Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Letter to My First Teacher

Dear Mrs. Werkheiser,

The end of the school year is a time for reflection. I find myself reflecting on not only the current school year, but my own school career as well. At 31 years of age, I have learned to read and write in elementary school, survived middle school, graduated high school, worked my way through graduate school, and now spend my days teaching children. You can just imagine how many teachers I have had! I can remember the name of every one of my teachers. Mrs. Miller was first grade. Mrs. Douglas was my kindergarten teacher. Mrs. DeVito was 4th. I could go on and on. I'm pretty lucky because I have always had teachers that cared and were kind. However, very few teachers made a lasting impact on me. I find that the teachers that shaped my future and lead me on my path to becoming a teacher, were ones that listened, understood me, and protected me.

You were my very first teacher! The picture attached is from preschool graduation in 1988. More specifically, it was taken on June 8, 1988. I remember that date because I felt like a rock star. It was my preschool graduation and it was my birthday! You may not believe me, but I actually remember a lot from preschool. Maybe it's the pictures that help refresh my memory, but I like to think it was the way you shaped that class and cared for all of us that made it so memorable. I remember we performed a version of The Night Before Christmas. I was a sugar plum fairy with Dorothy. I had to wear a pink leotard and a tutu. That tutu was extremely itchy and scratchy. I remember hating that costume. You sat up front with a microphone and narrated the entire play. I can only imagine how humorous it must have been to watch. Bobby was Rudolph. I remember a boy named Jesse had a crush on me and brought me flowers one day. I was mortified. I remember pinching Lindsey's fingers in the crack of the door. I remember Land of Make Believe...our field trip. I remember I was given an award on Preschool graduation night for Gym. It was a clear container filled with Hershey Kisses. However, what I remember most wasn't the activities or the events. I remember your blonde hair and your soft voice which made me feel safe. So many children are lucky and fortunate to have had you as a teacher.

I am positive there are many other former students that remember how you impacted their lives. Congratulations on your retirement!


J. Stacey Ely
Good Shepard Nursery School
Class of 1988
**Mrs. Werkheiser and I currently work in the same school district. She is retiring at the end of the school year.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Attack the Passage - Procedures for Reading Success!

My new addition to TPT. Attack the Passage......Don't be Afraid!

I use this checklist with my students anytime they have a reading passage in front of them.  I sometimes staple it to their work or place it in a safe spot, like a homework folder.  This way they can always reference it!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"We Are Your Symphony"

Today was the first day of in-service and I am not sure where to begin. The day was filled with inspiring, motivational, and encouraging words from professionals who, in my opinion, are oozing with the passion of teaching and learning. There is so much to reflect on and so much to share. Education is somewhat rocky right now. Type "articles about education" in google and see what pops up.
When I look at the top articles I see words like "madness", "blast away", "scandal", "data revolution", and "failure".  As a teacher, it can be very difficult to stay positive about what you have chosen to dedicate your life to. Not ONE...I repeat.....not ONE of the titles mentions the word "STUDENT". How do we stay motivated and eager as educators?  The answer is very simple....students. It is the thank you from a student, it is the smile from a student, it is the tears from a student, it is the high-five from a student that motivates us to grow, learn, love, and share. 

I haven't seen my students since June. But today, during the first in-service of the school year, I felt motivated and inspired because of other professionals. 

Have you every seen Mr. Hollands Opus?  Gosh, I saw this movie a long time ago when it first came out in 1995. "Glenn Holland is a passionate musician who dreams of composing one truly memorable piece of music. But reality intrudes when he reluctantly accepts a "day job" as a high school music teacher to support his family. In time, however, Mr. Holland realizes that his real passion is teaching, and his legacy is the generations of young people he inspires." 

At the end of the movie, Holland is cleaning out his classroom after retiring. His wife and son surprise him with a large gathering of students both past and present. They celebrate the wonderfully amazing career he has had. The clip was shown to the staff today. It solidifies how many lives a teacher may touch without truly knowing the impact he/she has in the moment. Here is the clip:

WARNING: It may cause tears (I struggled to hold them back today. I didn't want to have my mascara running down my face on my very first day with the new staff).  

As we approach a new school year, challenge yourself to think what will your legacy be as a teacher? What will you do this year to build your legacy?  What do you want your students to remember about you as an educator?  

Good luck!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Stages of Teaching.....No more floating!

So another year begins. Tomorrow is the first day of in-service for the school year. As I sit here and think about the upcoming year, a storm of emotions come over me. Tomorrow begins my 9th year as a teacher. I struggle wrapping my brain around this. I don't think I am considered a "new" teacher any more. I'm now a veteran.

What makes a teacher a "veteran"?  Years of service?  Number of graduate credits? Grade level taught?  Money made? Promotions given?

This year, I will begin my 4th placement in the educational field. I have taught 1st, third, ESL and now Read 180 and System 44 for 5th and 6th grade. I have worked under 5 principals and numerous vice principals and interim principals. I have decorated and made six different classrooms in five different buildings feel like home to students. I have worked in two different districts. Every experience I have had in each of these settings has been amazing. With each experience, I gain more tools in my backpack that help me be a better teacher for my students.

With all this being said, I think back to my 8 completed years of teaching and realize I am not even close to being a veteran.  I'll explain in a moment. This is how I would describe or categorize the teaching stage I was in.

Year 1 - Floating Stage.....Basically, my backpack was empty. I went into the classroom with this ideal picture in my mind of what teaching was and what Miss Ely's classroom would look like. That picture in my mind was based on what I was taught in college and my experiences as a student teacher. The children sat and listened. They raised their hands. They were all reading on grade level. It was perfect. In reality, my first year was far from perfect. My students did none of the things I pictured. Students ran my classroom. I was exhausted. I spent many late nights in the classroom. I rearranged my room a hundred times. I called on colleagues to help me manage the room. I had bronchitis and laryngitis twice. I refused to take off because that meant I had to plan for a sub.  I was sinking quickly that first year. I did whatever I could do to stay above the water.....I was in the floating stage.

Year 2-3 - Experimental Stage - These are the two years that I walked into my classroom and refused to let my first year happen all over again. I would implement a teaching strategy, realize it didn't work, drop it, and implement something else. I continued to spend late nights in the classroom. But I wasn't floating anymore. Students were responding to what I was implementing. But I knew it wasn't enough. I had to do more. These were the two years when I became brave enough to try new things. Some failed, some didn't. But I was willing to experiment.

Years 4-8 - Evolving Stage - I have gained confidence at this point in my career. While I have had many changes in leadership, schools, and positions, I have spent and will spend many years in this stage perfecting and revising the craft I love so much. My learning does not stop here. Every year is different, therefore, I have to modify how I teach. I do not pull out my lesson plans from the year before. I create new lesson plans each year. I might do the same activities, but I may change the way I use them. I may develop a better way that challenges the students more than before.  I continue to evolve as a teacher.

What stage comes next? I have no idea. I hope that I stay in this stage for a little while. Evolving means that I am changing with the times, the new initiatives, the new students, and the new communities. I am changing as my environment changes. That's a good thing in my opinion.

As for being a "veteran" teacher?  I hope I can call myself a veteran as I sit down to retire in 30 years, and use what I have learned and know to teacher other inspiring, young teachers.

Here is a picture of my new "evolving" classroom in my new building. It will continue to change throughout the year to meet the students needs, just as I will.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Getting Literacy into the Home

Back in college, I learned about something called Literacy Bags. These themed bags were a way to get books and activities into the homes of students. I spent many hours putting my Literacy Bag together for an "A" in the class. At the end of the semester, I put it away and never thought of it again until.......

this past school year. I always wanted to do Literacy Bags but as you know, time slips away. I start every year with great, inspiring ideas. Then, before I know it, the year is over and if I am lucky, I implemented one new thing into my classroom. Literacy Bags just never got off the ground. 

My colleague, Mrs. C, and I worked on a version of the Literacy Bag for our ESL students. We called them Learning Suitcases. I think when we hear the word "literacy" we think reading. However, literacy is so much more than that. Yes, literacy is the the ability to read and write. However, it is also the competence or knowledge in a specified area. Mrs. C and I wanted to include reading, math, science, and social studies activities. This is why we called them Learning Suitcases. 

Now I am not going to preach about the importance of learning in the home. We all know this. What I am doing is suggesting a practical way to get it done!  

I don't have pictures of the actual product, but try to follow along. Basically, I ordered these amazing plastic briefcases from Amazon. Then, I created activities in reading, math, science, and social studies around a specific theme. I focused on Weather since it was a Kindergarten and First Grade unit of study. Some of the activities were letter matching games, sight word games, number recognition activities, etc. I also included books that went along with the theme. Everything I designed was appropriate for grades K-2.  

Each week, one student took the Learning Suitcase home. The parent letter explained what the Suitcase was and how it was to be used. I also explained it to the students. They were super excited to share the Suitcase with their families. Here is what the families gained from the Learning Suitcase:
  1. Parents and children engage in meaningful, vocabulary rich conversations.
  2. Students practice and build mathematics and reading skills.
  3. Siblings interact with each other.
  4. Families have fun TOGETHER.
  5. Students gain ownership as they are responsible for the materials.

Also, thanks to the wonderful paraprofessional, Mrs. L, I was able to have all the directions translated in Spanish.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hands-on Vocabulary

Since starting my new position as a K-4 ESL teacher, I haven't really blogged any great stories about my students.  Which makes me sad, because there are many. As a classroom teacher, I always enjoyed my ESL students. There is something to be said for those little boys and girls who enter our schools trying to learn curriculum and another language. I always admired how brave they were.  This year, I get to spend my days working with small groups of students who speak another language. It has been such an eye opener. For instance, I have one student who would only speak Spanish to me in the beginning of the year. This was challenging because I don't speak Spanish!  However, this little 5 year old quickly learned how to communicate with me, his peers, and his other teachers!  

Quick side story about this student.....
I am giving my kindergarten group a standardized test (don't's required by the grant our school district was given). Instead of the questions being numbered, they have a picture. For instance, instead of saying "place your finger on number one," I would say "place your finger on the little cat". This quickly became very comical!  When I would say, "place your finger on the little cat," the kindergarten student would start to meow.  When I would say, "place your finger on the little duck," the kindergarten student would start to quack. When I would say, "place your finger on the little bunny," there was a pause....what does a bunny say?  The kindergarten student simply said bunny, bunny.  He makes me smile! 

A big part of teaching ESL is the vocabulary piece. I am always looking for ways to give my students hands on experiences to learn new vocabulary. Last month, I was teaching my beginner kindergarten students about kitchen tools.  I came up with an easy, inexpensive way to teach this vocabulary. Use paper plates, bowls, plastic spoon, fork, napkin, and cup and have an imaginary meal!  Students need to ask each other to pass the condiments, say please and thank you, and set the table. All of the paper and plastic products were then glued to a piece of construction paper. The labeled 3-D diagrams were then hung in the hallway!  At the end of the unit, these place mats were sent home with students. Families could then use them to reinforce the concepts. Simple but effective!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Told Them So

Today was a day that I was reminded how magical it is to be a teacher. Maybe I should say, I was reminded how we, as teachers, can make our students feel like they are the most important person in the world. This is so crucial in educating children. 

You know those people. In your group of friends and family, there is usually one of them. The person that you converse with and somehow you feel like you are the most important person. You are the only one that matters....your thoughts...your are special. They hear every word you say.

Every child should have this moment in your classroom. It’s the moment where you connect with your student. I’ve seen it.  I’ve been a part of it. I’ve listened to many students go on about pets, stuffed animals, annoying siblings, boring weekends, pokemon cards, etc. It’s sometimes hard to listen to. If you’re a teacher, you might be smiling right now because you have heard these same stories. You have a hundred things to do, a million things on your mind, and Johnny wants to tell you about this super cool video game that he played, his invasion of Mars, and interaction with aliens with super lasers.  The caring, effective teacher will stop and listen.  The teacher will make comments, ask questions, and get excited when Johnny says he beat the video game after a short 12 hours. It’s not easy, but we have to do it. We should want to do it.  The caring teacher would. 

EVERY STUDENT should feel like they are the most important student in your classroom, most important child in the world. 

Today was a reminder of this. I stopped by the school that I taught third grade at last year. I needed to drop some things off to another teacher. I didn’t want to disrupt any classes so I tried to sneak in and out without any students noticing.  But then it happened.  I was spotted by a student. How can you not feel overjoyed when a student erupts in a song and dance when they see you? The P.E. teacher, Mr. J invited me to pop my head in class and say hello to my former students.  All I needed was the invitation, and I was all about disrupting the class!  

After googling over how tall and how mature each one had gotten, I said my goodbyes and waved as I left. I heard one of my students say that he thought he would never see me again. That’s when I turned and said. “I told you that I would always check up and look out for you.” The class gasped.  Eyes popped. I’m not sure if they didn’t remember or didn’t believe me when I said that I will always be their teacher. They will only ever have one third grade teacher (so we hope) and that was me.

Yup, I think I got them.  Told them so....