Tag Archives: Teaching

Field Day: Dunk Tank, Cotton Candy & the Heimlich

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If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you get the point.  I survived my first year teaching and am happy about it.  You’re probably hoping my brain moves onto something else soon…

So, today’s post will be short and sweet, just some pictures from today’s field day to mark the true end of my first year teaching.  After months of walking in silent lines and more-or-less following directions the first time, the students were rewarded with a free day of just fun, no official learning.

The weather was perfect, the kids had a blast, and I somehow avoided the dunk tank despite the chanting of my name.  Good thing my students didn’t earn those last four points…  Even more memorable, however, I successfully administered the Heimlich Maneuver to a student with a wad of cotton candy stuck in his throat.  The poor kid look terrified, my heart beat through my chest.  Afterward, I hugged him like he was family as the other students cheered.  By the way, I’m now officially a pro at saving choking children, even gave some lessons to interested parents after school.

Enough of that, I promised short.

With these happy pictures, hurrary for the end!

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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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Anticipation Junkie

Four more days of school, then seven weeks of glorious summer.

If I haven’t made myself annoyingly clear, I’m an anticipation junkie.  Half the thrill for me is envisioning the future.  Life moves so quickly.  The real thing is over before you know it, but if you look forward to it first, it lasts longer.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

So, in an effort to stretch out my summer before it even starts, here is what I’m looking forward to most:

1. Road trip to Olympia with my teacher lady friends! (Hello Portland, dirty bars, roller derby, beautiful coastline, our special version of Flat Stanley, and a raucous good time… Sometimes I wonder if people really know what elementary school teachers are like in their off hours… I didn’t!)

The fourth/fifth grade team dressed up like Viola Swamp to scare the children, told you we’re fun 😉

2.  Kauai.  Think the complete opposite of above road trip.  Peace, quiet, sunshine, beach.

See, I already have the crucial supplies ready!

3.  Mt. Shasta, CA.  Time with my mom, sitting under the pines, swimming in the lake, snacks at the Goat Tavern, hot springs soaking in Ashland, OR.

See Mom, I am excited to come visit you!

4.  WRITING.  As much as I’m excited for all of the trips above, I might be even more excited for the time to write.  I’m ready to do my final polishing of my book (AGAIN) and submit to 31 agents in 31 days in July.  WOOT.

Only a little more work left before I can submit! No thanks to Simon…

5.  General summerness.  Time with my dog, husband, family, friends.  Impromptu road trips to Napa for yummy Ad Hoc lunch, San Francisco Giants games, the Pelican Inn and Muir Beach.  Days spent floating in my dad’s pool, lazing about at teacher pool parties, thrifting, reading and sleeping.

More time with these guys!

Okay, just one more, because he’s so stinkin’ cute.  Clearly, I’m obsessed.  Watch out when I have kids…

See, now I’m excited, and summer hasn’t even officially started.  Thank you anticipation, I don’t care what people say about the present, you’re pretty cool too.

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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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Teaching: I’m a First-Year Survivor

As I prepare to wrap up my first official year of teaching on my own, I find myself hyper reflective.

This year I’ve successfully administered the Heimlich Maneuver, managed various student anxiety and focus disorders, broken up near fist fights, and provided outlets for students to express themselves about challenging home lives that include everything from parents in prison to neglect and abuse.  I’ve grinned my teeth and beared it while being yelled at by parents, coughed on by sick students, and hated by those few kids that take an extra long time to learn how to trust.

I’ve taken deep breaths when my class would not be quiet or that one student felt the need to put on a show…

In short, I’ve survived.

But, I’ve also done more than survive.  I’ve fallen in love with every one of my students.  I’ve successfully led two back-to-school days in a room stuffed full with parents and navigated two field trips without losing any kids.  I’ve built a classroom out of practically nothing and learned how to shuffle to Party Rock.  I’ve scrounged together jackets for cold kids and field trip money for our Exploratorium adventure.  I’ve laughed uncontrollably and become a much tougher person.  I’ve pushed respect, caring, and the creation of a classroom family.

“Mrs. M, you’re kind of like my mom because you love us and spend all day with us.”

“Yes, I guess in a weird way, I kind of am.”

So even if the days are long, the work is hard, and I often feel like I barely survived, I’ll be back next year, ready to do it again with my same kids as they move on to fifth grade.

H-U-S-K-I-E-S, Huskies are the very best…

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College for Certain

The charter school organization that I work for has a slogan, College for Certain.

Today, I watched what this means in my classroom.  After a field trip to Sac State yesterday, my students came in eager to talk about college.  Finally able to run their own morning meetings, I eavesdropped from my back table as our Husky of the Day, (our classroom is UW themed),  decided to ask the group where they wanted to go to college.

One by one they eagerly shared their top picks.  Duke, Harvard, UCLA, Sac State, UC Davis, Stanford…  An eclectic mix, no doubt, but a much more thought-out selection than you would have received at my predominantly white, middle class elementary school in fourth grade.

Listening to their lists, I was struck by the significance of their self-created conversation.  They nodded in support as new colleges were introduced and gave excited connection signals when their favorite schools were mentioned.  Some kids had already picked their future college roommates among their classmates.

It reminded me of my first experiences teaching as a guest teacher at a private school in East Sacramento.  There I had been blown away by the conversations that third graders would approach me with– “Ms. O’Bryon, would you like to hear my top five list of colleges?”

College, I thought, aren’t you a little young to have that list prepared?

Young or not, I’m glad that my students, a diverse mix of predominantly low-income kids, are receiving the inspiration necessary to share the same goals with their more affluent peers on the other side of town.


Every Friday is college shirt day at my school. My favorite, above, features all of the colleges that our students were accepted to last year.

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Summer in 8, 7, 6…

Today marked 8 instructional days until summer vacation.  Tomorrow leaves 7.  Needless to say, I’m excited.

Over the moon would not be an exaggeration, (although my students would happily tell you that this is both an idiom and a hyperbole!).

It has been a long, hard “first” year.  I am ready for mid-week teacher pool parties (yes, these really exist), Saturday night concerts in East Sac, a Pacific Northwest road trip, plenty of time to work on my book, plenty of time to read other people’s books, and a week in Kauai.

Maybe I’m a little over ambitious.  Regardless, I am determined to make every last second of it count.  Bring on 7 weeks of bliss, I’m ready.

I leave you with my summer anthem.  It truly stays stuck in my head for weeks:

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Oh, May.

While other teachers count down the days until summer, I childishly declare my love for May.  In fact, May might just be my favorite month of the teaching year!  I think it goes back to that correlation between anticipation and happiness– May is like the Friday of teaching.

Oh, May.

You bring two weeks of testing,
With four minimum days.
Oh, how I love thee,
Let me count the ways.

First there is time,
Each day out by four,
No more long evenings,
Watching the door.

Second there is sunshine,
Evenings stretch before dark,
Time to do yoga,
And take the dog to the park.

Last there is teaching,
With the tests over and done,
More time for history,
For art, and for fun.

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A Happy Little Story…

Today was one of those days that I remembered why I like teaching.  Please understand, there are many days that I forget.  Between challenging behaviors, long hours, and pressure to have high test scores, it can be easy to lose sight of why I chose this profession.

Today I remembered.

After school, I work with a group of students that need extra academic support.  One student, a girl who is routinely behaviorally challenging and does not easily express herself with words, did not feel like learning.  It was too much hard work.  As the other students worked away at converting fractions to decimals on their white boards, she gave up.

However, our little group decided that we were not leaving her behind.  She had to do the hard work whether she liked it or not because we believed she could.  Still, she didn’t believe in herself.

To sweeten the deal, I told the students we would have a party if she could figure it out.  Reluctantly, she and another student went to the back of the room and worked diligently for twenty minutes.  They called me back.  She still could not do it.

I told them to keep working, and they did, until finally she was able to show me she that understood.  The look on her face told me she was proud.  We were all proud.  The students cheered, the CD player flew on, and we danced, and laughed, and played catch with their stuffed class mascot, a Husky.

Still, the student was quiet.  She was too busy doing something to join us.  I didn’t know what it was.  Then, she appeared, proudly holding up what she had typed on her Barbie laptop, her show-and-tell for the day:

Mrs. M, You’re Nice.

I smiled, she smiled, then she joined the dance party.  The afternoon light soaking through my windows, happy children dancing because they were proud to learn and help each other, I felt happy.  I danced too.

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Every nerd has her day.

Are you from Harvard?

Are you a professor?

Are you a nerd?

No, I’m just highly intelligent.

That’s what I told my students every time they inquired about my attire today.  It was Nerd Day.  Every Wednesday in April, we dress up with a different theme for the equivalent of a pep rally to get kids excited about the otherwise dull act of taking the STAR test.  We started the day in the gym, rocking out to Teach Me How to Study, (aka Teach Me How to Dougie).  The result: students loved it, I’m pretty sure that nerd fashion will be making an instant comeback, and that silly song is still stuck in my head.

Teach me how to study, 
All my teachers love me.

While I was happy to dress up, I realized that it hit a nerve.  I was a nerd, am a nerd, will always be a nerd, and, let’s be honest, people are not always nice to nerds.  I remember walking around high school keeping my intelligence very quiet because it didn’t feel cool.  Heck, even my own siblings gave me a hard time about studying all of the time. 

So, today, I dawned my nerd gear, (items that I regularly wear anyway, just not all at once), and set off to tell the world that I’d rather be called highly intelligent than a nerd.  It felt good.  I let my nerd flag fly. 

Who knew that telling ten year olds that it is better to label people as highly intelligent than as nerds would feel so cathartic?  I guess it makes sense that a nerd would grow up to be a teacher.  Who better to love school and push others to do the same? 

Today, this nerd, I mean highly intelligent person, had her day.

My best nerd face.
It’s a good day when the sparkly Toms make the cut.

Sidenote:  I can take no credit for finding this YouTube gem, the other teachers on my team are responsible!

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Willingness to Fail & Succeed!

As a new teacher, I feel like I fail in new and exciting ways everyday.  I say exciting because I have to remind myself that failure shows us how to live better.  In fact, since I stopped being afraid of failing, I opened myself up to pursuing endeavors that actually excite me.

Before, it was too demoralizing to think that I might fail at something that I really loved.  I mean, think about it.  You finally go after your dreams, don’t achieve them, and then what?  What are you left with?  I feared that if I lost the dreams, then I’d really hit bottom.

Fortunately, my view of failure magically shifted.  I realized that the people who achieve anything worthwhile, fail, then try again, and again, and again.  So, here I am, “failing” in little ways at teaching and writing on a regular basis, but still doing them both anyway.  In fact, I’d wager that my little failures help me get better everyday.  And, at least now, my dreams are potentially achievable.  I was getting nowhere by protecting them from failure.

This may seem obvious, or repetitive with things I have said before, but it’s a reminder that I have to give myself all of the time.  Even though I also have little successes everyday, it is still the failures that keep me striving to improve.  Why are some of my students still not learning?  Why is that student still so behaviorally challenging? Why does that whole section of my book still feel like it sucks?

Now, here’s the thing, focusing on our failures may seem pessimistic or overly harsh, but I disagree.  As long as we also celebrate our successes, failure is our chance to grow, to take action, and to be amazing!


On this note of eventual success, I want to express my gratitude for two unexpected sources of generosity today:

Out of the blue, my stepdad and mom solicited a donation from O’Bon for a class set of colored pencils, (and, these aren’t just any colored pencils, they’re eco-friendly, durable, and just-plain cute!).  My kind helpers were inspired by a story from my classroom when students received their own packs of crayons, (also thanks to my stepdad).  The kids were so excited that they cheered.  Ever since then, we’ve colored coded EVERYTHING we do and the students are much more engaged in their note-taking, math lessons, and worksheets as a result.  Amazing what a little color and art can do to stimulate the brain!

Thanks Dave, Mom, and O’Bon!

Seriously cool art supplies!  Click here to check out O’Bon’s site!

I don’t know what was in the air today, but a parent also called to offer to buy pizzas for our class lunch party tomorrow.  We’re celebrating the learning growth of students that kicked butt on their spring tests and her daughter was among the highest performers.  Because our school serves a very low-income population, I often have trouble getting basic supplies, (like kleenex and dry erase markers), so the offer for pizza was extra generous!  The parent told me that she was just grateful for how much I’d helped her daughter grow.  This touched my heart and reminded me that even amidst the failures, there are still a lot of successes to celebrate!

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Luck & Hard Work

Luck and hard work can be very easy to confuse.  I work hard, but I do not always feel lucky with the results.  Teaching, in particular, often leaves me questioning the correlation between the two.  Maybe it is true of anything that is a craft– that the hard work takes longer to pay off.  
It is just so easy to think that successful people are lucky and forget the role that hard work plays in their success.  I know that I often catch myself thinking that published writers are lucky.  However, I also know that they put in a ton of work and refuse to give up, which ultimately matters more than luck.  After all, you will never publish anything if you do not write it or pitch it in the first place.  Maybe, then, the secret is not luck, but that successful people are the ones that do not give up.
I’m trying to remind myself of this, to keep myself motivated.  The ironic part is that I remind my students of this all of the time.  “This is hard!” they’ll say.  “Yes, life is hard, and you have a choice.  Either you can work hard at it and be successful, or you can give up and never succeed.”  I’m pretty sure that I said this at least five times this week.  Funny how sometimes we do not hear our own words.

I thought that you might also like the reminder to make your own luck.  If, like me, you’re pursuing a creative endeavor that would benefit from online networking, check out this great post about making your own luck.

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