Aw Shucks

Not to toot my own horn, but Alonzo told me today that I'm his second favorite teacher.  So yeah.  I'm kind of a big deal.
I'm fairly certain this pronouncement was precipitated by today's mini field trip.  We went out to the Metro station down the block to survey people for a project.  Basically we encouraged children to talk to strangers.  They got to hold clipboards and ask questions.  They got to be outside in the sun on a mission.  They got to have busy grown-ups (including one who Michael referred to as "a fancy businessman") give them their full attention.

It was almost as awesome to the third graders as the time I brought in some foam clocks for practicing telling time.  The dollar aisle at Target had yielded an excellent deal, so I bought a few and brought them into class the next day.  As I took one out of the package, Donivan watched in amazement and declared, "You're the best teacher ever!" I handed it to him to use on an assignment and his gaze never once left the clock's googly eyes.  I'd like to imagine that this designation as "Best Teacher Ever" was coming after Donivan's deep reflection on the whole of his experience in the third grade and about how much he'd learned.  But no.  If you, too, have $3, you may just well become the Best Teacher Ever also.

Today, though, was at least not so much of a "Buy me stuff and I will think you're awesome" moment.
We had returned to school from the survey-giving and were working on something else, when Alonzo came up to me.  I'll assume that just prior to that he had been engaged in a deep reflection on the whole of his experience in the third grade (which just happened to include today's outing) and about how much he's learned.  He delivered the compliment with a huge smile and waited for me to soak it in and get the warm fuzzies.

Now, in the world of adults, "second favorite" means "You're good, but you're not the best," which really just boils down to, "You're not the best."  Gee, thanks for rubbing it in.

But for eight year olds, the standings are what the standings are, with no hidden implications.  Second favorite in a carefully ranked order is a pretty awesome position to hold, and worth sharing with the honoree.  "She will feel enormously complimented!" Alonzo must have thought.

And so I accepted Alonzo's pronouncement as a genuine appreciation and thanked him.

It did beg the question, though, "Who is your number one favorite?"  "My kindergarten teacher!" he replied.  I mean, who can beat that, really?  I'm quite content to be Alonzo's second favorite.

We've Got Good News and Bad News....

Here's a quick quiz for you:

World news is....
A) important to know about
B) not followed by many third graders
C) scary
D) all of the above

  If you answered D, you are correct!

  Today we read in our Time for Kids news magazine about the protests in Egypt.  We read the article together and looked at cause and effect throughout the news story.  "We are reading about and discussing important world news!" I thought as I looked out at the kids thumbing through their magazines.  "Thank you, Time for Kids, for helping us understanding recent global events and their relevance to our own lives!  And for the glossiness of your full-color pages!"

Image: Time for Kids
 The third/fourth grade edition of the magazine covers some real news, unlike the younger grade versions which feature hot topics such as bridges.  And animals' teeth.  But no--in third grade today we discussed the causes of the protests in Egypt, from the high food prices and unemployment to Mubarak's dishonesty.  We also discussed the effects of the protests and how they have spread democratic fervor to other nations.  Well, OK, so I didn't so much use the word "fervor," but we did learn today that--contrary to popular third grade belief--"unrest" doesn't mean you're sleepy. 

  There we were, rolling along, when Tyson raised his hand.  "I know why the protests in Egypt started" he said.  Tyson proceeded to give a very solid explanation of how the Tunisian demonstrations and unrest had begun the whole thing.  "People couldn't afford food, they were really upset" he began.  Looking ahead to where his explanation might possibly lead us, picturing the nightmares that third graders would have following a graphic recounting of a man setting himself on fire in protest, imagining the parental concerns, I paused him for a moment.

 "Is this something that is...OK for kids to hear?" I asked.  "Yup" he replied and continued.  "So the food prices were really high and people were really upset and this one guy who was a fruit seller..."

  "Ahem" I interrupted.  "Just to clarify once again, Tyson.  This is something that's OK for kids to hear, right?" I asked while furiously sending out mental signals to Tyson to communicate that the REAL meaning of my question was, "This is NOT going to be about self-immolation, RIGHT?"

  "Yup" he replied once more before continuing.

  He was right at the precipice, though, and I could tell that the next bit of news was going to be the scary part.  My mental messages and not-so-subtle questions were sufficient, though, to halt his speeding train of thought in time.  With nowhere else left to go in his recounting of the news, but with all eyes still on him, Tyson petered out with "Um...and then, well, um and..." before we wrapped up the class discussion and transitioned into literacy centers.  He and I had a brief chat one-on-one where he got to tell me the rest of that news story while everyone else got out their center work.

  And there you have my censoring of important global events.  World news is definitely a) important to know about, b) not followed by many third graders, but can also certainly be c) scary.  I'm glad if kids are discussing news of all kinds with their parents, the good and the bad, but in class today we stopped short of the full picture in favor of making the news just a bit more kid-friendly.

Mini Vacation Reality

Image: Microsoft
Recipe for a Mini Vacation

1 Professional Development Day

1 Day Off that Teachers and Students All Need

2 Weekend Days

1 Presidents' Day

Bake at 350.  Enjoy!

Pre-Mini Vacation Optimism

Wow!  So much time off!  I will relax.  And yet I will also be super productive!  I will sleep in and go to the fabric store to buy materials for a new sewing project!  And I will grade the writing stories!  I will watch a couple of movies!  And I will also fit in some planning!

I'll give students a very short, optional packet of work over the mini-vacation to keep their brains active.  It'll be a good chance for them to keep their skills fresh and stave off vacation boredom!  They'll still have plenty of time to recharge!  And though the packet is optional, the kids will relish the prospect of reading and doing math in their time off!

The Bubbles are Burst
Well.  The mini vacation has now come and gone.  Not so much with the being super productive.  I decided to take a real break from work and to not grade.  I did fit in a quick trip to the library to check out some books on government before our expedition kickoff Tuesday.  We'll see how the kickoff day goes tomorrow--I still judge a kickoff by how many tears are shed.  It's not a success unless someone's crying!  Mostly, though, I relaxed and sewed over the break.

As for the students' optional vacation packet, that bubble was burst before the break even started.  I had two early helpers last week assist with stapling the packets together.  As he dutifully helped staple the pages, LeRoy looked up at me and cocked his head to one side.  "Ms. Sarah," he said.  "You know a lot of kids ain't gonna be doin' this."

They. Are. After Me.

They.  Are.  After me.

They could be lurking around any corner.  They could spring out at any minute and attack.  I know they’re coming for me.  It’s just a matter of when.

They are the Girl Scouts.

Now--it’s not that I’m trying to avoid buying cookies from these Girl Scouts.  Oh no--I love me some Girl Scout cookies.  In fact, I have purchased cookies from three separate Girl Scouts within one week this year—and none of them were even in my class.  One girl’s name I don’t even know, but she whipped out that purple and green striped order form and I was sold. 

It is almost humanly impossible for me to resist ordering cookies from a Girl Scout.  Those Samoas are morsels of heaven.  Full boxes have been known to be reduced to a single remaining cookie in my household within one day.  And when the supply is gone for good, I try to fill the void left by their absence.  One year I even tried an ice cream brand that puts out a line of Girl Scout Cookie flavors, but the ratio of cookie pieces to vanilla ice cream was disappointingly low.

And so when I’m in my classroom after school, my stomach rumbling after a long day of teaching,  I always say yes to a friendly girl scout hawking her wares.  I mean—it’s for a good cause.  You have to support your local Girl Scout troop by buying their delicious and highly addictive products, right?  Your local Scout that you love so dearly and—what was her name again?  Oh well.  Just mark me down for a box of Samoas.

Image: scottchan
Three order forms later, multiple boxes of the magnificent, coconut-covered, chocolate and caramel drizzled confections are one step closer to my mouth.  I don’t even have to pay until they arrive!  Which works out well, because all I have is a $20 bill.  Mental note – get change for the girl scouts.  $4 in cash.  Got it.  How hard could that be?

Thus begins the period of dread, knowing the Scouts will be coming for me, demanding my four single dollar bills, not being able to break a large bill.  At any minute, they could show up, hands held out expectantly, waiting for me to produce exactly four dollars.

I watch the contents of my wallet, greedy for any cash transaction that will result in some ones.  I carefully amass a stack of single dollar bills and squirrel them away behind some old receipts in my wallet, not to be touched until Cookie Delivery Day. 

But then. 

I use three of them to buy a coffee because it’s too small an amount to put on a credit card.  I loan a coworker two more to use the copy machines at the public library where we’re gathering resources.  “But what if?” I think, tightly clutching my last two ones and contemplating telling her I’m out of cash. “What if the Girl Scouts come and I have no ones?  Noooo!”  I reluctantly hand over the last of my precious commodity.

And then….it happens. 

Girl of Unknown Name comes by to settle up my unpaid bill.  She doesn’t appear to have either $16 in change or a credit card swiping machine, but then I remember!  I had tucked away exactly four dollars in my drawer for this precise event.  Phew! 

At least one of them is now off my back. 

But now I’m back to square one.  No single dollar bills.  Two more Girl Scouts liable to turn up at any minute.  They’re still after me. 


New Addition

"It's weird" said Jasmine the other day as I came around to help kids with their morning work.  "When I came to school, I was an only child.  When I go home I'm going to have a brother!"

Indeed, it must have been a weird day for Jasmine--while she was finding lines of symmetry in math and reading The Cat's Meow in book club, the family structure she'd been used to for eight years was changing.

A third grader's role in welcoming a new addition to the family is to let everyone know the exciting news and to adjust to being an older sibling.  The next day, Jasmine was the proudest big sister.  She shared with everyone at morning meeting about her new brother and even texted me a picture of him that night.

As Jasmine knows, though, the mother's role in the birth of a new baby involves a bit more, well--pain.

"It's so exciting that you have a baby brother!" I told her.

"My mom wasn't all that excited" she replied.

Perhaps one or two of the kids will go home and share the news of Jasmine's new brother with their own parents, as Danielle did the year that Kevin's family adopted a baby.

"Kevin's got a new sister!" Danielle told her mom in the car after school the day that Kevin had shared the news.

"Oh yeah?" her mom replied.

"Yeah.  She's imported" explained Danielle.

And as Jasmine gets to find out about all the joys of diaper changing, she will no doubt amass her own arsenal of baby advice, much like the collection of wisdom shared by the second graders last year who  already knew a thing or two about taking care of little siblings.

More Effective than eHarmony

Are you looking for love this Valentine's Day?  If so, you won't want to miss the tips I've posted over at An Army of Ermas today!  One of my favorite quotes from a confiscated love note would definitely work as a pick-up line, no?

How are you doing?  Fine?  Sexy?  How?

And once that seals the deal for you in the world of dating, you'll most certainly want this marriage advice from eight year olds.  There's a handy reference tool to use to know if someone is right for you to marry, which includes Aliyah's litmus test:  Think about the good times and bad times. If you had a lot of bad times, he is not your man.

Thank You Progress Reports!

I never thought I'd actually appreciate Progress Report Writing Season--a period so taxing that not only does it deserve capital letters but also a contest among my teacher friends for who can finish the beastly things first.  The race to finish all seven rather detailed narrative sections for each student is a fierce one and the loser has to buy drinks.

My process for writing reports is roughly as follows:

Write two students' math sections.
Feel incredibly virtuous.
Consume chocolate treat.
Take a quick peek to see if any new emails have arrived.

Write three more students' math sections.
Pat self on back for such outstanding progress!
Check weather to see how impending storm is developing.
Fantasize about snow day.

Write one more student's math section.
Think of idea for new blog post about effective but reward-oriented helpers.
Fetch bag of tortilla chips.

Eat chips.
Think about writing another report.
How about now?
Eat chips.
Set goal for what constitutes enough progress to deserve a break.  No.  Like a real break.  The chocolate/email/chips/flossing were just ever-so-brief pauses in a Herculean display of sustained effort.

More chips.
Think of idea for McSweeney's list.
Put all remaining energy left into writing one more student's math section.
Earn real break.

And so let it not be said that procrastinating from writing progress reports by wolfing down half a bag of Hint of Lime tortilla chips never got me anywhere.

I'm on McSweeney's today!

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...