anthers inside the flower. “Aww--they look like little tampons!” she marveled. “Little baby tampons!” I did a double take at what I had heard as I walked by, and waved Vanessa over.

“What are you talking about?” I whispered urgently, shielding our conversation with a batch of paperclipped math tests, horrified and a little confused by her comparison of the amaryllis to feminine hygiene products, especially around a gaggle of eight-year-old boys. “That is a girl thing and a private bathroom-type topic! What are you talking about?”

Vanessa’s “Words That Begin With ‘TA’ And Then Later Have a ‘PO’” folder had let her down. She gasped and clapped her hand over her mouth, genuinely realizing her mistake. “I meant TADPOLES!”

We are NOT Joking Around, Here

This summer I have been getting lots of advice on the impending baby situation that will be happening this fall.   Highlights of this advi...