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First Year, Third Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

It's your lucky week; you get two teaching edition blogs this week. One blog was just not enough to hold everything that happened while teaching this week. I thought I had enough material to cover me the whole week on Monday and Tuesday with Back-to-School Night and my first round of discipline in the classroom. But, boy is there a lot more to tell! So buckle up, and get ready to blow your mind with how crazy this week has been in my classroom. For Monday and Tuesday, you can read my post, "Sweet Things and Sour Things." You should start there if you haven't read it yet, because the remainder of my week builds on Tuesday's happenings.

Wednesday was the worst day of my teaching career so far. Yes, I've only been teaching for 12 days, but still. Wednesday brought another run-in with my problem student. I don't want to be a teacher that always sends the problem to someone else. I would like to try and solve it if I can. However, now that this student had been to the office, I felt I needed to be firm and consistent and prove that I mean business--that she can't continue fighting with me in my classroom. It's not fair to others, and I am the boss, not her.

Our day begins. We make it through morning routine and snack. It is now time for Language Arts. My student starts messing around on the carpet. She's turned around. She's playing with another kid's shoelaces--"helping" him tie them. I ask her a few times to listen. I finally tell her to go sit at the table please, where she won't be distracted. She gets up and goes to the table. She walks around the table to where my big, teacher chair is and sits in it. She knows she shouldn't be sitting there, but I give her the benefit of the doubt since I didn't specify which chair I wanted her to sit in. I told her to sit in the blue chair I am pointing to. She moves slowly. I count down from 5. She speeds up, but slows as I reach the end of my numbers. She stands next to the chair and doesn't sit. "On your bottom, now!" She doesn't. I ask her to get me a marble and then sit down. She goes to her marble cup and retrieves one. As I'm teaching my lesson, she walks through everybody on the carpet; I hear exclamatory responses as she bumps and pushes her way through. I take the marble and tell her to sit down. She sits on her carpet square. I redirect her to the chair. She gets up and picks up my pointer. She's already been told not to touch those. I ask her if she needs to go to the office again. She says no and puts it down. She walks past me and picks up one of the materials I'm demonstrating with to the class. She puts it over her mouth and pretends to be the monster face I'm showing to the class. (Side note, we have a tattletale monster on our wall. The students have to remove a piece from the face if they tell a tattle. Each piece left by the end of the day goes into our class marble jar for a party.) I tell her to put it down and sit, and that she's not behaving very well. I think she needs to go to the office. "NO!" She throws the piece down and runs to the chair. I've had enough however, and need to prove a point. She can't waste my time in class like that. She needs to obey the first time, not the tenth time. As I walk past her she tries to grab at my dress. I dodge it and march to the phone. When I pick up the receiver, she starts crying. The secretary arrives in a few minutes and takes her to the office.

The principal gives her a one day suspension and has a meeting with her mom. The meeting apparently went really well. They were able to talk about consistency in discipline at home, and following through on the threats that had been given about her behavior.

We finished langugage arts and the students went to lunch. My break was as busy as always trying to get things ready for the rest of my day. The kids came in, and we began math. Then I lost my voice.

I've been battling a cough for seven weeks now. It was bronchitis. I've been to the doctor twice, urgent care once, and taken two different prescriptions. I've felt a lot better than I did at the beginning, but my cough continues about every 2-3 days with a day or two break in between where I feel fine, until the post nasal drip begins again. Lately, my voice has been getting tired. I can feel it wearing out toward the end of the day when I've had to do a lot of talking over the kids. Wednesday was the first time, it was gone. I opened my mouth and no sound came out. I cleared my throat, and a scratchy, whisper of a voice came out. The kids were slightly stunned into silence. They've heard me say that my voice is getting tired and I need them to be extra good listeners, but they've never heard me without my voice before. I attempted to finish the math lesson with hardly any voice. I was so thankful when it was over and time for them to go to library and then recess.

We came in from recess and had rest time. It's a nice break to just sit in a darkened room and do prep work with soft music playing, and no noise. It's the best stress reliever. After 45 minutes of rest, the students were putting away their blankets when I hear that sickening splat sound of thick liquid landing on a hard surface. I looked up to see a student slightly bent over, and prayed silently that what I feared had occurred hadn't really occurred. Then I saw her start to go for a second round. Students began responding.

"Ewww!" "________ just threw up." "Miss Neal, somebody threw up."

To my horror, I watched students make their way over to the crime scene. I shouted for them to stay away, to stop putting away their blankets, and to go to the carpet. I had to call several by name whose curiousity caused my instructions to go in one ear and out the other. While I'm shouting at everybody, I'm also dialing the office, asking if I can send the student down. The secretary is asking me if she looks like she's going to be sick anymore, or if she looks okay. I said she looked fine, but I still wanted to send her down. She said okay, and said she'd send someone to clean it up. I directed the student to the office. She looked very pale and walked slowly. She always looks a little distracted and out of it, so I wasn't sure if her expression was because of that or if she was confused about what had happened. I watched her walk to the office to make sure she went to the right place and then went to deal with my students.

We stayed on the carpet as they continued to murmur about what had happened. I felt a little light-headed, which made it a little difficult to think on my feet about what to have them do next. It took quite an effort to remember what was next in the order of the day. I had originally wanted them to write their sight word of the week in their student dictionaries, but there was two students whose chairs I thought were too close to the mess, so I wanted to keep them on the carpet. I finally remembered that we do calendar next, and instead of moving them to the brown carpet like usual, I had them stay put on the color carpet. We sang our songs and counted our days. The maintenance guy came in with his clean up kit and asked where it was. I pointed him in the right direction without looking. I had strategically placed myself so that a table was in between my vision and the mess on the floor. I couldn't look. He walked over as I continued teaching. The next thing I heard was, "Maaaaaaaaan!" Oh my goodness. I nodded in affirmation. It was a lot, I knew that, even though I wasn't looking.

It took a long time to clean up. I finished the calendar and didn't know what else to do with them. So I asked them what they did during library today. It was hard to get a response because their heads were all swiveled to where operation clean up was happening. I don't know what was so fascinating about it. He interrupted me to ask if it was okay to turn the vacuum on. I nodded, which gave me the idea to put on Freeze Dance. The kids LOVE Freeze Dance. It's a song that plays and then stops and the kids have to freeze before it starts up again. If they move while it's going, then they have to sit down. I've only done it once with them before when they were very wiggly and we had an extra 5 minutes. They've begged me every day to do it again since then. I announced that's what we'd do, and got a big cheer. I played it and kept my focus on their cute dance moves. We had to do it twice before he finished. I thanked him and he gave me some powder that is supposed to be sprinkled on vomit to soak up the liquid, get rid of the smell, and make it sweepable/vacummable. I hesitantly took it, thinking, I don't know if I'd be able to get close enough to it to throw this stuff on it. My face must have displayed my hesitancy because he said I could still call him when it happened.

He left, and it was time for centers. One of the centers this week included walking around the classroom. I didn't want anyone walking around. So I switched that center to a library center. I had also planned to do assessments that day during centers, but I was still light-headed and counldn't think straight. So I just watched what everyone was doing.

We packed up and walked outside. I ran into the girl's mom who was here to pick her up. I told her I hoped she felt better. She apologized and sympathized that I had to deal with it. As I waited for the kids' parents to pick them up, I could feel the tears welling up. I tried hard to fight it back, but a few slipped out. I told myself to pull it together until I got back into my classroom. I managed to make it for those next 20 minutes before I fled into my room, sat down at my desk, and burst into tears.

There's something you should know about me. It may be silly, but it's an unfortunate truth. I have anxiety about throwing up. Not just a little worry type of anxiety. I get so anxious about catching a stomach virus that I literally will make myself sick just from thinking about it, which makes me freak out even more because I think I really am sick. Yes, the whole day was a hard day, but the sickness was the hardest part of all. I was so overwhelmed by it. I felt helpless to do anything. This part of teaching is not what I signed up for. I don't know how to deal with such things, and it horrified me to think that this wouldn't be the last time this would happen. I couldn't handle it.

Today was relatively painless compared to what I fear future occasions will be like. It didn't happen anywhere close to me. I was able to block my vision with a table. I had a cold, so I couldn't smell anything. Nobody got any puke on them that I had to look at. The office allowed me to send the girl away and the maintenance guy took care of the mess. But still. This is not part of teaching. We didn't learn about these situations in my credential program. Nobody taught me how to get through my anxiety to be able to function and continue with my day unaffected. So I cried. That was my response.

Thankfully, this week God has been reminding me of His strength, and how I can do nothing apart from His strength. I've been drawing on it all week--through the discipline issues and through this sick student situation. It is only because of Him that I did not get the anxiety I always get. It was from His strength that I was hungry at the end of the day. It was from His strength that I donned a pair of orange gloves and cloraxed my room from top to bottom. It was from His strength that I got up again the next day and went to work. As much as I wanted to give up and never face such a situation again, I went to school on Thursday.

Neither Miss Defiant nor Miss Puke Face were in attendance that day, which made my day relatively painless. We read "How Full is your Bucket?" earlier that week, and my kids were so sweet about filling my bucket with random compliments and sweet things:

"Miss Neal, I like your dress." "Miss Neal, I like your shoes." "Miss Neal, I like your necklace." "Miss Neal, I like you."

I love how when one child gives a compliment, four more chime in with compliments too. I always thank them and tell them my bucket is so full when they say things like that!

Due to my cough and lost voice situation, I had made a doctor's appointment. I debriefed the kids that I would be gone when they got back from lunch and that they would have rest time then while there was a helper in the room. We laid out our blankets before lunch so they'd know just what to do when they went inside.

The doctor gave me an inhaler. She said sometimes bronchitis can linger on like that, and that the muscles around my air passages were tightening to make me continue coughing and have difficulty breathing. I got a flu shot while I was there and then headed back to school. The aide who was in my room said all sorts of wonderful things to me about how amazing my class was--that they knew exactly what to do and were absolutely perfect. She said it was a reflection on me, and that I'm a wonderful teacher and she's so proud of me. I love her, she's one of my biggest encouragers every week. She was beaming with pride, it was cute. She finally left and said she was going to go brag about me now. My students all earned a marble for their excellent behavior. ;)

I left work early and went to Encinitas with my mom to have dinner with my sister whom I haven't seen in two months. It was nice to see her again, and good to not have a ton of work to do that night, so I could just relax and enjoy myself.

On Friday, my suspended student was back. She was a new person--sweet, respectful, helpful. When I told her to go back and do it again correctly (3 times) she did not shout or hit or refuse. She went back to her seat and did what she was supposed to. I could tell she was getting restless at one point, so I gave her a job to do. That helped her. Then it was time for seatwork. She sat at her table and the kid next to her told her she needed to color in crayon not pencil. I could hear their table having a discussion about it. Someone finally asked me if they were supposed to color in crayon. I said, "Yes, please." I continued walking around the room observing. Suddenly she is standing in front of me pointing at another student saying he hit her. The student is in tears and is holding his arm. He's not one of my criers. He said, "No, she hit me." She responded, "Only because he hit me first." He shook his head. I went to the phone. The principal had told me this morning that I needed to have a tight leash on her today. She needed to know this was serious. The principal said, "Anything at all, you send her down." A secretary was on the way.

I asked his side of the story. He told her to color in crayons, and she hit him. I asked her if that's what happened. She shook her head, "No." "It didn't?" "No, I didn't hit him." "Then why is his arm red?" No response. The secretary arrived and took her to the office.

Later in the day, I brought her backpack, lunchbox, and Friday Folder in. She asked me if she could come back to class. I said it wasn't my decision to make. I found a note in my box. Three day suspension. She can return on Wednesday if she's picked up before noon.

I got an email from the parent apologizing, sounding a little discouraged that the new things she was trying wasn't working. I told her it was working. I gave examples of the good behavior I saw in her before the hitting. There was progress being made; don't give up. My mom made a good point to me later, the student would probably benefit from being in half day instead of full day kindergarten. She can handle being good for that long, but it wears on her after a while. It's unfortunate that her mom works and her dad is in the marines doing deployment training, so it's not realistic for their family. It just makes me wonder how this is all going to end. Behavior doesn't change overnight, especially for one so young.

My weekend was a welcome break. I got a lot of work done, although I didn't leave school Friday until 6:15pm. It's never been that late! I found out last minute that I am adding a new student on Monday, so I had to scramble to put some things together for him. I also had copies to make so that I could be prepared for my entire week. I can't do that last minute like the other kinder teacher can. I think she has more pull-outs and therefore more prep time on Mondays, but I don't have any at all.

Saturday got paycheck and budget taken care of, a couple work clothing purchases made, 3 weeks worth of papers filed, 2 weeks worth of homework and seatwork graded and entered into my gradebooks, a new seating chart for the carpet and for the tables, things stapled and cut, vocab cards created, number puzzles printed, and noun activities researched. I'm hoping to finish my volunteer calendar, get some ideas for ASL club that starts in a couple weeks, and change up the groups for centers.

Sunday I woke up only to be told that my dad threw up all night. Great. It's back to haunt me. This time the anxiety did hit a little. I got ready for church in half the time it usually takes me, and booked it out of the house. I got to church at 6:45am. No one was there. I went into the sanctuary, took off my sandals, lit some candles, and got on my knees to pray. I prayed for healing for my dad, protection from the sickness for my mom and I, and then I started praying for my students. They've been burdening my heart this week as I've heard comments from them: "I was late because my mommy and daddy were fighting again." In response to saying that maybe her mom signed her up for pizza lunch, her eyes darkened and a little wrinkle showed up on her brow, "No, my dad did." Reading their info sheets a little later and marital statuses, I saw that her parents had been separated at the beginning of the year, and just 3 weeks later, their status was now "divorced." My heart has been breaking.

I prayed this morning for their families, parents' decisions, marriages, steadiness, and whatever else came to mind. I prayed for my trouble student and the things going on inside of her making it difficult to act correctly. There's also several whose parents are in the military. I prayed for those changes as well. I prayed for strength in leading worship this morning, to have less of me and more of Jesus.

It was the perfect way to begin my day after such a draining week and more troubles to face today. I thank God for that little quiet moment with Him. It set a good tone. Leading worship was wonderful. I enjoyed it as much as I always do. I love my church, I love to sing, I love the people I get to serve with. I pray it will continue to be an uplifting day.