Sunday, March 30, 2008

Day Before Opening Day

I'm in Chicago this weekend for Cubs Opening Day tomorrow. I drove in yesterday and hung out with Chris. We went to her brother's birthday dinner last night. It was nice to see some of her siblings whom I haven't seen a while. The night ended abruptly when her nephew got sick in the midst of a coughing attack. He started crying, especially when he saw the cake he ate for dessert the second time. "I don't want anymore cake," he said. Chris and I are still laughing about that today.

This morning we lazily got up and walked to The Rail for breakfast. Right now basketball is on the TV, The Chicago Tribune is spread around the couch, and Easter candy surrounds us. Life is good. We're supposed to see some Linda and her daughter Sarah this afternoon, and possibly see some other friends for dinner this evening.

It's been so good to be here and catch up with Chris. It's also good knowing I don't have to work tomorrow. I'll be sure to post about Opening Day some time in the next few days. Chris and I will be at Yaksie's, our old stomping grounds, at 6:00 am tomorrow morning prior to heading over to the game. This has been our tradition for the past 10 years. (Happy 10th Anniversary!) The forecast is calling for temps in the 50's but a 80% chance of rain. Darn.

Go Cubs!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Teaching an Old Dog New Math

I am the math teacher for both 5th grade classes. (Laura teaches both of the classes Science.) It makes things a little easier this way, so we each have one less subject to plan. I have a slight problem with this, though. I'm not much of a math person. I've always been a language arts person. Math was never extremely hard for me, but I just never liked it that much. I prefer reading over solving a math problem any day.

The other problem I have with this is the "new math". "New math", as it's called, is a way of teaching math so kids understand all the meaning behind why math works the way it does. It makes sense because they can retain it better. We all know how to do a lot of math functions, but don't understand what they mean. A lot of ways that we grew up learning to do things have changed with the new math. For example, double digit multiplication is done by "the lattice method". Or long division takes on a whole new look. Without being familiar with these methods, I find myself sometimes telling the kids, "Just use the lattice method to figure that out." Meanwhile, on a scrap piece of paper, I am multiplying furiously, adding zeros, carrying, and adding.

The night before I have to teach a particular lesson, I read over the teacher's manual. This past unit of fractions has left me guessing on more than one occasion. I can't tell you how many times I have said to Stein, "Look at this problem. How did they get that answer?" Then he teaches the teacher. I have to make myself a little cheat sheet and carry that with me as I teach. I have come to present some of the problems to the math whizzes by saying, "Hey, smart one, here's a challenge for you. Figure it out, and let me know how you did it." I consider it being resourceful.

It's all good when it's just me and the kids. But throw some adults in the mix, and it all goes to the dogs. I have a mentor form U-M in my room 3 times a week, and I can't tell you how many times I have asked for her help. Or today, when a girl in my room stayed after school for homework help. Her dad came to pick her up, and came into the room to get her. As we finished up our work, he watched and listened to my teaching. Talk about pressure! I almost got stumped at one point and started getting nervous. Suddenly, when the girl came up with the solution, I cheered, "Yes! You got it!" Then I added, "Wow, you guys must need to get going." Luckily they did.

On a totally separate note, it is snowing again. 3-6 inches are predicted for tonight. Seriously, folks. We're done, aren't we? Please?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The smell of bacon met me at the door, even though my nose was still stuffed up. I went into the kitchen and saw Stein getting dinner ready. We talked about dinner this morning, and we decided we would have chicken with something. Fajitas? Stir Fry? Those are 2 meals we seem to have a lot. They're easy and good. But neither of those meals were being made. It was this recipe (and I think our picture looks better than theirs, by the way). I was talking to Mickey on the phone at the time, and we just talked about what was for dinner. I was so excited when I read her the name of the recipe.

Oh, and how was it? Oh mama. Another hit on the Stein meal hit parade. How can you go wrong with bacon, bleu cheese, chicken and corn flakes?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Three's Not a Charm

If you look back to my posts from January 30th and February 27th, you notice a theme. I can add today to that theme. I'm sick again.

It started on Sunday when my nose started running and I was sneezing. I attributed it to the dogs at Marty and Nancy's where we celebrated Easter. Yesterday at school I was really short-tempered and also achy and sneezy. Last night I went to bed at 8:00. I was pooped. Today I felt short-tempered again, and it didn't help that we went on a field trip. Kids love field trips. In fact, the word field trip alone sends most of them into a tizzy.

I'm not surprised I'm sick once again. With this weather we've had lately, there's been thawing and freezing, kids sneezing and wheezing. I haven't taken the best care of myself either. I haven't been working out, I haven't been eating right. I know what I need to do, but at this point in the teaching game, all that stuff, as important as it is, falls to the wayside.

I am so looking forward to spring break in a week and 1/2 (but who's counting?!). I will be in Arizona visiting my Mom and Rich, living the life of a retired person. The sun, the warmth, the pool, the dry desert. I can't wait.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Bountiful Basket

Look what the Easter Bunny left for me. I was getting a little nervous, because Stein kept threatening to tell the Easter Bunny, "No candy". What? On Easter morning? When I look forward to being on a sugar high from about 8:00 am until lunchtime? When the good people at Reese's make some of the best peanut butter and chocolate confections? Say it isn't so. Tell me it's a joke. It was. Bless that bunny.

Stein's basket wasn't downstairs where it usually is. Thankfully, the Easter Bunny left a note:

Every Easter I can't help but remember a trip we took to Washington, DC over Easter break. I was 4 years old, and was so excited that the Easter Bunny found us in our hotel room there. Here's a classic picture from Easter morning then (sorry for the poor quality - it's a picture of a picture). I obviously couldn't wait to get to the candy, couldn't stop to run a comb through my hair.Later that day, we left our chocolate candy on the back ledge of the station wagon. The warm sun melted it all into one gooey mess. I think we just let it form back into solid and ate it all mixed together.

Happy Easter to you! May your day be filled with sugary goodness.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

An Afternoon With the Kids

Yesterday we spent the afternoon with Eric and Mia. We had lunch, went to see Horton Hears a Who at the movies, and then came home to color Easter Eggs. We ended the time together by watching It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. Too much fun, and so nice to see the bright colors of Easter eggs. Although it all seemed very surreal against the backdrop of snow outside the window.

Eric showing one of his eggs:

Mia showing hers:

Writing on the egg before dyeing: Prior to clean-up:The finished product:
We put rubber bands on some of the eggs before we dyed them. When you take the rubber band off, a white line remains. It's kind of like tie-dyeing.

I hope your weekend is full of bright colors and thoughts of spring!

Friday, March 21, 2008

March Madness

Okay, mother nature. I've had it with you. I want spring. I need spring. I don't need more snow. No, no more snow. Your tulips and daffodils have started poking their stalks through the dirt. Your sun is shining longer during the day. And now, today? The first sighting of a robin.

In the midst of a snowstorm.

A couple hours after these pictures were taken, I took this one:


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Another Sign of Spring

Now that daylight savings has come, my morning drive to school is in the dark. I don't like this part, but I know that it helps with the day staying lighter later which I love. My classroom faces east, so I get to see some great sunrises out my windows in the morning while I get the classroom together.

The morning drive in the dark sometimes makes me feel like I have blinders on. The route is a pretty straight shot, so most of the time I'm on autopilot. But the other day something caught my eye.

Dairy Queen is open.

Yes, it's only the first part of March, but Dairy Queen is open. Sometime in the fall, the plywood boards go up on the outside of the building. And in March, they come down. Even in the darkness the other morning, I saw this change. And what a welcome one it was.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oh, These Kids

Everyday with these kids, I'm learning. I'm learning more about myself as a teacher, and I'm learning how fragile these kids are.

Fifth grade is all about being cool. If you dare to ask a question, you dare to look dumb. If you dare to read a book instead of writing a note to your neighbor, you dare to look like a nerd. Most kids just stay somewhere in the middle. They don't ask many questions, they make fun of others to look cool, and do a little work (but not too much) to avoid being the nerd. That's fifth grade in a nutshell.

But these kids? Not so easy to put them into a box. I am learning that, everyday. Last week was pretty eye-opening for me.

One day I called the girl-with-attitude's mom to tell her about the attitude issues, and was told that the girl had been with her biological mom the previous weekend. When she visits her mom, she comes back with an attitude problem. Apparently I wasn't the only receiver of the attitude. And apparently this wasn't the first time this has happened. The girl-with-attitude is living with her biological dad and his girlfriend for the past two years. Soon the dad's girlfriend will be his wife.

Another day I found gang-graffiti on one of my rough boy's folder. When I looked inside, I saw some gang-related artwork that he printed off the internet. I immediately told the Principal, and he was called into her office. As she talked to him about the artwork and what it all meant, she also asked him if he knew why people joined gangs. When she emphasized the need to belong, he burst into tears. His father left last year. He misses him. He doesn't have any male figures in his life.

Another one of my rough boys, the not-so-nice one, doesn't have it any easier. He lives in a homeless shelter. Each day he doesn't know if they'll sleep at the shelter, or if they'll be somewhere else. He and his brother take a cab to and from school, because this is what's provided by the shelter. His mom is a drug addict. He has seen more wrong things in his ten-year-old life than most adults have in a lifetime.

That is just three of nineteen kids in my class, but every other kid has challenges too. It makes a lot of sense then, that their behavior is so atrocious. They obviously are acting up for a reason. And I think the main reason is that they just want to be wanted. Want to be loved. I hope I can give them at least a little of what they want.

Monday, March 17, 2008

It's Official

When I pulled into the driveway the other day, I noticed a UPS truck pull up in front of our house. I figured that he was delivering something to our neighbor. Nope. It was for me. And inside? My diploma. I didn't think that I was actually going to get a diploma, since I didn't get another degree. (The program I completed is designed for people who already have their bachelor's degree. So now I am certified.)

But the diploma made it all seem official. There's nothing like seeing your name written in calligraphy to make you feel that way.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Book Geeks

This weekend, Mickey and I went to the Michigan Reading Association conference. It was held in Detroit this year. Last year, it was held in Grand Rapids, and it was the first time we attended.

We're book geeks. And we're not afraid to admit it. We stalk authors, get starstruck when we see reading researchers, and spend a lot of money on books for ourselves and our classrooms. Going to the MRA conference just helps feed our obsession.

The conference is attended by teachers from all parts of Michigan, and is one of the biggest reading conferences in the country. There are some really famous authors and illustrators who are invited to speak, and some prominent researchers who are invited to teach. Last year we spent a lot of time listening to authors and illustrators, but this year it was all about the research. We stalked one of the most prominent reading researchers when we attended two of his sessions, then attended two sessions of a sister-team who taught some pretty innovative teaching techniques.

Mickey and I are in similar new situations this year, especially now that I am doing the long-term sub thing. This year, she moved from special ed to general ed, and is finding her way in her 2nd grade classroom. She obviously has a lot more teaching experience than I do, and she is such a great resource for me. It was really fun going to the conference with her this year, because we could bounce ideas off each other, brainstorm how things could work in each other's classrooms, and laugh at our geekiness. And of course, anytime Mickey and I are together, there is pretty much incessant conversation happening. We catch up, we reminisce, we plan.

The problem with these kinds of conferences is that you want to start using all the new techniques in your classroom on Monday. Totally unrealistic, but totally tempting. This conference pumps you up, and the camaraderie is contagious. Everyone there believes in and breathes reading. You can't help but think that you can do it all. Tomorrow.

I think I'll start with adding a read-aloud of poetry tomorrow. One day at a time, eh?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pandora's Box

Just as I suspected. It was opened once again this morning when the teacher on leave came in for a "visit". I hope there won't be any more visits this year. How disruptive it was. I asked him if he could come in the afternoon, so that the kids could see him, and it wouldn't interfere with their day. Or interfere with mine. No dice.

He walked in this morning, presents in hand, like good-time Charlie. I let him talk to the kids alone for about 15 minutes, but spent 10 of those minutes in the hallway so I could hear what he was saying. I don't know what I was afraid of, but I didn't quite trust him. From what I could hear, everything was okay. He asked them about the good things in the classroom. He also gave them a little pep talk about me, and about how I'm a good teacher, etc. etc. The rest of the day was somewhat of a wash because the kids were exhausted and acted up accordingly. I attempted to get them to talk about how they were feeling, and I mostly got "sad and angry" from them. They are sad he left, mad he can't come back, and happy he did stop by and visit. He did confirm with them that he won't be back until the end of the year. Gulp.

It was interesting to see the reaction in some of the kids. My very spirited, not so nice boy suddenly was very somber. He listened intently to my lessons, got in line first without messing with his friends, and got his books together without me prompting him to do so. My girl with attitude who likes me most of the time talked and interrupted me constantly. At one point she was eating her snack so loud (mouth open) while I taught that I had to give her a look. "WHAT?" she snapped at me. Hmmm, I thought. Can't wait until tomorrow when I introduce the new behavior plan. (Today wasn't the best day to do it.)

I saw one hopeful thing while waiting for him to finish talking to the class. I was standing near a window to the outside space that four of our hallways look into. There is some grass, a picnic table, and a big tree. And in the corners? Small stalks of tulips or daffodils poking through the dark soil. Spring is coming. Spring is coming.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What I Love

It's 6:30 pm and I can still see the sun shining high in the sky over my neighbor's garage. Thank you, daylight savings, for once again giving me hope that spring is on its way. I needed that more than ever this year.

And spring, I know you're coming. Could you hurry it up just a little please?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Blimpy Burger

I still feel full. And we ate Blimpy Burgers yesterday for lunch. What's a Blimpy Burger you ask? It's an Ann Arbor tradition, that I'm sad to say Stein and I had not tried until yesterday. We were missing out in the meantime.

Now it's not something that I could eat every week, or every month, for that matter. But it is an experience that you have to try if you live here or visit here. They have their own system of ordering and getting your food, and in a soup-Nazi kind of way, if you don't follow along, you'll be harassed. Knowing this, Stein and I did a bit of research on what we needed to do before going. We even practiced (yes, we're dorks like that) and hoped that someone would be in front of us in line. When we got there, we were relieved. There were people in front of us. Make that a lot of people in line in front of us.

As we snaked our way in line throughout the restaurant, we were able to get the lay of the land and understand exactly how the system works. You pick up a drink, pick up a tray, order your fried stuff first (onion rings, fries, mushrooms, veggies), then you get to the grill. This is where the intimidation starts. You order the meat in quantities of patties. All of their meat is ground daily and put into little scoops. You order the amount of scoops you want, followed by grilled stuff (onions, mushrooms, eggs, bacon) and what type of bun you want. As the woman behind the grill (the main interrogator) is grilling your burger, she then will ask you what type of cheese you want. After this is all grilled, then the person at the cash register asks what you want on the burger. And then you're free to sit down (don't you dare sit down while you're waiting in line!).

We put an hour's worth of change in the meter before getting into the place. When I went out to the meter again when we sat down at the table, the hour was up. Yes, we waited an hour for 2 burgers, fries and onion rings. This obviously isn't fast food. But it is entertaining, it is Ann Arbor, and it is darn good food.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I Couldn't Resist

But then again, I can never resist these (or the cute little cherubs selling them at the grocery store the other day). I normally avoid eye contact with any people trying to get me to buy something, adults or kids. In fact, Stein has been known to go to another grocery store across town just to dodge the situation. But when I see the little girls dressed in their green or brown uniforms, I instantly say yes.

Thin mints are one of my favorite cookies, and having them straight out of the freezer is the best. Do I like them because they're not available all the time, or do I truly like them because they're good? Probably a little of both, but frankly it's not worth fretting over. I never was a Girl Scout. I was a Brownie for a day, but that's a whole other post. I am glad to give them my money in support of their programs. As long as it's thin mints they're selling, I'm buying.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Thanks So Much

Aw, shucks. I'm feeling verklempt at all the warm comments and words of encouragement from so many wonderful people yesterday. Thanks for your support, and for letting me vent here. I normally try to keep things in a positive light, but this has been so different for me. While most things are good, there are some aspects that really affect me, really get into my head and heart.

Today was much better. Much better in the sense that I never felt like walking out of the room, and connected with some kids on different levels. My kid with the big heart continued to give me thanks for things I gave them today, and offered smiles when I needed them. The Iditarod continues to amaze the class, so it has been a fun thing to talk about and follow. They are really curious about all aspects of the race, and it feeds in so nicely with Woodsong, the Gary Paulsen book we're reading. (Now that I've said that, I hope that I don't get another canned comment from the anti-Iditarod/sled dog police like I did the other day.)

I got word from Laura that the teacher on leave may come into school next Tuesday to say his goodbyes. While it's really important for the kids to experience closure with him, I can't help but think this may reopen Pandora's Box. I'm afraid that it may lead to another Monday. I really can't handle that if it does happen.

I just have to take it day by day. And tomorrow's Friday. I can take it for sure.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Needed Reprieve

My prayers were answered today. We have a snow day.

I know what you're thinking: You had a whole week off last week! But, believe me, I need this.

Monday was a day from hell.

I had worked over the break to rearrange and get the room ready. I wanted it to be a place that felt good to me and the kids, a place that was conducive to learning. It backfired. The minute the kids got into the room, the comments I heard from them included: "This place is so girlie!" or "Why couldn't we make our own name tags?" (I made tags at each of their seats for the new seating chart which they had been warned about before break) or "Why are there so many mirrors in here?" or "Everything is different."

I ignored all the snide comments as best I could. Then I had a community meeting where I explained some of the new and (what I thought were) exciting things that we had in the classroom. The looks that most of the kids were giving each other included rolling eyes, exasperation, and anger. Again, I ignored all of this as best I could. I told them about a new incentive program that was going to replace the old "honor system" that included a celebration and a raffle. They didn't buy it. "That was the last thing we had left of Mr.______." To change the subject, I showed them all of the books I brought in from my own collection, based on their interests from a survey I gave. "Like what kind of books are there?" one girl snapped. I answered in a calm voice, "Ones that you will like."

Silent reading came next, but it wasn't very silent. I understood. They all needed to talk about everything that had happened. I took it easy on them so they could talk it out. A lot of the kids found books in my stash that they liked. I was pleased with that.

Then came math.

I started the lesson and said that it was going to be a review of fractions. Apparently none of the kids heard the word "review" because a little while later in the lesson, the comments blurted out loud included, "Why are we doing this again?" and "We already know this." "This is boring." "We already know how to use this chart." I got through as much as I could. When I some of the kids asked if we could have snack, I told them that I had made a special treat for them. "What is it?" a couple kids barked. I had it.

I walked out of the room.

As I walked out I heard one of the kids shout, "Shut up! She's going to get the principal!" I walked next door to Laura's room (the other 5th grade teacher). I just threw up my hands and gave her an angry and defeated look. She came out into the hall and said, "Just go take a walk and I'll talk to them." So I did. I walked around for a while, then I walked into the Principal's office. It took one look from her to know that I wasn't in there to share pleasantries. She got up and said, "Just go take a break and I'll talk to them." Laura came to me a short time later and said, "Just give her some time, she wants to talk to them." At this point I was crying. This is one thing that people tell you not to do in front of the kids. Too late. They already saw me.

I let the principal talk to them. I cried some more. I felt bad for the poor teacher's aide who was having lunch in the teacher's lounge. She had no choice but to listen to me blubber and try her best to change the subject. Bless her.

After a couple minutes, I started back toward my room and saw the principal. "They're mad about the honor system being taken away, and they're mad about the seating chart.," she said. Okay, I thought. Fair enough. Rookie mistake #567.

I walked in the room and everyone shouted, "We're sorry!" A couple kids came up to me and gave me hugs. I said, "I just want to help you all do your best. But we need to work together."

I decided that the mood in the room needed to be changed. I decided to do my "getting to know you bag". This is an activity I did while student teaching. It does a few things: it helps the kids get to know each other, it builds community by showing the kids that they have things in common, and it also lets the kids do a little show and tell. I had the same things in my bag from the last time I did it. One of the things was a cookbook which represented my love of cooking, and also one of my favorite recipes in the book: banana bread. To accompany this, I baked banana bread for the kids and brought it in. (This was the treat that they rudely asked about before). They all sheepishly thanked me for it. One kid, the one with a big heart, said, "Mrs. Steinhauer, you bake like my mama." That was one of the biggest compliments I could've asked for.

The gods of time were with me at that point. It was time for lunch.

After lunch, they went to Laura's room for social studies and I taught her class math. It went much better with her class. (Teaching a lesson the second time is always better. You know what to avoid, what to include, and any questions to anticipate.) After this, the kids went to music and gym, so I didn't see them again until we had to get ready to go home. That was fine with me. I was exhausted. Mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Poor Stein had to listen to me blubber to him when I got home. Poor Mickey had to listen to me blubber on the phone later that night. Bless them.

I didn't sleep well that night, and the next morning didn't go well either. Before school started, I went through about 10 Kleenexes.

There are so many factors running in and out of my head constantly. I know that all of these changes for the kids have them reacting the way that they are. Their teacher left them abruptly, with no goodbye, no explanation why. Prior to his departure, their days were filled with monotonous instruction, when there was instruction. There was no structure, the curriculum wasn't being followed. So now, when I come in with all the necessary changes, their world is thrown. They're angry. And I'm the person that is feeling the brunt of it. I get this. It all makes sense in my head. Where it doesn't make sense is in my heart.

The way that they treat each other and me doesn't make sense in my head or my heart. They have no respect for each other or for me. They question when someone is being nice to them, and they rarely say thank you. Rudeness, hurtful names, and bad attitudes are their weapons. And they have no problem using these weapons whenever, wherever they see fit.

The support at school I have received thus far has been wonderful. Everyone is aware of my class and the issues that I have. Yet sometimes I feel that aside from having another teacher in my room at all times to help with discipline, I don't know what else I need. I am willing to try anything. I am attempting to build community. I am attempting to make their learning fun. I am attempting to give them the skills they need for middle school and beyond.

On the other hand, I question whether this is the place for me. Not in a giving-up sense, but in a realistic way. I just got done with my student teaching in December. I am a rookie, I don't know everything. I don't know if I have what they need. And I don't know how long I should hang on to see. A week? A month? The rest of the year? I don't know. I feel like my feelings literally change by the minute. And the other factors involved: Am I losing a resume-building opportunity by leaving? Am I going to let other people down if I do? My head swims with all of these things constantly.

This is truly one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Speaking in front of a room full of people at a national sales meeting? Easy. Opening two restaurants in 2 different states in one week? Piece of cake. Dealing with a screaming husband and wife daily at a family-owned business? Kid's play. But this? Tough. Draining. Frustrating. Confusing. Challenging. And to make it even harder? Rewarding.