Saturday, August 23, 2008

Don't Ever Say You Can't...

Last Friday a most unbelievable surprise took place at my school. A man named Tony Melendez was vistiting Greeley, and he said he had time to visit two schools. My school was one of them. Out of 30. I lost 30 minutes of instructional time on Friday. We skipped read-aloud. We cut Literacy block 15 minutes short. I had to get the kids ready to go home 30 minutes early. You know what, though? It was TOTALLY worth it!

This is Tony Melendez. And he visited our school!

Some of you may have heard of Tony Melendez before. For those of you who haven't, allow me to introduce him as best I can. Tony Melendez was born without arms, because his mother is one of the many who took Thalidimide when she was pregnant. But did that stop him? Absolutely not! Tony has lived a more-than-full life as a musician- he plays the guitar with his feet! And he plays very very well! I should know- he played many songs for my students! He has a music company called Toe Jam, and he goes around giving inspirational concerts and speeches.

When we first entered the gym on Friday, I wasn't sure about having an assembly so early in the year. When Tony insisted that all students jump up out of their seats, throw their fists in the air, and whoop "yeeha!!" after each verse of "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mount'n" I thought for sure that the whole thing would be a chaotic nightmare! what I hadn't expected was 600+ students grades 1 to 8 to be complete captivated and mesmorized by our guest. And when Tony began to speak his story, you could have heard a pin drop in that gymnasium- even the middle schoolers were engaged! Some students even had tears in their eyes.

What Tony did was show our students that they could do anything they set their minds on- even play a guitar and throw and catch a frisbee with their feet. He reminded them that it was never okay to settle for "I can't." This was by far the best assembly I have ever interrupted my class instructional time for. They learned more than I could ever teach them in that 30 minutes.

After the assembly I, of course, ran back to the classroom, got the kids on the bus, and then returned to the gym to snag a copy of one of his cds. If you're a fan of inspirational Christian music, you'll love Tony's music. The cd I picked was:

I also grabbed a copy of his book for my husband, who loves an inspirational read:

This was by far one of the highlights of my career- being given the privelage to meet this man in person and watch him perform and inspire!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom...

You've been there for all of my biggest moments and biggest days...

The day I was born (duh)...

The day I graduated from high school...

And the day I got married... to name a few.

I so wish I could be there for you on this big day for you - your birthday. Please know that I am thinking of you today and wishing I was there with you. Just think - next year I will be!

I love you more than you can know.

Happy Birthday, Mom.


Friday, August 15, 2008

My Hero...

Look what my husband bought for me this summer!!

Okay, let me start at the beginning, otherwise this could just seem really weird.

Have you ever looked inside of a child's desk at school? If you are a teacher, or a parent, then you know exactly what I am talking about. If you are not, let me take a minute to explain. An elementary school student has an unbelievable ability to stuff their desk to three times the capacity. This may not seem like much of a problem at first. Really, it's not that big of a deal, as long as you don't do one of two things. One, ask that particular child to find something and remove it from the desk in a timely manner. Two, try to move the desk to a new location. As long as you don't do either of these things, you're good. Unfortunately, the odds of a teacher not asking a student to get something out at some point during the day are slim to none. On top of that, when you do try to move that desk, the precariously stuffed "treasures" will inevitably explode from that desk onto the floor. Believe me, when you only have a 40 minute planning period to get a million things done, including moving those desks around, nothing will push you beyond your capacity of patience faster than this!

So, after three agonizing years of the desk battle, and many attempts at teaching "organization skills", I decided to try something new. My team teacher, who has been teaching for over 25 years, gave up on the desk game a long time ago. She now provides each one of her students with a "locker", or cubby. Her cubbies come in the form of rolling carts with plastic drawers. I couldn't find rolling carts with plastic drawers that were all the same size, had enough on each cart to keep me from buying a boat load of them, that wouldn't break the bank. After spending an entire summer searcing for something that would work, my amazing hubby discovered this little treasure at Lowe's.

Isn't it beautiful? It's actually designed for a child's closet, but if you turn it around backwards, it makes a perfect cubby for a fifth grader, don't you think?

And he bought it for me!

And he carried the big, heavy box in for me!

And he put it all together for me!

And then he took it into my classroom for me.

And you know what the best part is?

He did this six times for me!

And that's not even the Husband-of-the-year part! This wasn't some simple trip to Lowe's to get a few shelves. He took me to the Lowe's in Greeley, and bought me three of them. That was last month. Then, he took me to Lowe's in Greeley again a few days ago. They had two, but one was damaged, so he bought me the one. Then he drove 30 minutes to Loveland. They had one, so he bought it. Then he drove another 30 minutes to Fort Collins and bought me the last one. My wonderful hubby literally spent an entire day driving around Northern Colorado, all so that my kiddos could have cubbies when school started, and I could keep my sanity. Isn't he sweet?

Okay, you can all say it now. Awwwww!!!

Yesterday, these cubbies were put to the test when all my kiddos (32- in case you have forgotten. I haven't) came in like a whirlwind and filled them right up. They love them!

I sent them to specials 10 minutes after they walked in, so we didn't have time to actually get them hung back up, but you get the idea.

This was a huge investment for me, but it is a lasting one, and I am just tickled pink! These are my newest favorite part of my classroom! And my fifth graders actually think they're cool, so that's an added bonus!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The First Day...

Well, I did it! I survived my first day of school! This is officially the fourth time I have opened a new school year, and it was definitely the most eventful! Okay- I lied. The most eventful would be my first year when I had a student throw up everywhere. So this was my second most eventful first day!

This is me, first thing this morning. I was wide awake and ready to go! I always dress up a little for the first day. Tomorrow will be a different story! My husband just had to take a picture, because he so rarely sees me out of my pajamas!!

So every school year has its ups and downs, and this school year will be no different. I'm only a day in, so the course the year will take is still somewhat of a mystery to me. But as any teacher knows, you get a good idea that first day. Here is what I think so far:


I have 32 students in my classroom. My 32nd one was added five minutes before the bell rang. My first year of teaching, I had 18. My second year I had 22. Last year I had 25. So let me tell you- 32 feels like A LOT of kids. They are so close together in my room that seven table groups looks like one big long table when they are all sitting down. Wow!

They will not stop talking. When I am giving instructions, or doing a lesson, they are really good at listening and staying with me. The minute I ask them to do something- get out a notebook, put something away- they immediately start talking. Right now, I am 99% sure that the reason is because I let them choose their own seats this morning. I know- GASP!! I figured I would give it a try, since my team teacher does this with her fifth graders. I have news for you. I am NOT my team teacher. I must have order, and not chaos. Tomorrow I will promptly be adding name tags to each and every desk and assignning their seats. Maybe next quarter kiddos!


I have surely got to have the best students in the school. Okay, so there are a few that I already know I need to keep under my thumb, but overall, these kids are great! My class last year was so difficult- I stuggled all year to keep up with management. This group of kids is helpful, and polite, and they still hug me! Okay, I know what you're thinking. Wait 'til the "honeymoon period is over," right? We'll see, but so far I think they're great. And the fourth grade teachers said they were great. And teachers do not lie to each other out of the earshot of parents and students!

I knew almost every single one of my kids today. Last year I was so new I barely knew the other staff members, let alone any of the kids. This year I knew them before they showed up- partly from being here last year, and partly from all the awesome things we do to kick off the year. It was great. I was able to greet them by name as they walked in the room. And since I knew all the returning kiddos, I was able to focus on learning the names/faces/personalities of my new ones. It felt really good.

One more thing you won't believe:

Okay, so remember that big scary tornado thing that happened in Windsor this summer? That happened on my last day of school last year. So I officially ended the school year by huddling in the student bathrooms.

Guess where I kicked off the year? You got it- huddled in the student bathrooms! Allow me to start at the beginning.

After school today, I walked outside to see the kids onto their buses, and I saw some really ugly clouds in the distance. I said "ooh, scary skies!" I've really got to quit saying that, because it never goes well from there! Anyway, there I was standing in the hallway, begging my team teacher to hang out with me until the big bad storm went away, when another teacher came running up the hallway. We had gotten a call that a tornando had touched down by Northridge High School. Northridge and my school share the same property! Talk about running in the halls! I was booking it to the bathrooms!

Okay, so it was totally a false alarm- there was no torando. Why anyone would think there was and alert us, I don't know. But don't you think it's ironic- I started this school year the same way I ended the last one!

The good news?

After the roughest storms come the most beautiful rainbows!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A BBQ and a Walk About Town...

I teach at a school that is big on traditions. As a matter of fact, when I started there last year and went to the new teacher training, an entire hour was spent just teaching all us newbies about the many traditions at our new school. Throughout the year I will probably post about all of them, but today I am going to focus on the traditions that begin before the year even does

Fifth Grade Back-to-School Kick-Off bbq

Every year about a week before school starts, my team teacher and I throw a big bbq (at her house, of course- mine is WAY too small). We invite all of our incoming fifth graders and their parents. We have burgers and hot dogs, play games, and get to know each other. The best part is that we invite the kids on the last day of school, so they have all summer to be excited about it. Each kid brings something, and we do it pot-luck style, so Kathy and I spend next to nothing for an awesome evening of fun and memory making.

Of course, it took about 5 minutes for this group of girls to kick my volleyball over the fence! And being the princesses they are, they stood and stared at it while one of the boys climbed over!

If you look closely at this picture, you will see my husband's red head peeking out over all the rest. He always endures these activities, and he always gets put on "tend to the kids while we talk to parents" duty! He really is worthy of the Husband-of-the-year award!

And what back-to-school event would be complete without a parent pow-wow? This is my team teacher and I filling parents in on what to expect come next year. I really didn't stand there with my finger in my mouth the whole time- I talked, too. My husband just has really poor timing. LOL!

I love this tradition, because by the time Back-to-School Night, Parent Information Night, and the first day of school roll around, I have already gotten to know my kids a bit, I can put faces with names, I know who is friends with who, and I've met most of the parents. For these reasons, the first day of school starts more smoothly, because parents aren't meeting me for the first time, and they don't hang around to ask me a lot of questions. They drop their kids off, head to work, and we start the day right on time!


Another tradition we have at our school, is one we call "Walk-Abouts." For this one, we actually drive into the neighborhoods where our students live. We are a school of choice in our district, so we have kids from all over town, so we have to split this activity between two nights to get all the neigborhoods in. What we do when we get there is exactly what it sounds like we do:

We all march in a huge group into each neighborhood.

We start going around to houses and calling kids out. We usually only knock on one or two doors before the other kids in the neighborhood know we're there. Then we have a street full of kids coming to see us!

While we're there we also have fun with the kids. This is a picture of two teachers and a student who all traded their flip flops around!

And we always end up with a tour guide-usually with wheels- who voluteers to go around the neighborhood with us and point out all the houses where the kids live.

The most imporant thing we do during this trip is let the kids know that we love them, and that we are excited to see them when school starts. This is a really good way to get kids excited about the fresh school year, welcome new families to our school family, allow new students to meet their teachers, and let the kids know that we are thinking about them before the school year even gets under way.

So there you have it! Two awesome traditions that we have at my school. They both require a little more time on our parts to accomplish, but the benefit of the environment it creates for us as a school and a community of learners is totally worth it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Trip Back in Time...

A few weeks ago some friends of ours invited us to go to Colorado's annual Renaissance Festival. When I told my husband this, he said, "What?! It's going to be full of weird people dressed in costumes- like a Star Wars convention, only dorkier!!" I thought he was just being crabby because he had to miss his Fantasy Football draft to go, but you know what? He was totally right!! It was way cheesy, but that only means it was right up my alley!

I knew that it was going to be a ridiculously fun day when I saw these (and proceeded to make my husband and friends stick their heads in every single one of them for a picture)!

And this was before we even entered the actual park! Once we did enter, the fun really began!

My husband was absolutely right. This place was just full of people totally decked out in medieval gear. Weird, fun, crazy people! There were just people scattered everywhere, and they never got out of character! It got to where it was hard to tell which people worked for the festival, and which people were just citizens that got WAY into this whole thing!

Within minutes of entering the park, I got my first medieval insult! There are these pretzel vendors that carry around these crazy racks of pretzels- they are seriously, like four feet tall, and there are just rows and rows of bread pretzels. Needless to say, I was somewhat intrigued when the first vendor walked by. I guess it was pretty obvious that I was interested, because the guy looked at me, and he didn't miss a beat. He said to me, accent and all, "Ma'am, stop staring at my rack!" This got me, and several people within ear-shot, cracking up. Everyone there was jolly and jovial, and just looking to have a lot of fun!

Speaking of insults, one of the best things there was this "insult game". In case you can't tell, that is a tomato in my husband's hand. And yes, he is throwing that tomato at a person. But before you worry about anger issues and violent tendencies, let me tell you- the guy totally deserved it! He was throwing insults at my poor hubby that are too graphic for me to even mention here! Hey- for five bucks, what self-respecting male wouldn't throw tomatoes at some poor, sarcastic clown? (By the way- because of where I was standing to take this shot, I had tomato slop all over me for the rest of the day.)

Doesn't he look like he is just asking for it?

Not all of the games were violent, tomato-in-the-face games. They also had other man-must-prove-himself sort of games. Take this one for example: your classic test of strenth game:
What carnival would be complete without all the men swinging an overgrown hammer at a lever that tells them how strong they are? For the record, here's where my husband scored:

But, the first swing must have really taken it out of him, because here is where he scored the second time around:

But don't let him take ALL the credit. He's not the only one that paid two dollars to play a game! I was brave and tried my own luck, too! I don't need a man to win me a prize! As a matter of fact, I was rather impressive at the hit-the-frog-into-the-bucket game!

As a matter of fact, I was so good that I won this fantastic prize:

A plastic fly! Can you see how thrilled I was when I learned what I had won?

Aaron played this game twice, and I played it once, so I figure this little plastic fly cost us $6.00! And we only had to pull money out of "Ye Old ATM" once! Now how's that for budgeting?!! Dave Ramsey- eat your heart out!

The day wasn't just all about games and fabulous prizes, either! There were several shows there as well. There were hypnotists, acrobats, comedians, and dancers. The best show we went to was called "The Washing Well Winches." They were absolutely hysterical. Their entire show was based on flirting with all the men in the audience and making them do embarassing things for their significant others. It was hilarious! One poor guy had to run out into the square, put on a pair of HUGE tighty whities, and at the top of his lungs yell, "When I wear my man pants, I can do anything!" All to earn his wife a pink rose! It was close to the funniest show I have ever seen! I was laughing so hard, I only managed to get one picture:

This poor man doesn't know it yet, but he is about to wear that entire bucket of water- all because he criticized the cleanliness of their laundry!

And what renaissance day would be complete without a good old fashioned joust?

Okay, so maybe the day was totally cheesy, but it was super fun. We played some fun games, ate some great food (nothing like a turkey leg and steamed asparagus to fill you up), saw some incredible creatures,

and spent time with friends. These are our good friends Stephanie and Junior (you make recognize Steph as one of my bridesmaids), and their beautiful daughter Madelyn.

And the most important thing is we spent time with each other.

Overall we had a great time, and we would do it again in a heartbeat! We thoroughly enjoyed our breif trip back in time!

Until next year... Fare Thee Well- Good Journey!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

And So it Begins...

So, if you aren't a teacher, or my mom, you probably won't be very excited about this post. But for me, one of the biggest and best times of the year is the back-to-school sales. I remember getting excited about school shopping as a kid, and it is ten times as wonderful as a teacher. I just love to go get all my new things, and imagine all the possibilities for my classroom. It's that fresh start, every year. I always end the big shopping day thinking, "this year is going to be my best yet." So, last week I got to do my annual shopping spree, and I thought I would share my treasures with those of you who might actually be interested. (Mom- that means you keep reading, this is not optional!)

The first thing everyone will see when they walk down the hallway to my classroom is my "Welcome" bulletin board, so I will start there. My original plan was to put "Fifth Graders Rock" and then have all my students' names written on rocks. Would you believe it- nobody sells rock bulletin board cut-outs! (Unless they are for a science bulletin board, but then they're labeled and wouldn't work at all). So, then I ran across these adorable penguins, and the cute ice border, and I HAD to have it. So, my new plan is to put "Fifth Graders are CHILL: Creative, Hard-working, Intelligent, Life-long Learners!" Then I'll write all their names on the penguins and igloos. I know- fifth graders are so not into "cute" anymore. But I am, so they will learn to deal!

Every year so far I have tried to go with a theme and then match everything- name tags, bulletin boards, labels, etc. - to that theme. This year there were so many designs that caught my eye, I just picked out all the borders I liked, and I figured I could make them all work. So here are my awesome discoveries! Hopefully you can click on the picture and enlarge it for detail- sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't.

And, as you know, the borders aren't even the half of it. It's what you put on the bulletin boards that count. (Duh!) Seeing as I am the Social Studies teacher for the entire fifth grade, and seeing as how it is an election year, I figured the Presidential Election Process bulletin board was essential. In our district, fifth grade curriculum starts with the Civil War, so I went ahead and grabbed a brand new shiny bulletin board set for that. And what fifth grade classroom would be complete without our wonderful presidents strung up along the wall for all to see?

And of course you can't call it good without posters, posters, and more posters! Birthday charts, Literature Genres, Descriptive words, and blank ones for Goodness-knows-what! You gotta have them all! (Especially when they're all on sale!!) The real trick will be to find places to hang them all.

I don't know if I will even use name tags this year- I am going to "experiment" with letting them be "grown up" and choose their seating, like in middle school. But seriously, I think I would have felt terribly disappointed and just not right if I didn't buy labels and tags on this shopping trip. It's like a teaching staple- like milk on a grocery shopping trip. You just always get it, right?

And last, but not least, all these wonderful supplies. If you're wondering, those pink and blue things are shower caddies that I found in the dorm room department. Weird, huh?

Not when you see how cool they look with all this stuff in them! These are going to be my supply trays- one for each table group. Gone are the days of digging in desks and sitting idle because you can't find the supply you need! In reality, where I work, many kids don't have the supplies they need, so I would never dream of starting the school year without a well-stocked classroom. And don't they just look so cool and fifth grade-ish this way?

So there you have it- my annual back-to-school shopping spree. For real, the main reason I did this post is because every year so far, the first thing I have done after this trip is run over to my mom's house with all my bags and show her all of my treasures. And this year I couldn't do that. So this is my way of showing off. And hopefully there are some others who can at least see a little entertainment value in it!