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Monday, June 22, 2009


(This is my third post in the series I am writing about each of my students from this past year.)

At the beginning of the school year, about the third week of school, one of my students informed me that she wanted to be called by a different name. I had been calling her by her first name, and she preferred her second name. I was glad she felt comfortable enough to let me know, so I immediately made her a new desk tag and announced to the class that she wanted to go by her second name.

As could be expected, the other students started shouting out random other names that they wanted to be called. Luis wanted to be called "The Hulk." That one, I didn't allow.

Luis was fairly average in most respects. There were times that he drove me crazy. There were times that he worked hard and tried his best.

He liked to write. Luis once wrote a story about La Llorona and The Hulk. This story ended up being about 3 pages long. It was epic and hilarious. (La Llorona and The Hulk were fighting to see who would win. Since La Llorona is a sort of boogywoman, and The Hulk is a fictional charactor, I allowed the fighting.)

Luis was one of the few students I had who generally stayed on task during literacy centers. At each center the students had an activity to do (a computer game to play, a word sort to sort, partner reading to share, a literacy game to play) and they always had something they had write to prove to me that they had done what they were supposed to do. Luis was good at getting those accountability pieces done.

At the first conference in the fall, I was telling Luis's mom how wondeful he was, and she asked about his behavior. I told her that his behavior was fine - not perfect, but on par with everyone else's. She was surprised. She said he was always getting in trouble at home, constantly moving and bothering his sister. I'm glad that I was able to put in a good word for him at that time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


(This is my second post in the series I am writing about each of my students from this past year.)

Manuel began the school year as a very enthusiastic and hard working student. He would sit down and try his best to do what he was supposed to do. Shortly after school began, Manuel started to stand out as being academically quite low. Despite attending Awesome School all of the previous year for kindergarten, his reading level was still at the beginning kindergarten level. He didn’t consistently know all of his letter sounds or his numbers to 10.

But, despite this, Manuel continued to fully throw himself into whatever we were doing. I quickly implemented many interventions with him, trying to bring him up academically, while maintaining his wonderful work ethic.

Manuel always liked to write. And, compared to his reading level, his writing level was fairly high (though still falling far lower than the majority of the class). I hoped to draw upon his enjoyment of writing to help develop his reading skills. I worked with him a lot on his writing, encouraging him to sound out words to the best of his ability, to go back and reread what he had written, to get ideas down on paper in whatever way he could. His writing progressed a bit, and he always enjoyed writing and sharing his writing with others.

A few months after the start of school, Manuel began going to a different teacher for guided reading – one who had more experience working with struggling students, and one who also had a reading interventionist working together with her during guided reading time. For much of the school year, Manuel got two guided reading groups each day. His reading moved a little bit, very slowly. I stopped doing weekly assessments on his knowledge of letter sounds and moved onto assessing his ability to read nonsense words (a popular “testing” skill in first grade, which I should write a whole post about at some point) and his ability to read simple kindergarten passages. His progress from week to week was very, very slow.

Sadly, as the year progressed, Manuel began to realize how very low he was in reading compared to the rest of the class. His behavior worsened a bit, and his focus decreased. His guided reading teacher said that she was having problems getting him to do his centers work when he was with her, and he was always out of his seat, bouncing around the room, when he was with me. He started to make comments about how he couldn’t read. He saw that other kids were reading much more complicated texts, while he was struggling with most anything given to him. I always did my best to reassure him that he was learning to read. I explained to Manuel that it was taking a little longer for him to learn to read than for some of the other kids, and he, for whatever reason, was having a harder time of it, but that just meant that he had to stay focused and try extra hard. I tried to reassure him that it would come, eventually.

When I spoke with Manuel’s parents during conferences, they talked about how Manuel’s older brother had a very difficult time in school. He is a few years older than Manuel and receives special education services for reading. His father stated very matter-of-factly one time that “Manuel’s older brother has the hardest time in school. Manuel is a little bit smarter than his older brother. And Manuel’s little sister seems like she’s going to be a little smarter than Manuel.” It’s not really fair for any of the kids to put them in a hierarchy of “smartness” like that, but it is what the parents have observed and essentially been told by the teachers at the school.

So, throughout the year I worked with Manuel. He received many, many literacy interventions. He ended the year still reading far below grade level, but he did advanced about one year (from beginning kinder level to beginning first grade level) over the course of the school year, so there definitely was progress made.

The exciting thing about Manuel was that all year he seemed to understand math. Whatever his difficulty was with reading, he generally was quite average in math. Toward the end of the year though, Manuel’s mathematical understanding leaped. He wasn’t just average anymore – he was good at math. I told him this every day. I was so happy for him, so happy that we had found an area in which he performed so strong. He has a complex understanding of number sense and is able to talk about numbers, explaining where they belong in a hundreds chart, explaining what it means when you talk about something being in the “ones place” or the “tens place,” and doing a variety of other things with numbers. His one problem, even at this point, was that he still was not able to consistently identify or write the numbers 1 through 20. We had worked on it and worked on it. But, like with reading, there is some sort of disconnect going on in his brain that is making it extra hard for him to read numbers and write the numbers he is thinking of in his head.

I have thought about this and talked about it with many people. Manuel has the concept of the number six strongly in his head – he can picture six of something, he knows at the core level what six means. But, when shown the number 6, he just can’t quite seem to remember that the symbol “6” goes along with the mental representation of six objects he has in his head. Therefore, when he write out problems (and takes those painful standardized math tests the first graders were required to take this year) he doesn’t always perform as highly as he should. Manuel is good at math. He is excellent at explaining the concepts to the class, and through these explanations has proven to me and his peers that he is proficient in math.

During the final week of school, we had an awards assembly. Each teacher was supposed to hand out awards for the two academically strongest students, the two most improved students, and the two student who best exemplified the positive character traits we were supposed to have worked on during the year. (I, being the constant pseudo-rebel that I am, gave out slightly different awards. I didn’t like those categories.)

Throughout this assembly, I was sitting next to Manuel. As kids from other classes got called up to receive their awards, and Manuel received nothing, he kept whispering to me, “But Ms. Grownup, I’m good at math, right? I’m good at math?” I of course reassured him that he wasn’t just good, he was very good at math. Fortunately, both for him, for me, and for his classmates, as his math abilities really began to bloom around April, Manuel’s behavior began to improve a little bit too. He was still unfocused at times, and constantly out of his seat, but now he has something he knows he is good at. Whatever his other academic problems are, he is good at math. I am glad I was able to convince him of that, that he was able to see that and believe it. Because Manuel is good at math and deserves to be recognized for it.

Manuel will need to keep working very hard as he continues in school. I passed along to his new school all the data and information I had collected on him this year – detailing the interventions we worked on with Manuel and their outcomes. I hope that Manuel gets the services he needs to continue developing in reading, and the recognition he deserves for his hard work and excellence in math.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mary Anne

(This will be the first post in the series I am writing about each of my students from this past year.)

I don't think I will ever stop thinking about Mary Anne.

Mary Anne came into my class about a month into the year. I was sitting at the rug, doing some sort of whole-group literacy activity with the class when the classroom door opened. In walked the principal guiding a scared-looking little girl into the classroom.

"Ms. Grownup," she said. "You have a new student. This is Mary Anne." Then she whispered, "Come talk to me later and I'll explain." She shoved an enrollment form into my hand, and left.

Later that day I went to talk with the principal. "What did you want to tell me about Mary Anne?" I asked her.

She explained that Mary Anne had been in a second grade classroom. Mary Anne should have been a second grader. However, she was very low academically for second grade. She had arrived at the school a few days before, and had apparently spend the entire time sitting in the corner of her classroom alone, lost and sad looking. Her previous schooling had been very erratic - she had missed a lot of first grade. She also had a fairly late birthday and size-wise would fit very well into a first grade class. So, the principal has decided to transfer her to my classroom.

Academically, she ended up being one of my higher students. This suited her well. She began to develop and flourish in my classroom. She fit in with my 2nd highest reading group (reading just about at grade level). In math it was clear that she had been through first grade math before, and fit in very nicely.

Much more importantly than the academics though, she began to smile more. She looked happier. She made friends and experienced success. When the principal came in, she told me that Mary Anne looked so much happier and more comfortable than she had in the second grade classroom.

And I loved having Mary Anne in my class. She was a reliable student, occasionally mischievous, but overall very respectful to all adults and peers. She came in tardy very often. Sometimes just moments late, other times minutes, or longer. But, she did usually come to school. Then, she didn't come for a few days. And she didn't come for a few days more. And a few days more. I called her phone number and got no response. I asked the class if anyone had seen her around the neighborhood and no one had. Eventually, 10 days passed without any sign of Mary Anne, and she was dropped from my class list. I was sad, but assumed she had moved suddenly, as the students sometimes do, and just hadn't unenrolled.

About five weeks later I got a call over the intercom. "Ms. Jacobson," the secretary called, "When school lets out, come to the office. You are getting a returning student." I hadn't fully heard her so wasn't sure what she meant. After the students left, I went down to the office.

"You are getting Mary Anne back," she told me. "She has been out of town, taking care of a sick relative with her mom all this time."
"Oh?" I questioned. "Has she been going to school?"
"No. She has not been enrolled anywhere else." I was informed.

When she came back the next day, I was so excited to see Mary Anne again, but terribly sad that she hadn't been at school this whole time, and had been so unexpectedly pulled out of the classroom where she was finally getting comfortable.

Surprisingly, and contrary to any logic, her reading level sky-rocketed during her time away. Mary Anne said that her mom had bought her a workbook which she used. Her reading had actually level developed at the same rate as the other kids who had been in her reading group before. She slipped back into the classroom, almost as if she hadn't been gone for a month and a half. For a while, Mary Anne was very quite, she looked tired and sad and her clothes were messier and she was tardy more often. After a few weeks, she started to become more cheerful again. She began to bond with a couple other girls in the class, she exchanged phone numbers and had playdates outside of school. One of these girls, in particular, really felt close to Mary Anne. This other girl seems to have a fairly steady, supportive family, which at the time I thought was a nice thing for Mary Anne to have the opportunity to experience.

Mary Anne continued to do well in class. She was happy, she was successful academically and socially, she was trying to push the limits of what she was allowed to do, which I thought was a good thing because it signified a type of confidence that Mary Anne had been lacking before. One day in particular, my principal wandered into the room for an informal observation, and got to see Mary Anne absolutely shine during a math lesson. Mary Anne fully understood the math concept we were working on, and was able to articulately demonstrate and explain it to the whole class. Later when I talked with the principal, she glowed with happiness for seeing Mary Anne so successful. She finally felt confident with her decision to pull Mary Anne out of that second grade class so many months ago, and place her back into first grade. The principal frequently marveled over the fact that Mary Anne looked like a completely different child than she had when she was sitting sullen in the corner of the second grade classroom.

Shortly after this, Mary Anne was absent for a day. I didn't worry, figuring she was just sick - germs had been going around. Then she was gone the next day. And the next. I asked the girls who were close with her if they had talked with her, and they hadn't. I waited a few more days. I called Mary Anne, but no one answered. I asked the girls if they had talked with her. They said they had called several times, but no one answered. I slowly watched as her absences added up to ten in a row - that magic number at which students are dropped from the class. Every morning I waited for her to trudge into the class with a tardy pass. She never did. She was dropped, again.

I kept hoping that maybe she would come back, but then felt guilty for that. What I really wanted was to know that she was okay, somewhere. That she was enrolled in school somewhere. No school ever called for her cumulative folder. I didn't clear out her desk. I kept waiting and hoping.

She never came back to Awesome School.

She is resilient. She is smart. Wherever she is, I hope she is continuing to learn and grow and develop.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Students.

As I said in my last post, this year was a very special one for me. I absolutely adored my students - each and every one of them. I loved getting to know them all, observing their interactions with one another and with me.

I am going to try to write a short piece (short, ha! I don't know the meaning of the word) on each of my students. A profile of each of them, if you will.

Realistically, I know that I will probably (hopefully!) feel the same way about my class next year. I will grow to admire them all for what they bring to the classroom. When I meet my new students, I'm afraid the memories of these old ones will fade away or meld together in my mind. I don't want that to happen. They all influenced me so much this year. I keep talking about how much I learned. When I said goodbye to my principal, I thanked her for such a great year and talked about all the things I had learned. I didn't even mention everything the kids had learned. That was a given, they're supposed to learn. But, they all taught me so much. They deserve to be remembered - frozen in time as their 7-year-old selves.

So, I will do what I can to appropriately represent them.

They were great.

They taught me how to be a teacher.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The End.

Thank you for all the congrats and well wishes in my last post. With that excitement of finally being placed, I pushed full-force into the end of the school year. I had to pack the classroom, do report cards, cumulative folders, item check-in, and who know what else.

I finally finished it all.

I can never again use the excuse that I am a first year teacher. I am not a first year teacher. I'm excited and planning and anticipating for next year.

The last day at school was a sad one. Not only was it the last day of school, but all the students and all the teachers are going to new schools next year. The students are getting split up, going to one of three or four different elementary schools. None of the teachers are teaching at any of the schools the students are going to, so they will not see their old teachers, as they are generally used to doing.

All throughout the last day, I had children hanging on me. Coming up and randomly hugging me. Telling me they love me. Just being there, next to me.

The students are sad to be split up, and worried about next year. Even on the last day, they were still asking about why the school had to close. Commenting that today was the day they had been dreading, the day that the school would be shut down.

I had a student come up and ask me, "Ms. Grownup, Why does the school have to close?"
He knows the reason. We have had many conversations about it. "You know why," I told him. "We've talked about it before. Why is the school closing?"
He sighed. "It's because they don't have enough money," he sadly and knowingly explained.

And it broke my heart a little more, because so many of the students hear that as the reason for so many disappointments in their lives. This child especially. There's not enough money. There's not enough money for a uniform without holes or a snack after school. And now there's not even enough money to keep the school that he's gone to for the last two years. The school that he has come to trust as the good place. The place that helps to take care of him, and teach him, and feed him. Of course, he'll go to a school next year that will do all those things, and he will be fine. But he doesn't know that now. None of the students know that. They will all be fine. All of us will be fine. But the uncertainty, what almost feels like broken promises for the children, that's not fair. There's not enough money to keep the school.

But aside from the sadness, it was a good day. I love these kids. They would come up and tell me they loved me, and I would respond by saying I loved having them in my class, because it didn't feel appropriate to tell them I loved them back, but I do. They were my first class. I think there has to be something special, something magical about one's first class.

My goal for the year had been to survive. And despite my posts of frustration throughout the year, I did much, much more than that. My goal had been to teach them just enough that I didn't completely embarrass myself. To teach them just enough that they were able to make up whatever deficits I had caused when they reached second grade. But, somehow, we all learned together. I have no doubt that I learned more than they did. I learned so much. But really, so did they.

At the end of the day, the moms came and hugged me, gave me a kiss on the cheek, thanked me for teaching their children. I loved the parents, too. I had some really wonderful parents in my class. The location of my classroom allowed me to see the parents every morning as they dropped off their children, and every afternoon as they picked them up. I chatted with them at the time. I spoke to them in my sometimes shaky Spanish, and they repeated themselves as many times as I needed until I understood. I loved talking with the parents. Conferences were some of my favorite times of the year. Even the kids who sometimes drove me crazy, who I tried all year to figure out, I loved talking to their parents during conferences - commenting on the areas they needed to develop, but expounding on the areas in which they were awesome.

It was a good year. Even without the extreme test preparation that I had used other quarters, more than 90% of my students "exceeded" on the district math test. 80% were reading at or above grade level. Only 30% were "meeting" for fluency, but despite the fact that the district and my administrators cared a lot about fluency, I really didn't. I worried more about comprehension and decoding, and that most of them were able to do. We did some science, we did not nearly enough true social students. We developed inside jokes. We became a class.

I can only hope that my next class is as fabulous as this one was. We had our struggles. If all the students I had this year had stayed in the class, I would have had 12 more students than I actually ended up with. We had a lot of movement. But, we bonded. We talked until the end about the students who had gone. (And they were all able to articulate why students sometimes need to move suddenly in the middle of the year.)

If I created such a community this year, in my first year, I suppose I'll be able to do it again next year. Right now, it seems so daunting though. Wow. They came in barely knowing their numbers to 20, reading at kindergarten levels, and they left being able to answer complex questions about number sense and mathematical reasoning and most reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. First grade is so neat. We made it. Together we made it.