Answer ME!

I’m at a different local caffeniation station today, reading for social studies and procrastinating by talking with my trusty provides-a-distraction-just-when-I-need-it TA friend.  The book I am reading, in between gripes about school policies and busy schedules, is called Black Ants and Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades by Mary Cowhey.


This book.  Is amazing.

Why?  Because it reads so well.  Because it gives practical examples of social studies in school.  Because you feel like you’re talking with Cowhey.  Because it integrates you into her classroom and makes you feel like you are talking with her students.  But most of all, because Cowhey addresses real questions posed by her students.  She doesn’t ignore the questions that might seem off topic; she answers them.  And if she doesn’t know the answer, she says, “I’m not sure, how could we find out?”


Ok, enough promoting Black Ants and Buddhists.  I want to share with you, my hopefully devoted readers, something that I believe both as a teacher and as a woman who grew up craving information about her parents’ divorce and never receiving satisfying answers.  Here’s what I want you to know:

Kids are incredibly capable of understanding difficult, painful, and really uncomfortable social problems.

Topics that we tend to shy away from because they are uncomfortable/we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes: divorce; slavery; genocide; racism; LGBT rights; religion; feminism; social media; internet safety; etc.  Yes, they’re uncomfortable, but kid’s will understand as long as we address these issues in a way that makes sense for them.  What does that look like?

I have no idea.  Yet.

I’m going to try to figure out how by letting my students ask “why” and follow through with answers.  I’m going to avoid saying “we’re not talking about that” or “ask your parents” because I am uncomfortable with the subject.

Life example: I few weeks back I spoke with my father about my parent’s divorce.  I reminded him that I never understood what “custody” meant as a kid, and my dad said something along these lines: You were young, you wouldn’t have understood all the stuff that was done by the court and what it meant for you. (I’m paraphrasing, and I asked my mom these questions too as a kid and received unsatisfying answers like “because that’s the way it happened”).

My response: Kids are incredibly capable of understanding difficult, painful, and really uncomfortable social problems.  I also told him I had been frustrated to get the cold shoulder when it came to something so important to my life.  Why did I have to visit a different home every other weekend and two weeks in the summer?  Why was nobody listening when I said I don’t want to go?

These questions, and many others, were never answered when I asked them.  And they were important.

So answer your students’ tough questions.  Research the answers if you don’t know the TRUTH.

If you teach children lies, you condition them to passively accept and repeat lies.  If you teach them nothing, or a superficial, sterilized version with gaping omissions, you turn children off to history, which in turn causes them to ignore current events, which are history in the making. – Cowhey (2006) p. 157


The Most Common Questions Teachers Are Asked at Job Interviews

In the next few months I anticipate many interviews. Ok, maybe that’s a bit optimistic, but hopefully I’ll get at least 5!
As such, I should probably spend some valuable time scouring these questions and developing these interviews. Hellooooo weekends!

Topical Teaching

job interview

I stumbled on a brilliant article in the Guardian where Head Teachers share the questions they regularly ask at job interviews and the rationale behind their questions.

I hope this article comes in handy next time you interview for a new teaching position:

If I walked into your classroom during an outstanding lesson, what would I see and hear?

“I’d like to hear about: animated discussions, students clearly making progress as evidenced in oral and written contributions. High quality visual displays of students’ work showing progress. High levels of engagement. Behaviour that supports learning.”

Helen Anthony, head teacher, Fortismere school

“After hearing a candidate’s response I try to get them to talk about their experiences in the classroom. I try to get a sense of the impact that they have had on pupils’ achievement.”

Tim Browse, head teacher, Hillcrest primary school

• Why do we teach x in schools?

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MissTake by MissTeach

Last week I went to visit the classroom I will be student teaching in soon.  The classroom is big, there are usually two teachers in the class, and there is a multitude of access to technology.

But the best part of the classroom was not the decorations.  it was not the computer cart that got wheeled in for an hour of video-making.  It was not the freedom students felt amid a structured environment.

The best part was this statement from my cooperating teacher: “Isn’t it nice to know your teacher makes mistakes too?”


Shocking, right?!

She had been reading the science textbook with the kids and came across a section about the various calls whales make.  One of the calls was a mating call, so we embarked on a discussion about what mating means – finding a boyfriend or girlfriend.  After a little discussion, we moved onto the next section entitled, “Long Songs.”  On her lovey-dovey kick, my cooperating teacher accidentally said, “Love songs” and hilarity ensued.

The kids loved that she made a mistake, and I loved it too.  Too often kids are afraid to get the answer wrong, and I think we need to show them that making mistakes, choosing the wrong answer is okay.


Two of these faces staring back at you is intimidating. Especially on day 1.

A little later in the day I was working with a pair of girls on their project on hurricanes.  They were supposed to be entering their pictures into moodnote, and were nearly finished but in the process of moving to a new table one of them closed the computer, exiting out of the program.  Needless to say they were devastated.  And I mean devastated. Their shoulders dropped and their faces became expressionless.  They stared at the computer and began pushing buttons, willing it’s black screen saying “your presentation has broken” to suddenly wake up again.  So I tried to calm them down: “It’s alright, just close out and open up moodnote again and I’ll log you back on.”

They were having none of it.

But after a little more coaxing, they got back on track and were organized within minutes.  When I said, “See you had nothing to worry about” they just shrugged me off like I didn’t know what they had just gone through.  I guess I still have to learn not to say I told ya so to my kiddos…one lesson at a time Miss Teach.

In other news, this is what Potential Mr. Teach and I talked about on Skype tonight: our new sheets.  We’re excited about sheets.


SHEETS! And yes, my expression was solely for the purpose of this photo. Ok, it wasn’t only for this photo but I did ham it up a bit.

Hypocrisy in the Curriculum

Early on in my grad program I was told that the curricula in schools these days is unbelievably complicated.  I was told that subject matter is always added, but nothing is ever taken away.  I learned that the lessons, units, and overall structure of American education is “a mile wide and an inch deep” and that the ideal structure would be “an inch wide and a mile deep.”  I began to believe that the lessons I plan and the projects I do with my students should be advanced, in-depth investigations about one topic that spans all subject matter.

And then I was assigned 40+ pages of reading in one night.

Book gif

Not the 40+ pages of reading due next week.  Not even the 40+ pages of reading due in a couple days so you still have time to read it.

No.  40+ pages of reading that I had to do in one night, no questions asked.  And then when I hadn’t read through the material word-for-word our teacher was, to say the least, not pleased. (As a girl in my cohort would say, “this does not please me”).

I’m being told to make my curriculum an inch wide and a mile deep, but I myself am not experiencing said curriculum in my own class!  How can I be expected to really understand what an in-depth look about one subject matter looks like if I’m supposed to absorb gobs of mathematical, scientific, and social studies related jargon in one night?

I’m not.  It’s impossible.  Not because I’m lazy (c’mon, I’m a teacher) but because your brain can only hold maybe 10% of information it takes in at a given time.  I would cite that, but I don’t honestly know where that stat comes from.  My literacy prof mentioned it today in class.

So, if you’re going to assign  four different chapters to read in one night, understand that this is a curriculum that is not going to help me.  Instead, it means I will give each chapter a brief, superficial once over.

If I even get to that reading at all.  I do have a life outside class from 10am-4pm everyday. A life that involves groceries, cooking, organizing, packing, working out, and, oh yeah, sleeping.

are you kidding me

To my mom readers – I know you are far busier than my 10-4 class schedule, and I’m not claiming to be busier than you.  I only claim that the expectation for me to remember everything I read when assigned 80 pages in a night is unrealistic.  You are the strongest women on the planet, and no one knows how hard you work better than you do!

Pre-K and MLK

Preschoolers are wiser than we give them credit for.  Read about this mom learning from her pre-k student, and you’ll know what I mean.

MLK, Jr. through my four-year-old’s eyes.

I know of preschools that don’t teach about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Black History Month because “the kids don’t get it” or “it’s beyond their level”.  But it’s not.  In fact, I find my students to be wiser than some adults on matters of race, sex, gender identity, marriage, divorce, death, etc.

We need to stop saying “they won’t understand” and start saying “let’s see what happens here.”  They get it.  Now, it’s our turn.


Miss Teach

Read it and Wonder

I want to talk about two things today.  One is about something I do, and the other is about something I hope I would do.  I’ll start with the latter, because it’s not exactly an uplifting topic and I hate leaving posts on a sad, depressing note.

What I hope I would do: My Sister’s Keeper


I recently finished reading My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, and while I was unbelievably surprised at the ending (seriously, if you haven’t read it, go find it at the library…right now) I have to say the hardest piece of the story for me to digest was, we

ll, all of it.

 *spoiler alert*

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be the mother of a sick child.  Heck I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a mom (or a wife, for that matter).  I can’t imagine what it would be like to hear that curing my sick child would involve multiple procedures, trips to the hospital, and countless encounters with bodily fluids that a mother of a healthy child would hopefully only see once a year when baby girl got the flu or scraped her knee.  I can’t imagine being told that I could have a child be a perfectly matched donor because science is advanced enough to pick out the one life-saving embryo.  

But I would hope I could make the decision to realize when my child’s quality of life has deteriorated enough that the best decision is to let go.  I know this is easier to say when I don’t have a kid who’s sick, let alone a kid who’s healthy, but wouldn’t it be better to let them go than to put them and their donor sibling through countless procedures, hospital visits, and rounds of chemo?  Wouldn’t it be better to make them comfortable as they leave this world than subject them to years of sickness and pain.

I’m aware that this is easy to say when I’m not one of the many moms watching her child die, and I don’t mean to disrespect anyone who has had to go through this and has tried everything in their power to save their child.  Truth is I don’t know what I would do, but I hope I know when to call it quits if I do find myself fighting this battle with a little one.

What I do: Who were you or who will you be?

Over the past semester I got into the habit of trying to see my students in the future.  I would look at them and think what will you be like in second grade?  Who will you go to homecoming with in high school?  What will you look like walking into college for the first time?  Who will you marry?  You know, trying to see them not only in the here-and-now, but for who they will turn out to be when I’m no longer their teacher.  

I do this with kids on the street too.  And kids in commercials.  Pretty much every kid I see on a daily basis I end up wondering who they will be when they grow up.  I do this not to be creepy, but to remind myself that kids are more than cute, germ-carrying, unintentionally wise-cracking tiny humans.  They are people.  People that will grow up into someone meaningful, someone who will fight for our country, teach others, run a company, maybe even try to fix our government.  I don’t teach just kids, I teach people.

Well this habit has now reversed itself and I start trying to see the kids in adults.  So much so that yesterday when I was sitting in the sauna at the gym I found myself staring at a lady approximately five feet away from me.  I was thinking who were you growing up?  What games did you play?  Who were your friends? Did you like school?

And then she turned and looked at me, and I realized I had been “wondering” far too long.


It was then I became aware that I have to limit the amount of time I spend with these wonderings.  Note to self: imagine who these people were as kids or who they will be as adults, but try to catch yourself before they catch you!

But I’m not going to stop wondering who these people are, or who my students will become.  I’m going to keep asking myself these questions, because then, and only then, can I get to know them for who they really are.

Singin’ in the Sauna

You know those moments when you get to leave life behind and pretend you’re in a movie?  Or that you could actually break out in song and dance and no one would judge you?

I had one of those moments today.

I woke up and didn’t want to go to the gym.  I’ve been telling myself the last few weeks that I was going to start working out again once I was back at school.  Well, being back at school, I had to drag myself there today.  I drudged through my weight lifting.  I started my first Couch to 5K “run,” and I didn’t hate it.  40 minutes after I got to the gym I was done, which meant my favorite part was about to happen:  THE SAUNA!!!

I freaking love the sauna.  I know not all gyms have it, but the one at school does and it’s awesome.  It’s warm, it makes me sweat, and I read somewhere that rapidly changing the temperature you’re in helps boost your immune system.  So, hopefully going from the hot sauna into the cold outside keeps the flu away!

Anyway, when I walked in there were two people sitting in the corners.  I sat down in the middle and stretched a bit.  After about five minutes, both people got up and left.

I had the sauna to myself.

This never happens.

This.  Never.  Happens.

So, naturally, I started singing the song on my iPod.  By singing, I mean full on, imagining-I’m-on-a-stage performance.  It was awesome.  I closed my eyes and soaked in the moment.

Fortunately no one walked in on me.

If my students could have seen me, who knows what they would have thought.  Some might think I had gone crazy.  Some might stare.

Some, I’m sure, would join in.