I have unshakable faith in children. They always show me the way. ♥

Thursday, August 28, 2008

ready for a non-sweaty day...

Completely. Exhausted.

I absolutely love setting up the classroom. I love the challenge of making the flow work for the kids, of creating a space that feels cozy and welcoming, of building a space that will grow and evolve with the children as we take our journey together.

I think the process would not exhaust me so much if were more efficient with my time (and more organized with things on a regular basis, and perhaps if I had less stuff), but it's one of those things that just does not come easily for me.

Today I spent far too long in various meetings/planning and didn't get to finish everything I wanted, but the classroom is ready. Now I just need to do a lot of the making and cutting and gluing of things we will use for the first week of school. (well, and there are still two boxes of books to be sorted and a box of... erm, random stuff that I need to deal with, but believe me when I say that will just have to wait.)

Tomorrow we have Open House and a Family Picnic in the morning (early so families can come before work) and then a bunch of meetings in the afternoon. It'll be nice to have a non-sweaty day, I think.

So, only a couple of pictures today -- things don't really look that different.

Here you can see a couple of books in little single display stands. These are books that we will read early in the year and I like having them out before we actually read them.

This picture is taken from the rocking chair and looking left toward the window. You can see some more books up in little display stands.

This is still taken from the rocking chair, but looking right down the center of the room. We will use the easel for a lot of learning this year -- both lessons that include me and as a station for students during our learning stations (one side will be an ABC station and the other side will be a pocket chart station). Note the little frog rug just under the easel... yeah, that's new. I like frogs. ♥

Alright all, I'm going to watch Rafael Nadal play tennis for a little while longer and then head to bed. Have a great night!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

light at the end of the tunnel...

I can't believe it's only Wednesday.

I feel like I've worked a full week already. ♥ As is usually the case for me when setting up the classroom, there is still a lot to be done. I managed to contain my messes to three areas (one of which is a rather big one -- the closet -- which I'll be attacking tomorrow) and get a lot more moved/accomplished. The funny thing is, just clearing off the tabletops and putting the mess in one place makes me breathe a whole lot easier. [click to enlarge any of the images]

This is not so much a mess as a bunch of paperwork and notes and little projects all on the same table. Heh, and it appears that I left my Starbucks indulgence right there on the table instead of bringing it home. Oops.

Here are some of the areas that were covered and scary yesterday...

This table was covered with books, but I've since consolidated them into a box. Really, they're books I've decided to keep, but I can't put them on my shelf until I thin my collection a bit. I also cleared off the counter and started to get it ready for all of our learning tools. (Tomorrow I'll try to remember to talk about the mini-table formed by the two desks pushed together.)

I organized a lot of the little things that we use during lessons (things for the calendar, tools for shared reading, random other crap that needs a home) -- it's all behind the round table in a shelf or drawer-compartment under the Smart Board. You can also see the blue basket in the middle of the table. Each table has a different colored basket for crayons, scissors, and etc... the tables are labeled by colors and each student has a sort of 'home' table. We'll use all of the tables and children won't always work at their table, but it's a starting place -- and a bit of structure that works really well in the beginning of the year. Today I labeled each table with the kids' names.

Here, to the right of the meeting area, I put up the green pocket chart, put the little green floor recliner in front of the library area, and added the listening center. It's in behind the table, but when it's time to use it, the children will pull it out and then slide it back when they're done.

I completed a couple of projects today (and checked them off my list!). This first one is the sign-in area when the kids first walk in the door. The shelf was a bit beat up on the top, so I covered it with contac paper and then put the flowers there and a cup with pencils. I didn't put the sign-in sheets here yet to keep the kids' names private.

This was an inspiration I (finally) had after lunchtime. I like to put up a welcome board outside the classroom with kid's names, and then add their photographs after they get to school. I keep the sign up all year, so I like it to look good, be durable, and have some sort of learning theme. The past years, I've done: "Growing a Garden of Learners" (with flowers with the kids' names & pictures) and "Soaring to Great Heights" (with kites with their names and pictures). Each one of these I've saved to use again in the future, but I wanted to come up with a new one this year so I have three to rotate in the future. Our administration has been using a theme with us of boats and sailing together, so I thought keeping that going with the students would be a good connection.

I hope you all are doing well, those of you that are teaching already, those that are getting ready for students to come back, those that are my neighbors or colleagues, my mother and mother-in-law, and others that I may not have met yet.

I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And the best thing about that? It means soon I get to meet my students, which is always the best part. ♥

the room threw up...

Yesterday was one of those days. Apart from meetings and some other have to's, I had about three hours in the classroom. It has entered the stage that I call: the room threw up.

This happens when I unpack lots of boxes and find home for things and end up with many, many piles all over the place. I had a friend that used to be able to stay with one area completely until it was finished. I, however, do not have this sort of temperament. I pick something up that belongs somewhere else and think I ought to put it away. On the way to put it there, I see something else that needs to be done, so then I start working there... and so on.

Hence, the room threw up.

So, here are the embarrassing pictures. My messes. *shudder* I'd like for them to be gone soon, please.

[click on a picture to make it larger]

Looking left as you walk in...

The back part of the room to the left of our meeting area...

My desk, behind the big book station. At least I've got the coffee pot set up and the counter behind my desk cleaned and ready. *breathes*

Have a lovely day, all! ♥ I'll post some more pictures tonight.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

late nights...



Okay, James Blake, I adore you. With a deep and abiding passion. I am a big fan. I would even go so far as to say that I would wear an I James Blake sandwich board and ring a you-shaped bell if you asked.

But, dude, if you keep me up until nearly 1am every time you play in a night game, we might need to talk. I'm a teacher. I need my rest.

*yawns again*

[I think today is going to be a looooong day.]

Monday, August 25, 2008

organizing a few more things...

Teachers reported to work today. Of course, at my school we generally see a lot of each other in the week before because so many people come back for part of a day or two to get a jump on classroom set up. It was really nice to see everyone -- and naturally, there was a lot of talking and a few meetings and a bit of planning, so I didn't get as much done in the classroom as I'd hoped. Alas.

But! I shall persevere.

Today I tried to focus on books, the library part of our meeting area and a bit of our calendar math stuff.

[click on any image to enlarge]

This is how I've organized my children's books. It's behind our classroom door as it's opened. It makes my little organization heart happy, but it also really shows that I need to reduce this by a good 20% or more. I just do not need this many books. Once I cull my collection, I'd like to give it away. Any suggestions for where/how to donate?

This is my favorite quote about six year olds. I post it at our Back to School night and share it with the families and kids.

This is the beginning of the calendar area -- it still needs a place to share birthdays, the 100 chart, and I'd like to do a different schedule this year. You might be able to see it here, it's a small, thin blue pocket chart. I'd like to have a schedule that has larger words and pictures this year so it's visible from farther away.

Here's a quick comparison on the library/meeting area, because I mentioned last time how much I wanted to get some plants and things into the room to make it feel better. Here it was last week:

Here it is today. So much better. I'm quite pleased.

The curtains on the two shelves on the right will come down after the first week or two, and it will have about eight other book baskets. The shelf on the far left I've set up to hold teaching tools for Guided Reading, so I may keep that curtain up. The shelf next to it will be multipurpose. I have some kid reading tools there and dictionaries on the bottom shelf, as well, I have my Assessment binders, so it's going to be a place for kid tools as well as my own.

So, now I'm going to do something of which my good friend, not!Angela Lansbury (girl, will you just pick a name already?!), approve: I'm going to sit down to try to let my brain rest for a little while while I watch James Blake (♥) play in the first round of the US Open.

Friday, August 22, 2008

classroom transformation -- pictures

The classroom pictures that I threatened yesterday...

This year's set up has to accomodate at least 22 children, possibly more, depending on how registration goes. With four round tables, that's 16 children, then adding the hexagon, that's another 6, for a total of 22. I wanted to make sure to have another small space for working and figured that I could accomplish that with desks. You'll see that in the first picture.


[NOTE: Click on any image to make it larger]

Looking across the classroom from the doorway.
You can see the near round, the hexagon, a round in the far right (that'll be the table near the math shelf) and if you look beyond the red pocket chart in the center of the picture, you can see a round in the back corner of the room...

The big book area/teacher desk from the doorway.
You can see three of the tables that were in the picture just above. In front of my desk, there is an easel, a stool, and a white wire shelf that houses big books. This is a station that the children use during the school day (particularly during our Literacy Work Stations, but we've used it during Math time and other times when the kids want to). I like having it right in front of my desk for two reasons:
  • It creates a kid space that is intertwined with a teacher space, and sort of keeps my desk from being something that people see automatically when people walk in.

  • Physically, it takes away the lure of my desk as a place that's off-limits. During the first weeks of the year, I do refer to it as a teacher space, but once the kids are ready, my desk becomes a place where they can sit (in a comfy swivel chair!) to read or work on other things.

Looking left from the big book area
Here you can see the hexagon table and the little 2-person table made by putting two desks together. You can also see the other round table that wasn't visible in the other pictures. At the end of the room, next to the rocking chair is a Smart Board. We'll have this to share between the first grade classrooms, and I'm excited to use it more this year. So, I tried to plan in a space for it, that way, it won't be making room for it, but rather, just fitting it back into it's space.

Looking right from the circle table by the door.
This is just a close up of what you've already seen. :)

Close up of the table/book area by the meeting area.
This is an experiment...
When we moved this table into the room, it ended up almost right in this spot. Those of you that know me as a teacher setting up my classroom may remember that a large portion of me arranging furniture in the classroom involves me standing somewhere in the room, not moving, and just thinking. In my mind I'm imagining something as a working space. I'm envisioning children there using it, I'm imagining the flow of movement, I'm imagining potential pitfalls. Something about the placement of the table struck me, and I stood there for a long time, imagining it becoming a work space/library/instructional space and I got more and more excited. Next to the blue butterfly chair is a little waterfall bookshelf that juts out from the shelf against the wall, forming a little library area.

There are some possible problems with having a table so close to our meeting area, but I figure... I can take it. :)

Oh, I forgot to mention with this picture, there's that little easel there (with the red pocket chart on the back?) that may end up moving somewhere else. It is sort of right out there in the middle, but the pocket chart will make it another work station for the children, and once we get going, the easel will have a white board and our chart tablet with Morning Messages, so it may actually end up working really well right there.

So, that's that. It's funny, because I don't think pictures do it justice at all. Last year's set up just looked pretty [image here], whereas this doesn't have the aesthetic satisfaction in pictures. I will say, that walking in after a good night's sleep? I felt energized by the set up. There is more space than there was last year -- which I think is going to be really important with more kids and the fact that this year's class comes with a bit of a reputation. (pah, I say. They will be glorious. We will be glorious!) I did realize, though, the other picture had the pretty flowers out and such. Once I get a few plants and add some of the little, simple touches, maybe this will feel pretty, too.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

finding tables...

It was not an easy day.

This year our first grade classrooms will have more students than we've had in the past. Oddly, nothing about having more students has worried me; it's been that I will have too many desks and that will lead to a space that doesn't feel adequate enough for my students (cozy, welcoming, with nooks and crannies for working, but with some clear open spaces). Desks take up more space and trying to arrange too many of them was really pushing the bounds of my creativity-with-physical-space.

When I taught in Boston, I always taught with tables. Here at my current school I've taught with desks, but sort of by default. When I moved to this school, my principal thought that there might not be enough tables at the school to have tables, and I never really pursued it. As well, having between 16 and 19 students, I was able to arrange desks into little pods of four that worked quite well.

This year, with 22 or 24 students, I would need six pods of four, and space-wise, I could not figure out how to make that happen while still keeping a large meeting area and a few other things. So, this was a good incentive for me to go back to what I'm used to: tables.

I didn't expect acquiring enough tables to be quite as difficult to achieve as it was. There were already two round tables in my room, and acquiring two more wasn't actually that hard. I'd wanted to get one round and two rectangle tables, but one of the custodians told me that there weren't any rectangle tables left in the storage unit. So, they brought me two rounds (yay!) and I was left with the task of finding/acquiring either a rectangle table or two trapezoids (which, when pushed together, make a lovely hexagon table).

This was no mean feat.

First, I found one trapezoid table in the lobby, in front of a display case, acting as a display table. I wanted that table! But, I knew that I'd have to find a replacement for it. Twenty minutes later, I'd found a half-round that a Kindergarten teacher wasn't using, so with the blessings of the ladies in the office, I brought that one down and half-dragged, half-carried the trapezoid table back to my room.

Then, I was on a quest to find the missing piece: another trapezoid.

After another twenty minutes or so, I found one in a room housing a few computers and tables for small group work with children. The teacher that uses that room thought that he could give me the trapezoid table and switch the computer to a smaller table. The only problem? The wooden finish on the tops of the two tables didn't match. One was a light brown faux-wood grain and the other a much darker one. Now, I will be the first to admit to a bit of OCD, in which it makes me slightly twitchy when there is an odd number of colored chairs or when I can't arrange things in a way that makes sense aesthetically to me, but these two tables would have just looked wrong.

So, then, off to find a trapezoid table that would match one of the existing two that I could swap out. That took another thirty minutes, but it was finally accomplished.

After that, I had all of the tables I needed, and was able to arrange the room into a layout that felt right. Of course (as is almost necessary in a story like this) there was still the matter of lowering all the tables, because they were far too high for six year olds. That involved finding someone that owned Allen wrenches of multiple sizes, a bruised foot from when I dropped one of the tables on it, and a few muttered curse words as rusty screw threads made some of the adjustment difficult.


The good thing is that I'm really happy with the layout of the room. I think there is enough open space for stretching out and working, but not too much to promote chaos. My next steps are to sort through a lot of my books and make a "give away" pile, as well as buy a few larger plants for the room. I have a tendency to pile things on counters and open spaces and if there are more plants around, I imagine I'll be less likely to want to interrupt the beauty of the plants.

Ahhh, so this entry is far too long already, so I'll post pictures of the classroom (so far) tomorrow.

Hope you are all having a lovely day. ♥

unlikely skills

I can pee really, really quickly.

As in: the entire process accomplished (including the recommended 12-15 second hand-washing) in under a minute.

It has to be because of teaching. Ninety percent of the time, I am the only adult in the classroom. Sometimes, near the end of a long morning or a long afternoon, I peek out into the hallway to see if there are any other teachers that can be with my class while I run to the rest room. If and when I do find someone to help, I don't want to take advantage of their flexibility and kindness, so I go very quickly. Well, my friends, years of this has really honed my skills.

If using the rest room were an Olympic event, I'm quite sure I could take at least a silver medal.

So, why do I mention this today? Well, I was in a coffee shop today and ended up in a line of three women waiting for the rest room. As soon as I was finished, both women looked surprised and said, "Wow, you're quick!"

I said, "I have to be; I teach elementary school."

They both laughed and then I went on my merry way. It did make me think, though, that it is a sort of unlikely skill that I have because I'm a teacher. I wonder what other such skills I've cultivated without realizing it...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Tonight at my dance class, the dance teacher of the other (harder) tap class was absent, so they combined our two classes. Then, one of the students in the other class led us through the class.

It was really, really hard. Whoa. After the first ten minutes or so, I found myself sort of overwhelmed with these things we were doing that I just Could. Not. Do. Well. Also, I was at the end of the line as we practiced across the floor, so everyone could see me having trouble with the steps (naturally I assumed that everyone was watching me screw up. Of course they weren't, but it's easy to feel like everyone's eyes are on you...).

I turned to my friend (I'll call her Angela for now, because she hasn't yet picked a name to be called on my journal, and Angela Lansbury is our current *joke* name for her) Angela and said, "You know, it's sort of good to have this class right now before school starts to give me perspective. I'm about to start acting out."

I really meant it. I've found that when I try new things as an adult, I don't usually have a high tolerance for failure. Not that tonight was a failure, per se, just that it was a lot harder than what I'm used to and I could feel little niggling threads of: "this is too hard" "I'm not doing this" "this is stupid" weaving around inside me.

How appropriate to experience this just before the kids come back, to help me remember what it feels like to perceive myself as *dumb* at something and not want attention called to my shortcomings. I imagine I'm not the only one.

Friday, August 15, 2008

last days...

Last day of summer school. Alas.

Well, it's both good and bad. I need to take a few days off before I start setting up the classroom and before teachers report for beginning of the year planning. Otherwise, I'll start the year feeling like I've already run a 10K and now it's time for a marathon.

But still... I just looked at my (tentative) class list, and out of the eight rising first graders in my Summer School class, five of them are going to be in my class this year! I'm so jazzed about this!!!

Of course, there's also this part of me that is realizing the possibility that it's my last day, then, with the other three rising first graders, and I don't want that. :) So, I'm torn between making the absolute most of my time with them today and running to my administration (whom I think the world of) to beg for the other three children to be put in my class as well.


Maybe I'll do both...

Have a good one, my friends. ♥