Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Sub Folder

The Substitute Folder- Very important for ALL teachers (especially new ones). As I mentioned in my previous post, sometimes teachers are not informed until the last minute that they will be out of the room (or the building) for the day attending professional development. Sometimes you get sick with no warning and have to call in or leave early. It is very important for all teachers to prepare an EMERGENCY FOLDER for a substitute teacher.

What should you put in the folder?

1. Your daily/weekly schedule

2. A class list (including a break-up list with child and teacher assignments in case there is no substitute assigned)

3. An overview of the flow of the day and routines you use with the kids. I structure mine like most substitute plans, but leave out the prep. Always leave information as to where to pick them up, where to take them at lunch, who is your school aide, etc.

4. Lists and charts- A line partner list, table spot and rug spot map.

5. EASY activities. You never know who your sub will be. A lot of schools (like mine) have very capable regular subs, but sometimes substitute from SubCentral shows up and might be incapable of doing ANYTHING (sorry to all the excellent subs, but I'm sure you've seen it too!). You can stick to all your regular subjects, but make them userfriendly.

Examples (Keep in mind, this is first grade):

  • Morning Meeting- Most subs can write a morning message and read it with the children. This helps them to introduce themselves to the kids. I also tell them to let the children circle sight words. They can also change the day on the calendar and review our web of the Fall season with the children.

  • Word Study- Do NOT have your sub do your normal program (ours is Words Their Way). I usually keep paper with a big box for a picture and a single line. Since this is for the emergency folder, I do not focus the words on the sounds we are studying, but instead write the name of an animal on each sheet (one per child). You can put them together later (post sub) to make a "Book of Animals" for the class to read. The sub can read all the words with the kids, though.

  • Read Aloud/ Literature Response- I usually leave a simple book for the substitute to read aloud like "Ms. Nelson is Missing," or "The Carrot Seed" in the folder. I instruct the sub to read it aloud to the class and then I include paper with a big box and some lines at the bottom to write about their favorite part.

  • Reading- The sub can just pass out the "Just-right baggies" and tell the children to read quietly for 15 minutes using the timer.

  • Writing- I usually leave simple paper and tell the sub to let them write a "snow story" or something of high interest. Usually their writing is crap when their is a sub, so I don't let them use their real writing folders on these days.

  • Reading (after lunch)- I always have mixed level bins of books in the room too. I tell the sub to put one bin at each table and to let the kids read from their books for 25 minutes after lunch.

  • Math- I leave copies from the Everyday Math Math Masters book of simple addition problems or the connect the dots by 1s and 5s. The sub can also count with them using the number chart and practice simple addition together. There are a lot of simple math worksheets available online as well.

  • PREP- Give them a little job to do during their prep. I usually ask them to sharpen all of the pencils and clean the tables. This helps me out for when I come back.

  • Extended Day- Don't forget this part. I usually leave a simple project (like making bookmarks) for this time. They can read their Just-Right books again if they finish early. The kids are tired and the sub is too.

6. Dismissal Procedures (including a list of kids who go to afterschool)

Professional Development

It was 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon when I found the memo in my box saying that I would be attending professional development for a reading program on Thursday and Friday at 9AM in the school (no end time was listed). Annoyed that I hadn't been told with fair warning, but thankful I had been told at least a day in advance (sometimes you find out via a sub showing up at your door and you have no idea why you have a sub), I immediately began organizing the week's homework so I could send it all out with the kids on Wednesday and could avoid any substitute interaction with the homework (which is usually disastrous). All I could think was "I hope this is worth it."

You see, part of being a teacher is having the opportunity of professional development (PD). Another part is being forced to partake in PD that you don't necessarily want, need, or will do anything for your children. The Dept. of Ed. WASTES hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on useless PD. Like the time all FIRST GRADE teachers from my district gathered at a school for the election day PD. After spending the first hour opening boxes upon boxes of books and teachers guides that went along with this program, we were introduced to a year-long science program for THIRD GRADE (I know, not even our grade). It was the teachers (of course) who even noticed that the boxes were labeled "THIRD GRADE." The best part was that this particular curriculum spent an entire year covering "sound" which is only a small part of the third grade scope and sequence and covered nothing else. We didn't even get to take home the teacher's guides to at least give to the third grade teachers at our school. I felt bad about this because we had taken them out of the shrink wrap to follow the workshop. I'm sure those books ended up in a dumpster. We were promised that grade-level materials would be delivered to our schools. Guess what... we never got it. All I could think was that some bozo had the job of organizing the election day PD and probably had a budget of $40,000 or so and had no clue about what to do so he paid some company from Oklahoma (I kid you not) to come in and teach us something. This is how we WASTE money in the NYC public schools.

With all this talk of budget cuts I am often disgusted at how publishing companies and curriculum designers get rich off of these huge contracts with the NYC public schools. Like Everyday Math--- does it even work? Is it appropriate for our students? They make millions of dollars off of our kids. OUR KIDS, who have everything to lose if a program doesn't serve them. Or KAPLAN!!!! People would be shocked to know that our fourth graders are all given (excuse me, PURCHASED by the dept. of ed) a copy of KAPLAN test prep for their high stakes 4th grade test. Some people might think, "Oh, how great, they get a book to help them." NO!!!! Look who gets RICH off of NCLB-- KAPLAN! By the time we realize these programs are flawed, we move on to the next flavor of the month and spend millions of dollars on an entirely new curriculum, training, and materials. That's how it feels. I have been trained on so many programs that we don't use, can't use, or have become outdated.

This was my mentality going in to the PD this past week. I feel pretty bad for the facilitator, because I can honestly say that a majority of us were feeling this way when we walked into the cramped Literacy Coach's office on Thursday morning. I am happy to report that the program I trained for last week turned out to be something I truly believe in and something that will provide REAL intervention for our struggling readers in first grade.... but it is dependent on administration. This program requires one-on-one tutoring and it will ONLY work if the administrators schedule the time properly. We'll see. Hopefully it won't be another wasted PD.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Legacy

Every morning when I open up the closets for the children, I take a moment to imagine all the years my room has served as a place of learning. The building is nearing a century old and (I believe) the closets are the only original feature still in tact. Today and older woman knocked on the door of my classroom. She had gone to the school as a child and had attended first grade in my very classroom. She looked around and marvelled at the fact that the children were happy, working together, their little voices buzzing about. She told me that when she had been a child, there was one rule of first grade: No Talking!. I laughed. I can't honestly imagine a first grade classroom without talking. "The kids have to talk!" I said, "They're still acquiring language." She giggled and continued by saying that the children used to be seated in rows and that the desks filled the room from wall to wall. She also added that many famous people have attended my school. This surprised me a bit. I had imagined that perhaps over the years some students may have achieved some level of success, but what she said next floored me. She gave the name of an EXTREMELY famous historical author and said that he had attended my school. Unfortunately, I can't give the name here since my school came up when I googled it along with his name, but I can tell you that the very fact that this person passed through these hallways, perhaps sat at a desk in my classroom, fills me with a sense of importance. One day my students may be influential and inspiring to a whole generation the way this person was. I think I may print out his picture and show it to the students tomorrow. Although they won't know who he is, they will feel the importance and history housed in our crumbling building.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Peace in the classroom

Today was one of those tough days at my school that you just can't get out of your head.  My students were fine and I was fine all day...well, sort of.  You see, their little faces didn't come in with smiles this morning.  They were tired and sad (the deep kind of sad).  I had to wrangle them in, build them up, and at the same time impose strict order.  Yeah, there was a lot of imposing order today.  It's amazing how when one kid has a breakdown, others follow.  After lunch a sweet little girl got a nosebleed.  Not a big deal, but I had to attend to her for a moment.  Forget it!!! Everyone else started acting up.  All of the sudden, nobody seemed to remember their line partner.  One partner hit another, and upon our approach to the classroom, one of my kids fake collapsed.  I was so angry.  I sat them all on the rug and had them drill the alphabet with my student teacher (that is a whole other issue) and attended to the bleeding girl.  Then I totally reemed them out.  Not in a corporal punishment sort of way, but a strong way and in a low voice. In a quiet voice, I said "How dare you!"  and then I looked around.  They were scared and silent.  "Your lovely classmate has a medical EMERGENCY (I love being dramatic) and you can't do anything to help?  I can't help a BLEEDING child?"  "What?  I need to be staring at you so you'll behave, so you won't HIT your line partner?"  Of course, they all answered "No."  "Thank you!" I replied.  "I want each an every one of you to apologize to your line partner for not acting in kindness and for not helping your fellow classmates to follow the rules."  They all turned and apologized, even the ones who weren't guilty.  "And next time, when it is time to line up, I want to see you greet your partner with friendship and a pleasant expression.  Who can show me that?"  This is where they fell right into my scheme.   The partners who had hit each other raised their hands.  The came up to the front of the class and smiled at each other and held hands.  A cute first grade teaching moment in social skills.  Ahhh!

But that's not why I'm blogging today.  It's not so much the violence itself that comes out in first grade, it's the foundation of a violent future.  I have to work so hard every day to convince the children that they are better than that, that they had the power to work it out without violence and that kindness conquers all.  I have to teach them a polite way to speak to each other.  I have to directly teach them how to think of others.  I have to constantly compliment excellent examples of friendship and kindness.  

Today, at my school, a teacher in the upper grades was taken away in an ambulance.  She was trying to break up a fight and was seriously injured herself.  Even though her students were never mine, I still feel the burden of my students future reflected in incidents such as these.  I can't tell you how DEVASTATING it is to see the police walk by my classroom on their way to the office twice or three times a week sometimes.  It makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry for the world, cry for the children in my room who have to see this, for the children in the classroom where the incident occurred, and for the teachers who have no choice but to try harder against all odds.  

Friday, September 19, 2008


I'm not sure what has changed for me. As in my last post, I feel like I'm floating on a cloud right now. I have the kids completely into their routine. We have been able to get through all academic periods without a hitch. They have smiles on their faces, and they are trying their best. You could have literally heard a pin drop in the room today when I was doing some oral storytelling about a small moment and when it was their turn to tell their partner a special time in their lives, the room came alive with stories about birthday parties, falling down and getting hurt, when they got their chihuahua puppy, when their grandmother died, and when they got lost in the supermarket. It's like the weight has been lifted somehow. Maybe it's the fact that this is my fourth year teaching in the system and teaching first grade and I've mastered the classroom management piece and the curriculum. I have all my systems up and running. I had a great week with my students and at school in general. Curriculum night was great. Although I was competing with the sound of small children and babies all around, I had so many parents show up it was truly heartwarming. The indigenous Mexican moms spent some time afterwards asking about the progress of their children. I could see the pride in their faces when I told them how their children were progressing. I had about 17 parents last night and another 10 this morning for our Friday morning visits. I am thrilled with their involvement. Although I know that for many kids, it is a long road ahead, I am excited for this year. I am in love with my class and my school (can you believe it?). One thing that I am so grateful for is that all of the parents were positive. From the indigenous Mexican moms who had little formal education to the college professor parents of two of my students, everyone was positive. And, to top it all off.... THE COPIER WORKS!!!! I made all of my copies for next week after school today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Smooth Sailing

I have to say that despite the chaos, this week as been been very uneventful for me.  Of course, there is craziness all around, but somehow, I've managed to avoid it almost entirely.  After I decided that it would be impossible for me to turn in all of our assessments on time (the due date is tomorrow), and I decided I simply wouldn't turn them in until I had finished them, I have been feeling pretty good.  

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rudy Giuliani on Sunday morning political show- Sex Ed. for K

I have to comment. I was watching Fox News Sunday or maybe another Sunday morning political show...not sure, I was flipping channels... but anyway they were interviewing Rudy Giuliani. They asked him about a negative campaign ad run by John McCain accusing Obama of sponsoring a bill to teach Kindergartners about sex. Giuliani defended McCain and seconded the accusation. I wanted to explode!!!! I have been teaching the HIV/AIDS curriculum for two years now to first graders and I have to say that it is NECESSARY!!!! WE DON'T TEACH KIDS ABOUT SEX AT ALL!!!! in the lower grades. It's all about germs and how germs enter the body. It also talks about different diseases including HIV and categorizes them as highly contagious, contagious, and not contagious, and how to keep your body safe (i.e. DON'T TOUCH ANYONE ELSE'S BLOOD). This is the type of education many children are NOT receiving at home. I have seen kids touching each other's bloody wounds and it always horrifies me that they don't know better. I make a point to show the children my latex gloves and to emphasize that we need to keep our bodies safe.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Teacher's Many Hats

Other people know that being a teacher is hard, but they don't know exactly why. They might think "kids are obnoxious," or "you have to be too patient," but they don't know the gritty details... so for those of you who were wondering, here they are.

1. Triage Nurse- From the time you pick up your class in the morning, several children are usually already complaining about various ailments and you need to figure out which ones are real and which ones are fake, which ones require the nurse, a call home, or a little TLC in the classroom, and which ones are totally ridiculous. An experienced classroom teacher in his or her role as triage nurse can do the following:

  • Spot a case of pink-eye from 30 feet away.

  • Distinguish between bed bug bites, allergic reactions, and infectious disease.

  • Know who is actually going to throw up and who is faking.

  • See a fever in a child's eyes.

  • Administer treatment of a "drink of water" for ailments such as headaches, sore throats, and stomachaches.

  • Administer the treatment of a "saltine" to children complaining of stomachaches from being hungry.

  • Bandage microscopic paper cuts that you're not sure even exist with mini-bandaids.

  • Use the "is your finger going to fall off?" measure to determine who goes to the nurse and who stays in class.

  • Knows when ice is actually needed.

2. Janitor- For the record, I have already had to clean up urine this week from a child who peed his pants with no warning. He didn't even ask to go to the bathroom. As a teacher in an urban public school, the reality is that you can't rely on the janitorial staff to show up when called. You need to be equipped for the following:

  • blood (on tile, rug, or fabric)

  • urine (on tile, rug, or fabric)

  • juice that spilled in a bookbag and is leaking all over the floor and on another child's jacket.

  • cockroaches

  • mice (and their feces)

  • ketchup (that kids hoarded from lunch and then exploded all over their pocket or something else).

  • spilled milk- it smells if you don't get it all out.

*** I leave vomit for the janitors, but it's a good idea to have scotch tape and some extra chairs handy to cordon off a vomit area and some air freshener so everyone doesn't vomit. Last time I had vomit in the room it took the janitors 45 minutes to respond.

3. Mediator- Kids fight. They do. They often have poor social skills and low self-esteem and get in nasty fights even in the lower grades. As a teacher you need to not only break up the fight, but simultaneously teach them a new social skill to avoid future fights and build up their self-esteem all the while administering stern consequences for their actions. It is a delicate balancing act.

4. Social Worker- Kids and their families need help and sometimes you are the only one who can help them to fill out the forms for services or tell them where to take their children to the doctor for free or how to get their child glasses.

5. ACS worker- While teachers do not work for Child Services, we are often the ones who end up having to decide whether or not to call. As mandated reporters we are REQUIRED by law to report abuse or neglect and could be held accountable if anything happens to a child after we have suspected abuse. As a side note, I am told by children almost weekly that their parents hit them. It is a sensitive matter how to deal with each case and whether or not to call it in. Teachers have to work fast if they notice an injury such as a burn or bruise on a child. We ask the children what happened and I usually have another teacher get the story as well so we can compare answers (in my experience, I have learned that administration cannot be trusted to do this!!!!!). We have to notice patterns of bruising. We have to be delicate with children. We have to be delicate and stern with the parents. I have had to tell them "You need to bathe your child" "You need to clean his/her uniform" "You need to get your child to school in time to eat breakfast." We bear the brunt of parent rage if ACS has indeed been called even if it was by a neighbor or the school nurse. We are often interviewed by ACS workers (who to their credit have HELPED many of my students. None of their visits have resulted in a removal of a child from their home in my experience). In one case, the ACS worker had the abuser (an unwelcome and intimidating relative the family was having a hard time getting rid of) removed from the home and got new bunkbeds for the kids who were sleeping head to toe with their siblings.

6. Full-time secretary- The paperwork and administrative tasks that teachers are responsible could staff a FULL-TIME SECRETARY!!!! I'm not kidding. I really think I have enough to do to employ someone else full time.

7. Teacher- The best part!

Getting yelled at in front of the children

I almost forgot to mention a very defining moment for me, one that inspired me to stay at my school and fight for what is right. On Thursday morning I was walking downstairs to pick up my class at the beginning of the day when I see these two girls who are in my class race past me and round the corner towards my classroom. The kids are not supposed to be loose in the building like that, they are supposed to be at the pick-up spot in the gym downstairs, so I walked back after them and told them they needed to come with me and that they should wait downstairs. This set me back 1 minute which made me worried because other teachers had told me that they had been yelled at by the Assistant Principal for being one minute late. I took the opportunity to connect with the little girls a little bit since I don't have time for that when everyone in the classroom. We walked hand-in-hand and I told them how proud I was that they had made new friends this year (one of the girls was new to the school). As we approached my class in the gym, the Assistant Principal pounced. "Do you know what time it is?" she screeched. "Yes I'm sorry, I said, I had to redirect these two young ladies." "I don't care," she snapped "You better be here on time, you're wasting instructional time." "Thank you," I replied and kept walking towards my class. I had been prepared by the teachers yesterday and I felt like I had this armor on... like whatever the AP did couldn't hurt me. On my way out with my class, I warned two more teachers who were even later than me so they could prepare their armor too.

WASTING INSTRUCTIONAL TIME!!!! It's so laughable. I totally agree that punctuality is important and that we absolutely should try our best to take advantage of every minute of instruction, but the fact that she accused ME of this was so hilarious. The administration and lack of control REGULARLY wastes our instructional time. How many times has the fire bell been PULLED this year? (2 so far). I remember last year, they used to keep us in early morning committee meetings for so long my kids were waiting in the gym for over 40 minutes for me. How much time have I wasted trying to use the photocopier that will never work? How much instruction has been lost since the copier hasn't worked? (As a side note, it is currently working...hooray!) I get to school 50 minutes to an hour early every day and I stay probably an average of 2 hours extra each day and I'm being accused of wasting time. I do all that precisely NOT to waste time. I do it so that everything is ready for the children and all of the paper work is finished so I can sacrifice all of my preps to assess them and she dares accuse ME!!!. Well, I have news for her. I feel empowered. As an elected member of our schools School Leadership Team, I have decided to join the C-30 committee for the process of hiring our new principal (and I know she SOOOO wants it). She had better change her tone because I will NOT be spoken down to like that, especially not in front of the children.

A similar thing happened to me two years ago. I had forgotten to sign the attendence book for teachers one day because I had gotten to school so early that the book wasn't even out and it slipped my mind to do it before I picked up the kids. The principal asked me to start clocking in with a timecard. This was a principal with a lot of power, a very intimidating person. I was so angered that I said "No, I have NEVER been late, so there is no reason for me to clock in. I simply forgot to sign once. It won't happen again." She looked at me dumbfounded, turned around and walked back to her office. She never bothered me again about petty things. You have to stand up for yourself. You are the best advocate for all teachers, students, and parents. Even if you are not tenured (as I wasn't at the time), you have to otherwise they will walk all over you. Good hard-working teachers are a hot commodity and administration knows that. Why do you think my class and the class of my team member and favorite colleague in first grade are overpopulated this year when other first grade classes have numbers so low they are in danger of being collapsed? They tried to send some of my kids over to the other class, but the parents weren't having it. And you know what, I don't blame the parents. I will try my best to meet their expectations and they deserve it and their children deserve it.

Leaving Urban Education....or not

This week I was certain that I just couldn't do it anymore. After 5 years of teacher, 3 in the NYC public schools, I know that I LOVE being a teacher. I really do. I love getting the kids into their routines and watching how they progress in all areas. It's so amazing when a little one feels inspired by something and can inspire others. I just love that. What bothers me is that in New York City, there is no support for teachers. And as I've said, we bear the burden of a dysfunctional system every day and sometimes, like this past week, it has been too much to bear. I can deal with a large class size, just give me support when it's time to assess. I can deal with no supplies, just acknowledge that we all buy EVERYTHING out of our own pockets.

I started looking for another job for next year (I would NEVER abandon a class after the schoolyear has started). Coming home about to burst into tears and thoroughly exhausted is no existence at all. My personal relationships suffer and I suffer. I browsed the web looking at schools in Westchester County and Long Island. My search made me sad in so many ways and although I found great schools within walking distance of MetroNorth and LIRR, I'm not sure I'll go through with applying to any of them. What I found were perfectly designed and updated websites where teachers could post lessons, newsletters, and homework as well as communicate with parents. WOW!!! I was blown away. What a contrast to my school. Many of the parents of my students are functionally illiterate, and I'm not just saying that. They need support reading the announcements the school sends out. Many people assume that just because notices are sent out in Spanish (the native or 2nd language*** of most of my children's parents) they should be able to read them. Every year, the teachers at my school help parents sign their children up for SES (Title I supplemental educational services). I often have parents come to me so I can read something or translate something for them that they have received that they can't read or don't understand. Our parent coordinator, who is amazing, gently guides parents through the 8 page application for after school programs. In fact, I was fuming on Friday when they sent out a notice on how to get free meals for your child at school during weekends. The flyer was only in English AND the only way to get the info was by visiting a website. The kids who really need it probably won't be able to access it.

Looking at these websites of suburban schools, part of me felt like I wanted that. I want a neat little school that is clean, well-funded, with educated parents who can read a website and kids who don't forget their alphabet over the summer.... but wait. What I also felt was a closed-mindedness that I don't think I'll ever be able to adapt to. I started thinking, what will my colleagues be like? Will they be so freaking inspiring in a way that you didn't think was humanly possible like the teachers at my school? What will the professional development opportunities be like? I don't want to learn only about literature circles and a new science curriculum. My interests lie with the education of language minority and immigrant children. Do you know how incredible it is to tell a parent from rural Mexico who speaks Triqui as a first language, Spanish as a second language, and cannot read or write that their child has benchmarked in first grade reading? It's so amazing. My students represent a bright future for their families and I owe it to them to keep on going. They work hard everyday and I should to.

Despite all of my stress this week, I really had a great week with the children. They are settling in to their cramped surroundings. We've found a way for everyone to fit on the rug during lessons and I have scavenged enough chairs for everyone. I have also really been trying to get them to be independent and have been trying to figure out who are my leaders, who are the kids who can help me get everyone lined up with their partners, who can help me get all the homework into their notebooks and flyers into the communication folders. I have been really stressing independence. I told them that in a big class we can learn so much because there are more ideas, but that we have to learn from each other. Just because the teacher isn't working directly with you doesn't mean you can't be learning at all times. The kids get it. They know they have to work together. They were so cute this week asking politely if someone could pass the crayons, saying please and thank you (I'm really big on manners). They have all become accustomed to greeting the teacher at the door with "good morning" or "good afternoon" after lunch. Believe me, getting them to greet was no easy task.

*** Triqui, an indigenous Mexican language is the first language of many of my students and their families.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Too busy to write

That's right. I have been so busy this past week. The demands are more than ever on public school teachers. I feel like I'm going to explode. It is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to do everything that we required to do. For example, I got a memo in my box saying that our literacy assessments for all of the children are due next Monday. I STILL DON'T HAVE THE ASSESSMENT PACKETS!!!!!!!! Even if they gave me a sub for the rest of the week I could barely get it done. By the way, I won't be getting a sub, not even for one period. I threw out the memo... well actually I ripped it up and threw it out. That made me feel better. Then I spent a whole prep trying to track down the packets from the Kindergarten teachers, one of whom retired last year. Tomorrow I will begin the prep sacrifices even though I need my prep believe it or not. I'll have to prep everything after school. Sigh!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Things I love about my school

Trying to stay positive!

1. The children- gotta love em! There is never a dull moment in a room full of 6 year-olds. Seriously though, even though it can be really tough, the children are great. They need us and deep inside they really want to learn. They are waiting for us to pick them up every morning at the designated spot and if we don't come, they are full of disappointment. I have picked them up late because I was in a meeting and they always remark how relieved they are to see me and not a substitute. It's such an incredible feeling.

2. The teachers- I really think I work with the best teachers in the city hands down! The atmosphere is intellectual AND practical. They are amazing and inspirational people who really keep me going.

3. Our new windows- about two years ago, the city started replacing all of the old dingy windows in the public schools with brand new metal framed ones. I love my windows, they are so clean and let natural light in. I love opening them really wide and getting a breeze that blows the papers off the tables running through the room.

4. Professional development- There are a lot of opportunities for PD in the city. I am a perpetual student.

5. My magnetic blackboard- Even though we don't use blackboards anymore, I am fortunate enough to have a large magnetic one in the room where I can hang charts and children's work with magnets. Every teacher knows the value of a magnetic surface.

6. I am a celebrity- At my school, at least. When you have been at the same school for awhile, you have had many students in all grades. They all say hi to you when you walk past or flash you a sweet smile. Some can't contain themselves and risk punishment by jumping out of their lines to give you a hug. Other children watch on with jealousy in their eyes. Sometimes you get swarmed and have to remind them that they are in line with their teacher.

Simple Pleasures and Necessities

Here is my personal list of simple pleasures and necessary items that keep me sane in the classroom throughout the day.

1. Nice Hand Lotion- Sometimes when things are really chaotic and I have a million things to do I like to take 5 seconds to myself and put on some nice smelling lotion. It's especially good if things aren't smelling to good in the classroom.

2. A Mini Fridge- I finally broke down and got one this year. I like to stock it with seltzer water and baby carrots.

3. Seltzer water- Keeps you hydrated and the bubbles feel nice for when you just need a sensory experience.

4. Baby carrots- Teachers often end up staying two or three hours after school ends. I find that baby carrots keep me going if I'm hungry for an after school snack.

5. Visine Natural Tears- A MUST!!! The children have pink eye often. Even when you send them to the nurse, a lot of times they are sent back to class because their parents are not going to pick them up. I got it several times my first year and the doctor always said just to use a natural tears eye drop. I use the natural tears if my eyes are irritated or even the least bit red and I haven't gotten pink eye since.

6. Aloe Vera Hand Sanitizer- I don't like to use too much of this, but sometimes things are just too gross to handle and with no sink in the room this is the only way to feel clean. Aloe vera keeps your hands from drying out.

7. A Spray Bottle (or two)- I have a big one that I fill with water and about a teaspoon of Ivory Dish soap and a teaspoon of baking soda. I use it to clean the tables daily. I find that it cleans marker, pencil, and crayon marks and has no chemical smell. Also, it's safe for the kids to touch so I often spray the tables and the kids love using paper towels to scrub them. I have a second smaller spray bottle just for water. You can use it for science experiments and if it's really hot in the room the kids love it when you mist them. It's important to keep it really clean since bacteria can grow especially if you're going to mist the kids.

8. Disinfectant spray- So many nasty things come up that soap and water won't cut it. I keep a real disinfectant spray in the closet. I have used it to clean up vomit, blood, and urine in the room (the janitors do not always come for such biological hazards).

9. Rubber or latex Gloves- When cleaning up vomit, blood, or urine one must use rubber or latex gloves. Ask the school nurse for a little bundle of them at the beginning of the year.

10. Vaseline and Q-tips- These go together for me. Each year I buy a little tub of vaseline and some Q-tips for those cracked and bloody lips the children often have. I dip a Q-tip in the vaseline and hand it to the child to put on their lips. I find that it's sanitary and works really well. Plus, sometimes kids need a little extra TLC and ask for it even if they don't need it and it's really inexpensive so I don't mind.

11. A First Aid Kit- The nurse will get really mad at you if you send kids to him/her with a paper cut. Always keep bandaids of all sizes in the room. I buy them at the dollar store. I find that one of those mini bandaids can really comfort a kid is crying because they have a "cut" you can't even see with a microscope. Alcohol wipes are also good for when you get a paper cut and can't wash your hands.

12. Baby Wipes- The cuts down on kids leaving the room. Especially if you are doing a project with glue, they can wipe their hands in the room. Sometimes I have the kids wipe the tables and chairs with them too if there is a lot of glue or if a kid is naughty and draws on the table.

13. Hand Soap- Our teachers bathroom never has any so I bring my own.

14. Saltines- When the kids are losing steam or if someone has a stomachache, I give them a saltine and it makes everything better. Plus, a lot of times, the kids complain of a stomachache because they haven't eaten breakfast. A saltine won't provide nutrition, but it will tide them over until lunch.

15. A metal canister- A veteran teacher gave me a large metal cookie canister after she saw me removing all of the contents of my closet and disinfecting everything because I had found mouse droppings. I didn't know that keeping candy in the closet would bring the mice. I keep all edible items (including my saltines) in the canister or the fridge or microwave and I haven't had a problem since.

16. Plain Hand Lotion- Eucerin or Vaseline have nice hypo-allergenic lotions that the kids can use if they have dry skin. When kids complain of bug bites, I also let them put a dab on their bites. It comforts them and has a placebo effect on the itching.

17. A microwave- They're very inexpensive these days. Without a teacher's lounge (I know many schools have this issue), it makes it convenient to heat up your lunch. It's also helpful for science projects where you have to heat water or if you want a cup of tea during the day. I once made pizza bagels with the children and we melted the cheese in the microwave. They loved it!

18. Plants- Having something natural and alive in the room really helps calm the mood. Plus, the kids love watering them.

19. An Extra Umbrella- When your holed up in a building all day, sometimes the weather changes and you're not prepared. I always keep and extra umbrella around just in case.

The copier is my nemesis

The copier really was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I can perservere through a lot, but this was it!!! I think every teacher tries to convince themselves that they can deal with whatever comes their way, but there is always something that just pushes you over the edge. I'll give you an idea of what I have been dealing with since two Thursdays ago (the first official day of work for teachers) and then you will understand why I want to beat the copier like that scene from Office Space.

1. School supplies- I know a lot of other teacher bloggers have mentioned this, but New York City public school teachers have to buy ALL of the supplies for their classrooms. In fact, I haven't recieved ANYTHING this year from my school's fabled supply closet, not even a single pencil. This is a burden that we have taken on in recent years and has been softened by the sales at Staples. Each year, a text message circulates like a virus throughout the teacher network when Staples has its great sale, not the "Teacher Appreciation Day" ripoff, but the REAL sale. 1 cent folders, 8 cent glue. 99 cent Crayola markers, etc. Although I usually spend an average of $1200 throughout the year on my classroom, in past years, that initial stocking of materials usually ran me about $200, something I planned and saved for. This year, Staples didn't have it's REAL sale. It's really not their fault, they are a for-profit corporation. It is really not their job to subsidize public education, but for all of us teachers, we really took the hit this year. I have spent over $450 so far (and we've only been in school for a week!) of classroom supplies. People ask me, "Why do you do it?" "Why can't the children bring in the supplies?" It's hard to even begin to explain how hellish my job would be if the kids didn't have enough crayons (not just one box each), I'm talking an abundance of crayons to share at their tables, or how crappy their work would be without Ticonderoga pencils (Not staples brand, they sharpen all lopsided). Having enough creates an environment where children who go without on a daily basis can feel secure that they will have what they need to succeed. And OF COURSE I send a supplies list home and I would say HALF to THREE QUARTERS of my students bring in the supplies. I use them as replacements mid-year for when my original purchase runs out.

2. The Physical Condition of the Buiding and Classroom- We all know the look of those majestic old buildings in New York City that we can immediately identify as public schools. My school is one of those. Beautiful old architecture complete with gargoyles and those grand windows that we have to open with a stick from the top. I love my school building, but it has been so neglected over the years that it makes me sad to walk in the building in the morning. Sure there have been renovations in its near 100 year history, but each time, something is lost. Once colorful tiles have been replaced with grey ones. Walls have been touched up with a paint color that doesn't match the original, and furniture is splintering and worn. Not to mention how DIRTY, no FILTHY the schools are. Public school teachers go out of their way to mask all of this ugliness. They spend money on buying bright materials and paper to cover the bullentin boards (and walls), they cover worn tables with pretty fabric, they bring in plants...etc. I have personally spent $28 this year on fabric and I'll probably be dishing out another $100 soon to have my rug steam cleaned. I have spent an additional $30 on cleaning supplies. The janitors claim that they got a new steam cleaner this year and that they cleaned all of the classroom rugs (this is the main area where kids come to listen to lessons in the lower grades), but all of our rugs are still nasty. My rug is rainbow colored, but all the colors look brown. It makes me want to cry when I call the children to the rug and I see them sitting on filth. I asked the janitor about it really nicely (if you are not nice, you can forget about any sort of cleaning for the rest of the year) and he immediately became defensive saying that the rug had been steam cleaned and that the stains and dirt are permanent. When I returned to school this August, my rug was not only NOT steam cleaned, it was covered in dirt and dust and trash. I vacuumed it myself (as a sidenote, most teachers buy their own vacuum cleaners. I was lucky and didn't have far) but that brown dirty hue makes my rainbow rug look tired and old. I can't fight anymore. I'm going to have it cleaned by an outside company becauseI can't bear to look at it. I feel like it will make the children sick. Also, despite all the effort IN the classroom, the rest of the building is treated like a garbage can. I would be FIRED if I had boxes strewn about in my classroom like they do in the hallways. I stopped to read some of the labels on the boxes. One had concrete in it... CONCRETE!!!!. It's such a double standard. We are held to such a high standard and everyone else (who doesn't have a room full of children) can leave stuff wherever they please. Also, the front entrance of the school...many parent's and children's first impression of the school is HORRIFIC. There is a bulletin board where someone ripped off a sign for the school. It's half ripped and gross. The school security desk now has a huge poster displaying firearms that are banned. HUGE PICTURES OF GUNS!!! This is an elementary school. Can't they get the Parent's Association or someone to make the entrance look inviting. Again, I would be FIRED if my bulletin board looked like that. There was also trash all over the floor in the entrance and grocery store fliers.

3. Class size- I am a pretty experienced teacher and I can handle most anything in terms of the children, but I have to say, this was one of my most stressful Septembers because I have a class size rounding 30. What happened to the whole small class size initiative? It's not that I can't control the children, that is not a problem, but what IS a huge problem is that it is just not fair to them. With that many bodies in the room (I still don't have enough good chairs or tables), there is no way I can really get to all of them and teach them the skills they so desperately need. My children came in this past week at all different levels and at all different states of "readiness" for school. Some came in with bright eyes and smiles, their hair neatly done, in uniform, clean, with a new bookbag, well fed, well rested, and ready to learn. Many others came in with a sad face (not the kind of sad face many little kids have on the first day of school when they cry because they miss their mom), no this is a deep sadness. Their eyes are unable to focus and I need to contantly remind them how their bodies should be turned, what to do with their hands, and where their eyes should be looking. Some are are not bathed and wear dirty clothes. They have dirt under their long fingernails. Bed bug bites are apparent on their arms and when they lift their pant legs to scratch. Several have fallen asleep mid morning because they aren't well rested. Others haven't had breakfast. Their parents didn't get them to school early enough to have the free breakfast in the cafeteria. Some kids forgot the alphabet over the summer, others forgot how to handle a book. I made up mixed level bins of all kinds of neat books. Picture books, simple reading books, non-fiction books so that everyone could at least read the pictures if not the words, but some kids stare at the ceiling during reading time. They might open a book like "Where the wild things are," or a non-fiction book about spaceships and they can't even seem to enjoy the pictures. When I read books aloud, some kids are not able to follow. With non-existent intervention services I am the only one who can make the difference for these children. It's a big job. At this point in the year, they are not independent enough for me to be able to pull a small group or even confer one-on-one. I need to do reading assessments right away so I can target them for small groups, but I haven't recieved the assessment packets. I will have to sacrifice ALL of my prep periods for the next month to pull them out to assess them.

4. The Heat- For those of you who live in New York City, you know that the past week has been hot and humid. Imagine being in a room with 30 other bodies where you can't open the door because of the noise to allow for air flow. It was so hot I could see the sweat trickling down their little faces and everything felt so sticky and gross. Even with the big windows open, almost no air entered the room for most of the day because I had to keep the shades pulled to block the blazing sun. The morning of the copier incident I got to school early at around 7:30 AM and I was already sweating. It just made things that much worse.

Finally, the COPIER- You can imagine, I've psyched myself up to manage and teach my incredibly large class. Although I've spent way too much, I feel confident that my classroom is stocked. Many children have brought in supplies which I have stored and organized (it's not like every parent sends their kid to school with a big bag holding all the supplies with their names clearly written on it), so I have had to label everthing myself as it comes in. Some kids will bring one notebook one day, another the next, all unlabeled. Parents will complain if their child is not using the exact notebook they brought in, so I am really careful to label all of their things. I have given each child a ziploc baggie to take home for their reading (some of which never came back which means another lost book and a replacement baggie). I wanted to send a homework folder for the weekend. (The folders cost $1 each at staples) The parents who have had siblings in my class in past years know that I always send homework notebook during the week a folder on the weekend. As a side note, the copier had not been working since before school even started. I copied all of my welcome letters and supplies lists at Staples for $20 our of my own pocket. I have also printed over 60 sheets at home and have already gone through an ink cartridge. On with the story...I went to the teachers copier a few days in advance to make copies, but there was a paper jam. I cleared the jam and proceded fearlessly. Another jam, finally, the copier had several error messages. "Okay" I thought, "It's still a couple days early, I'll leave them in the office for the school aides to copy even though they always come out too light for the kids to even read them or see what the pictures are supposed to be." So, I left them in the office and I waited and waited and waited. Finally, on Friday I asked someone in the office if it would be possible to make the copies on the office copier. Oh no, that copier (the really pretty new one that never seems to be in use) is for administrative purposes only. You might be thinking, big deal, why is she so upset about the copier, well it's not that, it's more the way I was treated...unprofessionally. I can't use the good copier. God forbid our children should be put first. If I were a principal, I would bend over backwards to make sure that the children get what they need. I wanted to explode. The copier has been an issue for 3 years and nobody thought to make sure it was up and running for the first week of school when we are REQUIRED to administer a writing assessment that REQUIRES 3 sheets per child (90 total in my case). It has to be copied because writing paper for little kids consists of two or three lines and a big square for the picture. I make it on my home computer. What do they expect, that we all do all of our copying for 8 cents a sheet at Staples? I can't go into more detail because I don't want to be easily recognized on this blog, but basically I was told that we shouldn't count on being able to make copies EVER. I went back to my classroom and cried, not so much about the copies, but about everything and how unfair it is for the children. I wanted to run out to Staples in that moment (it was early in the morning well before school would start) and just make the copies, but you get to the point where you think "How much of the burden can I shoulder?" As teachers, we just can't. It's too much. Yesterday, the copies were too much. I verbally apologized to the parents about it at dismissal and assured them that their children would have homework on Monday. I'm going to Staples today to make all the copies that I need for the week and if the school copier works on Monday, I'll copy the next week's homework. It's just not worth the stress. Some people say to me, "If they're not going to provide you with copies, then don't send the homework, don't send the letters home." That won't fix anything. The schools are the way they are and they won't change, but they will fire you if you don't do your job properly even against all odds. It's only going to reflect badly on the individual teacher, and most of all it's just not fair to the children and parents. Even though they are poor and disadvantaged, they deserve "A world class education" to quote Michelle Obama.