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First Year, Twenty Seventh Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

Spring Fever has officially set in. The kids are crazy as ever. Monday was an especially hard day. My throat was feeling scratchy and uncomfortable by the end of it. I prayed that it was just from yelling over their noise all day instead of a sign that I was getting sick. Thankfully, it was gone by the next day. My big throw-off moment of the day on Tuesday was when I took my kids up to Music class at the end of the day and the room was dark. No one was in there. I wracked my brain to try and think if someone had told me we weren't having music this week. I came up empty.

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A Day in the Life of Miss Neal

Tabitha Helms

Today is Sunday--one of my two days off per week. But believe it or not, my idea of "resting" has a lot to do with teaching. Just thought I'd give you a glimpse on a typical day off for Miss Neal! (Usually these things happen on Saturdays, but I was sick all day yesterday. :( So today I had to play catch-up.) 8:30am - body clock wakes me up even though I've covered my blinds with two layers of blankets to keep it dark and to keep me sleeping.

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First Year, Twenty Sixth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

Daylight Savings Time threw off my sleep patterns this week. On Sunday night, I went to bed around 10pm like I usually do. But then I tossed at turned for 2 hours without being able to fall asleep. I tried praying--thinking maybe God was trying to get my attention. I tried eating a snack--recalling my anxiety book's chapter about insomnia that said sometimes being hungry keeps you from sleeping. I tried answering emails that I was behind on--thinking maybe I needed to empty my mind. Nothing was working.

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First Year, Twenty Fifth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

I think the rest of the school year is going to be composed of wiggly kindergartners who have forgotten how to behave. We did have a birthday this week, and we did celebrate Purim this week, but they were crazy all week long again! Goodness gracious, do they ever get burned out? When in life does that start happening exactly? Because I don't think 23 years old is that old, but I'm telling you, I've been exhausted from their endless energy! And I'm not even sick this time around. Go figure. Not too much excitement this week, but a couple things to note.

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First Year, Twenty Fourth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

It was Dr. Seuss week in Miss Neal's kindergarten class this week, and let me tell you, by the end of it, I was WIPED OUT! I amazingly went home at 4:30pm on Friday (don't usually get out before 5:30pm on Fridays), took a bath, and slept like a rock until 10am! (I never sleep past 8am anymore.) It probably helped that I double covered my window shades with a fleece blanket and two quilts, so the sun wouldn't come in and wake me up. The things that a desperate teacher does for sleep...

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First Year, Twenty Third Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

This week was a doozy. We had no school on Monday, so I spent the day in Orange County saying good-bye to a friend who's about to go teach in Chile. Another one bites the dust. I don't know what it is with all of you people wanting to leave! I think Oceanside is a very nice place to live. Haha. I am excited for her though; she's been wanting to study abroad and learn Spanish for years, so I'm glad she finally has the opportunity to do so.

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First Year, Twenty Second Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

I have survived Crazy Week. By the end I felt like I had been run over by a truck, and was incredibly thankful for a long, four day weekend for President's Day. I needed it desperately. Thank goodness, I didn't have to battle any sort of sickness this week--a rarity for my new lifestyle. But let's start at the beginning... On Monday, we learned the verse "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." I have a worship song of that verse that I got to sing with the kids each morning. Starting my day with worship? Oh yeah, that was great!

Then I taught them our Bible story for the week, which was about Jesus and the children. We talked about how we are all important to Jesus and ways that we can "come to Him" today. One of my kids' first answers to that question was always "in heaven" which I had to steer away from--reminding him that we weren't dead today. We talked about prayer and reading our Bibles. We revisited our "listening to God" activity where each child found a quiet spot in the room somewhere, I turned off the lights and put on soft music, and we spent 10 minutes quietly listening to what God had to tell us. Then we went to our tables--still not talking and drew a picture of it. I called each student back to tell me what God told them and wrote it down on their paper and put it in their file. It's so sweet to witness their excitement about spending time with God and praying to Him--eager to hear from Him and learn something from Him. I love working at private school!

I also taught them about "breath prayer." We talked about how breathing is automatic and we don't even really have to think about doing it. I said prayer can be the same way--the second something pops into our head, we're reminded about something, or we're faced with a situation, we can in a breath, breathe that request or situation to God. That way we're in constant communion with Him and developing the habit of "praying without ceasing." One of my class parents related a story to me that she heard from one of the extended care workers. On the playground, two boys from my class we're praying, one told this mom's son that he had really bad breath. The son denied that it was really bad; it was just "chip breath" according to him. They dialogued back and forth a few times about it and then the son (who comes from a family of pastors) said, "We should say a 'breath prayer.'" I busted up laughing when the mom told me this story. The play on words and the perfect situation for it was just too funny. The mom asked her son why he had said that; he claimed he was just joking. She said she knew that, but the other kid probably didn't, and now he was going to have a weird view of what a "breath prayer" really was.

Tuesday was Valentine's Day. The kids were so eager all day. We put all our Valentine goodies to the side of the classroom in bags so everyone wouldn't constantly be going over there to show everyone what they had brought. Our party was at the end of the day. It was a shorter amount of time than we usually have so we only had time for one craft compared to the usual 3 or 4 that we do--rotating all the students. This way was a lot less crazy. They colored some crafts, then ate a couple Valentine cookies brought in from a parent who works at a grocery store, and then we exchanged Valentine cards. I need to come up with a more effective way of handing out Valentine cards. I explained to everyone that they needed to go around to each table and put the card in each student's paper envelope that we had made and decorated. When I said, "Go!" mass chaos erupted. Students were yelling out each others' names, asking people what name was on the card they were holding, and handing Valentines directly to the student instead of putting them inside envelopes. It was crazy and loud, and I had a lot of whistle blowing at the end to try and get them to put all their stuff inside their bags and get lined up to go. It was crazy; I'm glad it only lasted 10 minutes. I got a splitting headache. Apart from that part, it was a really nice day. I got lots of yummy chocolates, cheesy Valentine cards, a bouquet of roses, and one of pink tulips--my absolute favorite, and a Starbucks card.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The remainder of this post was mysteriously lost in cyberspace when I tried to post it the first time and now I'm too tired to write about it thoroughly. Here's the short version, maybe I'll have the heart to update it more later:

Wednesday - My boss came in to observe me for the 4th time. We were reading a super boring book on Patriotism from the curriculum. My kids were really bored from this super long, nonfiction story with a ton of big words they had never heard of before. I tried my hardest to be creative, including having the students vote when we got to the page about democracy to either finish the story now or take a break to do a worksheet and come back. My boss wasn't around for that part, I wish she had been so she could see me assessing the situation and adapting to it when my kids were disengaged. Reviews of our observations are next week--mine is on Tuesday. We had to fill out a form selecting two topics from a list of what we would like to improve. That list got me second guessing how I teach and thinking I frown too much and am too strict/stern with my students. I brought my concerns up to one of my aides who is also a parent of one of my students. She told me that my kids thrive with the boundaries that I give them and the expectations I have of them as far as behavior goes. She compared my class to other classes in chapel that week--how much better behaved mine were. I wondered if that was just because they're good kids or if it's because I've told them how to act in chapel. She gave me all the credit. I confessed my uncertainty of where the line was drawn about being too strict and firm. She told me to look at the bulletin board behind me with the writing prompt about what we love on it. She said, "Between you and Jesus, there isn't much else in the world that these kids love." She said that's how I can know I'm not being too mean with them; they know that I love them, and they want to be their best for me. She told me that there's been a few times this year that they've considered taking their 3 children out of private school. Financially, it's a hard thing to make work for a lot of families. But she said every single time they've had that conversation, they've come back to the fact that their son is in my class and what an amazing teacher I am and how blessed he is to be here with me. And every single time, they've kept their kids in private school because of me. I teared up when she told me that. I couldn't believe it. Me? A first year teacher, who doesn't know what she's doing half the time? I'm the reason they've stayed? That's amazing. I felt so blessed that she shared that with me and was able to encourage me. Sometimes you just need that reassurance that you're in the right place.

Thursday - We celebrated the 100th day of school. This day included making masks where the eye holes were the zeros in the number 100, writing what we could eat 100 of and what we would buy with $100, drawing a picture of ourselves when we're 100 years old complete with white yarn for hair and crumpling the paper to make it look like we had wrinkles (or "crunkles" as my kids called them, not remembering the word for 'wrinkles'), and counting, singing, and writing to 100. We also counted 100 fruit loops and strung them on necklaces. I was crunching fruit loops under my shoes the rest of the day though. We also made George Washington hats to celebrate President's Day weekend. The kids really liked those; they started marching around the classroom, pretending they were in George Washington's army. It was adorable.

I finished my taxes this week too. I saved all my teaching purchase receipts so I could add it onto my taxes for reimbursement. Since this is a realistic, and transparent blog about my experiences with my first year of teaching, I'll be transparent with you about these numbers even though I'm a little appalled to have spent as much as I did. Keep in mind this includes office supplies, small furniture pieces, posters, manipulatives, CDs and DVDs to supplement, books, craft supplies, class parties, marbles, treasure box toys, containers to put everything in, etc. etc. etc. As a first year teacher, I didn't start out with much. My total number was $754.61 from August 2011--December 2011. Crazy huh? Would you like to know how much the government is reimbursing me? $25. Yeah. There's a good, tangible picture for you on how the government values teachers. I'm not really complaining about it though because while buying these things I forgot that the government gives a tax break for it, and I'm good at budgeting for things, so I had the money to spend on it, and I'll be able to use many of these things for years and years to come. But still. Crazy.

By the end of the week, I felt like a truck had run over me. I was exhausted, and so so so thankful we had a long holiday weekend and I didn't have to go to school Friday or Monday so I could recover and get prepared for my review next week, new, leveled reading books for my kids, and parent teacher conferences which are next week. So much to do! So glad the time is flying by!

First Year, Twenty First Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

This week was nothing compared to last week, but it did have its moments. Luckily for me, God's got my back. I'm so touched to look back on this week and see the many, many small ways that God chose to bless me--to remind me that He hasn't forgotten me, that I'm not alone, and that He loves me. On Monday, my friend surprised me by stopping by with Starbucks.

On Tuesday, my kinders were well behaved even though it was a rainy day schedule. (That's never happened before!)

On Wednesday, I had extra time in my morning because we didn't have staff devotionals, so I had time to check my FB. Waiting for me was a really nice message from another teacher friend of mine who had lots of sympathy, encouragement, and suggestions for what I'm facing. It really meant a lot. I got a sweet message from my best friend, who called me at lunch, and another friend sent me the happiest looking flowers in the world. I also got a text from my worship leader asking me to sing at church this week--my joy. And to top it off, I got a haircut. Always feels good to shed some layers.

On Thursday, we had Vocabulary Dress Up Day. I always like dressing up! My principal also came in for my observation. She came in when my kids were actively engaged in writing words on their individual white boards. They were all perfect angels--they weren't talking over me, and I was able to call out specific students' names with encouragement of the good job they were doing. It was a good time for that to happen, and a weight off my chest that she wasn't going to come in and observe next week when it's Kindergarten Crazy Week. I got to end the night playing a fun new game at small group for our party night.

On Friday, other than being Friday, I got a nice email from the second-year teacher from my school. This is the same girl whom I was wondering how she could do so much. She made herself human, by sharing she's overwhelmed weekly by how much there is to do, and letting me know that she was there if I ever needed to vent or just hangout with another new teacher. I also got an email from my best friend, who was overflowing with excitement about what God is teaching her. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I ended the workday with a surprise visit from a friend who just got back from deployment. When I got home, my mom had made my favorite dinner. Yum yum!

So even though teaching has had its frustrating moments, and I'm still really stoked that it's the weekend, it's nice that God gives me what I need to keep me going.

You Know You're a Teacher when...

Tabitha Helms

You know you're a teacher when.... - You have paper cuts all over your fingers. - You are singing at worship practice and look down to see blue fingerpaint smeared across your arm. - The word "accreditation" gives you a panic attack. - You get excited about empty tissue boxes because you know they can be transformed into awesome Valentine mailboxes. - You have an emotional breakdown at least once per quarter. - You start counting down until President's Day Weekend the day you get back from Christmas Break. - Your iPod has songs about counting money, the names of the 12 disciples, and telling time on it. - You bribe your students to be good while the principal comes in to observe you teaching them. - You spend time on Pinterest looking for fun things to do on the 100th day of school. - You pray that each parent who walks through your classroom on a tour will choose to send their child there so that you have a higher chance of having a job next year.

Teacher Overload!

Tabitha Helms

For a rainy day, my day went much better than expected. Luckily at recess times, the skies were cloudy but rain-free, so they only came inside for half of a recess. They had pretty good behavior all day too. That was a relief. I think a lot of it pertained to my "talking things up" that we were doing. "If you're good, and do this quickly and neatly, then we'll have time to do an extra special fun craft!" "Yay!" I only wish my boss had chosen today to come in and observe; my lessons were great today, if I do say so myself. I'm afraid she's going to come in next week when all of Kindergarten chaos lets loose with all the celebrations we have going on. The end of my day took a sudden wrong turn though. I had been lesson planning like I always do on Tuesdays. Next week is jam packed with stuff. We have a birthday, Valentine's Day, the 100th day of school, and President's Day weekend. I planned everything fine until I got to my 100th day. I wasn't sure how that worked logistically, and the other kinder teacher has told me she has activities and things for us to use. I told her this morning, I'd be working on my lesson plans and that I'd need 100 day stuff. But she never got it for me. When I tried to ask her at the end of the day what time she does her 100 day stuff since I didn't even know how much stuff she had or how long it would take to do everything, she said she does it during her language arts time. Unfortunately, we're celebrating the 100th day on Thursday (even though it's really on Tuesday). Thursdays, my class has PE, so our language arts block gets cut from an hour and a half to 45 minutes. That means it will probably take my class all of our language arts and our math time. I had counted on math time, but not language arts. LA is the hardest subject for me to cut because of the overabundance of things my curriculum books puts into a whole week. There's not enough time in each day to do everything in there--especially since we have PE twice a week. Due to President's Day, we don't have school on Friday, so my LA is already being cut a day next week. I don't think I can completely swipe out two days, especially if my boss comes in to observe--one thing she checks for is if we're using the curriculum books. I already don't know how to not get points knocked off for not using curriculum for math. We've sped through it so quickly, that we're adding our own stuff to it--drawing out addition for a month, adding in two weeks of money review, before going back to the curriculum for subtraction.

After that disheartening news, I went to my staff meeting. Usually staff meetings are not a big deal. We talk about upcoming school events, get updated briefly on what's going on with accreditation, and are reminded about school policies. This time, we opened our meeting by using the Starboard with a poll about what we're doing President's Day weekend. We looked over our agenda--open house confirmation of literary themes for our classes, student council plans, community service plans, policy for student help in our classrooms, and accreditation update.

The meeting got rolling, and everything was as usual. One of the teachers talked about her plans for student council that will be starting next year. She had listed goals for this year and next year and said she was wanting another staff member to help out. I was actually interested in this one--unlike the other two commitments that were "forced" upon me at the beginning of the year (ASL club and speech meet, which is coming up soon....oy another thing to think about.) I was on ASB in high school, and I really enjoyed it. I think it's a great opportunity for students to learn how to be leaders and have a chance to be poured into. But even with my interest, I kept from vocalizing it to the teacher because I don't even know if I have a teaching job yet next year. If I do have a teaching job next year, then I have to go back to college--taking online courses through UCSD. I also don't really know any of the older kids. I feel like I should know them and their names because it's a small school, but I don't have a clue who they are. I would feel weird leading people I don't know that know me. When you're a teacher, every student knows your name and says hi to you. You say hi back and just avoid calling them anything. It's a very awkward position.

After the teacher finished sharing, we went into our accreditation update. That would've been fine if it was like our other updates have been so far--this is what we did, this is what they said, now we're doing this. Instead, we were told all schools that do accreditation have multiple committees to getting everything done. Every teacher serves on a committee. This is so every teacher "feels included" and has "personal involvement" on the school goals. They then proceeded to hand us not one, not two, but FOUR packets of accreditation applications, WASC response forms, example action plans, and committee involvement information papers. They said, "You have to read this, make notes, and pick what you're interested in helping with. We start next month. Oh, and this isn't just something we're doing this year...when you're accredited, you keep revisiting these things and making changes and reassessing every year from now on. I flipped through it and saw to my chagrin that it was in legal jargon. It made me think of tax documents and bank statements that I get and can't decipher. I have to hand it off to my dad and find out if it's something important that I need to do something about.

I felt like I was back in college on the first day of school where your professor is listing off the litany of everything you have to read, every assignment you have to complete, and every project you have to do in the next few weeks. I started having a panic attack in the middle of the meeting as I looked wide-eyed at the ginormous stack of papers in front of me wondering when on earth I was going to find time to read it. I was getting lost and overwhelmed as they were pointing out this page and that page and "if you look over here" and "this page has an example of what this will look like" etc. etc. etc. Then I felt it coming. I tried to focus on my breathing and chill out to no avail. Two big tears leaked out and rolled down my face. I cry when I'm overwhelmed. I was horrified that it happened during my meeting. I started chiding myself that I was so unprofessional.

Then my mind started spiraling as I made my way back to my classroom once the meeting was adjourned. I cloroxed tables and thought,

So much for helping with student council next year, good thing you didn't say you were interested!

Now your extra time is going to be spent on accreditation committees because supposedly you "will find things you have to contribute" by being on one of them. It doesn't matter that you never contribute in large group discussions, you just listen. You have to do it anyway. It doesn't matter that you know hardly anything about this school or what is important to it or how you can help change things because you don't know how things work. You have to do it anyway.

Don't even bother wondering when all this is going to happen. You'll be in your second year of teaching--still a year considered to be part of your "settling in" for your new career. And on top of that you'll be doing your own homework and online coursework. Who knows how time consuming all that will be? What if you have to meet on campus with professors or go get paperwork completed? Will you even have time to be driving to La Jolla to do that? It doesn't matter, stop making excuses, you have to do all of this whether you like it or not.

And while you're at it, why don't you question how it is that the other new teacher seems able to go from teaching 2nd grade to junior high, plan a creation of student council, project ideas and goals for community service, and get married in her second year of teaching and you can't even manage your bare minimum of teaching and taking some college courses? You obviously are not very good at this teaching thing. It's involving more than you can handle. Your stress levels are off the wall, and your anxiety? Well, we don't have to talk about how bad that's been. You have no social life, why can't you deal with all this?

I'm 23 years old for goodness sake! Why is so much expected of me? I'm just a kid! I can't do this! I just got thrown into this career, and I'm too young for it. It's too much to handle; I'm still ruled by my emotions. This much shouldn't be expected of me. I can't do it. That's what's really different between me and the other teachers--I'm extremely young, so I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how to be a teacher. I'm no good at this.

Then I drove to my hair appointment only to find that it's tomorrow not today.

On my way home, Switchfoot's "This is your Life" came on. I found it very ironic in this overwhelming feeling of inadequacy about the place of life I'm in right now, Jon Foreman was reminding me that right now is my life, is this place in life and this person I am right now who I want to be? No, this isn't where I wanted to be when I was in high school envisioning this season of my life. This isn't where I want to be today when I don't feel like I can do everything I'm being asked to do because I'm so young and inexperienced.

I got home to watch Smash that I had recorded from last night--surprised that I didn't miss its air date, only to find that it wasn't a new episode, it was the premiere that I had already watched online.

Not my day.

I know in my head that the emotions will pass, and that when things calm down they won't be as hard or challenging as they seem to be right now. I just have to keep telling myself that it's my first year. First year is always the hardest. Next year will be better.

First Year, Twentieth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

It's certainly been a memorable week. If you missed on my "losing it" post, feel free to have a good laugh before reading this one. The remainder of my week was fairly uneventful, thank goodness. I finally managed to catch up, and didn't have too much to bring home this weekend other than a little grading and some prep work for a president's day craft we're doing in a couple weeks.

I was glad today was Friday. They kids were pretty noisy at the beginning of the day. I had one student go home with a fever. And one student wet his pants (and then proceeded to walk back into the classroom with his pants down and began to change in the back of the classroom instead of going back to the bathroom, oy vey.) I don't know what it is that kids don't understand about the need to wash wet clothes, but I think every single one of them that has had an accident, puts the bag of wet clothes back into their cubbies instead of in their backpacks to take home and clean. Ugh.

I had two lovely highlights of my day though.

1) My best friend and her husband had to take a last minute, unexpected trip back home (They recently moved to North Carolina, and I've been missing my BFF like crazy.). They didn't have a lot of time to see people while here, but they managed to come visit me at school while my kids were at computers. The 45 minutes flew by, but it was so wonderful to sit down with them in person and catch up. I love them dearly, and it's been hard not to have her near.

2) We had a Freshman from Vanguard whose mom used to teach at my school observing in the classrooms today, as she plans to be a teacher. It was so nice to have someone close to my age on campus to talk to--someone who's experiencing the life stage that I just recently got out of, so we had common things to talk about. I've felt like the sore thumb at my school, and it's lonely. She was the sweetest thing, and has the same heart to teach at private school as I do. She blessed me by doing a ton of prep work cutting during my last two periods. She got it almost all done, and we were able to chat while we were both working on stuff. I really enjoyed hanging out with her. She told me that "everyone says you're the most organized." Haha, I didn't know they thought that! I guess I am a little on the organized side...I noticed that again this week when I had my monthly battle with changing the calendar. The teacher that owned it before me didn't sequence the date cards when she put them back in their bags after the month was over, so I always grumble that it takes me twice as long to do calendar than it should because I have to spend so much time taking out old staples and putting them in order before I can stick them up on the board! Haha, that would drive me nuts!

This week I had the opportunity to encourage one of the parents of a willful student in my class. She's had a hard go of it, and I know has been working really hard to pull things together and be a better parent. Her child is one that often has behavior problems and we've had to work together on it for a while. On Tuesday when she came to pick up her daughter, instead of mentioning the trouble she got into today, I chose to give the mom some encouragement my sub had passed along to me.

On Monday, I had the sub do a listening to God activity that I had planned to do with my kids on Friday, but our awards chapel schedule zapped me of the class time. She turned out the lights and had the kids choose somewhere in the room to sit on their own to listen to God. Then they got to color or write what God told them. My sub said that this student seemed to understand it on a whole different level than the other kids. I told that to her mom, and said I wasn't surprised because whenever I've talked to the mom, I've gotten the vibe that she really gets that, and I'm sure it rubs off on her daughter. She seemed to soak in my encouragement like a sponge. I know she gets really discouraged and disheartened, and it was nice to see what a small compliment did for her.

She sent me an email today about her daughter needing to miss school for a family day before her husband deploys, and in her email apologized to me for not having it all together. My heart went out to her, and I responded:

Don't ever think you have to apologize for not having it all together. None of us do! We're all imperfect people relying on our perfect Lord. You might feel like your problems are worse than other peoples' but they're not. We just see our own lives a lot more clearer than we see others'. You're doing great.

I then proceeded to tell her of something her daughter did well on today. Sometimes with "problem students" you really have to make an effort to look for what they're doing well, but it's so important to do so--not just for the child's sake, but for the parent's too I'm realizing. Her mom responded back, "Thank you so much. :-) You have a great heavenly wisdom and perspective on things. Yes, you are right it is much easier to look at what is wrong and still needing improvement rather than celebrating the triumphs, even the small ones. :-) I guess I tend to be a bit insecure as a mom. Thanks for all your encouragement."

It reminded me of the concept I've taught my kids about "filling each others' buckets." When you fill someone's bucket, your bucket gets filled too. I wouldn't say that I'm the best at talking with the parents, but when I do have a small opportunity to help them and lift their spirits, it makes me feel good inside.

First Year, Nineteenth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

Report cards were printed out and finished up this week. It was pointed out that I forgot to write comments. There's so many different things to remember on our grading system; it's nuts! Last quarter, the comments section was what I spent the most time on--trying to think of the "sandwich" technique: begin with something good, put in the area to work on, and end with another something good. I reread, edited, reread, edited, etc. Now I had to scribble down some notes last minute by hand and then type it in to the grading system so it will print out next time. Thankfully I had time to do it. It was also awards chapel this week. This is the second one we've had, and again the principal was not able to be there. I think that fact has led to the lack of details planned out for it. It was semester awards so in addition to our normal, quarterly teacher awards, there were also perfect attendance, honor roll, and GPA awards. This made it extremely long. The first time we had an awards chapel, we talked about kindergarten leaving at 9:30am if it was still going because that was their snack time and because their awards go first in the ceremony, it's an awful long time for them to sit. There was no mention of us leaving early this time though, at 9:30am, we were only at 3rd grade awards; we still had to get all the way to 8th grade. The two kinder classes sit on opposite sides of the room. I tried to make eye contact with the teacher, to no avail. Finally at 10:00 I saw them get up to leave. I hadn't talked to my class about this so only half of them were paying attention when I whispered for them to get up and follow me out--a different way than we usually go so as not to walk in front of the whole sanctuary.

The awards themselves went well, though I had one parent there whose child wasn't receiving an award because she had put the awards flyers in her son's folder when she was helping in my class, but I had gone back and removed it after finding out that this awards ceremony was supposed to be for academics. I had wondered to myself if that would happen with her, but thought she would ask me about it when her son didn't come home with it. I should have told her.

This week I taught my kids a song I learned when I was in elementary school. I remember it from church, and I remember teaching it to my classmates in 2nd grade. I also remember my 2nd grade teacher asking me when I was older to come teach it to her new class. So I've had lots of experience teaching this song! I even managed to find a version online to play while they did their work in Bible this week. They were singing it all week.

The rest of the week was fairly uneventful. My kids are getting better at their addition flashcards. I submitted my intent to return next year. That doesn't mean I will be offered anything, they just asked if I would like to come back or have other plans. There was a spot to write if you want to change grades or not and why. I was able to put that I plan to complete my clear credential program next year so staying in the familiar of kindergarten would be helpful to me.

I was able to have a good phone date with my best friend on Friday. I got in my usual lunch break walk around the parking lot while we caught up. I started feeling feverish at that time. I had taken my temperature that morning because I woke up feeling a little off. I was anxious the night before though so when I didn't have a temperature, I figured that's all it was. I took some ibuprofin and it had worn off by lunchtime. I made it through math and rest time before I became convinced that I had a fever. I can never tell if I have a fever because my hands were always cold. But I felt like my face was on fire. I sent the kindergartners off to computers and sat in the office with my iPod. My head was pounding, but the school day was almost over and I figured I would just run home as soon as it was over. I didn't get any prep done during computer class, so when the kids returned, I set them down with a movie and lollipops to appease them of their loss of center time since I wasn't feeling well enough to supervise that craziness. They promised to be extra quiet and extra good. That lasted about 20 minutes. I had to give them a couple reminders, and put their heads down once. But we suffered through the end of the day. I thought I was going to fall over when I stood outside at pick-up. Those 15 minutes feel like the longest minutes of your life when you are sick. My whole body was aching. I raced back to class and threw next week's papers onto the correct shelves just in case my sickness lasted through Monday and I needed a sub--everything would need to be where it belonged.

I got home at 3:30 and crashed after discovering I had a 100.4 degree fever. I couldn't fall asleep, so I just twisted and turned in discomfort. My face was on fire, but the rest of me was shaking. I was so frustrated. I just had a fever last month; I really have to have another one?? I did know it was going around my class, but I was mad to have caught it anyway. I stayed in bed and put off taking ibuprofin until 8pm for headache relief so I could sleep. I woke up at 1:30am and my fever was gone.

It's Sunday now and my fever has yet to return. However, now I am plagued with a stomach virus. It never ends. Just when I finally was back to a normal, healthy weight, I have slipped too low again. My body is still sore and stiff, the headaches still pound, my stomach growls that it's hungry and then again that I shouldn't have eaten. Misery. It's 2:30pm, and I wonder if I'll have enough energy to teach tomorrow, if I should just plug through or if I should be safe rather than sorry. The only consolation is that there are only 17 more weeks in this school year. Soon my immune system will have 3 summer months in which to recover and return again immune to almost everything. I fear that when I become a mother someday I will have to face this battle once again--coming down with everything they are coming down with.

Today I'm having a Peter Pan day. Finding Neverland, Hook, Peter Pan, and Disney's Peter Pan. After which I plan to listen to the audiobook as I have never read the actual story of Peter Pan. Yes, I am having a pity party that I'm an adult in a career that is making me miserably sick over and over again. So what? Pity parties are allowed when you're sick.

First Year, Eighteenth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

Due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it was another short week. The stomach flu was going around in full swing the week before. It thankfully didn't affect my class. I mostly had kids out with a fever. I was seeing all over Facebook that families at church were getting it, so I stayed home and watched church online with my mom. It was a nice day off. On Monday I got to have lunch with a good friend of mine who has been off on vacations and retreats etc. for a while. It's taken us a long time to get together. We talked about my troubling friend situation as of late, and she was very understanding and encouraging. She told me I was her most faithful friend. I told her it was because she's never made me feel like I wasn't important to her. She's one of the few friends I have that I didn't feel our friendship had changed after she got married. That's not something I can say of everyone, and I'm really thankful to have her, though we don't get together too often. Having another short week just continued to set back the behavioral loss from Christmas Break. We've had so many times during the day that we've had to "go back and try it again." From lining up after recess, to sitting down like model students on the carpet, to walking quietly to their tables, these kiddos have had to practice, practice, practice! Luckily we have lots of time during our day to retry things, but I'm SO over it!

We started blending letter sounds to read and write words this week. We've been doing beginning and ending sounds for a while, but this week they had a list of 16 short "a" sound, CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. The other kindergarten teacher gave the list to me for us to do and said she has them practice on white boards writing the words while she sounds out each letter in the word. So, normally I would assume they would have to write down the words like that for the test. That's what I had them do and went to the other teacher while I was grading them to ask if she graded just the correct spelling or their writing too. That was when she told me the test was supposed to be the kids reading the list, not writing it. Wish I would have known that before I did it. It was an adventure trying to give a spelling test to kindergartners, that's for sure! I had one kid burst into tears saying he couldn't do it and then refuse to do anymore. I had to give him the test one-on-one later, poor guy.

We've started doing addition flashcards everyday. They're slowly getting the hang of it. It's been fun to teach them tips and tricks to adding quick. They get excited about the ideas I share when I praise them for how quickly they can do addition. I've been doing all sorts of tactics--songs, ones tables, looking for patterns, games, and practice, practice, practice!

Our Bible story was about Samson this week. We read out of picture Bibles, that have really cool artistry. The kids love their Bibles. If I let them have 30 minutes to just look through it, they'd be perfectly content. It's a really neat kid version. The trouble with kids versions though, is that they don't get into quite as much detail. The kids always have tons of questions about the stories we read. One of my students asked if Samson died when he pushed down the temple pillars on top of the Philistines. I was pretty sure he did but it had been a while since I'd read that story in my Bible. I said I'd have to look it up in my Bible to double check. We talked about how if we still have questions, we can look in a big Bible with an adult to find the answers. So together we read the NIV version of the story. Of course, I have to do some filtering with my age group. I have to stick to basic facts so they can follow easily, and then paraphrase after I've read...skipping around for the parts of the story that we've already talked about, just to get more detail. It was neat to see them so eager to know more about the Bible.

Second quarter grades were due on Friday. I'm officially done with 1st semester. HALFWAY DONE!!!

First Year, Seventeenth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

Double points this week for two blog posts! You can read my other one on my lesson for MLK Day here. You should really read it if you haven't already. It was a highlight of my week. Happened on the first day too, which was such a nice start to the week. Another great part of my week was the balance of stress level. I tried my new schedule last week and felt discouraged. But this week, since it wasn't the first week back after a long break, things had settled down significantly. I stuck with my schedule of leaving early, and there were a few days I left earlier than was even on my schedule because I was done with everything. I don't understand how it all works because last quarter, it didn't matter how much I did, there was always something more. But, I've been home early and feeling rested. There were two days this week that we didn't have morning devotions, which gave me some extra sleeping time. I was feeling so good that I was even able to cook dinner for my family one night. I tried a new recipe my friend, Andra sent me for pumpkin chili. It was great; everyone loved it. And there were tons of leftovers so we've had some extra nights off from cooking and prepping lunches. I got extra ambitious like I always do when I cook and made pumpkin muffins that were raved about all around found on Smitten Kitchen, as well as two kinds of candy popcorn. The popcorn was for my kindergartners. We had earned a class party so we were going to watch a movie and eat popcorn. I was trying to make it fun. It tasted fine, but not everyone liked it. I'll make it easy on myself next time and just make regular popcorn. Haha.

This week, all my testing finally finished up. I got copies made of everything, filed my copies, submitted copies to the resource teacher, entered the results in my gradebook, and sent home packets with parent letters in their folders today. What a nice thing to get off my plate.

This week, I read my students the book, "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?" It's by the same author of "How Full is Your Bucket?" that I read to my kids a couple months ago. We had talked about the concept of filling others' buckets with kind actions and words, and they really seemed to click with it. I'd hear them saying, "My bucket's not very full right now," and other comments of that nature. When we returned from Christmas break, along with the step backwards in classroom behavior, the meanness was hitting full throttle. I decided we needed to revisit the buckets. I really wanted to reinforce it, so I sketched out some bucket outlines and taped them onto each student's desk. They also had a sheet of stickers to be kept under their pencil baskets. We honed in on the concept from the book that said, "When you fill other peoples' buckets, your bucket gets filled too." This book was more focused on checking in with yourself each day to see if you could bring to mind when and how you filled others' buckets that day. We now had ourselves some visual checkers. When a student "filled someone's bucket" with a compliment or kind action, that person would give them a sticker. I figured the student being complimented was already getting something nice done or said to them, so the reward should go the other way. The kids loved it. I was a little worried about the distraction of it--keeping the kids from working on their seatwork, but I reminded them to finish my instructions first and then when they were done and waiting patiently for others to finish, they could fill peoples' buckets. There were just a couple times a day that they didn't choose well, but a simple reminder got them back on track. They were good about asking me, "Miss Neal? Is now a good time to fill buckets?" They loved it. It was great to have something tangible and visual to connect them with. My morning aide whose son is in my class told me the next day it was a great idea. She was going on a high school retreat this weekend for church and was planning to use my class in an illustration because she's noticed a lot of meanness among the kids in the youth group. "If 5 year olds can fill peoples' buckets, then 15 year olds can do it too." She told me I never know who I'm influencing with my amazing teaching. Cool!

Another favorite part of my week was with our memory verse. We learned about Joshua and the battle of Jericho. I don't usually pick the verses each week--the other kinder teacher does that, but she didn't have time to write the newsletter this week, so I did it for the first time. Knowing we were studying Joshua, I picked the verse I had memorized from Joshua 1 when I was a kid. We used to have a green, cassette tape that we played on long car rides. It had a Joshua 1:9 song on it that I can still sing to you this day. I also remember a story about a race, but no further details. Anyway, it's a longer verse, but I had the song so I knew my kids would be fine singing it. They memorized 3 verses of "Away in a Manger," surely they could do one verse. :) So, Monday we spent a lot of time learning it; they had it down by Tuesday. The first time I tried to have them sing a verse in chapel, they sang it loud and confidently in our classroom, but were little mice when they had to sing it in chapel to everyone. I ended up having to sing it with them, which I never do. I always teach them to do it on their own, without my help. They're smart; I have full confidence in them. I give them the challenge "let's see if you can do it without me" every week. They love rising to the occasion and impressing me with their skills. Since we had our "Away in a Manger" performance under our belts, and we had really worked on singing nice and loud for that, I figured they'd be okay. It came time for chapel, and my principal called on classes to recite differently than usual. Usually we do it all at the beginning. Sometimes, depending on what she has planned for worship and her message, we don't do them at all. Sometimes she asks us beforehand if we're ready to do a verse that week or not, sometimes she doesn't. This time she had 3 classes recite, then we sang. Then she had 3 more. Then we sang another song. I was getting worried that we weren't going to get to go! My kids had worked so hard, and I really wanted them to have their chance to shine. They were asking me when it was our turn. One of our secretaries has a granddaughter in my class. She asked me the same thing--saying her granddaughter had sung it to her last night, and she was staying just so she could hear us. Thankfully, my principal called on us after the song was over. I told them to sing nice and loud. They were amazing! They rose above and beyond my expectations and were fabulous! I could hear the chuckles and the "awes" that you give when you're watching such young ones perform. When they finished, everyone was cheering and clapping. You should have seen the smiles on my kids' faces! It was the most precious thing in the world. I had teachers complimenting me later on what a great job they did. It was a proud moment. :)

My other favorite moment of the week was a discussion after reading them a book called "What's Heaven Like?" by Beverly Lewis. It had caught my eye when I was browsing the children aisles at the Vista library. I have read several of her adult fiction books. I sat on the carpet and read the whole things right there, and loved it. It had a note in the back for teachers and parents. It said it was good to read to kids who had just experienced a death of someone close to them or to make kids aware of heaven and open up discussion about it. We're less likely to be afraid of things we know about. The book followed a little boy who was missing his grandpa who had died. The boy went around asking various people in his life different questions about what heaven was like. Each page gave an answer and referenced a Bible verse. It also had a page that said there are things we just have to wait and see what they're like because the Bible doesn't talk about it.

My own mind has been very heaven-focused lately--perhaps due to my parents' near brush with death a few weeks ago. I recently read "Heaven is for Real" about a little boy who went to heaven during surgery on his appendix and in later months shared with his parents from his young mind's perspective what things were like in heaven. I'm inclined to believe it, knowing what the Bible says about heaven and about each person in the Trinity that the boy talks about. I've also recently discovered an awesome song by Phil Wickham called "My Heaven Song." My introspective, critical mind has also been analyzing myself and my anxiety--the need I have found to change my negative attitude about things happening in my life, and feeling frustrated that I don't like who I am right now. There's a yearning in me to be who God meant for me to be and feeling like I can never attain that. I don't like who I am right now, and I wouldn't wish myself onto anybody. I don't want to get married because I don't want someone to be stuck with me. The kind of man I want deserves better. My mom says these are normal feelings and other people aren't seeing the same things in me that I'm seeing. But that's been part of my frustration--feeling like people don't know who I really am. They see this wonderful person on the outside, and I don't feel inclined to show them otherwise. Anyway, all that to say, there has been a deep longing in my heart for heaven. In heaven, I'll be exactly who I'm supposed to be. I'll be the perfect version of myself. I'll be in the presence of God and everything within me will be fulfilled to the highest level. I've been feeling so close to God lately in my quiet times--really resting in Him and being aware of His constant presence and help. I'm nothing without Him, and have been so thankful to have Him near me. But it also extends that drive to be even closer--before Him in heaven, where I am not tied down by anything else--where I can give Him the praise and focus He deserves. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suicidal about this or anything. I know VERY certainly that God has me here for a reason, and His timing and will is perfect in my life. I wouldn't think of cutting that off; I can think of nothing more selfish--not only on behalf of my family that would be devastated but also on whoever it is that God has me here to minister to and pour into. No, these thoughts are not of that nature at all. I think it's a healthy balance--longing to be in my true home with the Lord, and being willing to wait for His perfect timing.

With all these thoughts in me, I thought it was a wonderful children's book. I love that I work at a Christian school, and I can use such things to teach them about what the Bible promises us, to dispel fear in the unknown, and to use as an opportunity to talk about how to get to heaven. It was a little long, so we spent two days reading it. We finished it today, and you should have been a fly on the wall to hear the discussion that took place afterwards. It was incredible. I love children!

"Does God float?" "Is there grass in heaven?" "Will we wear clothes in heaven?" "Can blind people see in heaven?" "Do we get to eat there?" "There has to be plants because we need oxygen to breathe." "That's a good point, but maybe, our new bodies won't need oxygen to breathe! That's something we'll have to wait and see about because the Bible doesn't say." "Are there guards in heaven?" "What will our new bodies look like?" "After we live in heaven, will we come back here again?" "Are our pets in heaven?" "How do we get up to heaven?" "When we die, our bodies are in the ground." "Yes they are, thank you for sharing. Every part of us stays on earth except our spirit, which goes to heaven." "When we squish bugs on earth, do they go to heaven?" "Miss Neal, I don't really want to die, but I'm really excited to live in heaven." "I think that's a pretty normal feeling to have. It's okay to not want to die; living on earth is great too, huh? But I think when we get to heaven, we won't be sad about dying at all because Jesus will be there waiting for us, and He'll be so excited to see us and welcome us into our new home!"

And of course with kindergartners, you get the completely off-the-wall-nothing-to-do-with-the conversation-comments: "Your shirt looks like a strawberry." "There's a sight word on that game box."

Haha, it was a good time. I love my kids. :)

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Lesson Plan

Tabitha Helms

Even thought MLK Day is a week away, this Monday was the only chance I had to do something with the kids to teach them about it due to a class party and a field trip both happening at the end of this week. I found a lesson plan online and tried it out in class. It was amazing! The results were perfect and our class discussion was great. I had a parent helper in the classroom when we reviewed what we learned about MLK and she was nodding her head in affirmation about what I was saying--always a good sign when teaching young kids about some tricky issues like segregation.

Here's what I did:

First, we looked at the calendar and noticed the picture of MLK on the 16th. I asked if anyone knew who he was to check for prior knowledge. A couple kids tried to answer, but didn't give the correct answer.

Next, I read a book I found at the library called, Martin's Big Words. It was a good story about MLK that included some of his famous quotes--focusing on love and not hate, equality, etc. It didn't really talk about segregation. It mentioned "white only signs that made Martin feel bad," but didn't explain what that meant. I stopped at that point and asked the kids what they thought that meant. No one guessed the right answer, so I told them to look at their hands and tell me what color their hands were. I got all sorts of responses. I told them to raise their hand if they thought they had white hands. I said that the signs that said "white only" meant that only the people raising their hands right now could use that water fountain or bathroom or store. Everyone else had to use something else. They weren't allowed. "That's not very nice, is it?" I finished reading the story--skipping some parts on the second to last page that talked about Martin getting shot.

We talked a little about how it wasn't fair what people were doing and saying. We discussed how we have the rule at school to use our words not our fists. We talked about how "equality" means fairness. I asked them what "rights" were and talked about some rights that they have--like having an opinion to not want to do something and how it's okay for them to say their opinion nicely, etc.

Then I had everyone get in a circle around the outside of our carpet. I got some orange and green circle stickers and alternated putting one on everyone's hand. I got out my math manipulative interlocking cubes and said I was going to let them play with the blocks however they wanted for 5 minutes, but I had two rules they had to follow. My two rules were: 1) Students with green stickers could play with any blocks they wanted. (There were excited exclamations.) 2) Students with orange stickers could only play with blocks that had circles in them. (There were more excited exclamations because they couldn't yet anticipate the unfairness.)

You can use whatever "play item" you have. The lesson plan I used said Legos and one group plays with all and one group plays with red Legos only. I have a significantly lower number of blocks that have the circles on them than blocks without.

I told the students to begin and watched to see everyone begin grabbing blocks towards them to build with if they could play with any and pick out blocks with holes if they couldn't. Pretty soon, I started hearing, "Hey!" and "I don't have any." "That's mine!" Students who could play with anything had collected both kinds of blocks. Students who couldn't had started taking blocks with holes out of others' already claimed piles, explaining that that's all they could play with. The owner who was being "stolen" from still protested. I saw frowns and smiles from each group. One little boy was getting close to tears, so I stopped their game and had everyone put their hands on the heads so they wouldn't be distracted while we talked about it.

I said, "Raise your hand if you had a green sticker. What was your rule?" They repeated it. I asked how that made them feel. "Good, happy." I said, "Raise your hand if you had an orange sticker. What was your rule?" They repeated. "How did that make you feel?" "Bad, sad, upset, it wasn't fair."

I said, "This is what it was like for people in Martin's time. If you had white skin, you were the one that could play with or use anything. If you didn't, you were like the one that could only play with some. That's not very fair is it?" I continued asking them, questions about it and several of the students gave examples of what could and couldn't be used by people during that time.

I concluded saying that MLK fought with love and with his words to make everything equal for everybody. That was a very good thing, so now we celebrate his birthday to remember what he did for our country."

I had the students color a picture of MLK. If they were more independent with their writing, I would have also had them write and draw a picture of their dream for our country.

Hope this helps you prepare for the upcoming holiday!

First Year, Sixteenth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

I came out of my two week Christmas break with visions of less stress and more balance. I had changed my schedule so I wasn't staying at work until 5pm every day of the week. I took out a lot from my lesson plans so I could integrate more independent work the next few weeks to allow for more time to do one-on-one testing before the quarter ends. I went to bed at 9pm every night and woke up at 7am every morning. I chopped off another 15 minutes from my morning routine so I could sleep in a little longer. It worked great all week; I felt rested from the 10 hours and didn't wake up anxious a single day. I had a little tension a couple of mornings, but I was well prepared with all I've been learning about anxiety and was able to push through and make it okay.

I arrived to school the first day feeling pretty good. We were supposed to have an afternoon staff meeting, but my principal was unable to do that so she presented us with all we needed to know during our morning devotions. This is when the first unexpected and unpleasant surprise came. The fire marshall had visited our campus over the break to check fire safety and hazards that needed to be fixed. My principal said three things that applied to me: 1) You can't have more than 50% of the the room covered in flammable, paper material. 2) You can't hang anything from the ceiling. 3) You can't have any boards or posters lying across the top shelf of your closet that could block the sprinkler. Suddenly, my pleasant day turned into a flurry of stress. I was racing around my classroom, tearing down posters and leaving more space on my walls. The end of the day I managed to heave and ho my turkey board from the top shelf of my closet where it had been very difficult to put it in the first place. The snowflakes on the ceiling would have to wait for another day because I didn't have my stepladder, and I was trying to stick to my strict new schedule.

Another joy I received my first day back was a child raising his hand and shouting, "Miss Neal! I'm going to throw up!" I told him to go to the bathroom, but he didn't make it. He leaped out of his chair to the trash can. I plugged my ears and looked the other way as I pleaded, "Why God?! Why does this keep happening to me? You know how much I hate this! I'm trying to get rid of my anxiety, and I've been doing fine, but my first day back I get overloaded with stress and puke? Is this really necessary???? I thought about my anxiety book and how it talked about some therapists create scenarios that you get anxious about and place you in them so that you can practice the concepts they've been working on with you. I concluded that God was giving me the scenario to practice. I sent the boy to the office, sprayed disinfectant everywhere, and ignored all the children asking me if so and so just threw up and what was that I was spraying. You saw with your own eyes what happened, I'm not about to tell you about it again. Thankfully, this was the first child who actually puked in the trash can so I didn't have to look at it or cover it with powder. I stuck the trash can outside my door and ignored it the rest of the day. I don't know why I have the pukiest class in the world. Everyone I talk to is in disbelief when I tell them it has happened again. No one ever remembers it happening that often from their own school experiences. No other teacher has had so many in such a short period of time that I have talked to. I just have the pukiest children. A nice addition to my already stressful first year. (*Note the sarcasm.)

Due to this episode, I went home and had to really fight the tension I was feeling. I talked with my dad that night and cried to him about the tension I've been feeling the past week and had the comfort of him telling me he'd step in for some of it. I was able to handle my tension for the rest of my week pretty well on my own. There was a couple times I reached out to other friends for uplifting. This doesn't really have to do with teaching, but the realization that I've lost regular contact with some close friends and feeling alone has forced me to redevelop old friendships with people I've never been as close to as well as reach out and cultivate new friendships. It's been nice to get to know people better who have been in my life for a while. I'm really thankful for them. I had some nice email conversations and a good hangout with a friend that's been very encouraging to me the past week. It was nice to find someone in a similar place as me that can be understanding and supportive.

Some good things about this week include, having a lot of help from extended care and school staff to help me get all my testing done, being able to send things home with kids for their parents to prep for me, not having as much grading to do, going home earlier than usual, getting an eight-position headphone jack for my listening center, receiving field trip permission slips from almost everyone within three days, (much better return rate than the last field trip!) getting almost all of my word attack skills tests done, and listening to one of my students attempt to tell me the sound the letter "s" makes while missing two teeth. Haha. So cute. :)

Unfortunately, the puke and the fire safety stress were not the only unplanned frustrations.

Wednesday night, I was at worship practice. In one hour I felt fine; in the second hour, I suddenly felt a sore throat coming on. I must have caught it from my kids the first day back. How frustrating. I hate teaching with a sore throat. I can't talk over my kids when I have a sore throat. My voice is in so much pain at the end of the day, which is when they're the loudest and need the most reminders and prompting to do what they need to do and be where they need to be. I was okay Thursday--enough to get through the day, but by Friday, I was worn out. Thursday night, it was hurting pretty bad. I have a hard time sleeping when I have a sore throat. It makes me nauseous when I'm lying down. So I took some cold medicine, which has worked in the past. I took a half dose and slept through the night. When I woke up, I felt really nauseous. I realized that the cold medicine has acetaminophen in it, which I have recently become allergic to. I treated the morning as if I had an anxiety attack, and plugged through with my newfound tricks. I made it to school okay, and it wore off shortly.

Another unexpected thing that happened came via email. One email was from a parent who said she'd no longer be able to help in my class Tuesday afternoons. Great. That came on a Tuesday. Another email was from a parent who said her daughter would not be at school Thursday or Friday, and she would therefore not be able to come help in the class on Thursday. Double great. I had to put together a packet of schoolwork for the student who would be out, and I didn't even have all the papers I needed. (Another last minute unexpected occurrence--the other kindergarten teacher came in to tell me we weren't in the same place in math and I needed to slow down a couple days. So I had to find some addition practice worksheets to have my kids do. She also told me the curriculum goes quickly into subtraction, and we needed to spend a month on addition and review before moving to subtraction. Also, the Bible curriculum was a little fast in the New Testament, and we needed to slow it down so that we'd do the resurrection by Easter. Keep in mind, I had already done next week's lesson planning without this information, and now had to go back and change two out of three subject areas for the week.)

Friday was the worst unexpected occurrence of all. Remember I already feel like crap because of my sore throat and the exhaustion of being back in school. On Fridays, my kids go to computer class at 1:30, almost at the end of the day. We haven't had computer class for a few weeks because of the holidays and parties and other things going on on Fridays. I was glad to be sending them out so I could have my 45 minutes of prep time so I wouldn't have to stay after school later than I had planned, and hopefully I'd have time to take down the snowflakes after school. Twenty minutes before computer class, my principal called to say she was sorry but I wasn't having computer class today. We've been trying to get StarBoards installed in the 2nd-5th grade classrooms all week, and the computer teacher messed up on his own schedule for when he was going to be installing software on the teachers' laptops for it. So, he had to use my classtime to do that. I was the only teacher that suffered because of this. I was so upset. I already felt terrible, and now I was going to lose my prep time and be forced entertain my kids for 45 minutes that I had not anticipated having. I sent the kids out to recess, telling them they weren't going to computer class after this and I'd let them know what they were doing when recess was over. The principal had suggested they have an extra long recess or something, but I had the sneaking suspicion that she hadn't asked the extended care supervisor about this and that if I was having a long recess, then I had to be the one outside watching them, which was NOT about to happen when I had no voice to shout at them when they weren't following the playground rules. I also wouldn't be able to get any prep done if I had to be outside watching them. I went to ask the extended care supervisor who confirmed my suspicions. She knew nothing about it and said she was pretty much the only one there at that time, so they couldn't be responsible for my class. I went to the bathroom and cried. Sobbed, rather. I felt awful, I lost my prep time. I was just going to sit them down for a movie so I could work on stuff, but if you've never been in a room with 19 five year olds them you probably wouldn't know that they don't know how to ignore a teacher when they're in the same room with her. This is my frustration with rainy day schedule. I have to get my room set up for the next lesson, and even though there's another adult in there to watch them, they come to me to ask me to tie their shoe, open their granola bar, find out what they can play with, ask if they can get out of their seat, and wonder what I'm doing. They even do this when I'm testing other students one-on-one. It drives me crazy because we always have the talk: "Miss Neal will be testing students in the back. Should you interrupt me while I'm working with a student? No. If you have a question, who should you ask? A friend. If you have a problem, what should you do? Solve it yourself." They always give me the right answer, and I still have yet to get through a single time slot of testing without someone coming to my desk for something.

When I brought my students in from recess, one of my aides passed by and asked how I was doing. I started crying all over again. She gracefully said she'd tell the other kinder teacher she would be in my class instead this afternoon, and kept an eye on my kids while they watched a movie. She was a miracle worker. I've never seen my kids so quiet while watching a movie before. It was incredible. She made them all promise to ask her for help and not me so that I could get my work done. It helped so much. I was able to leave the classroom and make copies when I needed it, pull papers for next week, and get my lesson plans in order. My principal met up with me while I was outside and said she could watch my class instead of my aide if I needed to get stuff done. I was a little confused how she knew and told her the aide was fine. I wonder if she had talked to the other kinder teacher who told her the aide was with me. I don't know why the aide would have been needed in her class. They were having a birthday party, and there were two parents helping in there already. The aide always helps in her class at the end of the day. She used to teach kindergarten at our school, and takes over the class and teaches them, sings with them, reads to them, counts their marbles, and helps them get treasure box. I have to confess, it frustrates me that I don't get that kind of help when I'm the first year teacher. My school year is a lot harder than anyone else's for that single reason, yet the teacher that's been doing kindergarten for 7 years has someone else to teach her class so she can do other stuff. I try very hard to hold back my resentment of it. They are good friends, and I know the other teacher doesn't like to stay very late because she has three kids. I respect that, since I can't imagine how to be a mother and a teacher at the same time.

On the home front, this week was sad because my pet fish died. I said I wasn't going to get another one because it was just one more thing to take care of. But, I couldn't bear to see an empty fish bowl in my room, so I got a new one. I was smart this time and wrote his name on the bowl in white board marker so I don't forget it and have to give him the same name as my last one, Nameless. As soon as his name appeared on the glass bowl, Grisham went to check it out.

I ended the week feeling very discouraged. I had tried so hard to be balanced and deal with my stress in a good way by making changes. And all week, I was reminded that teaching is not a regular job. It is a flexible job. There will always be last minute unexpected surprises like I had this week. I felt down knowing that I couldn't anticipate these things, yet knowing that I needed to make healthy changes. I have to deal with these things when they come. I have to make my sore throat better, I have to figure out what to do with my kids for 45 minutes, I have to clean up puke and put together absent work packets. There's no help for these things. In the very least, I'm thankful that my week was without anxiety. If I had to have these unexpected situations arise, at least I got through them without freaking out and going into relapse with the progress I've made on my own over Christmas break.

Thankfully, my trying week back was only 4 days long. I slept off the remainder of my sore throat and felt better on Saturday where I got to meet up with a friend at Leo Carrillo Ranch where we had an unexpected history lesson and a good time catching up on each others' lives. But now the weekend is over. My voice is tired from belting Revelation Song too many times at church this morning, but it couldn't be helped. I love how God uses the power in my voice to stir in peoples' hearts and make them rise to their feet to worship God. Every time I sang it today, I closed my eyes to concentrate on powering out those high notes and opened my eyes to see people on their feet, with arms raised, praising Jesus. It's a glorious feeling; I love moving people to worship. It's what love most about singing on worship team. But now my voice isn't happy with me and is feeling scratchy. Hopefully, next week won't be another sore throat week.

First Year, Fifteenth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

This is a week to remember. I had another "first" in my first year experiences: I took a sick day. I have a tendency to work myself to death--overdoing it on many occasions, (hey, I'm a perfectionist, what can I say?). When this happens, my body goes on protest, and I get sick so I'll slow down and ease up a little. When I've really been pushing, I get a fever. Such was the case this week. On Wednesday I woke up feeling awful...but that's nothing new. The anxiety has been kicking back in full speed. I pushed through my morning and got to school. I made it through Bible class, where both kindergarten classes went to the chapel to practice our performance song for Friday. It went well, but was very tiring. I was draining quickly. I wrote the schedule on the board for language arts and kept things pretty open--giving the kids independent work time so I could pull one-on-one for sight word testing. I told the kids I was feeling awful and to be extra good listeners. I praised them over and over again for doing a wonderful job at that. Of course when I mentioned feeling sick, everyone else had to chime in that they were feeling sick too. *Sigh. Ego-centrism at its finest. We had about 15 minutes of class time left before lunch, and I was dying. They were out of things to do and it was incredibly noisy. My head was about burst as I was frantically thinking of what I could do to get a sub in for myself for the rest of the day. I began writing the entire day's schedule on the board and setting out papers that they'd need that day. I remembered we needed to do some journal writing, so I told them I didn't want to hear a single word while we completed our journals. They thankfully complied. I kept feeling very light-headed, but I just had to grin and bear it--telling myself to push through just a few more minutes until they were out at lunch. As soon as I dismissed them, I booked it to the office. The nausea from the morning had never worn off, and when I opened the door a wave of aroma greeted me. Apparently my room mom, a manager at Famous Dave's, had given the VCS staff a Christmas present of catered lunch that day. I almost walked back out, the smell was too strong for my stomach. But I was desperate to go home and tried to ignore the smell while I asked if there was anyone on campus that could sub for me the rest of the day. They phoned a teacher from last year who is taking the year off and then paged around campus to see if one of our aides was still there. She was and was happy to fill in for me. She's the mother of one of my students and taught for years. She helps in my class most mornings, and I felt good about leaving her in charge--she knows how I teach and where most things are in my class. I tidied my room a little and gave her some back-up stuff to do if needed and headed home.

I checked my temperature when I got home, but it was normal. I went straight to bed, but I have a hard time sleeping while it's still light outside. I had put a quilt up over my window to darken my room; I was wearing an eye mask. It didn't help. I lay in bed for 3 hours before I finally fell asleep. It was miserable. I woke up a couple hours later with a low fever. I texted my sub to see how things went and to see if she could be on call for me tomorrow. I gathered enough energy to type up sub plans for the next day, with extensive explanations for our class Christmas party that I would be missing if I was still sick. I was still nauseous and didn't eat more than a few crackers and corn Chex all day.

The next morning, I woke up at 6:30am. It's apparently a new habit of mine to wake up before my alarm goes off. I was relieved at the time though because we had our staff Christmas party that morning at 6:45am. I was planning on being late's way too early for me to be up and about without anxiety. But I had enough energy to check my temperature. Still had a low fever: 99 degrees. I went out and asked my mom if it was that big of a deal. It was low. I could take some medicine and plug through, right? Mom was skeptical--with good reason. I sighed, sorry to miss my class party. I texted my boss, emailed my sub plans to the office staff, and texted my sub. I went back to sleep for another hour, then texted my room mom that she would be handling the party on her own. I found out later from another parent that my room mom was freaking out about me not being there. She told her friend, "Who's supposed to assign duties to everyone?" Her friend asked, "What kind of room mom are you? You're scared to tell people what to do?!" I didn't think it was that big of a deal, the sub would be there to help. That's not really a teacher skill in my opinion. My room mom manages a restaurant, I thought she'd be used to putting different people on different tasks. She knows better than I do what needs to be done; she put together the crafts, not me. All in all, I heard it was a success. It was a long day for me though. I had a little bit of my appetite back, which was good. I'm wasting away in the weight department now that nausea has become my constant companion. I took a bath and went to bed early again, and thankfully woke up without a fever.

I was tired out all day, but I was able to push through a half day of school on Friday. It's a little crazy coming back to school after having a sub. I kept finding things in random places. I've been really good about leaving supplies and things where they belong at the end of the day, and going the extra mile to do the extra clean up process so that items are ready for use right away the next time I need it. (It drives me crazy that my bulletin boarders and calendar days still have staples in them from the last person that used them. I can't hang anything until I've pulled out all the staples!) In my sub plans, I even mentioned where things belong. But I found a spool of ribbon in the closet next to the Language Arts curriculum supplies, a glue bottle on my sticker box, extra papers on the computer table. Random things.

You should have seen the kids when I opened my classroom door at the start of the day. They were standing in a nice line, but once the kid in front gave me a hug, they ALL had to come give me a hug! They were so happy to see me, and I was so happy to see them. I missed them and was glad to be with them again. The kids sang "Away in a Manger;" they did amazing. I was relieved that their silly antics they had often practiced with were nowhere to be seen. After chapel was a little crazy because they were allowed to leave early. I had to figure out who was leaving and who was staying. There were parents in and out of my room. I was trying to make sure everyone who was leaving had all their crafts and Christmas presents. Once the chaos died down and I comforted the ones who were upset about not going home, I sent the rest outside for snack time and set up my class for centers. That's all we did the rest of the day--crafts and watched A Charlie Brown Christmas. :)

While the kids watched their movie, I packed up my stuff--gathered all my Christmas ornaments from home, put away countdown till Christmas snowmen, grabbed my advent calendar, etc. I cleaned out my frog tank and got them ready to go home, packed up all the presents my kids brought me, and found all the ungraded papers. I had piles of things that needed to go to my car. I think the teachers are supposed to stay until 2pm on half days, but if anyone questioned me I was going to tell them that I'd been sick and I still needed rest. I ALWAYS manage to relapse when I have a fever because I overdo it the first day that I'm well enough to get back into my pace of life again. I was determined NOT to get sick on my break. So I packed up my car once I dropped the kids off into extended care, and left when the bell rang. I've never done that before, and it about killed me to leave things unfinished in my classroom. But I'm on break, I have time to go in one day next week and do bulletin boards and prep worksheets for the first week of January.

And guess what? I didn't get sick again! :)

Now I'm looking forward to a MILDLY busy break. My To Do list includes: - crayon art - seeing a few friends from high school that I haven't seen in a while - helping Nicole pack for NORTH CAROLINA while introducing her to The Help - Christmas shopping for the men in my life (shopping for girls is soooo much more fun!) - getting a manicure and foot massage (gift from one of my students!) - checking out a zumba class to incorporate exercise in my anxiety-ridden life - setting up my new laptop - prepping my classroom for January - getting my car fixed ($876 later...) - going to the doctor about my daily, tension headaches - perfecting the song I'm singing at 3 Christmas Eve services

This teacher is LOVING vacation! Ho ho ho, and Merry Christmas! If you don't have plans on Christmas Eve, I'd love to see you at Generation Church 4pm, 5:30pm, 7pm. :) (I think those are the correct times....I'm going to be there all afternoon and evening. Haha)

First Year, Fourteenth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

Last week I could feel that Christmas was coming. Do you know how? My kids were CRAZY! Oh my goodness. I thought they were bad at Halloween time. Geez. Aside from the management frustration, it was a positive week. I had a lot of good communication happening with my kids' parents, which was nice. I could feel the relief on both ends. It's nice to feel supported by them and it's nice to know that I've done something for them that was appreciated. I got a note from one with a graph her daughter made. We had been learning graphing all week. Apparently when she went home one night, she went around with her paper and pen and asked everyone in the house what their favorite color was and then graphed the information before proclaiming that the "winningest color" was red. Nice to know my teaching is sticking!

We finished making our parent Christmas gifts. I took them home and baked them for about 2 hours before I was finally satisfied that they were hard enough! Then I mod podged them and tied on ribbons. The paint was a little dark, so I mixed some lighter shades and painted over just their hand print so that it showed up. I brought them back to school and had them write their names and the dates on them.

I also had my meeting with the principal about my observation. I got all 3s and 4s like I'm supposed to. That was nice. She didn't say anything negatively either. She asked me what I thought I could improve on. I said grading objectively was really hard, and knowing what else to do for my kids who don't have a lot of help at home.

It was my turn to lead devotions for the staff on Friday. It went really well! Usually I have a hard time talking for 15 minutes straight, but I spent all night before preparing and had a million different things. I made muffins, got almonds and apples, printed out some things from to go with my talk on being thankful, brought my Bible and Jesus Calling, and used a blog post my friend Sarah sent to me last week when I was feeling frustrated about some changes in my life. Everyone gave me lots of positive feedback, and one of the teachers asked for a copy of what I read to them. :) Another one told me, "You are just so precious. I'm just sitting here thinking, 'Her parents must be so proud of her.'"

My students were very loving all week. Trying to make up for their craziness I suppose. ;) I had so many hugs and declarations of love for me. It was very sweet to hear. I do love teaching kindergarten.

My weekend was SUPER productive. I finished up the salt dough ornaments, wrapped Christmas gifts for my parent helpers and staff, jarred fresh pesto, wrote a million Christmas cards, printed pictures, prepped a manger scene craft for next week, baked two kinds of cookies for their goody bags at our Christmas party, baked a cake that looks like baby Jesus for our Christmas party, stuffed envelopes with class Christmas pictures for all the parents, sang at church, learned my Christmas Eve performance song, did all my grading, decorated our Christmas tree, watched a couple movies, and had a skype date with my best friend. I finished every single thing on my To Do list. Now that's what I call a good weekend!

First Year, Thirteenth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

Didn't really get around to this last week. I had prepwork out of my ears last weekend. We spent the week getting a head start on our Christmas crafts. We colored nativity scenes, we made gingerbread men, we cut and painted coffee filter snowflakes. The piles of papers on my desk looked like they were going to start sliding in a giant avalanche at any moment. There was no possible way that I was going to be able to finish it all during the week. So Saturday came around and my mom and me spent the afternoon working in my classroom. Thank goodness she was there; we got everything done that needed to get done in those four hours. I never could have done it on my own. We watched Christmas movies while I climbed on tables and chairs to hang snowflakes from the ceiling. We watched figure skating while she glued colored nativity scene characters to toilet paper rolls. The hours spent prepping is unbelievable. But the looks on their little faces when they walked into our room and saw snowflakes hanging from the ceiling was priceless. Their gasps of delight and excitement in pointing out which ones they made made every single minute more than worth it. Yes, teaching is hard, and yes, I could probably make it easier on myself if I picked simpler crafts and didn't put so much time into decorations that just have to be taken down again. But I don't want kindergarten to just be a grade they pass through. I want it to be memorable. I want to create joy and excitement in what we do. I care about these little ones so much that I want to give all I can to make it worthwhile for them.

Last week we started making parent, Christmas gifts. We're doing salt dough ornaments with their handprints in them. I found a salt dough recipe on Pinterest, and planned to make the dough and have it rolled out and ready to go while the kids were at computer class on Friday. Friday afternoon is the only day I don't have parent help in the class. Halfway through the day, I got a note from the office that one of my kids was leaving early. Great. So during lunch I made a portion of the dough; I wasn't supposed to make it ahead of time. It gets hard and dry. I hoped for the best, and had the one student make hers during lunch before she left. During computer class, I attempted to make the rest of the dough. But I accidentally put too much water in it. I had to dump it out and make another batch. I didn't have quite enough salt, so I was in the office, shaking salt from a salt shaker into my dough as I spent the 15 minutes kneading it. Then the aide from the other kindergarten class knocks on the door with my line of students. She had brought the other class up to computers--even though I've specifically asked them not to go to computers early because it cuts short my prep time, and I'm not ready to have my students back yet. They arrived 5 minutes early, and I was still kneading. I still needed to portion out the dough and put one on each students' table, and clean up the flour that I had spilled everywhere. The aide asked if I was ready for them. I said no. She seemed a little taken aback. I said I had 5 more minutes before they were supposed to be back in my class. She asked what I wanted her to do with them. I told her to have them sit against the wall and wait. I could just imagine what would've happened if they came into the classroom and sat on the carpet waiting. Half of them would be wandering around, touching the dough at their tables, asking me a million questions about it that I didn't have time to answer. The boys would be wrestling on the carpet, someone would be tattling, the questions would keep coming, and coming, and coming. Thankfully, the aide kept them outside. I finished in exactly 5 minutes and we made our ornaments. I had a day care aide help me make their handprints. I told them not to do it themselves. They were also told not to touch it after their handprint was in it. But many of them pushed their fingers down in it again after their print was made, so the dough was really thin on their fingers. Some we had to redo. Some I had to squish extra dough on top of the holes. Oh well, it's their own fault for not following directions. That night I brought them home, trimmed them, poked a hole in it for the ribbon to hang it, and baked them. Some of them cracked a little and don't look very good. But most of them turned out nicely. My fear is that when I send them home with the kids, all wrapped up, they'll be bashed up in their backpacks and end up broken. I'll just hope for the best.

We had our first lockdown drill. Ever since we had that rain, my door hasn't been shutting all the way. So guess whose door opened when the PE coach came to check all the doors? Yeah, great. I told them in the office that I knew that was going to happen. Sometimes my door shuts, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I can throw my whole weight against it or pull it with enough force to shut it, but it's kinda painful. I just know I"m going to throw my back out if I have to keep doing that. I didn't get in trouble or anything. Maintenance came that afternoon and hammered and drilled my door frame. It still doesn't always shut. It's better now than it was though.

We had a staff meeting on Tuesday. I actually remembered about this one, and was a little early. At our staff meeting, everyone (almost everyone) decided that it was a grand idea to have our secret santa reveal/staff Christmas party at Coco's. For breakfast. On Thursday. Before school. What?!?! Oh my gosh, I wanted to kill myself. I looked wide-eyed at every teacher in there. You all seriously think this is a good idea? To wake up earlier than usual, not have prep time, and eat food at 6:45 in the morning? And it's not even on FRIDAY???? Yeah, sooooo not happening. But of course, I'm the new teacher. I don't get to speak my mind. I have to walk on eggshells and do what everyone else wants to do. I told the secretary when she told me to put down my order of what I want for breakfast that day that I was going to be late to this party. I have anxiety in the morning. That's why I get ready for my entire day the night before. That's why I took off a half hour of my morning routine so that I could sleep more. I'm 10x more likely to be anxious when I'm tired. I'm not a morning person. I don't function well in the morning. The morning hours are when I get my best sleep. To be torn from that....well, it's not pretty. I can wake up early and feel like puking through the whole party. Or, I can wake up when I usually do and be 15 minutes late to the party and feel fine. Hmmm. Late, it is. I don't eat in the morning anyway. I ordered tea and a muffin. I would have been happy about that, but we just had a whole lesson last week about how it's necessary to eat protein in the morning. So I ordered some turkey sausage too. We'll see if I can manage to eat it. I have a feeling, I'll just want to put my head down on the table and close my eyes. Who's in the mood to party at 7am? I mean, really.

Here's another you know you're a teacher when for you: (compliments to my mother on this one) You know you're a teacher when instead of collecting souvenir spoons or teapots, you collect toilet paper rolls and egg cartons.

Yeah, had those coming out of my ears last week. I also succeeded in slicing my hand open while trying to cut said toilet paper rolls. Yeah, that was fun. Had to superglue my hand back together and finish grading papers.

So is the life of a teacher.

You Know You're a Teacher When...

Tabitha Helms

You know you're a teacher when your week off of school consists of:- going to seminars at ACSI Convention in Anaheim about how to be a better teacher - sleeping - finding new projects to make - going to school to change bulletin boards - buying Christmas decorations to put in the classroom - making nativity finger puppets out of felt - counting and sorting M&Ms to make sure each child gets enough of each color for a wreath craft - learning how to make Borax snowflake crystals - buying easels for the classroom on Black Friday - making nativity scenes out of toilet paper rolls - sewing ornaments for class parents - threading cotton balls on string to look like snow hanging from the ceiling - making example crafts for centers next week - furiously reading an enjoyment book to make sure it's done before school starts again - seeing all the friends you never have time to see - making to do lists on the back of a receipt of what needs to be done in the class before the kids return while waiting at a restaurant for a friend to come - grading journals on Thanksgiving - putting your sister, whom you never see since she moved out, to work pulling out Scholastic Magazines to send home next week - spending your Saturday in the classroom since the school was closed at the end of the week when you were in town

That's what I did on Thanksgiving Break!