New and Shiny

This past week we passed the halfway mark for this school year.  And, well, it shows.  Many things around the room are still in good condition, but there are visible signs of wear and tear from 90 days of heavy use.

The group pencil boxes are looking a bit lead-caked, the markers rather grimy and dried up.  Some of the seemingly indestructible green plastic homework folders are starting to rip.  The formerly brand-new chapter books are showing their age with bent covers and worn corners.  Our electric pencil sharpener still puts on a brave face and tries its darndest but has begun the slow march towards death.  Even the novelty of our new students has worn off.  Plus, we reached the end of our paper towel supply--a supply that, in August, seemed would never end and would also never fit in our classroom.  However, after months of snack, lunch, spills, sticky, unidentified blobs, and children who like to err on the side of dozens of handfuls, we finally ran out of paper towels.     

True, not a whole lot was really all that new in our classroom to begin with.  Since this is our second year of a loop together, the supposedly new school year started off with the old teacher, the old kids, and the old room.  Add that to the wear and tear on any items that actually were new, and the sparkle had definitely worn off.


The day arrived last week to break out the NEW math journals.  Yes, my friends, volume 2 is in the house.  It was an exciting day for all.  They are crisp and shiny and have never been written in.  What holds more promise than a completely untouched math journal?

Alexis kept asking when we were going to do more work in the new journals and was almost physically pained by me ripping out a page from the workbooks for homework.  "You RIPPED OUT a page?!?" she asked in disbelief, shaking her head at such a violation of the pristine journals.

What's getting a bit worn in your classroom?  How about anything that's new and shiny?


Let me tell you about carnivals, people.
For 179 school days, I've got classroom systems, routines, and procedures all designed to prevent school from becoming some kind of do-whatever-you-want carnival.  Which is why, at my old school, the end of the year school carnival was a bit of a shock to my system(s).  On the 180th day, the school would become a full-blown, no-holds-barred, actual carnival.  I'm talking ticket-taking, clown-hiring, moon-bounce-inflating c-a-r-n-i-v-a-l, carnival.

We teachers suppressed all hard-wired impulses to tell children to slow down, be still, sit down, or stop eating candy.  We just...let...them...loose.  There are definitely no limits on noise level or sugar consumption listed in official carnival policy.

One year my carnival assignment was the Bungee Run, where two kids raced each other to see who could run father while a bungee cord harness pulled against them.  Another year it was the Space Walk, where I had to monitor kids who were literally bouncing off the (air-filled) walls and every once in a while assist a confused-looking kid who had accidentally popped out of the inflatable entrance and found himself on his behind on the ground.

The year I found out I would be on duty at the balloon animals table, I was a little concerned that my talents had been misrepresented on my initial job application.  Am I supposed to know how to make balloon animals?  Is there a book I need to read to learn how or will someone show me before carnival day?  As it turned out, the only skill I needed to fulfill my assignment was the ability to take tickets from kids.  The expert twisting of balloon hats and swords was left to a professional clown.

For an hour and a half, I collected tickets from eager and sweaty kids who had just either had their face painted by another clown, or whose face coloring resulted from three Blue Rasperry Blast slushies.  Students zoomed by (Slow dowwwwn......) with shirts in various stages of stain, clutching prizes, out of breath, high on adrenaline from the Fun Slide, eyes wide and looking for the next rush.

Now THAT, my friends, is a carnival.

And in other carnival-related news, Bellringers has the latest Carnival of Education post up with some cool links to education blogs!  Check it out!


I am not a nickname person.  Perhaps it's because I have no real nicknames myself (Sarah is pretty hard to shorten), but if you tell me your name, I will always call you that exact name.  If your name is Jessica, I will call you...Jessica.  Never Jess.  Never Jessinator.  If you're a Michael who introduces himself as Mike, you'll never hear me call you Michael or Mikey.

It's the same with my students' names.  It really seems weird to me to shorten Christopher to Chris or to Angela to Angie, which is why when kids come up with new nicknames for their classmates, I can never get on board.
One year I had a girl named Belle and--as you may have guessed--I always called her Belle.  Our morning greeting would come around, however, and Tyiesha would insist on calling her Bella.  "Where is this extra 'a' coming from?" I would wonder.  "It's belllllll.  No 'a' " I pointed out to Tyiesha on multiple occasions, but she insisted on her own twist.  Drew was also prone to his own version of nicknames, preferring to call Langston, "Langs."  One year, another one of the third grade teachers was named Mr. Duncan.  Well, at least that's what I called him.  Briana called him Mr. Dumpkin.  We had many lessons, she and I, on how his name was different than pumpkin.

It was a losing battle to convince any of them of the actual name.

Besides the name shortening or lengthening or tweaking, there's also the substituting of an entirely different one.  When encountering a classmate's mother, father, or sibling whose name is unknown, third graders tend to simply generate their own based on what they do know.  Robert frequently asks to set up sleepovers with Donardo at dismissal.  "Hi Donardo's Mom" he'll begin.

On Friday, I got to see an extension of this naming philosophy.  Robert and I were walking in the hall, when we ran into Christopher's younger brother.  "Hi Christopher Two!" Robert called out.

Do your or your students have any unusual nicknames?

I Got Something Else Out of That
Last week we went to a performance of Spanish and Latin American music and dance.  While there were a couple of parts of the performance that sort of dragged, overall the kids were fascinated by the dancers and musicians.  Or, as Carla put it in the performance surveys they gave us at the end of the show, "I liked all of the parts some of the time."  Hmmmm.

The narrator introduced different styles of music and dance and told us about where the different styles came from.  The kids got to see some wonderful flamenco dancing, piano playing, castanets, and what I must say was some extremely fancy tambourine playing.  The musician used his knees, feet, and even head to bang the instrument.  It must have certainly been one of all of the parts that Carla liked some of the time.
Then the narrator brought out a harmonica and in between some very jazzy playing, he told us about the influences that jazz music has had on the music and dances we were about to see.  He wailed on the harmonica some more, and we were all getting into the groove.  Bah NAH nuh nah NUMP. Ba BUMP. Ba BUMP.  All that was missing were a few verses about having the blues.

Whatever cultural understanding was coming up following this harmonica, though, Brian had his own cultural reference point.  As the guy kept wailing away on the harmonica,  Brain, who was sitting next to me, said simply and declaratively,




I don't think that's where they're going with this.

Guess What

If you've correctly deciphered the newly coined third grade words and phrases, you've figured out that Jacob's "leg knuckles" are really his knees, a "fa-LEM-entine" is a delicious fruit, the bathroom was not so much "out of water" as it was "out of order," and those little "m" people you get when you're sick?  Yep.  Mucus.

Lately I've been doing a lot of guessing to figure out what kids are talking about--and not just trying to take a stab at working out their word substitutions.  Brianna's favorite style of delivery of any type of news, these days, has been the "Guess What" approach.  "Guess What" + Expectant Look never really precedes news of some normal occurrence.  But then, since when are elementary school days filled with normal occurrences?

A few weeks ago, Brianna wanted to see if I could figure out what she ate for breakfast.  Well, more so she wanted to orchestrate a dramatic pause and then, with great flourish, tell me bizarre thing she ate for breakfast.
"Ms. Sarah--guess what I ate for breakfast!"

"Hmmm...oatmeal?  Cereal?  Eggs?"

"Nope!"  [Dramatic pause.]  "My NAILS in a bowl of cereal!"  And thus I was GuessWhatted into learning of some sort of strange kitchen nail clipping mishap.

Yesterday, Brianna pulled out a "Guess What" in a place with a particularly high potential for a disastrous answer.  The bathroom.

"Ms. Sarah--guess what is in the toilet in the second stall in the girls' bathroom!"

I closed my eyes for a minute, hoping for something completely normal, but knowing we were not headed in that direction.

This time, though, I had no guesses, as my preferred answer to that question would have been, "Nothing."

Despite my lack of guessing, Brianna was still able to achieve a sufficiently dramatic pause.


Really--if you're going to inform someone of the fact that there is, somehow, an entree in the toilet, Guess What is a pretty effective method of presentation.

Beware of the Guess What.  You never know when the answer will be chicken.

Leg Knuckles
  Everyone knows Jenga, right?  Or the term 'bachelorette party?'  I mean, even if you don't regularly play the block stacking game or if you've never been to a bachelorette party, they're just things everyone knows about.  Well, as it turns out, not Australians.  This weekend I was hanging out with an Australian woman and her entertaining little phrases.  Down under, if you're going out to celebrate a single friend's last night before getting married, you're going to a "hen party!"  Ha!  And apparently Jenga has not made it to the land of kangaroos.

  It occurred to me that speaking with someone from another country is not really all that much different from interacting with third graders.  They, too, have their own charmingly peculiar phrases and misunderstood pop culture references.

  The other day I was chatting with Michael and some other kids during lunch.  The subject turned to TV, and Michael remembered something hilarious he had seen recently on that one know....with videos?  "I think it's called, 'Videos That are Funny at Home.' "

Well, sort of.  They're not just funny videos, they're the funniest home videos, and those softball-in-groin antics could only be celebrated by and belong to and us here in America.  But yes, I get the gist of what you're saying.  Please continue to describe this exceedingly entertaining tennis ball mishap.
  The next week, Jacob was helping out after school, though with less helping and more sliding across the room.  After one particularly clunky slide on his knees, Jacob stood up and exclaimed, "I cracked my leg knuckles!"

  When talking to an eight-year-old, you have to always be ready to translate their lingo into actual words or phrases.  You're hoping to get an rPod for your birthday?  Ah.  I see. 

  Now you try your hand at deciphering!  What were these children talking about?

  • At snack: "Mmmmmm.   I want some more fa-LEM-entines!"
  • In the bathroom: "Don't use that stall.  It's out of water."
  • Settling a game dispute: "Rock, paper, scissors, SHOES!"
  • On morning work assignment asking students to write a contraction: "One half."

Happy to Help.....

After school programs are like gold mines for cleaning/stacking/sharpening helper elves.  You know what I'm talking about.  Dismissal hits and you release all of the children into the wild.  Then, you selectively recruit one or two particularly competent ones from the aftercare room for some afterschool jobs around the classroom.

They stack the chairs!

They sharpen the pencils!

They help pass out papers!

They might even offer a little unsolicited advice as they help clean for Back to School Night.  Abria, on loan from aftercare the afternoon before the evening's presentation, suggested that we put out a few of the beanbag chairs for the parents.  "Can't we just tell them to relax or something?"

And then....

Ahem.  AHEM!

That is the sound of a child with her hand outstretched, waiting for a little payment.  I'd like to think their donation of time is a labor of love.  Your payment?  A lovely, clean classroom!  How delightful!  Isn't it fun to put back the randomly scattered markers into their boxes?  What a treat!  Sharp pencils!  We can all appreciate that, eh?

Some children, though, ain't buyin' it.  Enough of this, "Helping is fun" nonsense.  Their time comes at a price.

During the Back to School Night preparations, Abria started dropping some "subtle" hints about her preferred form of compensation. 

"That's not fair that you get to chew gum and we don't!" she exclaimed.

"Mm hmm.  Now let's move these tables" I replied.

"You sure do smell minty fresh!' said Abria after she and Carson had helped rearrange the tables.

  For their 45 minutes of work, I thought that a piece of gum each was a very reasonable price.

  Today after school, there was some stacking, sharpening, and cleaning to be done, so I hit up my usual labor pool.  Abria and Ellie were happy to come help out.  When the jobs were done, the girls gathered up their bookbags to go.  "Bye!" Abria cheerfully called over her shoulder.  "We're happy to help!....even thought we didn't get no treats."

  Despite her hinting, today's payment was a lovely, clean classroom.  We can all appreciate that!

A New Year, a New Fake Pair of Specs

Poof!  Glasses!

That was my first thought as Cassidy walked in the room this morning.  She stared up at me through the new eyewear and beamed, daring me to NOT notice this new development happening on her face.

"I got glasses!" she exclaimed.  "Can I have an emergency share about them?"

Now, in addition to the fact that I probably need them soon myself, here is what I know about glasses:

1. The process of going from no glasses to glasses involves many steps, each of which I presume takes dozens of weeks.

2.  Children who are in any stage of the vision enhancement pipeline feel the need to update me regularly about their progress.  "Went to the eye doctor yesterday--I'm getting glasses!"  "I picked out my glasses yesterday--they're purple!"  "LOOK, I GOT MY GLASSES and have to keep them in this case and use this cleaning cloth to clean them!"

So "Poof!  Glasses!" struck me as a bit unlikely.

"You went to the eye doctor?" I asked Cassidy.
"And the doctor prescribed glasses and these have a prescription that helps you see?"
"Are they to help you see or just clear glass for fashion?"

"Yes.  Yes.  They're to help me see" she answered.

"And just once more to confirm--they are not fake?"


And so it was that Cassidy spent the entire morning in rather adult-sized glasses, taking them off and putting them on randomly throughout the day.  During math, I went over and asked her what the doctor had said about when to wear them.

"Oh, just when I'm walking.  I fell during winter break while I was walking so I need to wear them when I'm walking."

"Hmmm"  I replied.

Which brings me to a few more things I know about eyewear protocol:

3. Glasses frames should be roughly in proportion to the size of your head.

4. There are several activities that might require the wearing of glasses:
  • Reading
  • Doing needlepoint embroidery
  • Driving at night
  • Deciphering far away street signs to prove how superior your vision is to your wife's

   None of these activities, however, include walking.

But, on the off chance that these were actual, legitimate glasses, I let her keep wearing them and emailed Cassidy's mom with a few questions.  Sure enough, mom called later that afternoon to report that, in fact, Cassidy had not been to the eye doctor and had not been prescribed these large glasses to help her walk more clearly.

Cassidy was, I am pleased to report, able to walk quite well and with no vision support needed over to her cubby to put away what turned out to be her uncle's glasses.

I Just Don't Do Those Things

There are two approaches to New Year's resolutions.  One approach is to optimistically resolve to change something about your life, your commitment to hair brushing, or your homework habits.  This is what all of my students do when, well, when I force them to after winter break.

The kids think very hard about the things their dads, teachers, or dentists have been nagging them about throughout the past year and decide, "Hey--maybe I could give this whole homework thing a try."  The students' resolutions often sound an awful lot like reminders I frequently give or like the wording of our classroom rules.....

I will keep doing a good job and pay attention to the person talking.

This year I will not talk much so I can do my work.

My New Year's resolution is to work harder on math and to pay attention in class.

This year I will do all of my homework.

Yes!  Yes!  I exclaim.  This is what I've been talking about!  Homework!  Paying attention!  Less talking!  It's going to be a great year.

The kids' non-school resolutions are likely echoes of similar reminders at home.  Yes!  Yes!  Their parents perhaps exclaim.  This is what we've been talking about!  Cleaning the bathroom!  Helping with the dishes!  TV off!

My New Year's resolution is to brush my hair more.

This year I will do my bathroom chores.

I will help my grandmother do the dishes.

This year I will turn my T.V. off so I can work on my homework.

I will try to take a bath every other night.

This year I will not have more cavities than eight (what I have).

The other approach, though, is to recognize and embrace the fact that you're just not a "daily flossing" or a "following directions" kind of person.  Third grade Nina captured this pretty well one year when she 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 considered the list of goals for a split second and then replied, "I just don't do those things."

Basically, the philosophy is, "I know I won't do that, so why pretend?"  I, myself, could make a resolution to open the mail at home (even the boring mail!) in a timely fashion and to not let it completely cover the kitchen table.  However, I think I'm just not a mail-opening kind of person and I'm OK with that.  2011 will just be another year of kitchen table piles.  Eh.  Maybe 2012 will be my year.

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...