For My Future Students

Last night I thought about all the things I hope to accomplish this year, my very first as a REAL teacher, and I found myself thinking about my hopeful accomplishments as promises, things I can promise my future students. I can’t promise them that I’ll be a perfect teacher. I can’t promise that I will always be patient, that I’ll always know what to say, that my lessons will always be engaging or high on Bloom’s Taxonomy (hey, I’m still figuring all this pedagogy out). But these are the things that I can promise them:

1. I will have high expectations. Because it’s how you will learn to know you are capable. It’s how you will know that I have faith in you and your intelligence and your abilities and your work ethic. Maybe you’ll flounder sometimes, but learning doesn’t happen if everything is easy. And if I make everything easy, if I set the bar so low that you never struggle, I’m doing you and your future self a huge disservice. And on your journey to meeting and/or exceeding those expectations, I will be your biggest cheerleader.

2. I will be tough. You’re not going to get away with anything with me. I’m not that kind of person, I’m not that kind of teacher. I will make clear to you from the get-go how I expect to be treated, how I expect you to treat others, and I won’t let you stray from those guidelines. I will be tough because I care about the kind of person you become and I want you to build your character so you can be the kind of person you are proud of being.

3. But I will also be quick to smile and laugh. I will bring joy to our classroom, I will welcome you every morning with warmth because I want you to experience school as a happy place, as a place where joy and wonder and laughter are encouraged. 

4. I will value you and your context. You are more than the sum of your parts; but you are also inextricable from your family, your culture, your community, your religion, the way you are raised. I want to be valued for the way those things have shaped me, so I will do the same for you.

5. I will learn right alongside you. Before I am a teacher, I am a learner. And on our first day together, I will tell you this so that you know learning never ends. I will never be the best teacher, or know all of the best practices, but I can always be improving, always trying new things and if they don’t work, trying others. I will lead by example because I want you to step into this world knowing you have something to offer, and you always have something to learn.

I can’t wait to have students in my classroom and in my life!


New Beginnings

I’ve always loved the beginning of a new school year. New pencils, new notebooks, the feeling of a fresh start. I’ve been living this new beginning every September for 18 years, but this year’s a little bit different–I’m starting it as a teacher.

June feels like ages ago, but it’s only been a couple of months since I was hired. The several weeks leading up to that were intensely stressful as any job search is. But I got really lucky and get to work in a school with a diverse student population with a friend from my very own cohort and with a principal I think will both challenge and support me. But now that the stress of finding a job has ended, the stress of doing the job has begun…

Last week I got to see my classroom and I’m so pumped. It’s kinda perfect. There’s two whiteboards on opposite sides of the room, so one can be for lessons while the other can be for students’ use. I imagine lots of sharing of ideas, students teaching students or even just creative expression in rare down time. I’ve decided to limit myself to things I put on the walls, because I want the walls to be covered in student work. I am enamored with the idea of having pictures of diverse peoples and heroes though, so scouring the internet for some I can afford on a budget.

I signed up for redditgifts for the Teachers, where teachers are matched up with a reddit user who donates a “care package” to your classroom. I’m not asking for anything fancy, mostly a class set of scissors and lots of markers for chart paper, things that aren’t expensive to begin with but add up. At this point, I got nothin’ so every bit helps.

More than filling my classroom with supplies and making it feel comfortable is the weight of… well, teaching. I keep telling people, “I’m new, so I don’t really know anything!” Which isn’t true. I do know lots of things about content and pedagogy. But there’s lots I don’t know and while I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt that I’ll learn and figure it out, I’m terrified I’ll be outed as a fraud. How can anyone entrust me with the lives of 20-25 children? I can barely keep track of where I parked my car!

But I’ve decided this fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t make me lack confidence, oddly enough. It means that I care, that I want to do a good job. I have confidence in my passion for learning and hopefully, for right now, that’ll propel me enough to figure it out as I go and learn from the pros that surround me.

I’m excited for this new beginning. I’ve never gotten to experience the beginning of a career (unless you count my career as a barista, which I’d rather not), so I want to take a moment and bask in the new-ness of it. But I intend to never take for granted the feeling of September approaching so I can enter the classroom as ready for a new year as my students.


Putting it all on…

I’m in the process of getting prepped for THE FULL TAKEOVER OF RESPONSIBILITIES and it is…difficult. Being able to flit in and out of the classroom because of my courses was a misleading experience. It really only gave me a glimpse of the bad days, days like the ones we have been having in my kindergarten classroom.

Managing the classroom. I think that’s the biggest RESPONSIBILITY I am most afraid of. I can teach the academics (I think. I hope). But implementing “Positive Discipline,” “Cooperative Discipline,” “Blahdy-blah Discipline” is proving to be much harder than I thought, especially on days like today when my beautiful, intelligent, surprisingly-astute students push me to the limits of my patience. Do they understand that I don’t want to be the drill sergeant telling them to be quiet in the hallways? Do they understand I do it because I want that recommendation for a job next year? Can they see the beads of sweat forming on my hairline when I realize I’m losing them?

I hate to sound so insecure because I know I’m going to be a good teacher…one day. Scratch that. I know I am a good teacher and I know I will get better. It’s just so frustrating to be in that stage of my career where I haven’t figured out what works and what doesn’t. I feel like I’ve been trying so many different hats, piling things on that it’s just starting to weigh me down. How can I simplify it? Is that even what I need to do or is it supposed to be this complicated?

The more I reflect on my classroom management, the more I see that I need to take responsibility for how the students are behaving. It’s so easy to chalk it up to a “bad day,” or “So-and-so is having trouble at home,” or even “He just needs some more time to mature.”

I think I need to be calmer. I need to be even-toned. I need to be the adult my students need me to be, and make Every.Single.Expecation.Clear.and.Explicit. Ok. I think I can work on that for now.

Becoming a [Reflective] Teacher

When we were all lucky enough to have a full two weeks back at our placements, I realized exactly how hard it’s going to be to be a blogging teacher. It isn’t really a matter of time–when something means something to you, you make time for it. What’s really tough is having the BRAIN POWER it takes to reflect deeply and in meaningful ways because by the time I get home after a fully mentally, emotionally, intellectually involved day, I most want to get home to a big glass of OJ, not necessarily more mentally, emotionally, intellectually involved work. But I did it. I blogged through the pain, forced my brain power to its limits and I can honestly say, I am feeling more and more like a reflective teacher who blogs.

Over the course of the quarter, I’ve made more of an effort to do the things I talked about in my first blog of the quarter, “New Year, New Blogs.” I’ve been trying to approach our cohort’s blogging endeavor as something social, instead of solitary beings behind computer screens writing words that may or may not be read by others. Instead, I attempted to pay more attention to what my peers were saying and if I could, push back on their ideas, ask them questions to elaborate, or even just share what I thought about the same topic. I’ve tried to learn more about teaching from my peers and their practices and experiences while also contributing to their learning, like when I asked one blogger a question in order to better understand why he thought something happened in his classroom. He responded with a careful, clearly thought-out response that helped me think about my future classroom, and how I would want to support my students’ in reviewing prior knowledge and not assuming they know what I think they should already know.

Most importantly this quarter, I have grown as a teacher who reflects on what her students have learned. Although I’m certainly no where near the ability of an experienced teacher (like my CT) in analyzing students’ work and assessing it accurately and for further instruction, I’ve been careful to think about my focus students, their contexts, and the growth I have seen in them since the first day of school. Here is my very favorite piece of evidence from one of my focus students:


Here’s a sample of his writing from November, which says, “I like going to Costco and getting a basketball hoop.” The picture is a clearer representation of his “story,” while he is still in the stage of an emergent writing, figuring out consonant sounds to show his words. The clearest word, “like,” is so clear because it was a sight word and he’d had lots of experience seeing and using it.

The next piece of evidence is his writing from this month in his very first “How to” book, which the students have recently started working on in Writer’s Workshop. His “How to Plant a Seed” guide shows measurable growth. He’s using vowels! He’s using word chunks like “ake” in “take” and “ing” in “growing”!! He’s very clearly using the sounds he hears in words to figure out which letters to use!!!


Blogging isn’t hard work, but it is an act that requires reflection and full participation. Although the end of the quarter has come and I will no longer be required to blog, I’m excited to take this on fully as an educator, and not as a student doing it for a grade.

Getting Comfortable with Math

A few months ago, if you’d asked me what I was excited to teach, math or literacy, I would have said literacy without a beat. But it’s different now, with the life-changing math experience I’ve had in Allison’s class with Math Talk and focusing on developing conceptual understanding instead of teaching the standard algorithms and taking the “wonder and joy” out of math. I’ve written and said this before, but math held no “wonder and joy” for me, because I didn’t get it. But I was really good at plugging in those numbers into algorithms and getting the right answer, so no one questioned my understanding.

But now I’m seeing the value in questioning our students’ mathematical understanding. I actually got to do this on Friday, leading my kindergartners in a Math Talk involving ten-frames and the number 13:Image (2 consecutive frames go together)




In math, we’ve been working on understanding teen numbers as ten and some more. So I thought about it, and thought the ten frames would be really useful in helping the kids understand that concept while also engaging in conversation about their thinking. Overall, it went really well. My objective was that students would be able to think about that “Easy 10,” moving what ever needed number of dots so that they could make a ten, and then add the leftover dots on the next frame.

First, I established that we were going to work on talking about our math because it’s something smart mathematicians do, and it’s important that we listen to others’ ideas and share our own. Then I laid out the first ten frame filled to ten, and we established as a group that there was indeed ten. Then I added the ten frame with three dots and had a couple of students share how many they saw and how they saw it.

When I laid out the second set, the nine and the four, the second student to share (and in retrospect, I should’ve anticipated that he would be quick to do this) hit my objective, telling us that he moved one of the dots from the four to the nine, making ten, and then he knew there were thirteen altogether. Since this was my focus, I asked two other students to repeat what he said. The first student who had shared had originally said fourteen, and so I spent some time trying to help him see how the second student had arrived at thirteen, since most everyone else agreed that there were thirteen.

I recorded the Math Talk, and later in the day watched it with my CT who had been away from the room at the time of the talk. It was interesting to watch and see what I’d missed because I was focused on other things, and I walked away knowing I need to do better at trying to pay attention to what’s happening on the carpet as well as the student who has the mic, so to speak. For example, in the video you can clearly see one of the students using his finger and pointing at the screen, counting all of the dots. I wish I had seen this so I could have acknowledged the students, who I’m sure were many, in the counting all stage.

Overall, I was so impressed by the way my kindergarteners were able to engage in Math Talk, even respectfully and patiently. From this experience, I’m feeling more fearless about teaching math and using Math Talk.

You Know Better

“You know better.” It’s something I often to say to my kindergarteners when they’re doing something they should not be…and know it. Depending on the student, it immediately ends the unwanted behavior (usually something like pushing or not sharing or talking in line) but for others, I’ve realized that even if they know better, they just don’t have the skills to do better. For example…

Liam (changed name) is, sorry, INCREDIBLY ANNOYING. Imagine the most typical toddler you can, and he fits that mold. Almost nil impulse control, has a hard time focusing for more than a few minutes at a time, it takes him 2-3 minutes longer than other students in every task, and he throws a very respectable temper tantrum. Now listen, don’t get me wrong, I adore this kid. He’s intelligent and funny and incredibly sweet when he’s not busy talking out of turn and over other students. He’s on a behavior plan, which entails him earning smiley faces for good behavior. Usually rewards based behavior systems bother me because I think extrinsic motivation only motivates students to work for a prize, not work because it’s the right thing to do, but this system seems to work without the smiley faces leading to some sort of prize or other reward. At the end of each day, my CT fills out a small slip of paper telling his Liam’s parents how many smiley faces he has earned (two other students are on the same behavior plan).

Unfortunately, last week and today have made me question, how can we better help Liam be a good classroom citizen? Control his impulse to be heard when it’s not appropriate for him to be talking? Because the smiley faces haven’t seemed to be working. My CT and I talk about him to great lengths and try to think of other ways to help him control his own behavior. Sometimes it means in a moment we have to ask him to be a good citizen, to be mature, to act like a kindergartener (being a kindergartener is a very big deal to a kindergartener) and remind him that he’s strong and tough and we know he can do it. It’s really hard to know what else to do with such a young child. I mean, what can you really expect from five and six year olds in terms of behavior and recognizing there are other people your behavior affects? Is this a discussion you can have with a kindergartener?

I realize this post is mostly questions, because I’d really like some advice. If you have students like this in your classroom, what do you do?

The Road Block

It nears. I’ve been trying to keep the thoughts and worries at bay, but now there is no controlling it. We have March, April, and a week of May to get our evidence together and prove we deserve to be teachers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it is absolutely necessary for us to prove ourselves as being at least somewhat competent before we are handed the humbling responsibility of educating children. And I think throughout our career, we should be given the kind of support and professional learning opportunities to grow in our competency.

But I can’t help but be skeptical of any kind of high-stakes assessment that is far enough removed away from context that we start being worried, what are we really being judged on? What will the assessors of the edTPA be valuing when watching our video evidence? When reading our words we have written to try to prove ourselves as teachers. Any cursory look at the rubrics will tell you that there are certain aspects of teaching being seen as more valuable than others, and it is clear with the use of academic jargon the attempt to “professionalize” teaching in a way that makes me thing: “Are you assessing me on my teaching? Or my ability to decipher what you are telling me to do?”

A while ago, when the mumblings and grumblings of the edTPA first began, I Googled the edTPA and found a blog post from Diane Ravitch’s blog, “What is edTPA and Why Do Critics Dislike It?” I think there’s some valid criticism there, even while I think the edTPA has its value as a way to “award” certification. 

If you read the blog post linked, and think about what you know of teaching, do you think the edTPA is the best possible way to judging competency? Can you think of a better, plausible way? 

Inspiration From a Teacher…in Illinois?

So I was browsing Twitter the other day, and as always, Twitter had some suggestions to make, trying to widen my social (media) circle. I was particularly intrigued by that of a teacher, and as I browsed his feed, I got really excited because he’s got a blog with a TON of resources about using technology in the classroom, and not necessarily in a 1-to-1 program (of course this makes it easier and more accessible), but really the powerful way the internet can change how students learn and how students show us what they have learned–in the classroom. It seems like schools still have this idea that the internet is relegated to the world outside of school, that sure, it’s a useful tool, but not much more beyond that. In my own experience, this is what I see in our schools today. It’s exciting to see that the kind of innovative education we talk about in our program is being done, and that the teacher is talking about it!

I particularly like the idea of ePortfolios as a way of assessing student learning, because it puts the power in the hands of the students. It’s not a test, where I hold all the knowledge and now you show me what I’ve taught you. Instead, it’s an authentic way for a student to show me, and her friends, and her family, and her community, and the rest of the world, what she is now knowledgable about. But don’t just read my opinion on why ePortfolios are great and actually work; read my new favorite blogging teacher’s, replete with examples of students’ ePortfolios, and a video describing how students make them.

As I learn more and more about the work real teachers are doing in their classrooms, and as I become inspired by the ways they use technology to improve the learning of their students, I can’t help but keep myself from dreaming too big, because I think we all know that sometimes, the things we want to do as teachers can be very restricted by the school we are in and the resources available to us.

Oh what the hell. I’ll keep dreaming. And then I’m going to do it.

Writing, Writing, Writing

Everyday, my kindergarteners have Writer’s Workshop. And I mean, everyday, unless there is some extenuating circumstance. As much writing as they do, they never tire of it. Sometimes I get the, “I don’t know what to write about,” but it’s usually easy enough to ask a question or two about something the student has done recently, and their writing starts pouring out (or, as much as it can pour out from a kindergartener. We’re aiming for 2-3 sentences, with a picture, right now). I haven’t seen such excitement for writing than when my CT changed one of our Choice Time stations to The Post Office.

Students writing Valentine’s letters:


You can see the “mailboxes,” which are labeled alphabetically. Students who have written to a friend in class can put the letter in the box that their friend’s name begins with, and the CT “delivers” it to the friend. Also, POSTMAN HAT:


The reason for all the writing goes beyond just helping students learn and practice doing it, but it’s also to build stamina. My CT is constantly thinking about ways to build motor skills and strength in the students so that they have the mental and physical strengths to continue doing these academic things, for longer periods of time, which they will be expected to do in their academic career. It’s eye-opening for me to see this building of foundational skills at such a young age; people who don’t think academics take place in kindergarten need to think again.

Not to mention, watching ALL of our kindergartners rush to the Post Office to write each other letters and put stamps on the envelopes is very adorable.