Then I Bowed

This week I celebrate my birthday!  I'm one year farther away from remembering what it's like to think like a kid, but fortunately my students give me plenty of chances to try to get back inside that mental state.  From what I can tell, the inside of kids' minds is a psychedelic funhouse of reality meshing with fantasy, of imagination and misconceptions and movies all swirling together.

I was reading kids' writing stories a few weeks ago and happened upon one by Crystal that bent my mind and made me feel like I had stepped back into that childhood universe of thought.  Or like I was on a bad LSD trip.

Once upond a time my brother and I were born boys.  We were Identical twins but we grew up and then my brother became the meanist person in my country.  He slapped me and almost ripped my arm off but I was lucky.  On monday he punched me when I was asleep.  Then I bowed and Became the meanest evilist person in the world.  My brother was scared and then I Became myself but he tricked me with the puppy dog face.  So then my brother became the meanest evilist person in the country until I was 57 years old.  He stopped and died I was sad But I didn't know why because He almost Ripped my arm off.  So I promised I will die peacefully, Good By.

What do you think is gone To happen next do you think it should Be a or b or c or d

1. He will die peacefully.
2. He will get married
3. He will Be a Billioner
4. He will be a somprem ruler

Even from the first sentence, there are many amazing fantasy/horror/avant-garde movie plots contained within Crystal's Choose Your Own Adventure-esque story.  I love the dramatic bow that signals the transfer of evilness and that Crystal and her older brother are magically reborn as identical boy twins.  We have a little work to do on the whole "no violence in stories" policy, but woah.  Thinking like an eight year old is something else. 

Feel free to vote for your favorite of Crystal's four ending options!

Post Secret

The morning work assignment one day last week was to write one thing you think nobody knows about you on an index card.  The cards would be used for one of my favorite morning meeting games, for which I know no name other than, "Write One Thing You Think Nobody Knows."  It's particularly hard to think of something to write when you've been with the same looping class for a year and a half--we know a lot about each other.  But apparently not everything!

As the kids headed over to the rug for morning meeting, I collected all of their anonymous facts.  Not realizing these facts would be used for anything other than a form of private catharsis or confidential therapy, Daniel came up to me and whispered, "I wrote something I don't want anybody to know."  "Throw it away and write a new one," I told him, now very curious what he had written.

With all of the index cards, including Daniel's "take two," collected in a neat little stack, we began playing.  I read off each of the cards one at a time and the kids had to guess whose secret it was being revealed.  There were the run-of-the-mill disclosures about favorite Wii games or favorite foods but some of the other cards sounded like the kind of personal confessions one might find at Post Secret.  I hoped for no making fun but the kids handled the sensitive information well.
Nobody knows that I have baby dolls in my house and I still play with them.

I am lazy and I like watching TV.
  Many kids shared things that were their favorites.  One student, though, shared something she adamantly, underlined-ly hates.  For this to be what she thought of as her one thing, I wonder how often she thinks about the show.

I hate Monk.  It is a murder movie. 

  Another card shared a secret talent that I would have been just fine not knowing about.  The mental image stayed with me the whole day.

I can spray water out of my eyes if there is some in mine

  My own Thing That Nobody Knows?  A rather obvious one, actually, for anyone who knows me even a little.  My card read, "I am allergic to nuts."  Granted, I hastily jotted it down while also taking attendance and telling someone to walk rather than slide over to morning meeting.  The kids guessed it in half a second flat.  Perhaps I should have used one of these.

  While my disclosure was rather uninspired, nothing beats the vivid, imaginary worlds of third graders.

I climb my tree then when I jump off the tree I land like a spy.

I'm one BB time away from making travel times.  (It means to travel and race.)

The Blazer

As with all items in our classroom lost-and-found, the blazer appeared out of thin air, never having been worn into or carried into the room, but simply materializing in the corner next to the cubbies. 

"Children, how can this sweatshirt/coat/hat belong to NOBODY?" I will ask from time to time when the lost-and-found pile spills its contents onto the floor and reminds me that this same sweatshirt/coat/hat has remained unclaimed for months.

The children always swear it belongs definitely to Tyler and Tyler swears it definitely does not belong to him and we go about three rounds of this before setting the matter of ownership aside to settle another day.

"Tyler?  Are you SURE this is not yours, because I really think it is yours and the other kids really think it is yours."

"No, THIS is mine!" insists Tyler, holding up a nearly identical sweatshirt.

I place the imposter back on top of the ever-growing pile.

Beneath Tyler's sweatshirt, well, OK, the unclaimed sweatshirt we'll call it, sits a small, black blazer.  I am honestly not sure if this was left behind by a kid on picture day or after a performance, or if it's actually a petite women's blazer forgotten by someone observing in our room.

Whatever its mysterious origin, the blazer has now all but found a permanent home.  Michael has discovered the transformative power of a lost-and-found blazer. 

It began one early fall day before coat season had set in but after we had left the short-sleeve months.  The recess air a bit cool for Michael, I suggested he look through the lost-and-found pile for another layer.  A few minutes later, Michael stepped out onto the playground wearing the black blazer--ostensibly for warmth, but clearly more so for style.  He was a cool dude and he knew it.

You could tell that Michael felt transformed wearing the blazer.  Donning it, he went from a regular eight year old boy to "Hey-Man-Alright-Takin'-Care-of-Business-On-My-Way-to-a-Meeting-but-Let's-Do-Lunch-Important-Guy."  Michael managed to be somewhat cold several times over the next few weeks and eventually more or less appropriated the blazer as his own for any uniform-free situations.

Last night was our big performance of all that we have learned about geology.  Now, performances happen to be just such a uniform-free situation.  The kids got to leave their regular uniforms at home and instead wore shirts vaguely resembling the color of whatever stone they portrayed in the skit.  Granite, Marble, Basalt, Sandstone--all came on stage in turn to apply for the job of building material.  As we were getting some last minute things ready for the performance, Michael pulled out the blazer.

"But you're Basalt!  Basalt doesn't wear a blazer!" I exclaimed.  "Just wear the gray shirt you came in, Michael!  Sans blazer!"

Michael obliged, but asked if he could wear it again after the skit.  Yes, Michael.  You can be Important Guy after the skit.  And indeed, as soon as he was finished with the role of Basalt and was ready to answer geology questions from the audience, Michael swapped out for his favorite role as Important, Blazer-Wearing Guy.  He did the role justice.

Call Back on This Number!

You might think that three phonecalls in a row to his teacher earlier this week would be enough to answer whatever urgent homework question a third grader might have.  You would be wrong.

Thursday evening, walking out of school, I turned on my phone to find not one, not two, but THREE phone messages from Kamari, getting progressively more urgent as they went along.

Message 1:

Hi Ms. Sarah, this is Kamari.  I wanted to talk to Ms. Sarah to tell her that I'm going to do my spelling tonight.  I'll turn it in tomorrow.

Alright, call back on this number: 202 555...555-3748.  Thank you and hope you have a wonderful day.

A few minutes later, message 2:

Hey Ms. Sarah, it's Kamari.  I wanted to speak to Ms. Sarah about decimals and um...the, I mean--not decimals, I mean like spelling.  I'm going to do them today.

Call back when you get this message.  202 555-3748.  Thank you.  Have a wonderful day.

For something that was essentially a non-question, he was really eager to get in touch.  Yes, Kamari.  If you didn't do your spelling homework last night, just do it tonight and turn it in tomorrow.  We had been over this before.

By his last message, Kamari was sounding more like a sailor captured by pirates, making a furtive and desperate call for help than an eight year old confused about an assignment.  A very urgent message 3 was left entirely in a rushed whisper as Kamari struggled to get out his plea before the pirates realized he was contacting the outside world.

Message 3:

Ms. Sarah, this is Kamari.  CallBackOnThisNumber2025553748.  Bye.

I finished listening to all of the calls and got in my car to drive home.  On the way, who should ring me up but the message leaver himself.

Hi Ms. Sarah, this is Kamari.
Kamari--you are calling me TOO much.
Yeah, I really had to ask you a question about the homework...

I added up the number of times Kamari had called.  Seven calls in two days?  Why all of a sudden so many?  The homework hadn't suddenly spiked in difficulty.  In fact, it is the same weekly spelling assignment Kamari has had for a year and a half. 


Ah.  Yes.  Kamari had turned eight the previous week.  And what did he get for his birthday?  Oh yeah.  A CELL PHONE.

OK Ms. Sarah, I'll Call You Back

An evening phonecall from Kamari last night managed to turn a single homework question into a three-act event.  

Act 1:

Hi Ms. Sarah.
Is this Kamari?  You have to say, "Hi. This is Kamari, can I speak to Ms. Sarah?"
Oh.  OK.  Hi.  This is Kamari, can I speak to Ms. Sarah?
Hi Kamari.  Do you have a question about the homework?
Yeah....for the decimals.....HOLD ON GRANDMA!

[Someone talking in the background]

Hold on Ms. Sarah.

[More talking in the background]



[Ms. Sarah wonders what Kamari so adamantly 'is not.'  Kamari--are you done with your homework?  Kamari--are you bothering your teacher on the phone?]

Act 2, one minute later:

Hi.  It's Kamari again.

[Kamari asks question about decimals.  Ms. Sarah answers question about decimals.]

[Talking in the background]

OK Ms. Sarah, I'll call you back.  Click.

["But...the conversation was over," thinks Ms. Sarah.  There was no more to be continued.  There is no need for calling back....]

Act 3, another minute later: 

[Ms. Sarah talks to Kamari's dad about decimals to settle the "lively debate" they had been having on the subject.  Ms. Sarah hangs up, unconvinced that she has heard the last of Kamari's burning homework question.  Eight year olds, after all, are quite the quirky phone users and message leavers.]

Unwrap a Treasure

I always expect the line between Trash and Not Trash to be much more clear than it turns out to be in third grade.  Today I was foiled again by the unclear distinction between the two.

In my book, Trash is something you don't want or need any more, that can't be reused or recycled or given away.  The category of Not Trash includes (but is not limited to) things you want to save for later, or things you might leave out on a shelf.

On my way to the stapler this afternoon after school, I happened to spot a folded up paper.  "Oh look!" I thought to myself.  "This must be a valuable item that someone wants to save for later, seeing as how it is left out on this shelf."  Upon closer inspection, I determined that this piece of Not Trash was actually a carefully folded index card.

"Ah--maybe a love note" I thought.  Those tend to come folded up in such packages.  Perhaps this wad contains reasons # 26-50 of the infamous Reasons Why I Am Nevery Leveing You.  Or maybe it's an interactive Circle Yes or No note.

"Or possibly a freshly lost tooth" I guessed as I opened the folds.  That would certainly be something to save and not throw out.  Well, except when those lost teeth and various other items get mistaken for trash and we have to stage heroic efforts to reclaim the Not Trash.

After several layers, the prized contents revealed themselves to be....pencil shavings.  Really?  That is what was so carefully wrapped and left on a shelf in a Save for Later bundle?  But--it's--[sigh].  I tossed the shavings and their origami-like container into the trash.  

Why would someone take all of that effort to package up some pencil shavings?  I did have some avid pencil lead collectors one year, so I guess there's a precedent for saving odd treasures and, in fact, starting a business by selling them

With a class full of eight year olds who, as a group, often save weird things and are also generally bad at cleaning, I guess I won't expect to Trash vs. Not Trash distinction to become any more clear in the near future.

Cue Laughter

In third grade, students practice the art of writing in different genres from friendly letters to narrative stories to persuasive essays.  Around this time of the semester, if a school performance is fast approaching, third grade teachers also get to flex their writing muscle in a very particular genre.  You know it.  You love it.  It's that knee-slapping, guffaw-inducing yet informational style known as the Third Grade Skit.

If, for some reason, you are not acquainted with the art of writing the Third Grade Skit, here is the basic process.

*Lay out a loose plot that allows you to cram in a bunch of science or social studies content.

*Anthropomorphize up some rocks, historical documents, or animals to serve as characters.
*Continue to introduce a ridiculous number of characters until you reach your class size.

*Render several characters incapable of understanding any terms used by the other characters, thus necessitating explanatory monologues on metamorphic rocks.

*Sprinkle puns and plays on words liberally.

*Have one of the characters keep making mistakes in a comical way.

*Spend the rest of your time counting and recounting all of the lines until each part is relatively equal and immune to complaints of, "He gets more lines!"

Last week, other third grade teacher and I were on a roll--cranking out scene after scene of corny lines mixed with explanations of how sandstone forms, the properties of marble, and what buildings and monuments use granite.  You can be sure that we have a line starting with, "Don't take us for granite....."

The cornier the better.  If a super cheesy thought occurs to you--put it in.  The character who keeps forgetting Bernoulli's Principle will get big laughs.  Not again!  Ah hah hah.

Before Thanksgiving break, we placed the final script in the hands of our eager thespians.  We started reading, and a few corny jokes passed by with no reaction.  "Hold on, people.  Get why this is funny?  Let me explain."  I didn't expect anyone to get our reference to The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, when Marble (the metamorphic rock that limestone turns into) says, "I thought about going by, 'The Rock Formerly Known as Limestone.'"  I had found my co-scriptwriter's line about marble to be a rather exemplary instance of the genre, though, so I invested a few minutes of class time into explaining the joke  "You see, children, before you were born, in something called, 'The 90s'...."  Even after I broke it down, they still did not find it nearly as funny as I did.

We pushed onward to the next act, where some of the lines got big laughs.  I felt inordinately proud for having made a bunch of eight year olds chuckle.  They laugh at pretty much anything, including fake-picking one's nose.  Still, though, I knew the jokes were the right level of corniness.  Oh, that calcite!  Always dissolving in acid!  What will he do next?

Now back after a few days off, with time ticking down until our big performance, we're in big-time rehearsal mode.  Basically what that means is that we spend a lot of time moving around the furniture to clear off our "stage" and then put all the tables back to do "learning," and I do a lot of, "It's your line!"  "Louder!"  We'll see next week in front of a real audience whether or not the script and the acting have hit the mark in the well-loved genre of Third Grade Skit.

If you're in the mood, now, for some acting tips, take this advice from previous experience performing Third Grade Skits.  Here you'll learn what to say to the audience if you have to abruptly leave a scene due to line forgetting.  Or you'll learn what NOT to say to a fellow actor should her or she fail to step into the scene at the appropriate time.

In a Word....No.

Kids can, at times, be rather poor judges of what would or would not make sense.  

I, at times, have the energy to explain.  At other times, I'm just not up for it.

Last week I had given a co-worker a small gift bag for her birthday.  On her way out at the end of the day, carrying the purple paper bag in her hand, she thanked me for the present. 

Dylan was hanging out in the room after school, waiting to be picked up.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Well, it's Ms. Lesley's birthday today and I got her a gift" I replied.

"Did you get her clothes?" Dylan asked.

I imagined trying to stuff a sweater into the four inch tall gift bag that Ms. Lesley had just left with.

"Little, tiny clothes?" he asked.

"Umm-- "


"No, Dylan.  I did not get her little tiny clothes.  Just--no.  We're going to leave it at that."

Dear Children who Sit at the Back

Dear Children who Sit at the Back of the Classroom,
  It has come to my attention that I have neglected to teach you a key rule of handwriting.  Yes, we've discussed how certain letters have to always hang below the writing line or a) your writing will be hard to read and b) people will think poorly of your third grade teacher.  We have begun to cover the odd rules of cursive, like how a lowercase cursive k just blatantly looks like a capital R, and I think you're starting to get it.

  I've expounded on the evils of failing to erase a letter before plopping a new, more correct letter in exactly that same location.  The resulting Hybrid Letter of Non-Erasing really is nobody's friend and makes your words tough to decipher.  (Fortunately, though, I am skilled at deciphering them anyway, so this reminder is for when your writing will be read by those less skilled.)

  But alas, I have failed to share with you one more rule of correct letter formation.  It is a well-established expectation that I assure you exists in all of the classrooms in our school, regardless of how youthful the teacher.  Your teacher is exceedingly young (and hip!) and this rule is unrelated in any way to her denial of the increasing need for an eye exam.

  The internationally-recognized rule of handwriting that I have omitted from previous teaching is as follows:

If you are a Child who Sits at the Back, Global Handwriting Law states that you must form all of your letters at a minimum height of five inches when writing on a whiteboard that will be held up for the teacher to read across the room.

    I apologize for not teaching this rule sooner, but it's quite standard practice and it's time you start falling into line.  Children who Sit at the Front, this rule does not apply to you.  Yet.
           Your Youthful and Non-Squinting Teacher

Talkin' 'Bout Mommas

There are times in elementary school when the urge to be mean arises and the internal voice of Dad or Ms. Sarah reminding you to, "Be nice!" "Think about how that would make someone feel!" or "If you don't have anything nice to say...." is too quiet or completely nonexistent. 

Mean stuff comes out.

It sometimes disguises itself as a compliment.  At the end of the year, when we write kind words about everyone in the class, a few insults always sneak into the mix posing as appreciation.

"I think that you always try even if you don't know the answer."

"She is very athletic for a girl." 

And my most recent favorite supposed compliment: "You're mean to people but not to me."

Next on our tour of elementary school insults is the putting down of one's mother.

Sometimes, though, there is no need to even say anything at all about a momma for it to constitute an insult.  A simple, "Your momma!" will suffice to seriously peeve a classmate.  Really, though, how do we even know what the ending to this incomplete statement was going to be? 

It could have been:

"Your momma...IS LOVELY!"


But no--it doesn't matter what follows, just the fact that the word "momma" was invoked.  And, as I found out last week on our hike at Great Falls National Park, it doesn't even matter if the insultee actually has a mother.  We had stopped to use the bathroom before heading out into the wilderness and the boys were commenting on the facilities.  True, they were the kind of utilitarian restrooms you'd expect at a public park, but they served our purposes just fine.  From within the bathroom, though, I heard one of the boys declare them ugly.  Not satisfied to leave it at that, Harrison then launched a serious slam.

He proclaimed--of the bathroom, "It's MOTHER is ugly, too!"


Carnival of Education

I'd like to give a shout out to J.M. Holland at Emergent Learner for hosting the latest Carnival of Education!  He describes several education-related posts around the web for which he's thankful (it's that thankful time of year, people!) and I'm thankful that he included me!  I'm also thankful for the recent treasure trove of club documents that I've managed to get my hands on outlining the girls' plans for spying on kids and for "messing with" the boys.  I really can't make this stuff up, so it's helpful when the kids comply and dump nuggets of gold into my mailbox.

But wait!  There's more!  I am updating my thankfulnes to include a mention in the same post as a former Secretary of Education!  Yes, Margaret Spellings and I now share a page at The Quick and the Ed.  I'm assuming, though, that her link is of more serious and important education commentary than mine....which is about poop.

We Mess With Them!

Setting up long trains of toppling dominoes, building assorted machines out of plastic Zoobs, and pretending to know how to play Mancala are all popular options for how to spend indoor recess or Earned Free Time in the third grade.  The way that Earned Free Time works is that the class can save some time by being particularly quick to clean up or by finishing our bathroom break in under the time allotted.  That time gets deposited into our Earned Free Time amount.  On Fridays, we take a few minutes to "spend" that time with the dominoes, the Zoobs, and fake Mancala.

Another option for how to make use of this free time is to make grand plans for total domination over the boys.

Keisha and Deja are big planners.  First, they had their Girl Calendar, outlining all of their various recess activities, including one spot on Tuesdays reserved for simply, "Girls are better than boys."  I wasn't clear, exactly, on what that activity would entail, but now I've seen their accompanying plan which seems to flesh out the calendar more fully.  And with more dollar signs.

The wording of this plan is really less an outline of proposed activities than it is a rallying cry or call to action.  I assume that there is an appropriate way to read the plan, and that is as follows:

1. Gather crowd of loyal supporters of your cause.

2. Stand on improvised platform in front of a podium if possible.

3. Loudly and passionately proclaim your intentions: "We MESS with the boys!"

4. Clench fist and raise it in the air.

5. Shake fist while repeating the plan for more emphasis: "We MESS WITH THEM!" [Note: Draw out 
the vowels for yet more emphasis.]

6. Crowd of loyal supporters echoes your rallying cry back to you.

7. Proceed, en masse, towards the Four Square game to carry out plan.


A couple of days ago I was stretching for a run on the sidewalk when I suddenly found myself face to face with an inexplicably fascinated little girl.  

Nate and I altered our usual neighborhood jog on Tuesday so that we first stopped by our local polling place to vote.  Our civic duty successfully carried out, we stopped outside on the sidewalk to stretch.  As we readied our hamstrings for some exertion, a mother walked by with her two little girls.  One of them, about elbow-height-age walked over to Nate, sized him up, and found him only minimally interesting.

She then walked over and stood right in front of me.  The girl looked up from under a polarfleece purple hat and smiled.  I smiled back. 

"Hi." I said, assuming that she was waiting for an acknowledgment or a greeting before moving on down the street with her mom and sister.

Still she stood there, smiling, completely impressed with me for some reason.

"Hi" I said again and my pint-sized fan took a step closer.  I almost asked her if there was something she wanted to ask me, so intently was she staring.  My usual response to one of my students standing so expectantly but so mutely is, "Do you have a question?"

"Maybe it's my 'I voted!' sticker," I thought.  She could have been particularly inspired by me not only having cast my ballot, but so proudly wearing my sticker.

Or perhaps she was drawn to me because of the teachery-ness I exude.  Even in jogging clothes, maybe I just seem like someone who could help you find an equivalent fraction or who might tell you you've done a Good Job.

Then again the attraction might have been my outfit.  Out of a coincidental abundance of orange-colored workout clothes, I was dressed in bright orange running pants and a vibrant orange sweatshirt.  I sort of looked like candy.

Whatever the reason, this girl had decided she just loved a complete stranger.  As I stood with my hands on my hips, fascinated by her fascination and wondering where, exactly, this child's mother had gone, she took another step toward me, puckered up her lips, and KISSED my ELBOW!  A little girl on the street kissed my elbow!

She then just dashed off down the road to her mother.

At least she didn't talk to me. We all know you shouldn't talk to strangers.

Your Mock Civic Duty

Anyone else feel a little underwhelmed by this election season?  Sure, there's been enough drama surrounding various Senate and House races to fill a few Saturday Night Live sketches, but it's been hard for me to drum up much enthusiasm for any of the races happening in D.C. 

Two years ago, though, now there was an election!  I was exciting to be part of such a historic moment and to share it with my third graders.  In 2008, passions ran high among both the McCain and Obama supporters.  This being the highly democratic District of Columbia, though, the McCain camp was sorely outnumbered.  Spontaneous chants of, "Obama!  Obama!" would break out during class and I had to have several conversations about how everyone was entitled to his or her own opinion.  "It's OK for someone else to like a different candidate than you do," I'd say.  "It's not nice to say a candidate, 'sucks.'"  "There will be no more vandalism of the McCain and Obama photos in our Time for Kids news magazine."  Yes, passions ran high indeed.

This year, though--eh. 

I didn't do nearly as many election lessons as in 2008, but I did go through a PowerPoint overview of the voting process and pictures of the different candidates for D.C. mayor and non-voting congressional delegate ahead of last week's mock election.  I purposely omitted the one candidate for delegate who published complete nonsense as her official platform.  Sorry, but "The state of California has kidnapped my children" does not constitute a stance on the issues.  Perhaps I should have left it in, though, to demonstrate how literally ANYONE can get on the ballot!

I scrolled through a few photos of the mayoral hopefuls along with a summary of their political positions.  The content of a candidate's message, however, didn't factor at all in the decision for some of the third grade mock voters.  The photo was all that was needed for Keona to make up her mind.

As pictures of two men running for mayor filled the screen, Keona muttered under her breath, "I ain't voting for no man!"

Not to be outdone in this categorical rejection of candidates based solely on their gender being different from one's own gender, Thomas answered from across the room under his breath, "I ain't voting for no lady!"

There are some very good reasons why third graders are relegated to the realm of mock elections.

I Got No Hands

No, this isn't a Halloween-related post about a bloody severed hand.  In fact, I'm only vaguely aware that it's Halloween today.  With no kids to take out in costume, no trick-or-treaters coming to our apartment, and my own dressing-up experience already over after last night's Halloween party, today is more a day to recuperate from back-to-back parents-in-town weekends than anything else.  Although, don't get me wrong, I've been eating candy all day.

What this post is about, however, can be classified as a three-second performance art piece that takes place as the doorway to our classroom.

My priority on any walk from our classroom out the door to recess, to art class or to P.E. is inevitably either: 1) Hurry so we're not late again, or 2) Less dancing/slipping/wiggling/strutting/hopping -- more walking regularly.  Some kids, however, see this walk as a time to shine with a new trick that's sure to impress the teacher.

A few years ago, Jerrod and the rest of the cafeteria-bound class were filing out of the classroom as I kept an eye on the aforementioned dancing/slipping/wiggling/strutting/hopping.  Jerrod approached the doorway on his way out, readying himself for his big moment to shine.  In the first act of his three-second performance, he pulled back the corners of his eyes until they narrowed into almost completely closed slits.  Act II: Jerrod looked up at me with his slits for eyes.  For the big finale, he delivered the performance's one line: "I got no eyes."

He was already past me and on his way to lunch, but Jerrod knew I was appreciating the artistic value of his miniature, one-man show.

It's been a few years since that bit of nano-theater, and I thought perhaps the art form had gone out of vogue.  However, as I discovered last week, doorway performance is still alive and well.

Charlotte made her approach from off stage, pulling her hands into the sleeves of her sweatshirt.  Act II: Charlotte held her sleeve stumps up in the air and looked up at me.  She closed the show with, "I got no hands."

For all of you fans of the arts, keep an eye out (well, if you have eyes, that is) for a micro-performance in a doorway near you!
Futurama image from

Spying on Kids

You may be wondering how you're going to fit some quality hopscotch time into your busy schedule.  Well wonder no more!  Thanks to the handy Girl Calendar, I can keep you up to date on all the plans for any given day of recess.

The other day during a rainy indoor recess, I happened upon Keisha and Deja crafting a daily agenda of playground activities.

According to their Girl Calendar, Mondays will feature games of tag and Zip, Zap, Zoom as well as a dance competition.  If you're more of a Dancing with the Stars kind of gal, then be sure to show up Tuesdays after Zookeeper's Keys.

Tuesday also includes an item listed simply as, "Girls are better than boys."  I'm not entirely certain how this constitutes a recess activity rather than just a firmly-held conviction.  Do they spend that time reveling in how much better girls are than boys?  Do they stage tests of skill and cunning designed to prove their superiority over the male members of the class?

Under Wednesday is listed, "Work!  Work!  WORK!"  At first, I was impressed by the girls' dedication to learning, as shown by voluntarily opting to do work during recess.  Then I realized that we don't have recess on Wednesdays.

Which brings us to Thursday, which will apparently be taken up by "Spying on kids" and "Asking kids about their personal life."  Will there be a survey?

Round out the week with some hopscotch (See?  I told you this calendar would help you fit it in!), a little tag, and playing house, and you've got yourself a week!

Interior Design: Now with More Cats!

On last week's vocabulary test, I asked students to describe an attractive room.  Aside from demonstrating if they knew the meaning of the word, the question also gave a peek inside their eight-year-old aesthetic sense.  Apparently, the gold standard of attractiveness to third graders is, well, gold.  Several kids included gold in their decor.  Perhaps taking some cues from European royal palaces, one student described the most attractive room ever as having gold everywhere.

Not surprisingly, another hallmark of a living space attractive to third graders is a large supply of toys.  Toys featured in their answers from "scattered with," "filled with," to "lots of."  Oh--and throw in several mentions of TVs and cookies.

Attractiveness, to eight-year-olds, also involves "a good smell" as well as the color pink.  Flowers featured heavily, including rainbow flowers which perhaps would be giving off this enticing smell.

And just to warn you--if you ever find yourself on one of those home redecorating shows where you  swap places with your neighbor and decorate their house, and your neighbor happens to be a third grader, you're going to wind up with butterflies all over your dining room.  Another student's idea of attractiveness was cat designs, so be prepared for some of those too.  Add in a few handprints, and some "obstacles" and you will have yourself the most attractive room that a third grader could ever imagine. 

Perhaps that sounds like just your style of interior design, but as for myself, I won't be hiring a third grader anytime soon to redecorate my apartment!  While I do appreciate "a good smell" as much as the next person, I'm not so sure about gilded cats all over the walls.

Go! Go! Go!

If you are a curious kindergartener, wondering,
  • "Good idea or bad idea?"
  • "What will happen if I touch that?"  
  • "Will my actions cause anyone to have to leave the bathroom in such a hurry they sill have two handfuls of soap suds?" 
  • or "What does that little white handle on this small red box do?"

Well wonder no more.
  • Bad, bad, very bad idea.
  • An extremely loud noise, followed by the emptying of the entire school.
  • YES
  • It sounds the FIRE ALARM, that's what it does!

  We were lined up in the hallway earlier this week, mid-bathroom break, when the fire alarm rang at full volume.  Usually we get an email ahead of time if there is to be a fire drill and I make sure to rearrange our bathroom time if it happens to conflict, precisely so we aren't in this situation!  I mean--there's business to finish up in there that might take a minute!
  Surprisingly, though, we were all out the door in record time.  Those kids dashed out of the bathroom like the school was on fire--oh, right.  It was.  So quickly did we beat feet, actually, that a few kids were left hanging without washing their hands.  As I did a head count while the kids streamed out of the building, Marcus walked past me with his hands held up in the air, full of foaming soap.  "Uh.  You'll just have to....wash them when we get inside."  I said.  " could wipe them on your pants."
  Later, after the Startled to Death portion of the fire situation, after the Exit at Top Speed and the Head Count, and during the Wait Around portion, Trent raised his hand.  "I didn't have time to wash my hands!" he said, very concerned.  I thanked him for his help in making a speedy lavatory departure, and told him to just not touch anybody until we got back to a sink.

  The Wait Around portion lasted for longer than usual, and I began to get suspicious about how much of this was a drill.  The fire trucks came.  We waited.  My kids noticed something fascinating and apparently web-like on a bush outside of one of the neighborhood houses.  "It's just like Charlotte's Web!" exclaimed Tyrell.
  We waited some more.  The fire truck passed us on its way out and one firefighter waved to the awestruck line of kids.
  On our way back in, I found out that this lengthy diversion that left us with germy, soapy hands and threw off our schedule for the morning had been brought to us by one curious little kindergartener. 


Go ahead.  Just say it aloud.  Pedoodle.  You're giggling a little, aren't you.

Pedoodle, in addition to being a highly entertaining word to say aloud to yourself, is a game I play from time to time with my kids at morning meeting. 

 The object of Pedoodle is to try to make the guesser guess a mystery word by saying different sentences as clues.  In place of the mystery word you use the word pedoodle.  And if you can believe it, as comical as the word is itself, pedoodle sounds even funnier when used in the context of a sentence that is in all other ways trying to be completely serious.

  Our first suggestion for a mystery word today was chicken.  Once the guesser re-entered the room, we had, "A pedoodle lives in a barn."  Ha!  A pedoodle!  Living in a barn!  Then it was on to, "I like to eat fried pedoodle."  Ahah!  Pedoodle, fried!  After a few other clues, the guesser correctly deduced the mystery word.

  Our next mystery word was suggested by Terralyn.  Try your hand at guessing this one:

  *Pedoodles hang out.
  *Pedoodles smell like rotten eggs.

   If you guessed "teenagers," you are correct!  Entertaining for all, a challenge to try to guess the mystery word in as few clues as possible, and a creativity exercise, Pedoodle can also at times be a window into what, exactly, kids think (that is, if you're not already getting a live feed from their brains non-stop).
   So what do third graders think of teenagers?  As it turns out, they have some pretty vivid images of teenagers, and some strong opinions.  Yes, those teen--I mean pedoodles are known for all of their hanging out.  And if you've spent time with pedoodles lately, or even some pre-pedoodles, it's true.  Some do not smell so fresh.

  "YOU will be a pedoodle!" foretold Nyla, which was perhaps a scarier prospect for some of the still-eight-year-olds than others.

  Duncan finished off the round with one last clue.  "I HATE pedoodles!"

  Let this be a lesson to all of you smelly, loitering pedoodles out there--you have a little PR work to do with the third grade crowd.

The Most Interesting Third Graders in the World

My third graders have recently had all kinds of amazing adventures and experiences.  Sky diving!  Meeting President Obama!  In fact, I've even heard that sharks have a week dedicated to them. Yes, just like those Dos Equis commercials, my kids have lately been the most interesting third graders in the world. 

If you believe them.

The complete exposé on how our morning meeting has become a bed of lies can be found today at An Army of Ermas!

If you're dropping in from Ermas, I'll catch you up on what's been new lately: direct from brain to mouth thoughts and pooping out plants.  Yep, you're now caught up on the latest major happenings of the third grade.

What I'm REALLY Thinking...

Third graders' brains are abuzz with thoughts.  Some of these thoughts travel down the path from third grade brain to third grade mouth but get stopped by a gatekeeper.  "Nope!" says the gatekeeper.  "Nobody needs to know that your foot's itchy.  We'll just keep that thought between you and me." 

The more important and more well-formulated of the thoughts make the cut and get past the gatekeeper.  These brain nuggets are ready for prime time, ready to head out into the open for public review.

And then there are some kids whose thoughts are all fast-tracked.  The instant the thought occurs, it hops down the tube that leads directly out the mouth--no gatekeeper, no filter.  Just, bam!  Here's my thought!

Whenever I read aloud from Charlotte's Web, I expect to get some unfiltered brain activity. 

A character perches precariously on a feeding trough--Bam!  "Oh!  He's gonna fall!"

Charlotte makes preparations in the barn--Bam! "I bet Charlotte's going to make a new web!"

Yes, for some, the internal monologue hasn't yet become internal.  The external monologue, though, can be quite revealing about kids' perceptions.  One year our student teacher was about to choose someone to answer a math question and we got an unfiltered look at Bryson's thoughts on who should be called on.  "Joseph's the smartest," Bryson's fast-track brain offered.

Another day, after literacy centers, I noticed Angelo looking down at his palms, fingers spread wide.  "Ooh....I got too sticky at that poetry center" he commented aloud.  Later that week, at our whole-school meeting, Angelo's thoughts were dropping fast and furious down the Direct-to-Mouth chute.

"Oh, I bet they're going to sing now" he said as a group of kids arranged themselves for a song.

"He's new to guitar club" Angelo continued.  "I don't know all the words to this song."

Another teacher sitting nearby overheard the not-so-internal monologue.  "Angelo," she said.  You're thinking your thoughts out loud--just keep those to yourself."  It was then that Angelo replied with something even more scary than hearing an eight-year-old's every thought spoken aloud.

"Oh" said Angelo.   "That's not what I'm really thinking."

Magical, Life-Giving Poop

From past experience planting seeds with third graders, I'm very well aware of Common Plant Misconception # 1: Standing by the plant table and staring at your sprout during snack clean-up helps speed the growing process.

Today, though, we unearthed two additional and perhaps equally widespread fallacies.

Common Plant Misconception # 2) Plants emerge, fully grown, from animals' butts. 

Common Plant Misconception # 3) When a mommy seed and a daddy seed love each other very much, they mate and have a baby plant.

Today's botany lesson began with the observation and sketching of our Brassica sprouts.  Known for good reason as "fast plants," our plants made a remarkable debut, shooting up from nothing over the course of a single weekend.  Sketches that day were impressive.  Now, though, a few days later, the plants haven't really changed all that much.  Well--some are now rather limp from over-fondling, but other than that they've stalled a bit.  Perhaps we need to do more staring during clean-up.

From today's anticlimactic observation, we moved on to reading about how seeds get from place to place.  This topic is actually quite perfect for third graders, as it involves permission to talk about poop.  Yes, we read about how animals eat fruit with seeds (which resulted in a rather excellent, X-ray style drawing by Nicole of some seeds chillin' in the belly of something furry) and then about how these seeds, well, let's just say they exit in the animals' waste and end up in the soil.  Or--to put it another way, as Ernesto did when I asked him to paraphrase that section,

"The animal eats the seeds....and then poops out a plant!"

And thus we have Plant Misconception # 2.  The kids and I all rather enjoyed picturing a squirrel pooping out a full-grown azalea. 

Ernesto chuckled too and then corrected himself.  Why, of course!  Plants come not straight out of the derrières of animals, but from seeds!  Those frisky, frisky seeds.  Unless, of course, your seeds haven't been in the mood lately.  DJ explained the reason why his cup was looking rather empty.  

"I don't think my two seeds like each other.  My plant's not growing!"

Now that we've got those two cleared up, our next lesson might center around Plant Misconception # 4: The names of plant parts and of feminine hygiene products are interchangeable. 

Hyperbolize Much?

I will admit, "Special Snack" is pretty cool.  This weekly incentive for one of my students, Kelvin, involves getting to pick one friend to join him for snack down the hall from our classroom.  We chat (mostly about Pokemon phrases I don't even understand).  We eat snack.  It's special.  3 times out of 4, the lucky friend Kelvin picks to join him is David. 


Last week I found Kelvin by the cubbies, writing this note to David.  Not his usual energetic self, Kelvin was almost near tears.

Sad.  I mean--never?  Never again?  Why the harsh treatment? (And another question I have--why close such a note with, "Your Friend?") (And yes, I did copy and paste the note so that the names are changed).

When I saw his note, I asked Kelvin if he was mad at David for some reason.  Indeed, he was.  I don't even remember what the reason was, but we solved it in about two minutes by talking to David.  Done and done, and you'll be happy to know that they're back on speaking and Pokemon-ing terms in time for this week's special snack.  We'll see what happens with it comes time to choose this week!

This May Sound Shocking

Turning over the attention of the entire class to an eight-year-old can be a little risky at times.  Who knows what they might say?  During morning meeting, two students share each day and the content of their shares is usually not vetted ahead of time.  I open the floor to whoever's signed up and we await the topic of the share.  For the most part, the shares are about new pets, upcoming trips, or some collection of special objects. 

This week, though, I started to get a little nervous as Thomas began his share and briefly wished that the morning meeting shares were somehow on a 5 second broadcast delay and that I had a censoring buzzer.

 The share began, "At the age of eight you can have different things." 

"Hmmmm."  I thought, hoping this start was not leading towards some sort of recent talk between Thomas and his dad that included, "You're getting older now, son, and there are changes that will start happening to your body."  What sort of "different things" are we talking about, here? 

Thomas continued, "This may sound shocking but...."

No no--morning meeting is not the venue for anything shocking, thanks.  I opened my mouth in preparation for a quick intervention and change of topic.

"I actually have....." 

This drawn-out and highly sensationalized introduction was killing me!

"...a nephew." 

Oh, OK.  You have a nephew.  Phew!  We can handle that.  Now on to questions or comments from the class for Thomas, when we turn our attention over to yet another eight-year-old, out of whose mouth might come something completely unexpected.  Best to just stay prepared for that quick intervention and change of topic.

Spills and Sticky Blobs

We're still close enough to the beginning of the year that I can at least vaguely recall the feeling of stocked shelves.  When the kids arrived for the new year with fresh haircuts, new shoes, and toting bags full of supplies, I stacked all of the paper towels on top of the cubbies and thought to myself,  "Finally!  This will be the year that we'll make it at least halfway through December without running out of paper towels!" 

To the untrained eye, our mountains of paper towels must have looked like a year's stash if not more, but as I gazed upon our bounty of Bounty, Viva, and Brawny, I pictured the leaking water bottles, the hemorrhaging juice boxes, the dripping glue, and the smeared chocolate pudding that would surely make quick work of these rolls in our near future.  I revised my estimate to put our restock date closer to the middle of October.

Eating both snack and lunch in our classroom ensures that we have a steady stream of containers trotting around the room, waiting to be spilled, knocked, squirted, punctured, or tipped.  And when the school lunches come with oranges, well, pretty much everything ends up sticky.

Today Dewan managed to wind up with a lap full of water while trying to assemble his do-it-yourself Lunchable Kool-Aid.  Yes, whoever decided that it was a good idea to give kids a packet of powder to pour through the tiny opening of a bottle of water was perhaps an investor in paper towel stock.  I came over to survey the damage (and to make sure this was actually water all over his pants....) and found not only a puddle on the ground but splash marks reaching two feet in any direction, and a not-insignificant amount of water on the table as well.  Not to let his drink-fixing endeavor be waylaid by the spill, Dewan poured the pink powder into what was left of his bottle of water, turning it bright red and "frooty" before dashing off to fetch the paper towels.  "Well," I thought as I watched half of the powder end up on the table, "We're due for a thorough wiping down anyway, what's a little more mess?"

Anyone who noticed Dewan's dripping pants could have easily guessed who was the party responsible for the spill today.  Last week, however, we encountered a mysterious blob of sticky gooeyness with no clear origin.  "Clean that up," I told the kids sitting nearby.  No luck.  Even after enlisting the help of the entire group, the blob remained unmoved.  There seemed to be no explanation for this curious, dark purple blob.  "Did anyone over here have blueberries today?"  No such luck.  Two kids still valiantly continued attacking the sticky mess with the cleaning spray.

"It's probably cake" piped up Ciara.  Never mind the fact that there had been exactly no cake on the menu that day, the fact that we actually never have cake in class, or the fact that the purple, gummy mystery mess in no way resembled cake.  We never did figure out what the blob was, but I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunities in the near future to play another thrilling round of, "Guess That Mess."

What was YOUR biggest classroom spill?

Sugar And...

No classroom teacher likes to see a frown on the Spanish teacher's or the art teacher's face at the end of a specials class.  What I do love to see, however, indicating all of the impulse control, hard work, listening, focusing, and getting along that a great Spanish class entails, is a sticker.  Yes, the Spanish teacher's got a bottomless bag of stickers and doles them out for terrific performances by the Turtles.

When I saw the kids coming down the hall today, everyone with both fists proudly aimed at me, showing off not one, but TWO stickers, I was, of course, doubly pleased.  "You got TWO stickers today?" I asked.  "No!" they informed me, the be-stickered backs of their hands still high in the air.  "TWO top-of-the-TOP stickers!"  The bottomless bag does have its hierarchy of stickers--I think the classification breaks down into sparkly vs. non-sparkly.  It is clear which is "top-of-the-top."

After some lunch, a bathroom break, and some hand washing, the sparkling stickers were somewhat less than top-of-the-top in stickiness, and many fell off during recess.  Don't worry, though--Taquan scooped up at least a dozen and adorned the backs of his hands with the Spanish class bounty.

Some kids chose to sticker-pierce their earlobes, others sprouted two extra forehead sticker eyes.  Aniya sticker-painted her nails and showed them to me.  "They say little girls are made of sugar and stickers!"  Well, sure, we'll say that's what they say.

Reading Charlotte's Web Part II

Read part I here.

Reading Chapter 2 - Wilbur

  But wait—it gets cuter.  In chapter one we all agreed that Fern feeding Wilbur a bottle was rather cute, but this chapter brought us a picture of Wilbur and the baby doll in the carriage together--nothing but adorable.  Again, we all agreed on that, and were caught up in the daily life of Fern tending to her little pig.  When Fern’s at school her mother takes care of the pig, but would raising your own little baby doll pig work in the post-1950s era of mom not being available mid-day for a pig feeding?  Well, I guess that’s what Tamagotchis are for.

 As I read aloud this chapter called "Wilbur," I thought of the last time I read Charlotte’s Web with my class—and looked up from reading to take a student’s comment.  “Wilbur?” I said.  “I mean—uh, Richard?”  Richard had taken it pretty well that I had just called him by a pig’s name, but I was a bit punchy after that and had to work hard to read with a straight face.

  At the end of this chapter, we left the idyllic world of Fern raising and anthropomorphizing the baby pig to the harsh reality (one of many within Charlotte’s Web--so get used to it, children) of having to sell him because he was eating too much.  Fern did get $6 out of the deal, certainly much more impressive a sum in 1952 dollars than in 2010 dollars—but wait, they’re kids.  $6 probably does seem like a hefty chunk of change even by today’s rates.   

  So for the price of $6, Wilbur is sold and goes to live on a farm in a manure pile.  For those kids who didn’t know what manure was, Dwan explained.  Of course they were thrilled to learn the meaning of the word manure, and I assume that nearly all of the students' internal monologues were going like this:  "That’s poop.  Eww!  Wilbur lives in poop!  Poop!  Manure!  Eww!"

Reading Chapter 3 - Escape

  We found ourselves in a richly described barn---“the kind of barn that children like to play in.”  Well, yes, if my city kids knew that barns, as a setting for playing, were an option that existed in the world, it would probably be the kind of barn they’d like to play in.  E.B. White described the “wonderful sweet breath of patient cows,” and we all just had to take his word on that.  Neither the kids nor I knew the purportedly wonderful smell of the breath of cows –patient or otherwise, but we do know the smell of the 24-hour tire shop next door and of the 92 bus passing by.

   The author’s description of “all sorts of things you find in barns” was rather entertaining.  “What are those crazy words?” the students seemed to be thinking as I read off the list.  “Grindstones, pitch forks, monkey wrenches, scythes, lawn mowers, snow shovels, ax handles, milk pails, water buckets, empty grain sacks, and rusty rat traps.”  Thought most of those terms were certainly rather unfamiliar, it’s not surprising which one generated the most most imaginative mental images and the most questions--monkey wrench.  We as adults (or any of the farmhands out there) don't think anything of the name of this tool, but yeah, I can see how the third graders wouldn’t be listening to anything after that word hit the airwaves.  Just picturing monkeys using wrenches, or a monkey-shaped wrench, or giggling about the word monkey.  I mean, monkey wrenches are just asking for giggles.

  Poor Wilbur was getting really bored, but then BAM!  Enter the goose and her delightful speech patterns.  She describes the “dirty-little, dirty-little, dirty-little yard” and not long after we embarked upon an exciting adventure of the momentarily escaped and then ultimately tackled pig.  The pig chase scene, of course, required a frenzy of fast reading aloud and I was practically out of breath once he was finally caught.  Phew!

Reading Charlotte's Web

The book takes place so long ago it makes Mad Men look futuristic.  It came out in 1952 and has been a favorite of many elementary school classrooms and bedtime story readers ever since.  It was made into an animated movie in 1973 and again more than 30 years later.  There’s a very good chance you out there reading this blog read it in third grade. Yes, that’s right--we are reading Charlotte’s Web.

We started reading the very first day of school from a very well-worn copy I borrowed from another teacher that morning when I somehow couldn’t find mine anywhere in the classroom.  Though I was thankful to have been so easily able to snag a copy of this classroom staple from another teacher, the borrowed copy looks like it could have been practically a first edition for how yellowed and dog-eared it is.  And you can't pretend there's not a large, purple, heart sticker with the name Beth in white letters on the cover.

I was a little worried that pulling out such a clearly loved though somewhat ratty looking book that once apparently belonged to some rather proprietary “Beth” character would start us off on the wrong foot.  It’s our first read-aloud of third grade, a wonderful book, and a common experience shared by just about every American child born since the '50s—it had to get off to a great start.

I was also a bit afraid that some kids would know the story and would blurt out, “CHARLOTTE DIES”  (Oh—spoiler alert—Charlotte dies) before I had even cracked the first chapter.  I did a little bit of “don’t give away the ending if you know it” prep beforehand but though they’re all vaguely familiar with the existence of the 2006 movie, they were four years old when it came out and apparently most of them haven’t read the book either.  Many kids thought that either the girl on the cover or the pig she’s holding was named Charlotte.  We dove in.
Reading Chapter 1 – Before Breakfast

Nobody seemed to notice the disintegrating cover or care that we were reading Beth’s hand-me-down and they fell in love with our first read-aloud instantly.  Seriously—everyone was incredibly into Charlotte’s Web from day one.  The kids were outraged as Fern tried to stop her dad from killing the runt pig of the litter.  As I read it aloud, I was glad that the near-killing of the pig wasn’t sugar-coated or given some kind of Disney treatment.  This is the brutal reality of 1952, children.  There’s an ax in the very first line.

As Fern and her family ate breakfast, the room smelled of coffee and bacon.  I think it’s safe to say that nobody really picked up on the foreshadowing, but I had to hold myself back from noting that they were eating PIG.  Like that cute little one on the cover, everyone. 

When Fern managed to get her dad to spare the littlest pig’s life and we got to Fern feeding Wilbur with a baby bottle complete with rubber nipple—I opted to just leave that out.  No good can come of reading the word “nipple” to third graders.  Even with the context of a baby bottle, it’s still a silly-sounding word at best and an anatomy conversation I don’t want to have at worst.   I just went with, “She poured warm milk into the bottle, fitted the--uh--top on, and handed it to Fern."  The kids all agreed that it was a terribly cute picture of Fern feeding little runty Wilbur a bottle.

After a wholesome, 1952 schoolday breakfast--a doughnut--the chapter closed with Fern being called on in class that day, and replying to “What is the capital of Pennsylvania?” with, “Wilbur.”  These two lines featured disproportionately heavily in the retelling of this chapter as we reviewed the main events the next day.  Really, though it is pretty funny.  I mean--if one of my students answered a question in class by dreamily saying, “Willllbur,” I’d have to try very hard not to laugh. 

Read part II here.

You're Hired!

he Turtles came the first day of school and basked in the unbelievable cuteness of the clip-arted welcome sign.  Or at least--I imagine that's what they were doing inwardly.  Outwardly, they put on an act of breezing right past the sign to get into the classroom, see friends, and get set up for the big day, but I know they truly appreciated those little cartoony turtles outside our door.

Along with my disproportionate excitement for classroom decorations, the beginning of a new school year also brings the hiring season for third grade employees.  And let me tell you--in this economy, the competition on the job market is fierce.  Well, OK, so the competition is not all that fierce for the least-preferred of the classroom jobs--the Board Eraser, Noise Level Monitor, and Gardener positions were markedly under-chosen on last week's job applications.

Predictably, however, there were a few key jobs with a rather deep pool of applicants.  The two positions related to the most basic of all needs--food--were extremely coveted as usual.  Without fail, when it comes to selecting our new lunch assistants and snack helpers each semester, I have a rather tough choice and must consider various factors when making the final hiring decision.

In a potential lunch/snack employee, responsibility and speed rank near the top of my list of qualifications.  Now that I think about it--responsibility and speed are pretty much my top qualifications for most of the classroom jobs.  Coordination is also a plus when carrying a very full box of Goldfish crackers or tall stack of school lunch containers.

When they reach the spot on our classroom job application to convince me why they are the best person for that job, many students simply write, "I like it."  This, as you may imagine, does very little to persuade me.  "I can do it quickly" is fairly convincing, though, "I'm really good at it" lacks enough specifics to get a foot in the door.

What really sealed the deal for Tyrell one year, however, was something I oddly had never really thought of before when selecting someone to fill the all-important position of Snack Helper.

"I have clean hands" he wrote.

Sold!  To the young man with the germ-free hands!  I would choose you, Tyrell, any day of the week for your good hygiene and for your solid understanding of what it means to be truly convincing.

Let the Cuteness Begin!

Tomorrow is the first day of school!

Of course, there's been tons of preparation leading up to the start of the new year, but there's always more to squeeze into the weekend before that first day.  Today I was getting everything finalized, making a few posters for the first day, printing nametags, and putting the finishing touches on my ridiculously detailed and lengthy first day plan.  The plan is for tomorrow to be organized, engaging, smooth, and exciting.  But it's also going to be just plain cute!

Throughout the year, I try to spend most of my energy making sure the work is rigorous, meaningful, differentiated, and interesting, but I must say--I just love me some adorable clip art.  There's just something about little tiny turtles (our class is the turtles!) crawling along the alphabet that absolutely cracks me up.

"Get it?" I'll want to ask every single child walking into the room tomorrow morning.  "They're turtles!  Climbing the cute, cartoony letters with their cute, cartoony legs!  And we're the turtles!"  I'll try to refrain, but will be very pleased if I get a couple of giggles out of that sign.  Oh, those little cartoony shells just get me.

A Newly Expanded Army of Ermas

Today's my official debut on the humor blog, An Army of Ermas!

Run by the wonderful Stacey Graham, the blog consists of a team of writers who post about everything from a daughter picking up and treasuring a "balloon" found on the ground to adventures in exercising to conversations with old people.

But, of course, it's most important that you check out my post today :)

Did I leave out any basic needs of field trips or family trips?

Correct Postage Required

To everyone who started back at school today--congratulations on finishing the first day!

My school doesn't start back until next week, but we've been in workshops for two weeks already!  Today we had time to set up our classrooms and let me tell you--I'm making as few changes as possible.  Sure, if there are some things that I think will help the learning process, I'll switch those around, but for the most part, the setup is a no-brainer.  I'm keeping what worked and just adding even more labels.  In an elementary school classroom, there is really no such thing as over-labeling.  Not only does the scissor box have a label, but the shelf spot where the scissor box goes--yep.  Also labeled.

I know that whole scissor box sounds fascinating, but today I unpacked and set up something even more terrific--if you can believe it.  My teacher mailbox.

Yes, this mailbox has had a rich and storied existence as receptacle for all manner of notes from students, and I thought it fitting to pay tribute to it as I prepare to usher in a new year of mail from students.

Students write to me when they just can't get along with their tablemates or when they're sad in an unspecified but genuine way.  They write to investigate rumors or to wish me a happy holiday (under duress).  I've gotten notes about sore posteriors, corrections of other kids' notes, and even a petition complete with illustration.

While the mailbox often serves as tattle-box, it can also be helpful as a place for a student to jot me a note that some replacement supply is needed, without interrupting class.  One year I particularly enjoyed Trina's memorandum-style note, documenting the precise time she requested a replacement folder.  However, it can be dangerous to mix mailbox requests with overall fourth grade venting.

One morning, the school day was unfolding in a particularly challenging way for fourth grade Becky.  I had told Becky to stop talking and get back to work one too many times for her liking, and a name-calling-related "time out" had resulted in heavy fuming rather than any plans to stop calling names.  Against this backdrop of generalized "teachers are unfair" ire, Becky suddenly found herself out of blank pages in her writing journal.  What to do when you're mad at your teacher but in desperate need of a new tablet?  I can only imagine her long, fume-filled walk over to my mailbox.

The mailbox, though, has seen its fair share of notes from the more positive fourth grade days.

Who knows what bounty the mailbox will bring this next year! 
Mailbox image:

But Wait!

Last night I rediscovered the entire concept of fashion.  It's true--I had forgotten that it even existed.

I was searching for something to wear to a fancy restaurant (with a temporary lower-priced Restaurant Week menu so us regular people could try it out) and was very disappointed with the selection on my hangers.  Because this summer's outings have been more the kind that required long stints in a bathing suit or flip flops passing as actual shoes, my field of clothing vision has shrunk.  The narrow range of options is pretty much: capris, tank tops, and stadium apparel--none of which seemed quite appropriate for last night's dinner.  The watermelon and feta salad on the menu, though, clearly demanded high fashion.  Even a summer sundress just wasn't going to cut it.

I had resigned myself to a mediocre skirt and top when a vague memory of some cocktail dresses at the far end of my closet entered my consciousness.  "There is more to clothing than t-shirts and jeans!" I thought as I made a mad dash for the closet with only a few minutes before we were supposed to leave.  Now fully free from summer wardrobe tunnel vision, I rediscovered the existence of high heels, rummaged through a jumbled pile of them and pulled out a sparkly pair.  "But wait!"  I shouted to my husband as I slipped the heels on.  "I am going to wear EARRINGS!"  I rummaged through, well--a jumbled pile of them and pulled out a sparkly pair.  "But wait!" I once again called.  "I am going to put on MAKEUP!"

"So this is what it must be like to have fancy places to attend," I thought.

Or maybe my excitement last night of picking out a non-boring outfit for a change was more like what the kids go through on class picture day.  What with the gelled hair and clip-on ties, the pouffy dresses and new hair beads, many kids definitely arrive at the top of their game.  "But wait!" I can picture them calling as dad hollers that it's time to go.  "I am going to wear a SPORTCOAT!"

For teaching at a school with a dress code, I realize that I've actually got a fair amount of posts about fashion.  It's a well-established fact that elementary school pajama day brings out the appreciation for clothing.  "But wait!" comes a voice from upstairs as mom waits at the door.  "I am going to wear FLUFFY SLIPPERS!"

Yes, no matter your age, everyone gets at least a little excited about playing dress-up now and then.
Image: -- And no, I don't own those :)

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...