Tag Archives: fifth grade

Week 29: Children Standing Up Against Domestic Violence

At the end of fifth grade, students at my school complete a rite of passage project before they move on to middle school. The guidelines are pretty open-ended, but students are expected to have some kind of new experience or provide a service to others. A student in my room decided she wanted to help W.E.A.V.E. (Women Escaping a Violent Environment) by collecting used items and money from students at our school to donate to the organization.

While other kids are learning to surf, rock climb, and snowboard, she came up with her idea to help women and families entirely on her own. Of course, I think the other projects are awesome too, especially for kids who often do not get to have those kinds of experiences, but her project has touched my heart. As she stood in front of our class to explain the organization and ask for donations, she told the students to only bring change, not dollar bills, because their families need to keep their money too. This child is an old soul.

As she talked, I was moved by the expressions on the other students’ faces, their quiet gestures of acknowledgement, connection, and support. Teachers in the rooms she visited said the same thing, that their students had so many questions and were really excited to help. In the short time I have taught, I have heard more stories of domestic violence than I would have ever expected. It brings me so much hope that children can help break the cycle. Yesterday, just one day after she presented her project, she left school with a huge bag of donated items. She cried tears of joy that others cared enough to help. Her spirit is contagious.


Inspired by the April Blogger’s for Peace challenge to write a post about children and peace.

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Thirty Little Valentines

Say what you will about Valentine’s Day. I tried to hate it for a long time. Now I embrace it as a chance to profess my love for the wonderful people in my life, big and small.

Last year, I made a little heart for each student. A tiny token of my affection. Months later I noticed the hearts still used as bookmarks, or kept in the top corner of students’ desks, or taped to the inside of pencil boxes. In a fit of anger, one student even crumpled up his heart and put it on the floor only to pick it back up again and hide it in his pencil box when he thought I was not looking. Love games start early.

This year I was excited to make new little hearts, thirty of them, to be exact.

30 little hearts for my 30 little loves.

30 little hearts for 30 little people.

So, even if Valentine’s Day is not your thing, maybe it is still your chance to make someone else feel special. That’s how I see it. You don’t need to spend money or buy greeting cards or even be in romantic love. All you need are some well-intentioned words from the heart.

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Week 23: Bittersweet Hello

This afternoon, as I cleaned up the carnage of my back table, the office called my room through the intercom. Two boys were there to see me. My brain stalled for a minute. I asked for their names to be repeated through the crackly speaker. The second time I heard loud and clear. One of my students from last year was back to say hello.

My heart skipped a beat.

I keep my kids for two years and he disappeared over summer, rumored to have moved to the South, Alabama, or Georgia, or somewhere. In a room full of rowdy boys, he was a leader, calm, well-spoken, polite. Whenever he was in trouble, he would apologize kindly, usually ending his statement by calling me ma’am. His test scores were among the highest in the school.

Today he showed up in my room, a shy smile, a sideways hug. His eyes traced the walls of our classroom, the desks new, everything else so very much the same. I told him we missed him. I told him we would bring in a 31st desk just for him. And, I meant it. I don’t want 31 students, but I would if the 31st was this kid. His eyes filled up with tears as we talked. Not a single one spilled down his cheek, but they were there, ready to pour out.

When he left, I cried. Another teacher was in my room. She teared up with me. He never moved to Georgia, or Alabama, or the like. He still lives in Sacramento, just too far to make it to our school. A lot of students travel a distance to reach our doors. For some families, it ends up being too much. I understand, but my heart still breaks. His eyes told me his did too.

About twenty minutes after he left, I wandered back into the hallways to see if I could catch him again. With many brothers, I thought maybe they’d still be in someone else’s classroom. I found them in the hallway, his mom and siblings headed my direction. I asked him if he wanted us to write him. He smiled wide. I wrote down his address. His mom promised he’d write back.

I know I will say good-bye to every kid I teach, but some disappear without a word. I’ve had students return to Mexico overnight, or so the stories go. At the beginning of the school year, I was certain this student would be back. I told the other teachers not to worry, that I had talked to their mom, that she had said they’d be there. Eventually I gave up. Another student took his spot, the year went on.

His reappearance today was an unexpected gift, so bittersweet. It was nice to say good-bye this time. I wished I could pick up his house and put it across the street from our school. But then I let him go. I reminded myself that I love all my kids, that he opened up a space for someone new, someone that maybe needed it more than he did. That’s the good part. I know deep down that he’ll be fine, whether he misses us or not.

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Meet the Warriors of Knowledge

Warriors of Knowledge

Honorable benevolence strikes again in my classroom. My dear friend’s lovely boyfriend is an animator for Clone Wars and put together a collection of items for my students. As I explained to my principal this morning how I plan to use the items, she remarked that I have an amazing group of friends. Jackets, speaking engagements, now Star Wars goodies direct from the source– I have to agree.

Needless to say, my students were delighted. I made a new daily award to earn the figurines on their desks. Tomorrow three students will bask in the protective glory of solving geometry problems in the shadow of Darth and his friends, (yeah, yeah, I know, bad guys, but whatever, the kids dig it). We named them the Warriors of Knowledge.

I have to say, today was quiet on the behavior front. They’re excited and I’m grateful. Thank you kind people of the universe, (and Don, in particular!).

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Unexpected Fame: You’re the Goodest Teacher

Today as I walked my rowdy crew of fifth graders chomping at the bit to become middle-schoolers out for dismissal, a kindergartener in another line turned to me and said, “You’re the goodest teacher.”

I don’t know the child, but a whole lot of children I don’t know know me. I’ll be walking through the hall and receive an excited hello with my name. I’ll be headed to my car in the evening and hear a chorus of, “Good-bye Mrs. M! Good-bye!”

My favorite, though, is out in public. I’ll see a student at the grocery store, still dressed in uniform. He or she will stop in the aisle and stare at me like I could not possibly exist outside the tall black metal gates of our school. One little girl I had never met squealed and ran after her mom. “I JUST SAW MRS. M, FROM SCHOOL!”

Children in cars point at me through windows.

Turns out I’m pretty darn famous within a couple mile radius of my school. Not exactly the fame I hoped for as a child watching the academy awards, but instead something meaningful. A reminder that what I do matters to little people I don’t even know yet. Maybe one day they’ll sit in one of my big kid desks and then I’ll know their names.

Until then, I’m just grateful for a wayward compliment from a child who does not know me but must know I need a little love on a challenging day too.

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Week 20: It’s All About Heart

When I started teaching on my own, a year and a half ago, I counted every week as a fraction of the school year. I was not sure I could make it, so I had to think in tenths, and fifths, and halves. For the first couple months, each week was a victory.

In my second year, I still count the weeks, but mainly for planning purposes. Only the big fractions stand out. Today is the end of week 20, the school year is half way done. My biggest obstacle is exhaustion. I like teaching but it makes me tired. This week I realized that’s the one thing left that makes me question how long I can last.

It’s not like sitting in a cube and writing economic analysis all day, (which I did for almost three years). It’s standing on my feet, raising my voice, putting on a show, quickly responding to a million little cues all day long. The first week of school my body ached, my throat hurt, I went home each day and took a nap. Even now, by Friday afternoon, I’m drained.

However, the difference between a year ago and today is my heart. A year ago was about survival. Today is about love. I love my kids. I know they’re not mine. But I still love them. A year ago I was just getting to know them. I am so grateful for two years together. Even the most irritating behaviors often end in smiles now. I know which buttons to push, which tricks to use to make their anger dissolve into laughter.

This morning I woke up and realized I am three fourths done being their teacher. Fifth grade teachers think in fractions. The separation is already beginning. Their fifth grade, hormonal selves are becoming more social, less attached to me. Today we all ate lunch in the classroom to celebrate our academic success and instead of huddling around me like they did a year ago, they sat in little groups and ate. Occasionally one would stop by and chat, then move on.

I didn’t mind, though. I’m excited for what comes next, for them and me. I’m excited to see whether the next batch feels the same or different. Today I wrote in their morning message that we are half way done with fifth grade. I told them I will cry when I have to say goodbye, because I care. I made a few cry prematurely with that statement. Teaching is definitely about heart. Now if only I could figure out how to keep it from making me so darn tired.

Only fitting that we're studying the heart this week.

Only fitting that we’re studying the heart this week.


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Week 19: Calm & Peace

The completion of week 19 feels momentous. 40 weeks in a school year. Practically half way done. In a blink, fifth grade will be over and I’ll be starting again with a room full of fourth graders.

Week 19 is 2013. As one apologetic behavior letter from a student reminded me, it’s a fresh start. It’s the frozen activities field beneath a thin blanket of fog and the backdrop of a rising sun, that one forgotten soccer ball settling into the icy mud. It’s smiling faces and getting called Mrs. Mac by that one kid who never opened up until now… Mrs. Mac, a softer, truncated nickname filled with more love than I can communicate.

It’s four kids receiving random acts of kindness, confused hugs for the extra attention. It’s my principal walking in to observe in the first hour on the first day back at school and me smiling unapologetically at the imperfection in my room, pure embrace of sleepy kids and calm.

It’s book reports that have blown me away. The girl with the purple guitar. The boy whose name should be Maniac Magee, who pretended to be the protagonist in Spiderwick Chronicles, much to the delight of all the other kids. Fifteen minutes of wild impersonation, jokes, energy, charisma. A cheer he taught the class, tugging on both ears, “Boggarts, boggarts, boggarts!” His joy in success and fame.

It’s also the intervention teacher’s compliment that I seemed so at peace watching his sometimes frenetic performance, a room of 29 other kids just seconds from bouncing off the walls. That edge where control could be lost, me more calm and centered than ever before. A friend who visited just in time to walk through all the other classrooms and take a peak at all the book report creations, recognizing the strength in my patience, sharing her grad school stories with my kids.

Week 19 gives me hope. Hope I can be calm almost all the time. Hope all this yoga and meditation are paying off. Hope I have found a sweet spot in my love and knowledge of my students. Week 19 is peace.


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The Girl With the Purple Guitar

Today I have to share one of my favorite moments of my teaching career so far. As a creative alternative to our book report over break, one student asked if she could learn a song from Hunger Games to play for the class. I agreed and she did a beautiful job connecting the lyrics of the song to her reading.

This morning her mom showed up with her guitar in a big box. We weren’t going to present today, but since her guitar was already in class, I let her go as the first and only student for the day. Late in the afternoon, when students are usually too wiggly to sit still, we gathered on the carpet and she pulled out her pretty little purple guitar.

A bundle of nerves, she asked if we could close our eyes. With the sweetest ten-year old voice, she sang Taylor Swift’s “Eyes Open” as she strummed along. The whole class covered their eyes and swayed back and forth, mesmerized. In the middle, she messed up and asked to start over. This time she told everyone they could uncover their eyes. She played the song again, beautifully, with 30 pairs of eyes on her. When she finished, the room erupted in cheers.

It was one of those moments I wish I had on film. So sweet and filled with emotion. I wanted to cry as I watched her. She was so nervous, but she forced herself to be brave and do it anyway. It took at least five years for me to let Alex hear me sing. She sang to a room of ten and eleven year-olds with a presence, grace, and soul uncommon in most adult performers.

I guess you can say I’m glad to be back to work with my students. It always takes a couple days, but I get there.

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Bloggers for Peace: Daily Acts of Kindness

One of my favorite bloggers, Kozo over at Everyday Gurus, recently started a group called Bloggers for Peace. The first challenge, pick a daily or weekly act of kindness for January and blog about it. I knew instantly what I needed to do.

All kids need love and special attention, but the reality is that in a room full of 30 students, some receive more than others. For my daily act of kindness, I am going to pick a different kid each day to go out of my way to make feel special. An instructional coach suggested I do this with my most behaviorally challenging kids, but I want to take it a step further and include all my students. Even the most outspoken could use a little extra love, and it has always bothered me that the quietest students go less noticed, especially if they do not act out or struggle academically.

So, each day in January, I will pick one student to quietly receive my attention. At a minimum, I will:

1. Write him/her a kind note, (this may be small, but I often notice that students keep my little notes in their pencil boxes or taped to the corner of their desks for months).

2. I ask students I see before school, “What is one good thing about today?” I will ask my student of the day this question because it forces students to be grateful and see their lives through a different lens. Often they shrug when I ask this question, but then we talk and they end up smiling as they realize they ate breakfast, hugged their dad goodbye, or have a nice warm place to come to school. One of my students now runs up to me every morning to tell me his one good thing. I want to make sure every student in my class reflects on this question at least once and gets more one-on-one conversation/attention for the day.

So, there you have it. 30 students means my little acts of kindness will carry me through to February, but it is a worthy cause and one I have been wanting to pursue for months. I already have a husky of the day who gets to help out, but I like that this will be a quieter, unexpected source of kindness. We go back to school January 8, so I will start with student number 8 and work my way through.

Hope you join Bloggers for Peace and find your own way to do something kind in January! I’ll report back on how my little experiment turns out.

Proof I won't forget. Post-it on my work laptop.

Proof I won’t forget. Post-it on my work laptop.

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Week 18: Gingerbread & Rainbows

I did not expect the world to end today. However, it did feel different this morning. The sunrise was spectacular. A full rainbow danced across the sky. Happy laughter floated through the halls, a sweet friend and coworker newly engaged. Kids with sticky fingers and smiles as they constructed gingerbread houses. So much excited energy for winter break.

I was presented with a lesson today. Sometimes we need to embrace things as they are instead of fighting for control. I forget this when I teach sometimes, expecting students to act a certain way instead of gently guiding them in a mutually agreeable direction. I’m learning.

12/21/12 will go down as a good day in my book. Struggles, messes, laughter, and beautiful skies.

“Please Mrs. M, can’t you stay just ten minutes longer?”

Those after school words mattered most of all.




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Feelings Jar Part II: End of Week Purge


This afternoon I dumped a week’s worth of feelings onto my desk. Originally, I planned to let them stack up inside the bear container, but it was confusing to keep track of which ones I had read and which ones I had not, (not to mention the voyeurs peaking into the clear container trying to read each other’s secrets). So, the bear cleansed his feelings. He feels much better now.

Frustrations, anger, happiness, excitement, crushes, hurt feelings, jokes, concern over the imminent end of the world…

I have to admit, I felt a little bit like an advice columnist this week. Case in point:

Dear Mrs. M,

I have a problem. My friend likes this girl and I like the same girl but I don’t want to hurt my friend, what do I do? I think she likes me too…



Funny how early these problems start. I remember the same conundrum, which actually resulted in my relationship with my husband. My friend liked him first. Tricky territory. I told the kid it seems important now but it won’t be forever, be kind and don’t worry so much.

Sifting through all the feelings this afternoon, making sure I did not miss any cries for help,  I discovered my own lesson. The jar was good because it gave me a space to deflect some of their stress instead of instantly absorbing it. I was able to deal with their energy when I was ready. Likewise, throwing out the pile at the end of the week left me cleansed, too.

Have anything you need to throw out this week?

No time like the present.

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Alternate Gravity Environments, Little Romeos… & Yoga!

Not sure what is in the air, but today was awesome. Tuesdays usually bug the heck out of me because I have no prep and my kids go a little stir crazy in my room from 11:40 to 3:15. I try to get them outside for a bit, but that doesn’t always do the trick.

Today we went outside to measure how far we can jump in order to calculate how far we could jump in alternate gravity environments. They loved imagining how they would float more than six times as far on the moon or sink like an anchor on Jupiter.

And, one of my all-time favorite kid quotes emerged from the day:

“Mrs. M, Mrs. M!”


“If a girl ever says she’s into bad boys, I’ll just tell her I stay up past my bedtime!”

Instant classic.

I don’t think the day was fundamentally less stressful than any other, I just did a good job of centering myself and being present. Maybe it’s the upcoming break, maybe it’s all the yoga and meditation, who knows, but I’ll take it!

Speaking of yoga, I came home to two little gems: 1. A surprise yoga magazine from Alex’s trip to Whole Foods, 2. A yoga book a yoga-teaching friend recommended. Talk about excitement. I spent the first half of my evening reading on my yoga mat, (which, I might add is a great way to stretch and read simultaneously…).

Grateful for a good day and looking forward to an inspiring, productive, transformative winter break and 2013.

Only an hour or so in but already on the recommend list...

My aunt recently asked how I have time to read so many books… Sad answer, I have book ADHD… I read multiple books simultaneously, resulting in slow completion times but exposure to a lot of great information. There is just too much good stuff to read in the world. I’m adding these reads to my yoga recommendation list.

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