Saturday, December 26, 2009

Teacher gifts and the magical Kindergarten experience

I find myself in an interesting role as a Kindergarten teacher. I am part mother and caretaker to 23 little people and part commander of a hoard of children that will do whatever I instruct them to. So just like Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility: I nurture and care for them, and they believe everything I say to be the absolute truth. Sometimes I do a good job with my role, and others times I wonder if parents should really leave their children with me for 10 hours a day. Here is are glimpses of both the mother-ish side of my job, and the power-wielding side.

Mother Skattebo-
When you open up the average purse of a 24-year-old, the contents would be fairly similar: lip gloss, lotion, wallet, phone, etc.
The contents of my purse are that of a 40-year-old mother. This didn't really hit me until I was at my church small group with all "non-teachers." I reached into my bag to grab a pen, and instead grabbed a bag with 2 big, unwashed carrots. This had been a teacher gift from one of my sweet little boys that barely speaks English. He had handed the carrots to me that morning without any explanation. Apparently most people don't carry carrots in their purses because I had a lot of explaining to do at my small group. The current contents of my purse are a toy car, a Crayola marker, a strawberry shortcake rubber stamp, a couple crayons, some cutouts and drawings from my students, and some buttons- mostly confiscated items that have yet to be returned...
I also have been know to show up at gatherings with paperclips in my hair, paint on my pants, yarn around my waist instead of a belt (maybe that's just a Katie thing and not a mother thing...), home-made pins on my shirt, and teachery necklaces and other festive garb on. The worst was when I jokingly wore an ugly Thanksgiving sweater to work and everyone just complimented it instead of realizing it was a joke. My reality has become something I would otherwise poke fun of! Yikes!

All-Knowing and Powerful Skattebo-
Right before Christmas break, we took the Kindergartners to the Children's Museum of Houston. When we got back to school, my kids were quietly journaling at their seats when the power went out. A unified gasp rose up as my kids all looked to me for the reason behind the loss of light. "It's OK guys, the power just went out," I said trying to minimize the event.
"Well, can you try to make it come back on?" they asked.
It may have been the lack of sleep that week or just a general weirdness that comes with hanging around 5-year-olds all day that caused me to do the following, but for some reason, I decided to have a little fun with the request.
I threw my arms up in the air towards the lights and yelled, "Lights! Please come back on!!" and then proceeded to make a high pitched turkey-like noise as I wiggled my fingers. As soon as I stopped my performance, the lights in our classroom literally faded back on! I was just as surprised by this coincidence as my students were. "You're magic!!!" they all squealed with delight.
"Yeah, now sit down or I'll make you disappear!" (Like I said, some times I use my position better than at other times...) They happily got back to work, now thinking that their Kindergarten teacher not only knows everything but has magical powers too. Who am I to tell them otherwise?!?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Spirituality in the Kindergarten classroom

I've had some funny cases of spirituality through the eyes of five-year-olds come up in my classroom over the past few days...

Case #1:
We had just gotten to school and were reading books outside our classroom, when I noticed Matt standing with his hands in praying position, head stoically facing the ceiling, and eyes clenched shut.

"Matt, what are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm groving." He answered with a tone of frustration as if what he was doing should be very obvious.
"What's groving?"
"It's like praying."
"Do you mean groveling Matt?"
"Where did you learn about that?"
"At my mom's church."

Case #2:
Erin had just finished writing "mom" in her journal. She was very proud of her accomplishment, so she called me over to explain how she knew the answer. A lot of my kids explain their reasoning by saying, "my brain told me," but Erin's response was a little different.
"Do you want to know how I knew how to spell it? God told me" she said with a smile. Then laughing and shaking her head added, "I can hear him even from far away!"

Case #3:
Natalie was just finishing up her math problem of the day and was waiting for me to dictate her answer. "Chris had 3 apples and Matt had 4, how many apples did they have all together?"
"9"... (we're working on it)
"How did you figure that out Natalie?" I asked with the pencil in my hand, ready to transcribe her answer.
"Jesus told me. He said, 'you can do it,' and I did it!"
Maybe that's what they mean when they say to have faith like a child.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Funny Stories from the week

I have neglected to post these more often, but I thought I would share the funny things that my kids say with you. They're logic is so transparent, I love it!

1. I was walking a second grader to his car after school and he said, "Ms. Skattebo, is it true that boys aren't mammals?"

"What do mean, Daniel?"

"Well, they don't have babies, so how can they be mammals?"

2. Kristin walked into class on a very stormy morning and while putting her backpack away, turned to me and said, "It's raining cats and dogs out there! I'm going to get myself a little dog today!"

3. My reminder system for the kids and their noise levels is a card with "sunny" on it for keeping their voices quiet, a "partly cloudy" card for a warning, and a "cloudy" card that means we have to work silently.
Matthew came in the classroom on a very overcast day and said, "Ms. Skattebo, it's cloudy outside... does that mean we are being too noisy?"
"No Matthew, maybe it's just a reminder that we need to be super quiet since people are still sleeping." That explanation was enough to satisfy him I guess.

4. One of my little boys was telling me about a spider that he found in his house and how he let it outside to eat some ants. He kept referring to it as the "itsy bitsy spider." This is how the conversation went between him and another little boy:
"So I took the itsy bitsy spider outside so he could eat some ants."
-"Did he climb up the water spout?"
-"No. We don't have a water spout...."

5. I was walking one of my students from last year to their car with my hand holding hers as I talked to another teacher briefly. While I was turned away talking to someone else, I felt her hand brush my underarm slightly as she chuckled. I turned to her with a confused look and she said, "Your just like my momma."
"Excuse me?" I said.
"She's got a little bit of jiggly too."
-Leave it to kids to either boost your self-esteem sky high or bring it down to nothing. She's also the student who last year asked me if I could run. I asked her why she asked and she said, "Well you're kind of big... and old." Wow.

Those are just the ones I can remember. There are so many times when I wish I could stop kids mid-sentence and write down the funny things they say. Hope those made you smile.

Friday, August 21, 2009

And so it begins

I am sitting on my couch after my first week, of my second year, and I am completely exhausted but full of stories already. The difference between this year and last year is that I have perspective now. I'm just as tired and worn-out, but I don't feel stressed out anymore. I can look at them now when they are crying, or having accidents in my classroom, and say to myself "you aren't going to be like this all year," and I instantly feel better. We have a lot of things to improve, but now I know that it is possible, whereas last year I was sitting in the dark of my classroom around this point, sobbing and questioning whether or not I was capable of rational thought. So you can only go up from there, right? So despite the craziness of this week too, I feel better about where we are going and I know we're going to have a good year.
I feel like all I'm ever capable of is little snapshots of this experience, but maybe that's easier to read... so here's a look at week 1:

Monday: I began my day by trying to comfort a wailing child that was crying and screaming as if her mother had just told her she was leaving forever. I held her as she coughed, spit and sobbed in my face and the rest of the class's parents looked on, trying to decide whether or not they should leave their children in such a place that causes children to wail uncontrollably. While I'm holding this little one and trying to prepare myself for the throw-up that could potentially be brought on by the extreme tears, Janelle thinks it would be a good time to point out to me that she got new shoes for school. I try to calmly tell her that this isn't a good time, but it's always a good time in the mind of a 5-year-old if they have something to say- so my prompting doesn't last very long.

Tuesday: I get a new student that was originally and accidentally put in Pre-K at the beginning, who doesn't realize (even after constant reminders) that my name is indeed not Ms. Skittles, but Ms. Skattebo. Every time she says it, one of my more... we'll say, assertive... girls frustratedly corrects her "that's not her name!" Other word mistakes in our class include saying "President" instead of "present" while taking role, which leads to a discussion about Barack Obama opening presents. We're also working on saying "Tissues" instead of "Tennis shoes." Ex. "Teacher, I need a Tennis shoe!"

Wednesday: I never thought I would use this as a bribe, but to help out a little friend of mine that really likes Michael Jackson and dancing, these words came out of my mouth- "Tyree, if you get yellow today I'll do a Michael Jackson dance for you." Sure enough, at the end of the day, I moon-walked through my classroom to reward a child.... I don't know if I'd actually list that as a good classroom management tool, it mostly just resulted in Tyree doing the moon-walk in line the following day.

Thursday: We came up with table names and the kids had to collaborate with the people at their table to decide what their table name should be. I used something with the word "butterfly" in it as an example and this was the result. The 2009 Baylor Bear tables are named:
1. The Roller Coaster Butterflies
2. The Rhinoceros Butterflies
3. The Rainbow Batty Butterflies
4. The Lion Fishclown Family Frogs
5. (my favorite) The Batman, Spiderman, Butterpuppies (complete with the table mascot of a dog with butterfly wings)

Friday: We made it through the day fairly successfully and were leaving for a nice relaxing weekend. I had one student throwing a fit on the way down the hallway because he didn't end on yellow (the color that means we followed our social skills) and I was trying to call him down as we went outside for dismissal. Right when we were in the middle of the hallway, the fire alarm starts blaring and my little fit-throwing friend stops crying and starts screaming. I shuffle my entourage out of the building and we sit in the grass in 100 degree heat plus humidity and wait for instructions (which is hard to do on a Friday afternoon.). The whole "following instructions" thing is made even more unrealistic with the arrival of firetrucks and cockroaches crawling through the grass. What a perfect ending to the week.

So as you can see it has already been an eventful start with more adventures on the way. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers and I'll try to update you soon.

Ms. Skittles

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One Year.
It’s not that there isn’t anything to say
It’s not that it’s all too sad to share
It’s not that I haven’t laughed and had joy
It’s not that I haven’t learned anything worth repeating.
It's that I don’t know how to share it yet, so I haven’t tried very often.

Here’s the story of a little girl in my class that captures my first year of teaching fairly well.

Jackie came into my class in August with long straight hair, rotting teeth, and a faint smile. She wouldn’t look me in the eyes, wouldn’t talk, and answered “I don’t know” to every simple question asked of her. She knew 4 numbers and probably only half of the letters in the alphabet. I was at a loss when it came to teaching Jackie.

There are 9 kids in her family. They were staying in a hotel for a few weeks after the hurricane, living off of crackers and peanut butter while their dad was in jail. Despite what was going on at home, Jackie would come to class and quietly soak in the lessons of the day. Each night she went home and slept on a moldy mattress on the floor only to wake up and do it all over again.

Day after day, I would try to talk with her; try to encourage her about the things that she did know. She would shut down the minute she felt like she didn’t understand something. So needless to say, Jackie spent most of her day silently staring at the carpet.

After some time, Jackie started smiling. We would celebrate the little victories of a new letter or number and watched as each day, Jackie continued to grow. As her teacher, I wish I could say that it was always easy to teach Jackie and her classmates, but each day brought a new set of challenges. How was I supposed to focus on educating this child when so much of her home life was falling apart? How was she supposed to learn with so many odds stacked against her? I was often disheartened with the scarcity of progress we were making and felt defeated, tired, and broken.

I don’t know exactly when in the year things started to change, but suddenly something started to click within Jackie. We were sitting in the hall, reviewing numbers, and Jackie counted to 100 without effort! I almost cried as I looked down at her smiling face. “Jackie, do you know why Ms. Skattebo is so happy?” I asked with an uncontainable smile. “Because my brain is getting big?” She replied very ‘matter-of-factly.’ But that was only the beginning for Jackie.

Now we are getting ready to move the class up to First grade, and Jackie has mastered 95% of our math objectives for the students, is reading on grade level, can write a full sentence in her journal, has read her journal to her classmates, raises her hand in class, and smiles more than any other student. Jackie is a new, confident young lady who refuses to let anything stand in her way.

When I think about Jackie and the other 23 amazing students in my class, I get choked up. I have never been so proud in my entire life (I have never been so tired either). They have given me more sleepless nights, more illnesses, more headaches and gray hairs than anything I’ve ever done. They’ve also made me a better teacher and person. There were points in this year when I didn’t think I could make it; there were a lot of points where I felt like my students would be better off with another kindergarten teacher. But we are all walking away having learned something and having ‘made our brains bigger.’
I’m a week away from completing my first year of teaching. I’m tired, sick, and completely worn out, but I’m happy. I didn’t know if I would be able to say that, but I’m thankful I can. I’m going to be teaching kindergarten again next year and they have asked me to be the Kindergarten Chair, which will be exciting. The thought of starting next year with a healthy perspective of what teaching is brings a renewed peace that I haven’t felt in awhile. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers along the way; the support from friends and family is a huge reason I’m not in fulltime therapy at the moment. I have a week off and then I start teaching summer school for the month of June. We'll see what adventures summer school with the new kindergarteners bring.... until, thanks again.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Thought of Something Else by Wendell Berry

“A spring wind blowing
the smell of the ground
the mind turns, seeks a new
nativity—another place,
simpler, less weighted
by what has already been.

Another place!
it’s enough to grieve me—
that old dream of going,
of becoming a better man
just by getting up and going
to a better place.

The mystery. The old
unaccountable unfolding.
The iron trees in the park
suddenly remember forests.
It become possible to think of going

--a place where thought
can take its shape
as quietly in the mind
as water in a pitcher,
or a man can be
safely without thought
--see the day begin
and lean back,
a simple wakefulness filling perfectly
the spaces among the leaves.”

Sometimes the words of others do more justice than my own.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Despiration Breeds Creativity

I had two moments so far in teaching where I felt like I was about to lose my mind (minor cases of this feeling occur quite often, but these two occasions stick out as major instances). Both involved too many little voices at one time, and both led to the two simple inventions in my classroom that have saved my sanity and created some comical moments.

Precipice of insanity #1: Towards the beginning of the year, I would try to meet with a small group of children while the rest of my students were cycling through center activities at various tables. The center activities are (in theory) fairly self-directed, partner activities. I would set up all the centers, see that everyone got the basic idea, and then go and start my small group. Well, in a perfect classroom I could rotate through all of my small groups and get a more intimate interaction with every child in my room.... but within seconds of sitting down with a group, I was swarmed by little bodies with one hundred different questions, comments, work displays, or tattles that they could not wait to share. I could not get the point across to them that they were not supposed to come up to the teacher during center time! The constant redirecting was about to push me over the edge one day in particular. I stood up, maneuvering through the sea of five-year-olds calling my name, and marched over to my closet-o'-junk, yanking out a long piece of bulletin board boarder. I stapled it into a large ring and placed it on my head as I called the children to attention (which, thankfully, is one rule they do follow fairly painlessly). "THIS" I said pointing a rigid finger at my orange crown, "Is the 'you can't come up to the teacher crown'. If this is on my head, I am off duty from answering your questions. You need to figure it out, ask someone else, or wait until I take it off." They sat their half quizzically and half mesmerized by the fact that their teacher was wearing a crown. The amazing part was, it worked! Kids would start to wander over to me, notice the crown, and stop dead in their tracks as they turned around to go figure it out for themselves! We've weaned ourselves off of the crown for the most part, but occasionally when I have to remind a student not to come up to the teacher, one of the kids will chime in, "Ms. Skattebo, you need your crown!" and go running across the room to find it. I have to admit, I have abused the crown once or twice during nap time when I was tired of kids coming up to me for an excuse not to sleep.... but again, anything for sanity.

Precipice of insanity #2: We've had an issue with tattling lately. It has gotten out of control. They tattle if someone looks at them funny, if someone accidentally bumps them, if someone says they won't let them come to their birthday party, and the most irritating of all: they tattle on someone who is about to tattle on them.... "Um, Ms. Skattebo, Alejandro is about to tattle on me for saying butt, but I didn't say it..." WHAT?! One can only tolerate so many of these events in a day and I was maxed out by 8:00 am this past Wednesday. I couldn't handle another child's tattle, so I made all the kids go sit on the carpet as I grabbed a manila folder from the shelf and frantically wrote something on the front of it and drew a picture inside. "THIS" I said pointing even more vigorously than when presenting the crown, "is a tattle folder. It's only job is to listen to your tattles. It won't talk, it just listens. So all you have to do is walk over here and whisper your tattle into the ears (which were drawn on the inside) and then close it."

You may be thinking this ridiculous and desperate attempt at control would never be successful, but my tattle counseling has been cut down to half of what I was dealing with before. Plus, it's hilarious to watch. The kids will glare at each other over a snatched marker or crayon, and then stomp over to the tattle folder and whisper their complaint into its binding before returning to their seat feeling completely satisfied. We've had to set hours of operation for the tattle folder because the high traffic to the folder was getting a little out of control. Now they have to wait until centers and still aren't allowed to tell me their tattles, so they end up forgetting about them and move on.

Until you have been surrounded by 24 little people for 10 hours a day, I don't know if you can really understand the need for such borderline-pathetic measures for control but believe me, they are necessary. I'll try to write about the "Nap Master" that we now have to solve the problem of kids getting out of their chairs during nap time---another desperate moment that has turned into a sanity saving tool.....