Tag Archives: Fourth Grade

A Little Fourth Grade Cheer

After yesterday’s post, I wanted to share something that made me smile today. The same child who wept in my arms brought me a box of Nerds and a toy to keep on my desk. Apparently I’m not the only one who felt we bonded.
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Just as sweet, a little girl who would make the perfect character in a children’s book with her freckles and wild spirit, brought me a gigantic husky she found at Goodwill. Our class theme is University of Washington, so she was proud to present our mascot. You can guess where all the kids wanted to sit during silent reading. This noble beast was smushed between three children, countless others disappointed they did not get there first.

Husky

So, my camera phone might not do my lovely gifts justice, but hopefully my words did. We all bonded yesterday, and somehow these tokens of love are proof. Our missing student returned this morning and was able to go about his business with quiet support. We are becoming a classroom family, as strange as it is to let new kids into my heart.

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Finding Words Again

Almost every blog I follow disappears for a period. Days, weeks, months. Usually, the disappearance is followed by an apology. I don’t have one to offer. My disappearance has been one of introspection, hibernation. Oddly, there aren’t words for it, and I’m not sure I’m back in any regular sort of way, but I do miss writing.

So, tonight I type to type. I type to find words again, to reestablish a flow, to commit myself to a life of writing, not just a few years here and there, as it has always been in the past. My disappearance has been more than just going back to my world as a teacher. It has been about life and balance and a space of quiet. Words aren’t quiet.

My truth is changing. What I wrote before was true, but I’m not sure it is my truth anymore, or somehow it feels stale, repetitive. It is hard to write something that no longer resonates, fiction or otherwise. I’m finding a new space, which might mean new words, I’m not sure. A new book, a new perspective on teaching, on life.

Beginning again with a fresh group of students is oddly comforting and stifling simultaneously. When I envisioned myself as a teacher, I always questioned when the repetition would catch up to me. I’m restless by nature. As I write the date on our message each morning, I feel time slipping into a strange blur, is it 2011? 2013? 2015?

This is the first time I am repeating fourth grade on my own. Last year’s batch was fourth and then fifth, two years together. I like the feeling of knowing what I’m doing now. There is a confidence and ease that was not there before, but there is also the eery feeling of the same kids, just different faces, different names, learning the same things again, hitting the same stumbling blocks, celebrating the same successes.

I admire teachers who teach for the long haul. Maybe it will be me, this year is just off to a strange start. I miss the old faces who drop by each morning, eager to hug me, brag about their accomplishments. Maybe that’s the problem. As easy as it is to fall in love with children, it is hard to let them go. Maybe my heart is protecting me as I open up to thirty new souls. It’s easier to find reasons to resist than surrender.

So, there you have it. My first real words in weeks. A few tears, too.  Life is change and the same, all at once. I am learning.

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And Sometimes It’s Beyond Worth it.

Often, teaching is like any other job. Long hours, unsatisfied customers, little recognition. Some days I daydream about a world where I do not have to squish myself into a mold in order to succeed.

Then, days come around like today, where everything makes sense.

With no prep scheduled and only the second day of instruction, I knew I was in for a long haul. Add to that my body’s stubborn insistence on waking up 40 minutes before my alarm and, well, I had to force myself to think about gratitude for the human experience as I got ready this morning.

About ten minutes before school started, the door to my classroom swung open and in marched half a dozen of my most challenging boys from last year with huge smiles on their faces. The ring leader, also my most difficult, looked proud of himself for assembling such a reception.

Instead of “I hate this school,” or the alternative favorite, “I hate you,” they were excited to tell me about middle school, pleased about how handsome they looked in their sixth-grade button-down shirts. It turns out, kids really do love you, even when they kick and scream and do anything to push your buttons.

The most rewarding part of starting a new year has been seeing all those faces from my old class. I had to fight back tears as they appeared at the most unexpected moments both today and yesterday, smiling through my window, craning their necks to peer into my new world, their old classroom home. The hugs, the stories, the yells across the courtyard make it all worth it.

And, I’m happy to report, my new batch is pretty darn lovable too. I think I’m just one of those teachers who loves the heck out of my kids. I thought it would feel different with new names and stories, but instead it just feels like the beginning of another heart-stealing adventure.

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To begin again…

I had nightmares well into my twenties about repeating grades in school. Now, I’m preparing to repeat fourth grade as a teacher for the third time (including my residency year). A fresh start feels good. The room is artificially clean and organized. Papers and two sharpened pencils wait on each desk. Thirty-one new names fill my head, and soon enough, my heart.

Save for the leaves on the carpet, everything feels like a new beginning.

Save for the leaves on the carpet, everything feels fresh and ready for new little faces.

Classroom

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VLOG Follow-up to Yoga in the Classroom

Last week I expressed my surprise to find opposition to teaching yoga to children. Many of you offered helpful insight, both in comments and privately. The more I let my feelings settle, the more I realized it wasn’t such a big deal to just rename yoga in my classroom. My decision?

Yoga will be called “Be Ready to Learn,” or possibly BRL for short.

I know it probably sounds like a mouthful, but that’s because it’s meant to be a chant that gains speed and volume as we go:

Be. (Make the letter B with hands)

Ready. (Thumbs up)

To Learn. (Make an open book with hands)

This will be accompanied by a poster that gives the steps to be ready to learn:

1. Breathe: Count breaths to quiet outside thoughts.

2. Stretch: Get blood flowing to your brain.

3. Focus: Sit-up straight, show STAR, ask questions.

I’m excited to develop an actual thought-out plan to help student Be Ready to Learn through movement and breathing exercises this year.

And, last but not least, my VLOG. I had to fight the temptation to put on make-up and film another take (or delete altogether). Instead, spontaneous and natural, just as I would like my kids to be. It’s funny how sometimes it really is hard to practice what you preach…

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Week 36: Dear Fourth Graders

I had a guest teacher on Monday so I could visit my mom in Mount Shasta without having to rush back and forth. One of the assignments I left was for students to write a letter to my incoming fourth graders. I asked the students to offer advice from their two years with me. To my delight, the notes were both thoughtful and funny.

Proper anger management and my weakness for laughter were reoccurring themes, even from some of my toughest students. This gave me hope that maybe I really have gotten through to them, even if it does not always feel like it. Just three weeks and two days left. It’s going to be hard to say good-bye.

This week we're finishing up our trifolds for our ROPES projects, a rite of passage before middle school. Activities ranged from fundraising for WEAVE to books on anger management. I have an amazing group of kids.

This week we’re finishing up our trifolds for our ROPES projects, a rite of passage before middle school. Activities ranged from fundraising for WEAVE to books on anger management. I have an amazing group of kids.

"Don't get mad in the morning and don't take it out on Mrs. Mackey."

From my dear fourth graders collection: “Don’t get mad in the morning and don’t take it out on Mrs. Mackey.”

"When you get her mad you just have to cheer her up." So true.

“When you get her mad you just have to cheer her up.” So true. One day I told them it was their job to cheer me up. Whenever I get in a funk, I try to make it into an opportunity to model healthy approaches to mood management.

"Don't get mad at her, just ask for a time out." (THEY LISTEN!)

“Don’t get mad at her, just ask for a time out.” (THEY LISTEN!)

"She'll let you laugh when she's laughing." My favorite line of all.

And, “She’ll let you laugh when she’s laughing.” My favorite line of all.

PS. One last disjointed note. Today we watched this 50 state song and the kids swayed and clapped and sang along. Youtube has made the world of teaching infinitely cooler than back in my day of Schoolhouse Rock… They loved it so much we had to watch it twice, and I have to admit, it’s pretty cool, regardless of how old you are… Made me realize how badly my students need an actual music program at our school.

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Teaching: I didn’t give up.

I’m sitting in my classroom right now, typing into a blank email screen.  My desks are stacked along the wall, the chairs awkwardly tilting atop one another.  Everything has been scrubbed, mountains of recycling taken away, and there is nothing left to do.  Maybe that’s incorrect, I could be more industrious like some of the teachers down the hall that have torn apart their classrooms to implement new organization systems or started on next year’s copies.

Not me.

I prefer to just sit here and take it all in.  I cannot help but think back to what my room looked like on the very first day that I arrived last summer.  Only desks and chairs, nothing else.  No additional furniture, nothing on the walls, a blank canvass.  Now, bulletin boards announce a space for students to brag.  Our small library overflows with books and Machu Picchu hangs proudly in front of the timeout space, inviting angry students to sit and trace the buildings with their fingers, calmer.  The empty room is now a lived in home.

I remember the pride of ownership I felt in decorating this home, walking around barefoot as I hung the butcher paper and decided where the newly bought furniture would go.  Now I’d never walk barefoot in my classroom.  I know what my floors have been through.

There was a time this year when I did not think I would survive.  I counted the days and weeks in order to make it through.  I’d find myself still at school 11+ hours after arriving, straightening out the desks, rearranging, trapped in my own OCD.  If nothing else, this year has cured me of that.  Even sitting here now, I find myself not caring that some of my borders are coming undone or that some of my piles aren’t perfectly organized.  I’ve realized that in order to be a good teacher, I have to give myself breaks.

I earned this break.

Sure there was that one kid today who got under my skin by saying her mom didn’t want me to be her teacher again next year, but there are also kids that wrote me little notes of love and sang me little songs of praise.

“Shhh… Ready… 1-2-3… Mrs. M you’re the best teacher ever!”

Or, my selfish favorite of the day:

“Mrs. M., my mom said she’s happy to make you enchiladas because I got good grades on my report card!”

The enchiladas were delicious.

Until this very moment, I’ve managed not to cry, but I feel the tears, they’re finally here.

I avoided becoming a teacher for a few years after graduation because, among other concerns, I was scared that I would not be perfect at it.  I’m so grateful that I faced my fear.  Yes, teaching is hard, much harder than I ever expected, but it is also deeply satisfying.  Surprisingly, I don’t mind my imperfections nearly as much as I thought I would.  Mostly, I’m just proud that I didn’t give up.

My perfectly imperfect classroom home, ready for summer!

A gift from one of my coaches today, reminding me that I taught my students how to think in my own off-the-wall way, thanks Julie!

Today’s final message of fourth grade, what a year!


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Fourth Grade Love Stories

“Mrs. M, they’re talking about liking people!” a student shouted across the room today, certain she had busted some seriously bad behavior.

What she didn’t realize is that I have a soft spot for fourth grade love stories.  No, I do not encourage ten-year-olds to have “relationships,” but I also have a hard time telling students that they shouldn’t like each other.  After all, it’s a natural part of life and who knows, maybe they really do like each other.

Of course, I’m a little biased.  My marriage is the product of a fourth grade love story.

Don’t worry, we haven’t been monogamous since fourth grade, but that is when we first met and knew we liked each other.  I will always remember how Alex cut out his last name and glued it over mine while working on a school project.  Little did he know that I wasn’t the kind of girl to let my maiden name be covered up.  However, he obviously knew something, because here we are nearly two decades later, married, (albeit with hyphenated names…).

As you can see, I also have proof that I liked him then, as is evidenced by my silly lipstick marks imparted during a fifth grade sleepover.  Even if I never told him that I liked him back, he had to know.  And, I did.  I kept thinking about him all the way into my high school years, despite the fact that we both switched schools in fifth grade and did not see each other again for a long, long time, (or at least long in kid years).

That’s the funny thing about life.  You never know who is going to stick around and who isn’t.  So, when my fourth graders disclose that they like each other, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds.  In my admittedly unusual case, my fourth grade crush became my husband and my fourth grade best friend is still one of my bests.

For now, my fourth grade love story is still a secret in my classroom, but maybe sometime I’ll let them hear it, just to watch the expressions on their faces as they wonder whether they’re sitting next to their future spouses…

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Let’s get crackin’!

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“Mrs. M, can I tell everyone a joke before we get started?” my most challenging student leaned across his desk to ask.

“Umm, what is it?” I replied, cautious of some of his less appropriate attempts at humor.

“Let’s get crackin’!” he beamed, grinning like a 50s car salesman.

“Okay, that one will be fine, thanks for remembering to ask this time.”

Yesterday, two fourth grade classes sat in eager lines in our performing arts studio to drop their eggs from a 20 foot lift.  Peanut butter jars were the most popular choice, with varying degrees of success and post-drop mess.  Retrieval from the goop of peanut butter was the most fun or gross part, depending on who you asked.

Biggest thinking-outside-the-box points went to my student who brought a tall bucket of water and requested that her egg be dropped into it as it waited below on the tarp like a bullseye.  Despite a couple of misses/splats, the egg that made it into the bucket gracefully survived.

With around a 60% egg survival rate and 60 happy students, our egg drop was undoubtedly one of the most memorable parts of fourth grade.

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