Archive for August, 2011


“It’s just Kindergarten don’t they just play?”

Ummmmmmmm. “NO.”

When I explained what my students learn in preparation for first grade – reading, writing, math, geography, history, science and so much more – I heard, “Oh well I know you went to college and all.”

Ummmmmmmm. “Yes. As a matter of fact I have my Masters in Literacy Instruction.”

And then one more slipped out, “Oh well I know you went to college.”

Ummmmmmmm. Yes. Yes I did. And actually I majored in mathematics. My first career was in actuarial science.”


I’m pretty used to this by now, but I can’t help but find it insulting. My parents thought I was wasting my private school education by becoming a teacher and leaving the actuarial profession.  And when I’m in social situations, the standard response when I tell people I teach Kindergarten is, “Oh. How cute.”

Yes, my students are quite adorable. But teaching children how to read and write is actually quite complicated.  Neurologically speaking, the fact that humans are capable of reading and writing is miraculous (I just watched a 97 minute lecture by an NIH neuroscientist – yes I am a geek).

Sure I spend a portion of my day singing with my students, reading stories, and having them draw and color. If you ask me, however, I always have an underlying educational reason for the activity. I teach with purpose and meaning. It takes a great deal of creative energy and fundamental understanding of how children learn to plan these activities. All these activities take children well down the road to literacy. It’s not uncommon for a quite a number of our Kinders to end the year exceeding our expectations – reading at a mid-first grade level or higher  and writing 3-4 sentences independently.

I know someone else wrote about professional respect recently, but I couldn’t find the post. So I give credit to that author for this next part:

Please do me a favor as this new school year begins, stop and chat with your child’s teacher. Get to know them as a person. Ask them what their favorite book is. More importantly, ask them why they became a teacher. My guess is their eyes will light up as they remember what led them to become educators – a love for a specific subject, a love of working with kids, an inspiring teacher from their past.

Then think about the teachers who inspired you to become what you are today.


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“No one ever looks at their baby and thinks, Oh, I hope my kid grows up and becomes a freak. I hope he gets to school every day and prays he won’t catch anyone’s attention. But you know what? Kids grow up like that every single day.”

Jordan found himself at a loss for words. There was the finest line between unique and odd, between what made a child grow up to be as well adjusted as Thomas versus unstable, like Peter. Did every teenager have the capacity to fall on one side or the other of that tightrope, and could you identify a single moment that tipped the balance? (p. 136, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult)


I was two months pregnant with my first child when Columbine happened. I was teaching first grade in Northwest Denver and that afternoon we are outside standing in our fire drill evacuation places when murmurings of the horror began. I don’t remember if we were outside for a regularly scheduled fire drill or if Denver Public Schools was ensuring that the schools were safe.

I remember the horror I felt as a teacher and a parent to be – someone was shooting kids in a high school. Who was it? Why were they shooting? How many children were hit? Was the gunman captured?

I left school and stopped at the grocery store on my way home. The lady behind the deli counter asked me if I was having a good day. I looked at her in shock and said, No. Haven’t you heard. There was a shooting at a high school. She looked at me oddly and filled my order.

I was glued to the television that night. My heart went out to all the families of Columbine. I had never seen anything so horrific in my entire life. I was an emotional wreck and I didn’t even know any of the teachers or students. My husband attributed my sadness for those I did not know to hormones. I knew it wasn’t hormones. It was a sadness that overwhelmed. Twelve students and one teacher died. Twenty-four students were wounded – some would never be able to fully recover. And then there were the psychological effects the survivors would endure. An unbelievable massacre orchestrated not by a deranged gunmen but by two fellow students. This was a very dark day in our society.

The next day all the outside doors at my school were locked. Teachers were given a key. We were a neighborhood school supporting families – free breakfast for students, ESL classes for parents, social services for families –  and our doors had  always been open. Now our doors were locked.


Twelve  years later I am teaching again after a hiatus as a SAHM. There are some significant differences in schools. All teachers must wear a school badge. All visitors must wear a visitors badge after signing in at the office. All outside doors remain locked. And we have Lock Down Drills.

I was in elementary school during the Cold War and we had air raid drills. We practiced sitting in the hallways, backs against the wall, heads down between our knees. Apparently this would save us if an atomic bomb was dropped on New York City. I’m sure during the 50’s and 60’s the threat of nuclear holocaust was terrifying, but by the 80’s it was a pretty safe bet that it wasn’t going to happen. And as kids we though that sitting in the hallways was a joke.

Lock Down Drills are not a joke. One thing teachers are taught during emergency training is that deaths have never occurred in a classroom with a locked door. Because they know. School shootings have occurred and lives were saved by locked doors.

The hardest day of my entire school year is the day I have to teach my Kindergarteners about Lockdown Drills. How do you explain to five year olds that we have to learn how to hide from bad guys? We need to lock our doors, turn out our lights, and hide out of sight. We can’t make a sound. We can’t move. We can’t get a drink of water or go to the bathroom. We have to hide.

I can tell my class that a bad guy probably won’t come to our school, but I cannot say a bad guy definitely won’t. It makes me sick to my stomach to say probably instead of definitely.


Why do some kids snap and others do not? We’ll probably never know.

In the  meantime I hope and pray:

               that those on the tightrope find someone to listen and help

               that we will never have another school shooting or worse

               for all those who are odd, unique, different, quirky, or find themselves on the outside for no apparent reason

               that they may find love and self acceptance

                for tolerance and ultimately acceptance.

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Reading picture books every day is a great perk of my job as a Kindergarten teacher. OK to be honest, I would probably read picture books even if I wasn’t teaching.

The illustrations in picture books can be beautiful, poignant, or perfect in their simplicity. The stories can make me laugh. They can make me cry. Very often I find meaningful life lessons in picture books.

Yesterday I read Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes by Erick Litwin and James Dean to my class. This was a new book for me – recommended by another teacher friend.  Once we were done reading it, I couldn’t believe I had never met Pete before!

You see, Pete the Cat loves his white shoes so much that he sings about them – I love my white shoes. I love my white shoes. I love my white shoes. But as he is walking around he steps into different strawberries, blueberries, and mud turning his shoes different colors. Does Pete get upset? Does Pete cry? No! Not even close. Pete’s a cool cat and when his shoes turn a different color he loves them just as much as before. His responses include awesome, everything is cool, and groovy.  He sings about how much he loves his new [insert color] shoes.

The moral of Pete’s story is: No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song….because it’s all good.

We had a phenomenal time singing along and saying cool things with Pete – because it’s all good!

I think we  should all approach with the ease and equanimity of Pete the Cat. That’s my life lesson for today!


For a little fun click on the TV to watch a video of the author performing a live reading of his awesome book!

Eric Litwin reading Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes

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Book by book

I checked these out on Sunday. Yes, after my trip to Borders. But I had requested three of the four and I needed to pick them up. I didn’t want my books to be sent out to other people while I wait for them again. The fourth was just a whim and I’m a sucker for anything with education in the title.

And now I think I need to stop reading blogs about what other people are reading and get through the stack of books I’ve accumulated. I already had two other books from the library waiting for my on my nightstand. I think one is due this week and I’ve not even opened it yet.

I’ll just have to go book by book.

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Pretty new journals

I’m not sure why I bought them. I have more than enough empty journals already. But they were on display by the checkout line in Borders on Sunday. I know they were placed solely for the impulse buyer. But I just loved the colors and they have a nifty elastic band to keep your place. It’s not like someone would come in to the store and say, “Hmmm I need a new journal. I’m going to look by the checkout line.” Of course not. They want people to go far into the store to find their treasured empty book. No, I’m sure there was a whole display of different journals somewhere else in the store – or at least what was left of the journal display. But these lovely items caught my eye as I balanced my stack of books.

Aren’t they pretty? The color combinations were all so fabulous, I couldn’t pick just one. And I’ve learned from experience that if you find a journal that suits you – binding, textures, colors, paper – inevitably you will never find it again. And these books actually lay flat. It is absolutely impossible for me to write in a book that does not lay flat, which is why I typically use spiral journals rather than bound ones.

Considering I did not need another journal, I could’ve limited my  indulgence purchase to one. But I knew I would just love writing in this journal and once it was filled up I would want another one. And with Borders closing where was I going to find another? Plus they were 50% off!

So now I have three new, very pretty, empty journals. I’m not quite sure how I will use them. In addition to my blank screen everyday, now I am faced with three blank books. Lately I’ve been doing much more writing on the computer.  Evernote is fabulous – I keep notes, blogs, websites, recipes and more – all in nifty, easily organized digital notebooks.

But not everything can be kept on my computer. I write notes about my students in a spiral notebook. Despite my attempts to put all To Do lists (school and home) on the computer with Wunderlist, I find myself preferring notebooks. Crossing things off a list is much more satisfying than tapping a box on my iPod Touch. And yes, I am one of those people who adds things to my list that I’ve already done just to cross them off.

These journals are a little too pretty to fill with plain old To Do lists. For now the littlest book has found a place in my purse for the sole purpose of keeping myself sane. I always find that ideas pop into my head when I am out of the house – ideas about blog posts or something for my classroom – and I have to write them down immediately or I know I will forget them.

I’m sure I’ll figure how to fill them. For now, I’m just going to enjoy my pretty new journals.

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We went to Borders yesterday. Most titles were 50% off so I figured it was worth perusing the stacks. OK. Peruse is probably not the appropriate word. Scavenge. Yes, I felt more like a scavenger than my usual bookshelf perusing self.

Not wanting to be like Augustus Gloop gorging on chocolate, I decided to focus.

Me: Who is my favorite author?
Myself: Why, I thought you’d never ask. It’s Jane Austen of course.
Me: Don’t you own copies of all her works already?
Myself: Yes, yes I do. But aren’t these such pretty editions and the print in mine is so small and smudgy.

Me: Then what are those other three books?
Myself: Well, those are Jane Austen fanfiction.
Me: I think you have a problem…

Hello. My name is Jennifer and I’m an Austen-aholic.

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Herder of Cats

I love my job. Truly. I know I was born to teach Kindergarten. It is my calling. I understand how most children learn and can guide them on their path to literacy and a lifelong love of learning.

However, during the first few days of Kindergarten I feel more like a herder of cats than an educator.

They are adorable.

They are sweet.

But this one goes this way and that one goes that way

This one is talking to me while that one is talking to me and OK now those three are talking to me too

Oops that one is rolling on the floor

Uh-oh someone spilled their water

 when is recess

when is my mommy coming to get me


Everyone has to go potty at the same time

Yes your pencil is very pretty

No we are not using markers right now

Wow you really caught a shark this summer

She pushed me

Well she poked me

Papers are flying in my face and five kids are yelling I did it I did it I did it

Why are you over there?

Hum hum hum hum hum hum hum hum hum (AGH who is humming??!!)

 Someone is crying

I know writing is hard but we have to try so we can learn


and then someone got sick (poor baby)


And that was just the first day.

I wanted to be in that commercial from my childhood


In a few weeks this will all be a distant memory. They will know how to hang up their backpacks by themselves. They will know how to line up in order and walk down the hall. They will know how to sit on the carpet and work at the tables. They will know when it is time for snack and for recess. They will know when we use markers and when we do not. They will know me and I will know them. Our routines will be set and learning of a different kind will be our focus.





These are the four things I need to survive my first few weeks of a new school year.

These are the four things I need to carry with me in life.


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