A Quick Update

     First and foremost, Dr. Funke is doing great.  To the left is a picture of him balancing on an exercise ball.  I am balancing the ball, but let's see any of you do that.  By any of you, I mean anyone that may still be checking this after some three months of inactivity.  
     The year has been great.  I love being a sort-of-new teacher.  I'm no longer surprised or interested in school politics, but I still love being in the classroom and have a fire beneath me.  Some things will be easier next year, TPNB.  
     We started the year with only 17 kids and it was great!  Looping (keeping the same kids) has been wonderful.  I knew them, they knew me, we got right to business.  There were only 17 kids in each 2nd grade and about 30 in each Kindergarten so The Principal asked one of the second grade teachers to switch to K, (three weeks ago!) and I absorbed six new kids.  
     The six new kids are great, but they are not trained like the original seventeen.  I swear, Mrs. R taught them to speak over me.   They have no independent problem solving skills, and they still call me "Teacher."  If they can't learn my name how can they learn to add while trading ones for tens?  A skill that the Others are not picking up as fast as the originals.  What had they been doing during Math every day?  Obviously not looking ahead.  Did she just think she could teach the rules and not the reasons?  I still can't believe what awful foundations she's given them.  How can I catch them up without dragging the originals down?  Ah.   Each day is a little better than the one before, though, and really that's all I can ask.
     And moving from first grade to second grade?  Fabulous.  Second graders are perfect.  They worship me and I relish it.  
     Some resolutions are being met.  My window has been decorated each of the past three months.  We've had personalized spelling lists each week.  The original kids have almost all started a chapter book or two, but I'm still having trouble getting the Others to read independently.  I guess that rambling paragraph above counts as reflection on math?
     All in all the year's going well.  I love my kids.  


New School Year Resolutions

     I've decided to make some resolutions for this new school year.  I'm publishing them because they say that if you share your goals you're more likely to achieve them.  I'm aware of only one person who reads this regularly, but this still counts as sharing, right TPNB?

1.  More thoughtful math instruction.  We're a Reading First school, which kind of means we have a strong focus on reading and language arts instruction.  I'll work to hold myself accountable and find my own research regarding math in my room.

2.  Semi-personalized spelling lists every week.  10 words the whole class has, 5 words based on your Words Their Way developmental level.  

3.  Something cute on the door once a month.  (This means one art project a month.  Cute is not my strength.)

4.  Get my friend Grant to do a magic show as a reward for... something.

5.  Learn (and remember) a few Russian words from my Russian kids.

6.  Make time for reflection, even if I have to do it by myself.  

7.  Learn something, ANYTHING, from my mandatory English as a Second Language endorsement classes.

8.  Get all kids, regardless of level, reading chapter books by winter break.  Not to stop reading picture books, I love them.  I want my kids to know how to remember what's going on in a book and how to pick up where they let off.  

9.  Keep my room clean enough that I'm not embarrassed when other teachers come in.  

10.  Wear more of my awesome high heel collection.  Because the kids love purple patent leather too.


I've Found my Next Dream Job

   Three years after our honeymoon Steve and I decided we might want to take another trip together.  So we booked a cruise and headed to the Caribbean.  While on the beautiful island of St. Thomas I found my next dream job.  (I already have a pretty good job.)  And the winner is: Curator of a Pirate Museum.  Curator of a pirate museum?  Yes.
     What's so great about Blackbeard's Castle?  I'll give you the short list.  It's a sentry tower built in the 1670s by the Danes to keep pirates out of the bay.  Sometime during the early 1700s the infamous Edward Teach, Blackbeard himself, commandeered it.  It's now surrounded by four era homes and a hotel. Scattered throughout the beautiful garden are statues of various vicious pirates.  My favorite is Anne Bonney.  She's the one standing between us, baring her breast and aiming her musket at the cameraman.  Her short biography will strike fear into any young husband's soul.  

Additional perks:  It's the first museum I've been to with a full bar and and a swimming pool.  There's also quite the gun display.  And though I oppose owning firearms on every count, I think being a pirate is one exception.  
     So why am I considering switching careers (and zip codes)?  1.  I love pirates.  2.  All either curator did was make me a smoothie and tell me which door to go out.  Seemed like a pretty easy gig.    


Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot

     I've decided that this year we'll focus more on finding and enjoying 'just right' books.  Because my kids' reading levels are so varied, I think my biggest challenge is going to be getting my lowest readers into reading. (Isn't this every teachers biggest challenge?)  But it's going to happen because I've been searching far and wide for easier chapter books.  I've found a series that I think most of my kids will like, and I know my Makhammat will love.  Here is Ricky Riotta's Mighty Robot.

     Ricky Ricotta is a small mouse.  He's very bullied and very lonely.  As Ricky struggles, an evil scientist, Dr. Stinky McNasty, is busy programing his mighty robot to destroy the city of Squeakyville.  A friendship forms between Ricky and Mighty Robot that changes them both.

What I liked:
  • It's a graphic novel!  Great for kids who still need the pictures to help remind them what's going on.
  • Dr. Stinky McNasty is a great name for a rat villain.
  • It's an actual chapter book.  Sometimes easy books are shaped like chapter books, but don't actually have chapters.  My smart, brilliant kids know the difference and don't like that their books don't have chapters.  
  • There's "flip-o-rama action scenes" where you flip the pages and the illustrations come to life.  
  • At the end there are step-by-step instructions for how to  draw the robot and the lizard monster.
  • There's actually a moral to this ridiculous story: "that's what friends are for."

What I didn't like:
  • Alright, alright.  It's a lame series.  I do worry a little that some kids will think they only can read a certain series (a problem I discovered in summer school.)  I hope we can try to stretch beyond the series after a while.  
     I'm overwhelmed with series for second graders.  What I would like to find is some real children's literature.  With chapters.  If you know of any at the K-1-2 level, I'd love to hear about it.


The Wanderer

     In The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech, Sophie, three uncles, and two cousins set off on a sailing adventure from Connecticut to England to visit Bompie, father to the uncles, grandfather to the cousins.  Along the way, the uncles and cousins come to better understand Sophie and what she's been coping with.  The storms on the sea and the storms between the crew are told by Sophie and Cody (a cousin) as they write in their sea logs.  
     Note: I love Sharon Creech.  She is one of my favorite authors.  If this book sounds wrong for you, try another of hers.  You will not be disappointed, I've never been.

What I liked:
  • Sharon Creech hides a secret about Sophie so well that when it started to come out, I had to re-read the last forty pages to see what I'd missed.
  • The chapters all have names, not just chapter 7.  
  • The juggling Cody teaches the crew becomes something more.  It becomes a better way for Sophie to escape unpleasant situations.
  • The chapters alternate between the voice of Sophie and the voice of Cody.  This format makes the book move real fast.
  • Even while writing the two voices, Creech keeps them clear and different.
  • Sophie asks the best and most simple questions to the adults.  Why didn't you marry her if you love her?  Why don't you work at a job you like?  Why can't I be different?  
  • Not all female writers are good at writing for a boy, and not all male writers are good at writing for a girl.  Sharon Creech is good at writing for a boy.  Cody is very believable.  His words sound like a ten year-old boy.
  • Cody reminds me of my younger brother, Jo.  Usually in trouble, always talking, maybe not that interested in school, but very good with people.  It's Cody's patience and love that help Sophie overcome her past and unlock her memories.  He even learns how to handle the snotty cousin Brian.  Like Jo, he occasionally says very profound and insightful things, for a goofball.  Here is his theory on people, pg. 226
  '"You know," he said, "maybe that's all anybody wants, is to be useful... And to have somebody else notice it."

What I didn't like:
  • I know that Creech's work is often set in very beautiful and well described settings.  The Wanderer is.  But I just can't relate to a childhood of rowing and boating and sailing and swimming in natural bodies of water.  It may be because I've lived all my life land-locked, but it was hard to imagine.
  • The kids and uncles are always throwing around words like aft, fore, trysails, and gale.  Since I've grown up land-locked, I don't know much about sailing or coastal weather.  It made some parts a little hard to follow.  


The Borning Room

     I've just finished The Borning Room by Paul Fleischman.  It's a story of a Georgina Lott born in Ohio during the 1850s.  The story is told through the happenings in the borning room, a room set aside for delivering children and death.  As her story is told, Fleischman weaves in issues happening at that time.  Runaway slaves and emancipation, news of the civil war, doctors taking over the role of midwives and their use of chloroform, electricity, sewing machines, and in her later life the Great War.  

What I liked:
  • The midwife speaks in a German/English mix.  A mild reminder that we never did speak only one language in the U.S.  
  • The Lott family discusses what is right vs. what is law.  Should they harbor a run away slave?  Should women have the right to vote?  Should you have to fight if you are drafted into the war?  It shows that things change bottom up and that we don't have to wait for the top.
  • The grandfather and an aunt live in the house, as does Georgina and her husband after their marriage.  Maybe I like my family too much, but I like the idea of a multi-generational household.  It takes a village and it's great that they chose their own village.
  • You always learn a little something from historical fiction.
What I didn't like:
  • The Lott family is always on the side of right.  I don't know anybody that enlightened. 
  • The chapters are long and the dialogue is, well, boring.
  • As the grandfather lies in the borning room dying, he is visited by various ministers who are working to get him to repent of his pagan ways so he can go to Heaven.  It was an uncomfortable scene.
  • Mr. Fleischman writes a scene where Georgina labors through a birth in the borning room.  I just couldn't swallow how he, a man, had written the birth.  He describes it vaguely, but as very painful.  It's very negative. 
What I'm not sure if I liked or not:
     During the mother's last pregnancy her husband convinces her to switch from the care of the experienced midwife to the care of a doctor, fresh from med school.  The doctor uses chloroform and of course has no idea what he's doing, and it ends terribly.  I like that it's the traditional lay midwife with the knowledge and experience and common sense who is vindicated.  I hated that the father is so impressed by a medical degree.  It reminds me too much of how things are today.  Say 'midwife' out loud and men pounce on you for being dangerous and haphazard.  


Crayons and rulers and chalk, oh my!

     Yesterday I received my Shopko flyer from the post person.  First page in?  Back to school specials!  24 pack Crayola: $0.20, limit 4.  Tool boxes (pencil boxes): $0.50, limit 4.  Composition notebooks: $0.50, limit 6.  Elmer's glue: $0.20, limit 4.  
     You probably noticed that those prices are unbeatable.  You may have noticed that there is a strict limit on all the items I need.  Saying, "Please?  I'm a teacher in a needy school." Does not work on the hardened Shopko employee.  
     I get around this issue with the help of my family.  Mom, husband, and three younger brothers absolutely love to take a big trip where we all put the same thing in our basket, then check out one right after the other, then repeat. Dad and older brother are not interested in helping.
     So, if you need school supplies, and you live near a Shopko, there's a great sale that lasts Friday, July 16 to Saturday, July 24.  Check it out.    


A Close Shave

I thought I'd try the new grooming, vet, boarding all in one pet center that opened near me.  The vet was wonderful, she was friendly and knowledgeable.  I'm sure the boarding is great.  But the groomer butchered my dog.  Now you may look at the picture above and say 'Hey, that's not so bad.' But it is.  It is not what I asked for.  The one best thing I love about Toby's features is his beard.  I asked them to leave his beard.  It's gone.  So are his whiskers!  Now instead of my shaggy JRT he looks like a spotted Italian Grey Hound with deer ears.  Looks like it's back to PetCo next time.  The picture on top is his before.  The bottom is his after.  


I finally finished Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff.  Here's the review:

What I liked:
  • I didn't read the dust jacket before I started it, so everything was a surprise.
  • Hollis and Josie (her elderly foster care provider) develop a really interesting relationship.  Hollis has never cared for anybody much, until she finds someone who really needs some care.  Hollis protects her, feeds her, handles her money, and learns to love her.
  • The "pictures" of Hollis Woods are the pictures she draws as a talented artist, and the author describes each with an accompanying memory.
  • The picture, chapter, picture, chapter lay out helped transition between past and present without my thinking "Wait, is this now, or a different time?"
  • Hollis has great emotions through the book.  It's hard to imagine a twelve-year-old feeling so much guilt and anxiety about her behavior.  But Giff writes it very convincingly.
  • There's a great happy ending that is a perfect picture of unconditional love.
What I didn't like:
  • Waiting in suspense for one-hundred twenty pages to find out what Hollis did while living with the Regans.
  • That Steven doesn't tell his parents where Hollis and Josie are.
  • Hollis calls Mr. Regan "the Old Man."  This drove me nuts. Nuts.



Yesterday I finished Flush, by Carl Hiaasen.  

What I liked about it:
  • Love that it's about a rogue environmentally vigilant family.  Their native Florida Key waters have been polluted, and the Underwood family is going to make it right by proving it was that unscrupulous Dusty Muleman and his Coral Queen casino boat. 
  • It's a little bit of a mystery.
  • The kids' parents are having marital problems (which gives us kids something to relate to.)
  • Noah and Abby (the Underwood children) live a kid's dream-life.  They live right on the water and fish and boat all summer. 
  • I love the Shelly character.  She's a large peroxide blonde with tons of tattos who occasionally beats up her live-in boyfriend.  I like her because she's rough around the edges. It's a nice reminder that someone whose lifestyle makes us nervous can still stand up and save the day.
What I didn't like:
  • Noah and Abby have too perfect a relationship for a brother and sister. It was too syrupy.
  • I didn't like when Shelly took back Lice, even after he stole her money and ran away.
  • I HATED that even though the Underwood family finds proof that Dusty Muleman is contaminating their water, and even though it's a big crime, and even though he should be locked away and his business license revoked, he gets nothing more than a slap on the wrist.  This part of the fiction was too realistic for me.


Shiba Inu puppy.

Shiba Inu adult.

They're beautiful dogs.

School's been out for about three weeks now and I am officially bored.  I've been teaching summer school at my old love (Washington Elementary.)  It goes from 8:00 to 12:00, Monday through Thursday.  The sixteen hour work week isn't really filling my time.  I allow myself one outing right after work every day, just to places like the mall and... the other mall.  It's lame, but it gives me another hour or two out of the house.  Right after I get home I walk the dog (in the hottest part of the day so it tires him.) Then I watch one hour of TV and try to be productive after that.  Boredom is my weakness.  I was in the same situation last year when I finally broke down and bought a puppy.  So far I've found myself: emailing USU and U of U about masters programs,walking Toby 4 times in a day, vacuuming every day (who does that?), buying my brother lunch, cleaning the fish bowl, and looking into adopting a Shiba Inu.  I've gotta find myself something to do.  There are only 20 hours of summer school left and then I'll have NOTHING.  Maybe I'll take up the cello.