Monday, October 27, 2008


During parent conferences several weeks ago we talked with a parent about one child's frequent absences and tardies. This girl might be working harder than anyone else in my classroom, but she is almost never on time and often absent. The parent did not seem at all impressed by our concerns. In fact it was shared that due to surgery for this parent the children would miss all of last week. We made it clear that this was not a acceptable reason for absences but it didn't matter. This girl was out all of last week. The parent even called on Monday to say that the children would be out all week for this reason. My principal immediately contacted the attendance officer. He went by their home several times last week. It's not clear to me if he ever actually spoke with the parent. The girl was late to school today. When the parent dropped the children off there was anger. This parent was upset that we had sent the attendance officer. Then went on to say that the girls would be out on Thursday for a follow up doctor's appointment for the parent. I'm beyond angry about this because of how unfair it is to a child who is working as hard as this little one. She may end up repeating first grade, not because she isn't giving it her best shot, but because she has missed so much instruction.

I have no idea what happens next. Obviously I give all I can to this child. I know the situation is not her fault. I just wish there were more we could do to get the message across.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thoughts on being Back in First Grade

I took off during our intersession*, something I rarely do. So, this week I've been readjusting to first grade. It's been a bit of a challenge because the kids are readjusting to 'regular' school at the same time.

Not being truly in the groove has allowed me to notice some things that might normally slip right past me. One is a pet peeve of mine. I'm bothered when teachers use the phrases, "I like" or "I love" to affirm for kids when they are doing something well. It suggests that the child should be listening, sitting still, working hard, whatever simply to make the teacher happy. I'd prefer that students are doing these things because they know it helps them and their classmates learn. I know this is a really difficult concept for first graders, but I don't think we do them any favors if we set up expectations that they are doing these things for us.

I'm also really beginning to realize how difficult it is for first graders to tell the difference between reality and what they wish were true. This first started becoming clear to me when we were teaching the kids about schema. We asked them about a time they had lost something important to them and how they felt. The discussion went quite well. Then we read Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. It was amazing to me to see how many students then talked about a time they left their stuffed bunny at the laundromat. Today a child wrote a story about meeting Barack Obama and getting his autograph. (It's still unclear to us what really happened. He was in our general geographic vicinity yesterday.) After she read her story another student shared what had happened to her. She told the same story almost word for word. The kids are so genuine as they tell these tales that are so obviously untrue - at least obvious to the adults. It's really fascinating to me.

*My school is on a modified calendar. We start in late July and go through mid-June. We take 1-2 week breaks after each quarter, in October, January, and April. We offer students optional classes for a nominal fee during those periods, which I typically teach.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reading Workshop Amusements

I do have to admit that first graders make me laugh quite frequently. Yesterday it was my little prince who forced me to turn away so he wouldn't see me cracking up. He's an extremely bright little guy who seems to be treated as a prince at home (from what we can tell). He has great things to say in class, but is completely unwilling to stop or to refrain from sharing at inappropriate times. He craves constant attention from his teachers and peers. He is willing to argue just about anything and has impressive perseverance in an argument. As a result, he drives me bonkers quite frequently. However, I also adore him.

Yesterday the amazing reading teacher who works with the prince's guided reading group was collecting some of their guided reading books from earlier in the year. She was asking the prince for his copy of a certain book and he was insisting that he had already given it to her. As he searched through his book box he continued to vociferously state that he did not have the book. Mid-claim he found his copy of the book. As he handed it to her he said, "Oh, yeah, you're right." She and I looked at each other in shock, wishing we had the statement on tape.

The week before our intersession break I was working with one of my reading groups. Two of these little ones have been driving me crazy because they aren't putting into practice the reading strategies we've been learning. They just look at me, quite patiently, when they come across a difficult word. They're also really good at listening to each other so that if someone else in the group can read the word they'll hear it (not a sustainable strategy obviously). One thing I've really been focusing on with them is looking at the beginning of the word and getting their mouths ready. They have not done it consistently without reminders from me. It's going to make my head explode soon. On this particular day we were reading a book about different animals. One of the animals was a wombat. My kids have no background knowledge on wombats and would not recognize one if it bit them on the butt. So, getting their mouths ready and looking at the picture weren't going to be hugely helpful, unfortunately. In the midst of our guided reading group chaos broke out in another area of the room. Another teacher dealt with it but I got distracted by it and lost my focus for a minute or two. When I managed to look back at the kids they were all on the wombat page, getting their mouths ready. All I could hear was, "Wah, wah, wah, wah..." It's not clear how long they'd been at it. I was proud of their effort but I'm sure that wasn't obvious as I struggled to keep from laughing out loud.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


I have a very special friend this year. He makes me smile constantly. If the phenomenal special education teacher I work with and I stand on opposite sides of him he pulls us in a hug bear hug and talks about how he loves us. Every morning he greets me with, "Good see you this morning." (That's not a typo, that's how he says it.) Today he prefaced that with, "That's a nice dress that." He's also the one that will look at me sometimes and say, "You're doing a good job." It's surprisingly reassuring and validating.

This afternoon I read Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late to the class. If you've never read it, go grab a copy ASAP. It's brilliant. As I read, he repeated everything. He was sitting on the other side of the room on his own, but he repeated the words quite clearly. I would read, "I have a great idea! We could count the stars." About halfway through that bit you would hear, "I have a great idea! We could count the stars." with the exact same inflection and everything. I had a lot of trouble continuing reading to the class. It is a testament to Mo Willems that the rest of my class did not seem distracted by it at all.