Monday, November 5, 2012

Near normalcy...except for 5 assessments and an election

Thank goodness for (near) normalcy. It's no longer Halloween week, no more candy induced locura, but we have 5 assessments to dole out this week. (Groannn). A digraph CFA (Common Formative Assessment for those who don't speak teacher lingo), some new ELA benchmark business, a math assessment, the PWA, and I guess I exaggerated because that's only 4. Still, people. I just want to have time to actually pull groups and meet the needs of my students..but instead I'm assessing them on things I haven't even been able to address in small groups very much yet because I've been busy assessing! Ahhhh.
Tomorrow is election day. I just had a long talk with my mom about how to engage in productive discussions about politics, especially with people who are just as passionate from the other side. I thoroughly believe in meeting people where they're at and being respectful, but I often struggle with pushing aside emotional responses to have productive discussions. I end up just avoiding the issue or taking the conversation personally. This is something I need to work on. All that aside, I hope that all reading this will vote for what you believe is best for our country-- and encourage those around you to do the same. We all deserve a voice-- young or old, educated or not, rich or poor, to make this a true democracy.
As for tonight, time to head off to my new favorite Monday activity...TRIVIA NIGHT! Bring on the election questions, David and I have memorized the propositions prior to this so hopefully that will help us out.
I will leave you with a lovely story from today...
My wonderful Kindergarten teacher colleague came in to share exciting news during Writing time today. One of her students who is repeating Kindergarten, who knew nearly no sounds at the beginning of the year, knows 24 of 26 sounds! We all celebrated and I nearly cried. How wonderful it is to see progress in our babies... It makes this job sustainable even when it's not. ;)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Would you like to have a tea party?

Halloween is over. Now, I love Halloween, but THANK GOODNESS. Our Fall Festival parade went swimmingly, thanks to the fourth graders holding my adorable first graders' hands and leading them around the block in their beautifully homemade flower costumes. I got to stroll next to them, enjoying the sunshine and all the handmade costumes the Art teacher at our school helped our students create. It was the calmest, most enjoyable Halloween yet. At our school, we don't allow any added sugar, so leftover candy was a big no-no the day after Halloween. But of course the kids were hyped up Thursday and Friday, two of my hardest days this year thus far. Wiggles galore, lots of crying, and one frazzled Ms. Estrada. In addition to the locura, though, were some downright gems of quotes.

"Ms. Estrada, your dad is brown. And you are white." My dad came in a couple days before Halloween with an Elephant and Piggie-carved pumpkin. I think my students died of excitement. And MR noticed the difference between my dad's rich cocoa skin and my more milky blend of tan and white. We discussed my mom's skin, my dad's skin, and my skin. I loved every moment of it. I think discussing race and facilitating a classroom where students feel safe to share their observations and to talk about them critically is extraordinarily important. In first grade, skin color is a great place to start.

"Ms. Estrada... I was just thinking about what would happen if my brain got up and walked into a sleeping body and that person started acting like me. What if our brains all switched?" So smart.

"Ms. Estrada it just emptied my heart when he wasn't listening to your words." "Yeah, my heart just exploded into itty bitty tiny baby pieces. They're on the floor. Want to pick them up Ms. E?" Oh, lord. I don't even have words. This quote and the last are by the same lovely little pixie. 

After having NS hold my coffee as we walked in line, he smells it, looks at me, and says "Teacher, this be decaf?" I die, then tell him "No, I want my coffee to wake me up!"

Same student, different day, as I'm reading Horrible Harry and describing what a bun is since Harry loves when Song Lee wears a bun in her hair, NS shouts out "Ms. Estrada, I know what a bun is! Sock buns are the best. They're prettyyyy." What 7 year old boy knows about a sock bun?

Annnd my personal favorite...yesterday we began Mindfulness, where a trained facilitator of Mindfulness in the Classroom comes in and helps students find their anchor point and practice calming their body, using a bell and various techniques. It was incredible! After sitting and listening to the quiet and noticing the sounds around us and inside us, DD raises her hand to tell the instructor she heard something inside her body. "I heard 'Would you like to have a tea party?'" And he just nods calmly and says, straight-faced "Sometimes we hear thoughts in our head." I was sitting still with the kids, but had to walk away from the rug and turn away to laugh as quietly as I could to myself. SO good.

It's nice to remember the good things going on. I have a couple students who have been through extreme and traumatic circumstances in their lives, and as a result, really struggle in the classroom. I am doing all I can to support their needs, in constant contact with their families, trying new strategies each day to keep one from throwing pencils all over the room or destroy our things, and the other from shouting at the top of his lungs. Thare are tiny triumphs and often horrible failures, where I can't help but wonder if these students would flourish in someone else's class who has better management, better engagement, better everything. I know that these are students with needs that I am not necessarily trained to deal with, but I feel awful knowing I am misserving them and that this environment is not the least restrictive one for them. It is endlessly frustrating when I feel my classroom is floating away from me--I see the other students trying hard to stay with me, but it's hard when children are shouting at us to shut up and stop doing too much while we are trying to blend words, or students who snatch pencils and throw them and turn the computer up full volume in the middle of a mini-lesson to turn the attention away from what we're doing to them. I'm trying to remain positive, but I am exhausted and flabbergasted. I'm amazed that my students are coping as well as they are, but I feel like I should be doing so much more...

Outside of school, Halloween happened which was lovely. Two parties and a cookie-decorating gathering (which may or may not have involved rum-infused cider on a WEDNESDAY...), and a themed Trivia night made for a great week outside of school. 

October is over, now on to November... already planning how I will be addressing Thanksgiving in my classroom. Last year I told the "true" story of Thanksgiving, focusing on the experience of the Native Americans. This year I think I will go more into the lives of the Native Americans and their importance in helping the pilgrims acclimate to the new environment. 

With that, off to drink fall-ish beer, eat something hearty, in far-too-warm temperatures for November 3rd.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I love October. The crispness in the air welcomes warm, delicious coffee and fall-inspired brews. There are festivals galore here in the East Bay, baseball playoffs commence, apple-filled desserts and drinks, and Guided Reading begins. We haven't officially begun here in Week 7 (I've been finishing Beginning of Year assessments...yipes) but at least I'm pulling kids with (almost) no one interrupting me! Today I assigned workstation "experts" to help others. The listening station crew took their job very seriously and couldn't figure out a non-functioning tape for the life of them...but refused to ask for my help because I was invisible. HALLELUJAHHHH!
I am loving my students. They are forming a sort of family at this point, sticking up for one another (and, yes, tattling on one another...time to break out the tattle tricks...getting them to go tell Elephant and Piggie their problems instead of me.) I've filled our kindness bucket three times already, and the students continue to impress me with their kind words. I was met after Art prep with "I missed you!" today (it was 50 minutes, people). We are not without our problems...I had a student suspended for being extraordinarily disrespectful (telling me to shut up, refusing to leave the classroom to take a break when asked, throwing folders and kicking tables, etc.) I also have lots of friends who need intensive small and gross motor work.
Our room has become inundated with fall workstations and activities...enjoying this joyful time of year when things (dare I say it?) are beginning to come together.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

We will get there.

I have cried not once, but two times in the past two weeks AT SCHOOL. Not in front of the children, thank goodness, but in front of my incredible colleagues. I am in Year 3 and I feel that I am striving for 100% engagement, a seamless classroom where children don't tap on the desks or wiggle the pencil holders. A classroom where students don't begin whistling in succession after I ask them to stop. I went to observe some of my amazing coworkers' classrooms, and I had this sinking feeling that I am SO FAR behind in management. So far behind. And students sit criss cross applesauce, rarely shout out, and raise their hands to tell me things. We are getting better at turning and talking, we say chants and songs all the time, and scouts are looking for kids who are "doing a great job on the rug" and give specific feedback to students on the rug. My transitions are still wiggly, the end of the day is not perfect, but as David is always reminding me...the kids are learning.
It won't be perfect and I am by no means perfect, but I need to remember that it takes years and years to feel confident...and I have a long way to go with management, but I am so excited with all the new engagement strategies I've been using and our bucket filled with sparkly hearts because of all the kind words my students have been sharing with eachother.
We will get there.

Monday, September 17, 2012


I'm sure we all would LOVE to be superwoman or superman in our classrooms and in our lives. I want to be the best at what I do, that beloved teacher who differentiates, creates, and celebrates. I am nowhere NEAR that teacher, and every day I'm reminded why....
My students talk back to me. One told me to "sh" the other day. Superwoman would know what to do. I don't. I just pretend in the moment that I do.
My students take things from the classroom and lie about it. Superwoman's students don't do that.
My students get bored. They whine. They roll on the rug and make loud, rude noises on purpose. They whistle after I ask them to stop.
Superwoman is organized. She doesn't forget to hand out homework or call back a Mom or Dad.
Superwoman doesn't have beer on a school night, or take naps after work, or forget to schedule wedding dress appointments or consultations about the venue.
Superwoman sticks to her 10k workout schedule, doesn't forget what the sight words for the week are supposed to be, or procrastinate testing the rest of her kids because it takes so much time after school.
Superwoman has it figured out, I don't, and I'm tired. I wish I was more organized, more patient, more creative, more savvy.
Until then I'll just keep on keepin' on, strive for better, and work through the days when I feel unsuccessful and underwhelmed with myself.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"What if I don't agree with our rules? Do I have to sign them?"

First graders are cray CRAY. In the best possible way. But who else would jump on eachother's backs at lunch, compare pencil length for 5 minutes before getting started on their work, or hide in corners to share hot cheetos and takis and then tell the assistant principal they didn't eat them even though they had fiery powder all over their fingers?
Oh, my students. I was feeling exhausted Friday and didn't take the time to celebrate their successes. Like, how they're already working for 13 minutes at a time quietly and independently. My classroom is much much quieter than it has ever been. We created rules this week: Be kind, be safe, work hard, and have fun. G asked me when we were signing our rules if he had to sign because he didn't agree with working hard. Oh, dear. "Yes, you still need to sign it, because we're going to learn how to work hard to go to college." "Okay, Ms. Estrada."
I have a couple students with severe social and emotional needs (not as much as in the past), but I'm super excited for Seneca to start working with those muffins to get them what they need. At this point, I'm not sure exactly what will work for them (wandering around the room, sleeping constantly, defiance, etc.) I know my interactions with them cannot be overly stern or emotion-ridden, yet I'm trying to figure out how to communicate strict boundaries for them.
We have our first long day on Monday--8 to 2:45. I'm a little nervous about what that's going to look like. I know my students will get tired, and we'll need lots of energizers and breaks, and I'll need to keep my frustrating at their five-year-old-ness in check. Ready for a weekend of resting, Catan, and baby showers!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hello, Year 3.

This mantra has been running through my head the past two weeks: "I just want to be a good teacher." I want to be firm but loving, understanding, compassionate, and strict. I strive to be better than years before, more organized, make stronger relationships with families, speak fluently and easily in Spanish with the parents, learn Mien so I can communicate with cutie C's mom, and shower my two toughest behavior issues with unconditional love and support. I aim to differentiate, conference, and interactively model my face off. I've read the Responsive Classroom guidebook at least 4 times cover to cover, and still I look for more games and energizers to fill these beginning of year first graders with positive experiences at school.
But I yelled today. I pulled out my ultra-stern "ExCUSE ME" in the hallway with two classes. I saw the looks that passed over kids' faces. "Oooh, Ms. Estrada YELLS," they seemed to say. There was that disappointed but also shocked look that emerged, and then fixing their line immediately. It's been one week and one day, people. I was tired and cranky and tired of positive reinforcing up-the-wazoo how to stand in a straight line. Tomorrow, I will remember to be gentle and to positively reinforce while also being firm with children who are acting cray cray at the back of the line, turning circles, playing tag, etc. I WILL smile throughout the day, and I will be gentle but firm in my reminders to stop TALKING WHILE I'M TEACHING OR OTHERS ARE TALKING. YEESH. I will be patient, I will be patient, I will be patient.
What I really want to do is craft with them all day. Learn how to talk to one another. Play games. Cook food. Plant a garden. Make mistakes and learn from them, without the pressures of finishing this or that assessment on time, taking away recess time, or walking in a perfect silent line. But on the other hand, our children and all children DESERVE literacy. So I will assess, I will look at data, I will meet with my guided reading groups and stress over scores and DRA until the words "Close the book and tell me about the story" show up in bold print in my dreams. I will kiss their owies, sprinkle quiet dust and pretend wake up dust on their heads, open up wrapped class books as rewards for kindness, and sing everyone's names and redirections to bring something new to this classroom and education. I have already fallen in love with my class, but feel like I'm doing them somehow wrong by being so picky, so irritable, so HUMAN.
I want to be like Ms. Honey or the seemingly flawless authors of teacher blogs who have time to do Art everyday, utilize best practices, AND make money by posting lessons. I will continue to misstep, like my students, and can only hope to do right by them. I know there will be days where I question once again what I'm doing here-- why did I ever think I could do this? And then there will be days when I walk into the room and can't imagine doing anything else...and I will survive, and they will survive, and we'll learn together how to make this work.
Hello, Year 3.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us...

It is this time of year that I, like many others I'm sure, am reminded of why I teach. The summer months are spent relaxing, being thoughtful and purposeful about the school year to come, and letting go of the remnants of what may have been or the moments gone wrong from last year. Little by little, I feel more rejuvenated and ready to start my year, especially now that we have begun PD and my mind has shifted from wondering what day of the week it is (okay, not really, since I was still teaching summer school) to meeting the fantastic new staff members at our school, lamenting the absence of those who had such a profound effect on our community, all while trying to carry on the vision of our unique little charter-hybrid-district school in the heart of East Oakland.
For the last few weeks I have been in and out of my classroom, laminating and cutting, paying attention to tiny nuances and making sure the environment is cheery yet calming, color-coordinated, and appealing to first graders. I have scoured pinterest, in awe of uber-organized spaces, taking ideas that seem do-able, and attempting to create a more functional and appealing space for my students. But today I am reminded of big-picture, beyond the details, of why I'm here, and what it means to be at a teacher at this time in Oakland, California. Specifically, in the flatlands of Oakland. I think of the sentiment of so many who give me a disgruntled look when I say I work in Oakland. "You work THERE?! I wouldn't even DRIVE there!" I think of the students who have been so historically under-served and essentially forgotten. I am reminded of a deeper purpose that is sometimes hard to come back to on days when students are hiding under desks or refusing to listen because they haven't had enough sleep or enough to eat (and yes, often because they are six years old). Being reminded of this purpose, thinking of the immense struggle of schools and education in this city, and of the inequities that exist between the flatlands and the hills schools was emotional and intense. I spent the nearly the whole day swallowing the ball in my throat, feeling overwhelmed by how vast the troubles with education are in this country, and overcome by the incredible changes the families in our community have been in proactively creating the school I am honored and privileged to work at.
It is a large undertaking to continue on a school that was birthed by some who have moved on...and to make sure its vision is kept up, all while moving into a new version of something special..and not sure exactly what that will end up looking like. I once thought teachers were miracle-makers, life-savers... not to underestimate what we do, but it takes a village and it takes a functional district/charter/administration and a cohesive team and support to even begin to make change. I took all these things for granted growing up in a middle-class, suburban neighborhood with a public school with veteran teachers and a near-perfect "grade" on greatschools. I am able to teach because of the purposeful choices my parents made, the unearned privilege on my part by speaking English and being born where I was...the privilege of literacy that every single child DESERVES and NEEDS. I once wanted to teach simply because I loved children...the reasons I teach are so much more complicated than simply that. (Of course that is the heart of this profession...the desire to work and inspire youth, but with that so many things including and not limited to combating racism, sexism, homophobia, genderism, and inspiring lifelong learning to lead successful, happy, DESERVED lives). WHEW. Thinking about it all is so exhausting and I'm getting overwhelmed...
So, I will end with the details..the progress of my classroom thus far. It's all very bare-bones still, I'm playing with the layout of the table groups...but this is what I've got.

More photos of guided reading table and bulletin boards to come.

 I'll leave you with the words of our vision statement...
We stand on the shoulders
of those who came before us
as we grow into leaders
who are passionate and care
about making our world better.
We are equipped with skills and knowledge;
filled with curiosity,
and we know that even when
we face challenges,

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

We're halfway there.

Tomorrow marks the halfway point of summer school. I have the dream setting.. I get to do Guided Reading and small group work for three hours a day. I'm done by noon and come home and usually clean, take a nap, and run. I've been (mostly) enjoying my time at this lovely charter school in Oakland, but it's been a bit of a struggle getting to know the culture of the school and the kids. Meeting with them 15-20 minutes every other day makes it hard to establish a solid relationship and clear expectations. We are getting there, but I have this sense of urgency to move these children... but feeling like there's not enough space to go slow to go fast. Regardless, it's been fantastic to do Guided Reading all day every day and make activities and spread the joy of reading. (The Guided Reading Planning Sheet is by Deanna Jump.)

Thanks to Kelly at First Grade Fairytales for the blog award. That was unexpected and exciting. :)
With this, I'm supposed to include 7 random facts.

  • I usually drink 2 gallons of milk a myself.
  • I've broken my nose twice during stunting in cheerleading in high school (I cheered for 11 years or something absurd..including a year in college...and am often leary to tell people this)
  • I conduct nearly all of my parent conferences in Spanish. I'm not quite fluent, but close. (My school is composed of mostly Spanish speaking families.)
  • I love the word noob and am often found doing "noobie" things...locking myself out of my apartment or my car, forgetting to turn off the oven, leaving things to the last minute, etc. etc. David (my fiance) and I have locked ourselves out of our apartment at least four times since we moved in (6 months ago).
  • I identify myself as mixed racially (my mom is white and my dad is Mexican), but have reaped the benefits of white privilege because I am phenotypically Italian looking. I am constantly aware of the whiteness I bring to a school where none of the children are white, and am very conscious of the power I could potentially impose and the stereotypes or biases I hold that could be poisonous to my students...and work incredibly hard to be aware of them, analyze them, and move away from them.
  • My favorite beer is Boont Amber, brewed in beautiful Mendocino county.
  •  I just did The Color Run 5k this past weekend with one of my colleagues in San Francisco. It was so incredibly invigorating and HAPPY. I think I'm still on a high from it.
 Time to drink more coffee, do an ab workout, and lay around waiting for Dance Moms to come on. (That should have been one of my facts... my guiltiest pleasure is Dance Moms.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

One year ago...

David and I played a game last night where we tried to figure out where we were exactly one year ago, at that very moment (11:29 PM). We were in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on our Midwest road trip, in our tent near Tahquamenon Falls, about to get eaten by mosquitoes.

This is where we would have been on this day, July 9th, one year ago. Missing that glorious trip, but enjoying the summer very much. We've been spending our days watching New Girl, I've been doing lots of Guided Reading at the school I'm teaching at for the summer, and just got back from camping with some friends. So far we've floated down the American River, drunk lots of beer, waded in a lake with tiny leeches, and celebrated family birthdays galore.
Looking forward to heading to San Luis Obispo next weekend for a girls' trip with my Meshell, running a 5k in San Francisco on Saturday called the Color Run, and then heading to Atlanta at the end of the month. Whew. More teachery stuff to come after July 15th, when my class will be waxed and ready for me to start setting up for the year. Wondering if anyone might be willing to look at some pictures of my empty (ish) classroom and help me to decide how to re-decorate and move things around? I'm wanting to change things up.

And now, time for New Girl.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


It's SUMMER! I don't have the same joyous, carefree feeling I had last year, though, because I will be working. I got a job at a charter school in West Oakland (which I'm very excited about!) that starts after all the PD we have this week. I will mostly be doing Guided Reading and Workstations/Reader's Workshop, which is very exciting. I loved the Literacy Block in my classroom and I'm looking forward to doing that for three hours every day! My demo lesson was a little shaky--the school is in its first year of existence and they are still working out the kinks of supports, etc, and the students were ALL over the place. Hoping to do extensive modeling and training for them this summer--I'm confident the students will rise to the challenge!!

Plans for this summer? Training for and running a 5k (I'm no runner...but very excited for the challenge...hoping to eventually run a half-marathon), drinking lots of coffee at the new cafe down the street, reading a few teachery books (Guided Math, Reading With Meaning, and Spaces and Places), enveloping myself in the world of Murakami (currently reading 1Q84, deciding what to read next), teaching 3 hours a day, tutoring some lovely children, and beginning to plan our wedding! Just thinking about it is making me feel more excited. Now, onto my second day of summer...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Ms. Estrada, you're getting married?! EWWWW"

Well. Life has been exciting. And is exciting. And will be exciting. School has been busy, busy, busy. We have one week and two days to go. My students are antsy, I'm antsy, we're trying to hold it all together, and all I really want to do is...jump up and down or lay on the floor or play silly games because....
I am engaged! My students pretty much lost it when they found out my "friend" Mr. David was actually my boyfriend David who is now my FIANCEE David. When I asked them if they thought I was old enough to get married, they vehemently shook their heads and cried "Noooo!" AC replied "Ms. Estrada, that's weird." Well, okay. A lot of parents in conferences have been asking me about it. It has been a stomach-stirring, frantic, wonderful few days and I really couldn't be happier.
Conferences have been going well-- I cried in AC's today. She's made so much progress, is so hilarious, and is just so endearing to me. I will miss these students dearly and as I was speaking about her to her parents today, I got misty.
Now back to my ever-growing to-do list before the end of this year.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Criss-cross applesauce all day

I've got this itchy feeling to get outside. I have not left my post from my chair all day, other than giving the kitchen a "deep clean" and hard-boiling some eggs. I've been lost in IQ84, the t.v. playing Crooklyn in the background, and a surreality has enveloped me. I cried in Crooklyn, then buried myself back in 1Q84 and as a result feel emotionally drained. I need to get up out of this spot and DO SOMETHING. I often tell CMF (He tells me not to forget the F when I write his initials...I can imagine him reading this blog post [perfectly, of course] and being impressed that I remembered the hyphenated second part of his last name) I'm going to take my invisible glue and put it on his chair so he doesn't fall out of it or sit in it unsafely. He laughs every I think some of that glue is stuck on my butt. I'm SO LAZY.
I had a lovely weekend camping at an overpopulated, RV filled campland (there was a gourmet espresso shop within walking distance and instructions on how to set up take camping with a grain of salt), but it was so very relaxing and great to be around friends. We cooked on camping stoves, made s'mores, were those "old people" who asked the other people around us to please be quiet when they were making noise after (and before) hours. We had a grand time floating in the lake, drinking beer (and lots of coffee) and reading. It was a sneak peek into summer, which I am anxiously awaiting. Three weeks left! This is our last "real week" of instruction--then the last two weeks of school are minimum days, which I'm hoping to pack with tons of fun activities that will end the year on a lively, joyous note.
Now I'm going to attempt a run--I have been too dormant all day. My knees are sore from sitting criss cross applesauce in my chair all day--wow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I love coffee. Therefore, my students love coffee. On a regular basis, multiple kids will ask to try my coffee throughout the day, point out the smell of coffee on my breath, or tiptoe to my coffee cup and pretend to drink it. It's a typical part of our day, to talk about Ms. Estrada's coffee. It's funny what builds community in the classroom...I think most of my students will remember coffee about first grade. We've made How-Tos about coffee, discussed what makes me feel happy, smelled it, and EC brings a coffee mug filled with tea each day to pretend she has coffee with her.
These are the things I will miss about this class...the silly way JB ALWAYS stays on the rug when I've excused everyone to their desks and undoubtedly will ask "What are we supposed to do?"and I try my hardest not to get extraordinarily exasperated with his absent-mindedness. I'll miss holding his hand as we walk to his desk and I tell him he needs to ask his friend sitting next to him because I've already gone over the directions twice. I'll miss (never thought I'd say this) EC minding everyone's business and touching all my things and being a busy-body, simply because she is who she is and will always be this way and I love her for it. I will miss AC's crumbling tears because her dad came to pick her up early from school, and RD's pouty looks and then trying to disguise them when I furrow my brows at her. I'll miss EMM's excitement at EVERYTHING "I LOVE THIS!!!" and ZK's backward S's.
My classroom is in chaos at this moment, but I love these children so much. I did more testing today and found that my lowest student at the beginning of the year is now reading a Level I (!) and that right now we need to just enjoy eachother's presence. I'm going to have a big talk with my class tomorrow about kindness (again) with the idea that we only have three short weeks left together and then we may not see eachother as much.
YAY SUMMER, BUT BOO to saying goodbye to a truly special, sweet, somewhat dysfunctional class. :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Private School--WHAT?

This weekend has been busy with graduations galore, but I have a sense of calm as I head into this week. Last week was the hardest I've had in a long while, what with a student throwing a chair across the floor and another student threatening to cut her fingers because she didn't want me to call her grandpa when she was being defiant...oh, dear. It felt like complete and utter chaos. (This was Tuesday). I got a little break the rest of the week when quite a few kids were absent (I know that sounds awful, but it made things feel more manageable) and we were able to end the week on a good note. 17 more days!
AC told me she doesn't want summer because then school won't be here anymore. My heart grew when she told me this (though she may be the only one who feels this way in my room at this point..;) Amidst lots of disorder at times, some students are still having fun and enjoying learning and maturing SO MUCH. Their ability to perspective take is really growing and I'm very proud of the progress they've made. I've been a bit lazy in pulling small groups and I feel that is going to be detrimental to my students who are ALMOST to their reading goal (I!), but overall I feel happy with what we were able to accomplish together this year.
I went to a job interview at a private summer school, and the interviewer (who was quite wonderful and complimentary, actually) told me at her school it's pretty certain that the Kindergarten class would function much like my first grade class in an urban area. This may be true, but it was assumed that the students in my community aren't academically doing the same things as at the private school. (The school is in a more suburban area.) Having taught in impoverished communities herself, I knew she understood to an extent the realities of teaching all ELLs, etc...however, I felt myself bristling a bit. I didn't show it and smiled, but the more I think about it, the more I wish she would have taken into consideration the rigor of what we do at my school and been more open to the idea that it's possible for ALL children to succeed at high levels. I'm probably overreacting, and I DO feel there are some differences when it comes to teaching ELLS--there is more of a vocabulary piece and sometimes even explicit English instruction, but I do know that my students are capable of the same brilliance that kids in the suburbs achieve. They might not have all the same resources, or stable home lives, but there sure is lots of love going on at their homes (for the most part), and they are achieving greatness at school. I'm a new teacher, so I'm still working at this, but I am confident that in the next few years I will have ALL my students reading at Level I by the end of the year--except perhaps those with IEPs or special plans, but I have confidence that I am the one who needs to rise to the challenge--the students are already doing it. Half of my class is reading at Level I or beyond at this point--and many are very, very close. My lowest readers are reading at Level E (Which is mid/beginning of year for first grade at my school), but every single student has grown and every single student is reading to some capacity. With guided reading, guided math, GLAD strategies, FOSS, Lucy Calkins Writer's Workshop, and explicit phonics instruction, I believe our first graders are getting a variety of rich experiences and do incredibly well for ANY circumstances, and are doing amazingly for the circumstances they endure.
I'm still very interested to see what it will be like at a private school if I get this job. I never thought I'd be teaching at a private school--we'll see what happens. I grew up going to public school, never have experienced what a private school might be like--this should be interesting. ALL children deserve a wonderful education, but I have this tugging feeling that children who have the resources to go to private school are going to be successful no matter their teachers--that may be totally false, good teachers affect ALL students, but I just feel a dedication to serving and staying in a community that NEEDS people who WANT to be teachers and are willing to work on themselves and their own biases to deconstruct stereotypes, racism, classism, and be surrounded by students who most likely did not grow up in the same circumstances as them, all while being serious about staying in the community and giving students what so many kids in suburban areas experience--consistency! That was a horrid run-on sentence, and there I go stepping on my soapbox again--but that just scratches the surface of how I feel about teaching, and why I am where I am. BIG PROPS to all the teachers who teach in more affluent environments--there are challenges EVERYWHERE and you do work to serve children, which is admirable and wonderful. My personal preference is teaching where many do not want to teach--and here I am, applying for a summer job at a private school. I feel like my family is smirking and thinking "I told you so!" I already told the interviewer I would only be interested JUST for the summer---my heart is with all those cuties in East Oaktown who speak in a beautiful mix of Spanish and English and compare shades of brown skin and have seen things they shouldn't in their short six years.
In other news, there is laundry sitting all over my floor, the new flowers sitting on the kitchen table are dead because I forgot to water them, and there are empty beer bottles decorating David's and my apartment. The last thing I want to do is clean. I look at all these uber-organized teaching blogs and I laugh at myself---I am the world's largest slob.
Good night!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Week (?)

At my school, Teacher Appreciation is not a big deal or even really celebrated, at least amongst the families. I have no doubt they would go out of their way to shower us with stuffed animals and coffee cups and hugs and kisses; there is an abundance of love in our community. However, with little financial means, we as a staff do not want to put pressure on the families of our students to spend money on us or feel obligated to do something fancy (trust me, the families at our school know how to throw a good party..I'm amazed by the themes and cakes...the most common question during sharing about birthdays is "What kind of cake will there be? Spiderman? Tres leches?") Anyway, the point here is teaching at my school means not a lot of English speakers, which means not a lot of confidence in volunteering in the classroom (I have some parents who do not read or write in their native language or English), which means perhaps not the same relationship with teachers. There is the utmost respect, but not every teacher speaks Spanish or Mum and can communicate in the same way with parents that other schools that are all one language (like the one I attended growing up) can. (Of course, I find this variety and diversity rich and invaluable...I'd rather not work anywhere else. Oakland is where my heart is.)
I am dedicated to this incredible community, obviously, and my wonderful school and my coworkers. I feel the need to make this post an ode to my coworkers...I don't need the coffee gift cards or extra little stuff--what I need and get to enjoy daily are the fantastic people I work with. My grade level team, Kinder team, and everyone who knows everything about everyone's business and takes an active role in making it better warms my heart everyday. We cry, we laugh, we analyze student work and make each other workstations and run around jabbering about racism and the suffocating system in which we work....our hilariously brilliant (though often troubled) students, and the trials we ourselves go through each day. I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by these lovely people--so to the teachers at our unique small school in the heart of East Oakland...I deeply, completely, appreciate you and am inspired by you. Thanks for keeping me going each day, when I continue to make missteps and am still figuring out this whole managing behavior thing. You are what teacher appreciation is all about, so I thank you!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cinco de Mayo and other things

I think a lot about how to introduce holidays in my room. I LOVE celebrating and learning about different traditions and sharing those with my students. On the other hand, I don't want to err on the side of Heroes and Holidays and inundate my students with stereotypical images. I also don't want to limit the importance of, say, Black History Month to only one month. Students should be seeing images of African Americans and hearing stories about African Americans and other brown and black people ALL YEAR LONG. I want to do this better next year--to have more texts reflecting the racial and cultural makeup of my classroom throughout the year. I try to do this, but could do much better at it.
So, Cinco de Mayo is a tricky one for me. I didn't even address it with my class this year, though I will most likely talk about it tomorrow. Cinco de Mayo is fun and a way to celebrate Mexican/Latino culture, and is important for my students to know about and recognize, but I don't want to stereotype their own heritage for them. I hope that makes sense... Cinco de Mayo is a holiday largely celebrated in the United States (NOT in most of Mexico) and I feel that though the premise of it is quite important (kind of a si se puede! idea...May 5th, 1982, the Mexicans defeated the French in what is now known as The Day of The Battle of Puebla. It is significant because the French army was double the size of the Mexican army, but still they prevailed. ANYWAY, I say all this because it seems this has gotten lost in the parading around wearing sombreros, eating burritos, and drinking gallons of Mexican beer to celebrate. I realize I have perhaps drank a little too much haterade, but when it comes to teaching my students, I want to be sure they get the whole picture and understand what each holiday is about and that I expose them to many holidays without giving them a stereotypical vision of any group of people.
WHEW, it's tricky!
P.S. I did celebrate Cinco de Mayo by drinking beer and eating tacos and tamales and all things Mexican---but really, how is that different than any other Saturday? ;) Pues, hasta luego..

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


I have clearly been having a very difficult time in my classroom. I was surprised with a brand new student on Monday who has had really terrible things happen to her at both her old school and in her home. I felt completely unprepared for a new student in my class on Monday (NO ONE told e-mail, no questioning, no nothing.) I think it was just a lack of time and everyone being spread too thin at my school right now, what with us going charter and a huge turnover happening, but I do hope this does not happen again. I am not easily ruffled by these sorts of things--things happen--but in order to serve the children, I need to be prepared for them with materials and at least a few minutes notice to prepare myself to do some community-building activities with the group. The day was rough. Yesterday was rougher. My new student was shouting at everyone, constantly in her backpack, stomping around, refusing to come to the rug, etc. She bopped someone with a pencil, got sent out of the room 2 times, and I was in tears on my lunch break. I felt at a complete loss-- how could I better support her? How come things were falling apart?
My patience has been worn thin and I've been listening so much to what other people tell me--be meaner, do this, do that, but really what I needed to do was calm myself down, go back to what I believe in about children, and bring my sense of humor and silliness back to the class. This is not to say I'm not a strict teacher--oh my, I have high expectations for these children. If they so much as turn their back while I'm teaching, I'm on them. I interrupt myself to do this constantly, but I expect 100% attention. If you're worried about the person's shoe behind you, you're not learning. End of story. However, I give lots of reminders and need to get back to an immediate logical consequence for negative behaviors. Anyway, I did enjoy teaching today and watched as my students quietly enjoyed workshop time (which I threatened to take away since so many people were looking at the computers, wandering around, etc.) I've been changing workstations, making them more engaging, etc, etc, but the procedures and routines have just gotten too loose. I used to revel in workstation time...but these past two weeks I've been hanging my head and not able to pull any groups because I have children coming up to me left and right, hanging out by the computers, etc. NO MORE, PEOPLE.
Again, this turned into a rant. Bottom line, this can be done. I do love these kids, and they do know what to do in school. If one more kid slides across that floor though, I am going to exploooodeeeeeee.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I am so scatter-brained. I'm sure nearly every teacher has felt like this at some point in their career, but I really question how successful I am as a teacher. I feel like I am struggling with even getting students to WALK and BE SAFE in the classroom. I know there are so many things out of my control but am I really serving these students? Do I even know what I'm doing?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mean teacher

I do not consider myself a mean person. In fact, I identify myself as a pretty empathetic, kind person. Never has my blood boiled as much as it has during teaching. I did a mean, mean thing to a student yesterday. I let my anger get the best of me and I am not proud of it. In fact, I can't stop thinking about it. EC has a mind of her own and loves to be creative and independent. I have so much love for her and have grown to understand, even appreciate, her need to clean, help, and put her own creative spin on activities. Yesterday, we were enjoying choice time like we always do on Friday afternoons, and Estefania was at the coloring station. She began cutting out her drawings and I asked her to put her scissors away because it was time to color, not cut. She gave me the puppy dog eyes and the "Pleeease" and I told her no, put them away because it was almost the end of the day and last time we used scissors there were too many scraps. She put the scissors away, then got them back out 5 mins later. I gave her a last warning, and then caught her with the scissors AGAIN after that. I walked as calmly as possible over to her, took her paper, and I RIPPED UP the pigs she had been cutting. I RIPPED THEM. I am a horrible, no-good, mean teacher. She looked sheepish at first, and I quietly told her that this was the consequence of not listening...she wouldn't get to keep her work. I think this is a logical consequence, however, since it was out of anger and unexpected, it left me with this icky feeling. EC burst into uncontrollable tears. I apologized to her for unnecessarily ripping her picture, and I told her mom what happened, and I feel a little better about it today, but I can't help feeling like I am a mean, ruthless teacher. How did I let the anger get the best of me? I so often tell my students to take deep breaths, to give themselves a break, to do all these things when they feel they can't control their anger..I need to remember all of my actions matter, and I need to model kindness and fairness as much as possible. I faltered. I can only hope EC remembers the good things about first grade, too, and not that her teacher is a horrible meanie-head.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Today was not good, today was not fun, but tomorrow is another one. Most days everything runs smoothly until lunch. After lunch, the drama ensues in my classroom. Lots of writing in our "Problem Solving Notebook" about what happened at recess or even on the rug, tears, and stomping. I am working very hard to prevent meltdowns with children who need counseling or even a one-on-one aide, and it's taking a toll.
I came home today and vented for 30 minutes about the meanness going on in my classroom. One of my students literally said of a student in another class "I want to make her cry, I don't care if I'm mean to her, she deserves it and she's ugly and dumb." I wanted to cry. I tend to blame these things on myself, always wondering what more I can do to help these kids be kinder. I model kindness, make it explicit, praise it out the wazoo, have scouts to look for kindness, use Second Step, and have specific behavior plans for certain students to help foster kind words for those who it is more difficult for. We role play and talk about choosing to be around people who make us feel good ALL THE TIME. I'm feeling a little frustrated and at a loss. What else can I do for those two or three students who are impacting the classroom environment with their negativity? I have a couple students who may even be considered emotionally disturbed, if not just very very angry, and I'm trying to work with that without having them out of the classroom all the time.
I realize I'm ranting again. I feel in a very negative space. If I hear my students chanting "yayuh" one more time I am going to pull every single hair out of my head. And now I can't stop saying it. AHHH.
Some good things have been happening, though. I told my students about Cesar Chavez today and we wrote about how we can help the world. Lots of kids wrote they were going to get rich and give their money to people who needed it. Some said they were going to listen (which can actually be very valuable..just listening to others can help our world greatly, though I don't think they were thinking about it so deeply ;) We then went in to regular Writer's Workshop time and many of my students wrote beautiful, detailed stories. EC wrote about the time her dog got stuck in a hole because he was trying to escape and how she felt so scared and sad until she saved him. Her story was truly compelling and beautiful. EC, who drives me absolutely nuts most of the time because she's in everyone's business and always all over the place, cleaning when she should be listening, touching my desk, erasing the board, etc, but her personality is pretty adorable and she means well.
I taught my students to say "Doo doo doo doo doo" after I say "Mana-mana" a la the Muppets. It's an attention getter that's been somewhat working--until kids start singing "Mana-mana" randomly throughout the day when I'm talking. I give them a teacher look and have them move their clip down when they do this and bring out my monster claws to make them laugh a little. But for reals, if they do it again tomorrow, I might scream.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I wasn't with my class today. I feel so rejuvenated after spending a day with my grade level team! Every 6 weeks we are given a release day to plan together at a nearby coffee shop. We are diligent in using our time wisely and I always end the day feeling so inspired by the people I work with. My school is heavy on collaboration and I am endlessly grateful for it. I am only in my second year of teaching and am pushed/supported within my ZPD by those around me.
What I was greeted with when I came back to my room was RG with a nonchalant "Oh, hi Ms. Estrada." She normally stays with me after school for my reading intervention club, and I was so happy to see a smiling face with the guest teacher in my class. My room was spotless, the guest teacher told me I had a nice class and left in a hurry. "How was your day with the guest teacher?" "It was good! Well, she said a bad word." Ms. A (who was with me) and I were intrigued, and pressed her. "It's okay, she apologized." We left it at that and commented how everyone makes mistakes. After RG's mom came to get her, I heard from a Kindergarten teacher that one of my students went to the principal to complain about the teacher using a bad word. Turns out the projector was taking a long time to warm up (I'm sure she was greeted with a few impulsive students whining "I can't seeeeeee") and she said that "sh" word, as ZK described it to me. At least she wasn't swearing AT them. Meh, it happens. I certainly feel I have done with...things like rubbing my face in my hands and groaning right in front of my students. I am not proud of some of my lowest moments, but I would never ever swear AT my students, and neither did the guest teacher. I'm also extraordinarily careful about my words, but I'm accustomed to being around first graders every day. Just an example for my students about how everyone makes mistakes, and we can all learn from them.
I'm excited to be back with them tomorrow. Even just being there for five minutes this morning, they gave me a group hug and I felt so incredibly lucky to have such a sweet group of students. They may drive me bonkers, and I may make them angry at times, but we really look out for eachother. I think my students have eachother's backs even if they bicker like none other at times. Like I always tell them, my heart is growing every time I see them be kind to one another. Today, my heart grew with the comfort and joy I felt just to see them. It was like taking a deep breath and letting it go...working hard all day, feeling productive, then letting go a little bit when I saw these little children who are such a large part of my life. It was like running into an old friend--how silly that must sound, but seeing them warmed me. I'm excited for tomorrow and getting down to the business of first grade-- love love love and every once in a while "sit, sit, sit, STOP, okay now we're ready."
I have been so bad about reading my students' writing other than in writing conferences lately... so yesterday I took a little sampling at their masterpieces...mind you, I am not a good writing teacher (yet). I'm still learning how to best combine the wonderful Lucy Calkins with the ideas of Lisa my students explicit grammar and mechanics writing instruction along with the freedom to just write write write write, and to be honest, I haven't done the best or most diligent job. I am also NOT an expert at teaching handwriting...clearly...but here is what my students are producing...and I have to say I am happy with their ability to put their ideas down on paper.

AC in November: "I am pretty."

 AC now: "My mom, she said if I finish my homework I will get a big big big big big big big surprise." Love love love her use of long vowel spellings and spelling her sight words correctly. This was my lowest student at the beginning of the year.

 LOVE EM's spelling of excited! And cayke! YAY long vowels! :)

Here is my one of my only non English Learners..ZK...notice the great spelling. (I didn't do that, he's just a great speller and an incredibly smart learner.)
NG's spelling of hide and go seek makes me so incredibly happy. It's that one happyallinonebreath spelling that evokes the excitement of the game.

Please keep in mind 90% of my students are English Language Learners and are new to English. 90% of my students speak Spanish at home. The others speak African American Vernacular, and one speaks Cambodian and English. They all speak English at school, but all but 3 are bilingual.

When I look at teaching blogs, I see lots of perfect handwriting and impeccable grammar. My students are not there, but I am warmed to near tears when I read their writing. I can READ IT--they are expressing themselves on paper--and laughing, chatting, and helping eachother as they do so--what more could I ask for?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What I Talk About When I Talk About Teaching

I am currently reading Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I'm no runner, I'm no novelist, but of course as Murakami confesses his introversion, his daily routine revolving around running and writing, I think of teaching.
But I also think of talking about what led me to teaching. About privilege and family and realizations of ethnicity and power and politics within the United States. Running is so often not simply running. Teaching is most definitely not simply teaching. It is this delicate balance of knowing where to let my biases, if you will, influence my teaching, or lay squirming inside me, silencing them for the neutrality I owe my students. But my job is most definitely not neutral. I come to this profession from a place of white privilege---being born into an incredible family who has worked harder than I to be where they are now. I am the product of an interracial marriage, of white phenotype but with the benefit of having heard Spanish slip off my grandparents' tongues, and from this chameleon-like appearance that makes it hard to pigeonhole or label my ethnicity. I went to a suburban school, lived on a suburban street, ate a balance of all the food groups growing up. I went to plays, the library, the bookstore, the movies, and many theme parks growing up. I spoke English first, and Spanish second. Everything leading me here has been because of my parents coming from near-poverty to raise a healthy, happy family. I am so incredibly privileged and am where I am now simply because I was born into this incredibly family who also had certain privileges to allow them to get where they are. English is a huge privilege both my parents enjoy.
So here I am. Living my dream, teaching, and at times very much so struggling. But what I talk about when I talk about teaching has to be my family, my parents, and the opportunities I've had. Otherwise I wouldn't be here, and for that..I am so very grateful. My school of Latino and African American students has almost all white teachers because of is a tragedy the way things play out in this country, the way race and power structures influence whether or not we can achieve our dreams (of course this is so much more complicated than I make it) but that makes my job all the more daunting and incredibly give these brilliant brown children the belief that college can and will be in their future if they want it to...all the while validating their incredible backgrounds and combating parts of their realities (flaming hot cheetos are NOT good for your body or mind, no matter how much we both love them, and Black Ops is actually not how we should live our daily lives in the classroom...), while never having experienced what it's like to spend a day in their life.
What I talk about when I talk about teaching is love, hardship, happiness, and pride. But the ultimate thing is this disparity I experience every day...this power that I have to be very careful not to impose upon my be aware of my (half) whiteness and to make my classroom a place where my students can both embrace and love their beautiful country, but also question its practices and the suffering many of its minority groups have suffered. I so much do not want to teach the status quo, to make my students believe that those in power only have their best interests at heart...but also without breaking their spirits. I want them to be independent, strong, and to voice their opinions, thoughts, and the injustices of their lives.
Teaching and social justice are not separate. They are one and the same.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Educational inequities

I tell my students no whining. "My dad didn't let me whine. He has a sign up in his office that says NO WHINING. This is what a whine sounds like: [insert my best whine here]. You will not whine." But what I really feel like doing right now is whining. Ranting, perhaps. I feel that I do that enough with my coworkers, and David, and my mom, and my friends...but sometimes...the positivity I try to keep in my classroom makes me want to be Negative Nancy after school. In the classroom, if a student tells me "TEACHERRR SHE'S LOOKING AT MEEEE" what I really want to do is tell him/her: "IT DOESN'T MATTER. YOU'RE BEING RIDICULOUS AND SILLY. STOPPPPP!" in my best whining voice. Yet instead, teacher voice wins and I give a look, patiently (or not quite as patiently) tell them to look at someone who's making a nice face at them (like me) and then I smile huge and try to get a laugh, and continue. Some days this is very, VERY hard. There could be worst things. You'd think I'd be used to the falling out of the chairs, repeating each other, tattling, and touching everything that is so customary of first graders. Oh, I'm used to it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't drive me bananas. Sometimes I'll even tell that to the kids...well, more so in the frame of "stop acting bananas." ARGH. I didn't even have a bad day. But I have this itching to just let it all out....the frustrations and gripes I have with the education system I work within. I want to complain about things far beyond my classroom, about inequities that exist in this world and this country everything that is going wrong with education in general, but particularly with urban education and the areas where families and children need the MOST opportunities and resources to be able to survive, let alone thrive. I am SO incredibly happy to work where I do, in a beautiful community with so much to offer and so many brilliant, inspiring people. I will not pretend it is not hard, though.
I am also exhausted. I am exhausted and I am not even working myself to my full potential. I am not as exhausted or overworked as some of my coworkers. I make sure I get time to take a bath everyday and to leave work at a reasonable hour (5:30 is usually my limit of being able to stare at my walls or the papers surrounding me and decide to give it a rest.) I then come home and work on differentiating or creating materials until bedtime, usually. But I have a wonderful roommate (slash boyfriend) who makes dinner most nights, helps with correcting papers or cutting laminations, and gives fabulous advice on what I should do for lessons. I have a supportive work environment, principal, and coworkers. Most of the parents of my students are dedicated to their students' learning, sweet, and trust my decisions for their students' learning. In the grand scheme of things, I've got it really easy.
And yet...I feel conflicted when looking at popular teacher blogs from all over the country. I am so pleased by the high level of rigor and talk of differentiation and essential questions and on and on, and I've personally learned so much from looking at the lessons and experiences of teachers from throughout the country. The internet is truly a beautiful way to collaborate, share, and commiserate. Yet what I see makes me realize at the striking disparity in this country, that grand difference between the haves and the have-nots, the access to not only a better education, but a more fun, multi-faceted one too, that's laden with art activities EVERY day, and P.E. teachers who have actually studied kinesiology, and elaborate class parties where teachers don't stress out about missing 30 minutes of valuable instructional minutes. I see clipart of white children or tan children with white features on lots of these activities, and I see the heroes and holidays approach to teaching multiculturalism in so many teachers' classrooms across the country. I am in awe of what these teachers are able to accomplish, and then I notice that most of them are in homogenous communities with teacher aides and parents helping out in the classroom. Most of the families in my community work long hours and speak a language other than English at home. I have lots of help in terms of field trips, but most days I am the only one in the room with these children. I feel like I am failing them sometimes..I want to be super-teacher and do everything, much like a lot of their parents are doing...EVERYTHING. I feel discouraged when I look at these blogs and see what some children are experiencing (multiple adults in a classroom, parents who can afford to send their kids on multiple field trips, freedom of curriculum, art, music, science EVERY DAY, etc, etc.) and I think about what our students experience and the limitations placed on communities in need. We are so incredibly privileged to have what we have at my wonderful school, but the reality is...those in power get more, those with less power get less. I see beautiful student handwriting, perfect grammar, and incredible learning experiences. I see smartboards and craftivities and I just feel like this shadow of a teacher...
And then I realize, I'd rather work here than anywhere else. I have lots of opportunities, I get to teach children who have a unique experience in this country of ours, and I am appreciate of my own privilege every single day. I get to think about race and fostering English in these students, and what access it will give them to speak, read, and write in two beautiful languages. I am humbled by their parents' experiences of hardship and violence in this community, and I am reminded of resilience and brilliance in children whose odds are all against them. I am so very lucky to do this job I do...and from the whining and ranting comes these realizations. I still feel this intense bubbling in the pit of my stomach when I think of all the injustices innocent children have to endure because of the power structures of our nation...and yet, I'm grateful to be a part of the road to close these achievement gaps and to at the very least give these students a safe place to come to day after day.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What's really said in Room 157

A list of things that are said daily in my classroom... by the students or me
"TEACHERRRRR....I NEED TO USE IT!" "Show me your silent signal." "Oh."
"Get in your rug spot...NOW." "But she..." "NO."
"Let me count how many people are in their rug spots looking up here...1..2..3...15..16..KJ Where should you be? KJ you have 3 seconds...Okay, now you're wasting your....(everyone chimes in) LEARNING TIME!"
"Warning. 2nd warning...good bye."
"I am invisible." "But, what is this word?" "Go ask a friend." "But..." "GOODBYE"
"Ms. Estrada can I touch your shoes? They look so soft...oooohhh." "Me too?"
"If those become distracting, they're mine. I love wearing pretty necklaces/playing Pokemon/flying mini paper airplanes at home. David does too."
"Ms. Estrada... I have candy in my lunch. Here you go. I get it after school?"
"Ok, you have ten seconds to get to your rug spots." MS- "I'M ALREADY IN MY RUG SPOT!" This happens, without fail, every day.
"Ms. Estrada I didn't get water." -IB "You didn't?" Shakes head. "Okay.." "TRICKED YA, YES I DID!" Also, without fail, every day. I still fall for it.
"Ms. Estrada she's looking at meeeee." "I'm not in charge of her eyes. Ask her to stop."
"This is not a beach. Sit up on the rug."
"We are not in the beauty salon. Keep your hands on your OWN hair. She doesn't like it when you touch her hair."
Mean look..."Ahhh Ms. Estrada's a MONSTER!" Giggling ensues, including myself.
And, yes... "I love you." "Can I help you?" "Will you please stop tapping your pencil?" "Can I borrow your glue?" "Do you want to read with me?" "I'll be your friend!" "We can solve this problem!" "We are SO SMART!" "I am pretty and smart (this from one of my pudgy girls...makes me so happy. I constantly tell her how smart she is...she came up with the pretty part from her parents and herself. She really is beautiful...I just love her strong sense of self-worth, without being boastful. Just so matter of fact.) "Ms. Estrada can I...oops you're invisible. Sorry!" "MS, I'm sorry I used a loud voice with you. Shake hands?" "JB is so smart now! Look! He's telling time! (says LA after patiently teaching him the math center)" "Ms. A told us The Lorax book is even better than the movie and we are so lucky to get to read it!" "Dr. Seuss is real? Or not real?" "That green guy with no face is MEAN. I want the world to be beautiful." "We made up a game at recess...we were detectives! We were trying to find KJ...but we couldn't...oh look...there she IS (sitting at her desk in class.) Clapping ensues" "Yesterday I was in my bed reading your beautiful, smart writing....(everyone chimes in) WITH YOUR HOT CHOCOLATE!" "Our surprise is David?!" "Not today..." "Can we have a hot chocolate party? With marshmallows? And reading?" "BOOKS!!!!! I LOVE BOOKS!"

Saturday, February 18, 2012

100 days of drama

What a week. Students telling eachother they're going to kill eachother's families (this in lieu of the so much more standard "I'm not gonna be your friendddd.") Needless to say, it's been dramatic. I say this lightly, but I didn't and don't take it lightly. First graders should not be threatening to kill eachother's families. One student said it and it spread like wildfire in my room and ended with a huge group of children problem solving in the office and me having a very serious conversation with a student's mom about bullying (she is from Cuba...and she told me while Cuba has immense political problems, students never bully one another, aren't a part of gangs, etc, and she's adjusting to this incredibly different reality that comes along with living in the United States, most specifically...Oakland.) Despite everything, we had a pretty good week.
Valentine's day was overwhelmingly filled with love, gifts, and hugs. I loved every moment of it and I think my students did too. We celebrated the 100th day of school that day, sharing what we would do when we were 100 years old (lots of my students are apparently going to be riding their awesome motorcycles and others will be serving tea to all their friends), making necklaces with 100 cheerios, and drawing sets of 100 things. I spent Friday testing my students in reading and found that they all have grown and got some insight what I need to work on (fluency, fluency, fluency!)
Now I sit amidst incredible beauty in Murrieta Valley for President's Day weekend, relaxing, sipping coffee, enjoying drinking beer (since I have been limiting myself during the week) and eating delicious, fresh food. Feeling refreshed and excited for the week to come. :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An ode to Mimi Helen and my students

Two nights ago, my mom's mom, Mimi to me and my brother and sister, died at 90 years old from pancreatic cancer. We only found out about a week ago she had cancer; the obvious symptoms did not show until the very end. Mimi was quietly strong, compassionate, perhaps shy, unassuming, and, above all, incredibly sweet. Not a negative thought seemed to cross her mind, not an ill-sounding word escaping her lips. She loved her family, especially her daughters, and quietly sat as an observer at most family functions, laughing at the antics of my cousins on my dad's side, proudly smiling at her grandchildren on my mom's side. She was forever accepting... my Mimi Grace just told me a story about the first time she met Mimi Helen, at the bank right after my parents started dating. Mimi Helen spoke highly of my dad, despite my grandfather's disdain at his dark-brown skin (He grew to love my dad as his own son...but at first he hesitated at letting him in their home). In third grade, I wrote an essay dedicated to Mimi titled "My Hero: Mimi Helen" I can only hope to become a woman like her: humble, patient, and kind. She is the epitome of this for me and my family--my Mimi Grace would say saintlike. My sister, Mom, aunt, Dar, and David were with her when she died, and perhaps now more than ever I understand the importance and, at times, fragility of family. How lucky I am to have this group of rocks around me...I crave being around them now, I find myself needing the memories, shared laughter, and understanding that can only come with family.
I returned to my classroom today, expecting to feel agitated, exhausted, or melancholy, but what happened was actually quite healing. The routine of being at school, the feeling of my clean (too-warm) classroom, and most of all the hugs of my students and their parents were very healing today. There seemed to be this understanding--though it was hard not to be with my students yesterday and I worried a bit even that it would hinder progress in coming back to school--from the families that of course I wouldn't be there. I found great comfort in loving hugs from my students' moms. Not everyone knew, but those who did accepted my choked "gracias" knowingly and with comfort. My students and I had a talk about death and I explained it just how it was--how happy I was I got to spend so much time with my grandma and how it was so wonderful to be with my family during this time. So many of them have lost aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas--they knew to an extent, and our conversation made me laugh, nod, and appreciate the humanness of these children--what they are able to understand and empathize is striking.
Christian cried approximately 4 times today (about literally NOTHING--Lili telling me he didn't want to go first in the math game and then he bawled for 3 minutes and was fine immediately after), IB got angry because I came down on him for acting ridiculous, and EC tried to get in everybody's business, as usual. I touched the hair of my students a lot today, enjoyed their BIG wonderful personalities, and felt comforted to be back with them--we'll see how I feel tomorrow.