Monday, October 31, 2011

Fall Festival, lice, rotten pumpkins, and returning friends

The best thing about first graders is they are excited about EVERYTHING. The worst thing about first graders is they are excited about EVERYTHING. Imagine their delight to meet my dad, arms filled with healthy treats and a big PUMPKIN eating a tiny pumpkin. They literally lost their minds. When they saw him in the hallway, they started bouncing...and bouncing...and bouncing. When we got into the classroom, someone jumped so high and hard they accidentally punched R in the face. She had to take a rest in our classroom library before my dad came in. Luckily, the kids held it together and asked my dad lots of fun questions..."How old are you?" "58" "OOOOOHHHHHH" They lost it again. "What's your favorite picture?" " of my family?" "What are you going to be for Halloween?" "What's your favorite number?" Every answer elicited an "oooh" or "ahhhh." If you ever want to feel like a celebrity, please come to my classroom.
The pumpkin rotted over the weekend and I was greeted with pumpkin-smelling juice all over my U-shaped table and the floor. The day went fairly seamlessly after, though, and my fact families marched around the block, arm in arm, limiting their complaints of the heat to barely any at all. They are growing already, and I'm so proud of how much kinder they are to eachother and how calm things feel. (Granted, calm in first grade is more like only semi-chaotic in real life, but still...)
J only spent half the day rolling around on the rug today and IB only gave a few mean looks to others. KJ had 2 meltdowns and I continued my tiptoed, eggshell dance with ZK to make him feel like it was cool to wear a paper bag with fact families on them--"Ms. Estrada, I just don't DO bags." Oh, but he did.
I always thought I'd be one of those teachers who could traipse along and everything would fall into place and the kids would dictate everything we did and we'd just glide along, floating through un-interrupted constructivist lessons where the kids came to all the correct realizations themselves. Instead, I feel a tyrant in comparison to what my vision was...but, oh the joys of hearing a child say "ok" when I ask them politely to do something. There is a time for negotiation and a time for when the rules are rules and they're there to keep the kids safe and learning. It is a constant battle between those two realities, and right now I err on the side of..."No, you may not do that." I want to say "yes" more, but my first priority is keeping these kids bouncing off the walls...and we're getting there together.
Elephant and Piggie, the stars of our classroom, are all packed up because they're lice-ridden. Oh, dear. The kids were confused as to who to tell all their tattles to today. (I have them whisper their woes into plush-Elephant's ear and he tells me EVERYTHING at the end of the front of them). I told them to tell them to invisible of course J and C throw invisible elephant back and forth to eachother in the classroom library. (I laughed and shook my head at them.)
Mom came at the end of the day and helped with the parade, and I distributed cupcakes as the kids were walking out. Judith, an old student of mine who moved away to Vegas, came back today and is re-enrolled in our school! She and her mom visited my new classroom and helped me clean clean clean and told me stories of too-hot Vegas and mean teachers...glad Judith is back at LWL!
Time for bed...and dreams of lice-infected smushed up pumpkins.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Ooooh, you're in troublllleeeee"

In school, I was one of those goody two shoes kids who would cry if they got a time out. I have students who are far more mature than I ever was in school--they understand that if they do something wrong or are distracting, they need to be removed from the situation. On Friday, I got that all-too-familiar "oh-no-I'm-going-to-get-in-trouble" sloshy, twisted feeling in my stomach when I (along with the K/1 team) was late coming back from our lunch saunter to a local coffee shop. It seemed like a great idea until I got called at the last minute to pick up a student from the cafeteria at lunch, and we scrambled to the cafe. The baristas were, of course, working in slow motion and that horribly guilty "I'm breaking the rules" feeling bubbled in my stomach and resulted in a dash to pick up my wiggly line 10 minutes late after an extended recess, spraying "I'm so sorry's" all over my principal who seemed partially confused, partially amused, and partially annoyed. At least the Kinder/1st grade teachers were in it together...and we fixed our mistake, as I'm so often telling my students, by being prompt every other day.
It's interesting how early personalities develop. My students have their full-fledged personalities: RD with her neat, organized, sometimes even anal tendencies to clean up after other students and keep her space orderly. AC is an advocate for herself and refuses to silence herself--but also respects those around her deeply. ZK is charming and sure to be a ladies' man, and DC can problem solve and mediate like nobody's business. These kids are incredible, and often get me reflecting on how I must have been in school. I was that quiet one who was afraid to talk for many reasons: to say the wrong thing, to sound nervous, or to step on anyone's toes. I was probably most like DM--who I don't think I've mentioned much thus far in my blog, except she is 100 times more brilliant that I ever was and she is one of the highest readers in English when she just started learning English this year (!) She rarely says anything, but she is ALWAYS listening. She focuses better than I ever could--and the results are truly incredible. I have at least 5 students like that this year--they are AMAZING.
One of my students is leaving in two weeks to another school on the other side of town... the fluidity of movement in this community is very hard. I'm thinking of how I can prepare my students to lose one of our friends...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Balancing is an act

Teaching is not only my job, it is my life. I look forward to creating fun new activities for my students, and I spend most of my time talking and thinking about my classroom and the work I am doing. I'm getting to a place where I'm enjoying my workday--the adorable personalities of my students, the beauty of actually seeing them learn, and feeling rejuvenated in the morning when we get to start our day together.
I am a teacher through and through, still learning and making missteps, sometimes tripping over potholes and struggling to get up, but I feel like I have something to give to these students, whereas last year I felt like I was just misserving them day after day. So here I feel better in my career, better that I am spending so much time on thinking of my classroom and wanting to do so without feeling like I'm going to explode. But now that I am here, I feel like I have failed.
I spend my time thinking about my clasroom and students. I have said that over and over. I am horrible at balancing, horrible at keeping up communications, horrible at initiating much of anything. I am in this cycle of teach teach teach, work work work, check teaching blogs for ideas, create some of these things at home, have a beer, watch a show or read, go to sleep. I am behind on paying bills, on calling people who are very important to me, on basically anything that doesn't involve teaching. It's at the forefront of my mind...whatever I do is kind of dictated by teaching. If it's a crazy week I might say I need a weekend away and go escape with my family or David, or if it's a crazy week I'll excuse myself to put off yet another "non-work" thing until tomorrow.
I don't know how to balance. I've never been good at it and never has it worn on me like it does now. Last year I felt like a failure as a teacher and that consumed most of me--the feeling of not wanting to walk or talk or engage in one more activity in my day--and not sure how to respond when people didn't seem to understand that. Now, I'm feeling more at a place to balance, but I don't know how, and I fear it's too late. I'm envisioning myself on one of those scales, and the side with teaching is receiving all the weight. Everything else is floating, and I'm waving my arms listlessly, only half-heartedly trying to catch it. I want to talk about teaching and share ideas and tell everyone about how AC wrote a beautiful story today, or how JB's eccentricities make me want to pick him up and take him home, or how one of my students is experiencing things he shouldn't be at home and the thought of it or him so deeply affects me that I look at him and tear up...and I fear I don't know how to interact about anything else anymore.
This work is the most important thing I do, and yet I feel like now I'm failing at everything else...

Monday, October 10, 2011


I spent the majority of this weekend in bed. On Friday at PD I thought I drank too much coffee on an empty stomach, then Saturday I thought I was just hungover, until Sunday I realized I shouldn't be hungover for that long, and got a fever. By today I was feeling much better, but grateful to spend the day testing my students with an awesome guest teacher in my room. I was a bit of a rebel and went to get coffee for some coworkers when I finished testing and did some prep work while I had a sub in my room, and in turn feel rejuvenated and excited for tomorrow.
I returned to my room with lots of happy students asking if I was going to be there tomorrow, and cheering when I said yes. Last year my students my students may not have cared as much, because I was so often exhausted, irritable, and at my wit's end. (We'll see how my students feel about me come December.) Overall, though, I'm feeling really connected to this group and look forward to seeing them every day.
Gem of the day: MS crawling up the stairs of our new building with CM, grunting the whole time. I noticed they were taking a while so I ducked out of the testing room to see what was going on. CM was coaxing MS up the stairs, and MS kept saying "I'm scared, I'm scared!" Poor things..I forgot about the stairs issue. I led MS up the rest of the stairs and then made sure to walk him back down myself after he was done with his test...oh, dear.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


My week ended better than it began. We didn't have school Friday (Professional Development for teachers, though) and I realized I would have rather have been teaching. That would have never happened last year...I was always starving for a day away.
I'm sure I have some stories from Thursday, but now it seems so far my first "I hate you" from ZK because I couldn't figure out how to set up the my laptop to the projector to show a video. Didn't phase me in the least and he apologized and told me he was mad. Made great progress with KJ...figured out she LOVES to write about why she's mad when she's mad..she wrote to me three times to tell me what was going on with her. YAY for first graders already being able to communicate via writing.
I am a disgusting mix of hungover and hyped up on coffee. Time to get rid of some of this energy...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ms. Estrada and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

I have been warned not to blog when angry or sad. But here I am, Anchor Steam next to me, after taking a few deep breaths, venting about anything and everything to David, and doing some feverish dish-washing and feel a little better. I had one of those worst-day-of-the-school-year-thus-far days. It started perhaps when during Literacy Workstations approximately 3 students got sent into my room from other classes to take a break. I am very happy to have students come in and get away from other environments for awhile, but at that very same moment 6 adults from a nearby charter school walked in to observe my literacy workstation time. Of course, it was the craziest workstation time thus far, with W throwing stuffed animals from the classroom library at my students, kids wandering around looking for their workstation who had arrived late, and KJ narrating every single action she did in her loudest voice possible. I was, needless to say, mortified.
I've been trying to do too much, too--adding a new workstation every day (although my students were really excited when we got to 10 workstations today!) I was out of the classroom yesterday testing, so my students felt a little off, and to add to everything--the weather has been loco. However, there are no excuses...I feel like I should always prepare my students better, and role play the things that may happen MORE, be more consistent, yell less, talk over them NEVER, and be more picky about behaviors on the rug. I am constantly reminding them, and I think that period is more warnings. Sometimes I just feel like I'm too unorganized for this job...and most days I don't feel that way, but today I feel full to my brim, so much so that I don't want to think about trouble-shooting. I don't want to think about the behavior plan I need to make for KJ, or the phone calls home I need to make, or the SST forms I need to fill out. I want to serve my students and be a successful teacher and not feel like a first year teacher all over again.
I know I will have these days. I know they will not be every day. But I am frustrated. I just want these kids to learn and have fun. When two are stomping around or pretending to have stomachaches, and others are yelling STOPPPPP to one another, I feel like a bit of a failure. But students need to be taught EVERYTHING, so I'm going to be patient with them and less hard on myself (I hope).
Amidst all of this...the gems of the day: IB (serious grump who tattles on kids near him ALL THE TIME) went over to MS when he needed help thinking of a story during Writer's Workshop and offered to draw a basketball court for him, because basketball is always fun to write about. MS was SO excited and they planned what he could write together.
I bought this little heart box from Michael's and decided today that it would be our problem-solving heart box (thank you Nova for the inspiration!) so after recess and lunch students can write down people who were solving problems in class or on the yard and I'll pick a couple to share with the class and acknowledge those kids who are using their words and helping out. "MS ESTRADA C TOLD ME HE WAS SORRY! HE WAS SOLVING A PROBLEM!" This was the highlight of my day.
We started music today...the music teacher is fabulous and my students did great. The service that provides free dentistry was on campus today and LA came back crying :(. She said they took all the candy out of her teeth and squeezed them so hard it made her cry. Poor thing! But good thing...
Teeth are falling out like mad. The other day MS showed me a convincing tooth that turned out to be a piece of gum stuck in his teeth from days ago...the nurse must think I am a total noob for sending him in with his fake tooth.
We will see what tomorrow brings..hopefully less tears, more hugs, and NO RAIN.

Monday, October 3, 2011

6 weeks of laughter, learning, and a furrowed brow

Week 6 of school has has my blogging endeavor. I am out of practice of doing any sort of writing other than morning messages and lesson plans, but my students inspire me to share their stories and the experiences that we have in class...mostly because I want to share the laughter, joy, and ridiculousness that ensues in Room 157.
This is my second year of teaching. Perhaps the biggest differences thus far between my first and second year are the amount of singing I do (much much more this year) and how frequently I send kids out of the room (much less this year, but for much minor offenses). I feel very connected to this class and want to serve them the best I possibly can. So far it has been a journey of figuring out what to expect at this point in the year after being so used to end-of-year first graders. First graders at the beginning of the year are essentially Kindergarteners and have LOTS of energy. When that energy involves following me around the room, squirting hand sanitizer all over their bodies, shouting "teacher" at the tops of their voices, or wiggling around in line and thus shoving 8 people around them, I do sometimes want to scream. But when they ask me to read stories over and over, beam when their classmates use kind words with them, or quietly remind each other to do the right thing (and listen!), I am filled with pride at what they are able to do at such a young age.
I think it would be useful to acquaint you with some of my students--I don't feel comfortable sharing real names, so I will use initials. They are incredibly lovely people--there are a few I am just itching to tell others about because they are so unique and often times hilarious.
M falls down at least 24 times a day. For no reason. He just topples over and shouts "OW OW OW" at the top of his lungs. I help him get up and he is fine. He also is afraid of stairs because he fell down them once--but NG cheers for him every time he makes it down the stairs at school. M speaks in a perpetual whine, but he is very very eager to please the teacher and will listen to anything I say.
E asks me every day if it's home time. Sometimes we walk in the door and she asks if it's recess yet. She is also incredibly excited for Halloween.
AC cries at least 17 times a day. She lost 3 teeth during class last week and shouted at the top of her lungs. She will follow me around the room to tell me of her ailments. She is incredibly sweet and wants to do the right thing, but her voice carries and she just cannot handle pain. She is also deathly afraid of getting any "fleas" (lice) and proclaims it often. She wears some really cute classes and has me hold them for her when she doesn't need them, and I end up leaving them all over the school.
JB talks in a tiny voice and I want to scoop him up. He twirls in line, stays sitting on the rug when everyone else is at their desks, and hums or makes silly sounds to himself. When reminded, he immediately does what he needs to do. His gem of the day today was telling me he really wants to learn how to read (he can read cvc words) because he only reads a "little." He has the whitest, brightest teeth and speaks mum at home. If I don't remind him to take his backpack, he forgets it every single day.
There are sad stories in my room...a father who has been deported and is in Arizona being held and his daughter won't get to see him for a very long extended period of time. If I can give LA a good, safe, happy experience at school, I hope that happiness can spill over to home, where her mom tells me she sleeps a lot and trudges around. She is a brilliant, beautiful child who is organized, helpful, and kind to those around her. I am inspired by her and her amazing mother and the challenges they face every day.
These 23 5-6 year olds fill my days with smiles and laughter, and sometimes...a perpetual crease in my brow (I believe I have perfected my "teacher look.") I am excited to share our adventures and stories this year with those who care to know :)
My favorite quote from today "Ms. Estrada...where's your jacket? IT'S RAINING AND YOU'RE GONNA CATCH A COLD!"