My Most Important Job

Today was National Teacher Appreciation Day, but the most important gift I received today was from my oldest daughter.

My room was 80 degrees. Half an hour after students left, so did I. The room was too hot to work in so I brought my work home.

I met my own children at daycare. I even made it before they arrived from being picked up at their school. Emma, my oldest, was the first off the daycare bus. She held a hand-made card in her hand. “Mom, you have to read this!” she shouted enthusiastically. 

We made the five minute trip home listening to classic rock (my girls’ favorite). As we unpacked the car, Emma said, “Mom, read the card!” 

I unpacked our school items and proceeded to read the hand-made card. It read, “Happy Mothers Day” on the front. Inside she wrote, “You are the best mom I could ever have!” On the other side, Emma drew a picture of us exchanging the card. She was so proud. 

I was surprised because Mother’s Day is not until Sunday, yet Emma felt the need to give her mom a card early. 

This was a message I received loud and clear. My children (and being a mother) is my MOST important job. Yes, I LOVE being a teacher and do my very best for my “school children” everyday. But, my children are still the most important and most deserving of my time. 

When you work with a needy population of kids, it can be hard to let your “school kids”and their issues go, when you are at home, away from them. But, when I am home, MY children are the most important.

Thank you Emma, for the Mother’s Day card I received early from you today. You will never know how the card was THE most important gift I received on Teacher Appreciation Day.

A MUST READ FOR ALL AGES

amazon.com

I have been away from blogging for quite awhile. Many other things in my life have needed my attention. That being said, I MUST blog about The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It has been tugging at me ever since I read it, this summer, for the first time.

Ada, the main character, is a girl that will forever live in my heart. World War II saved her life. But really, Ada’s strength is what saved her, and the love of Miss Smith.

You see, Ada was born with a clubfoot. Her mother, Mam, confined Ada to their third-floor flat in London, England. She never learned how to walk. Ada’s only view of the world was from her window. Mam mistreated Ada in various, horrific, ways. Yet Ada found strength. 

After reading this book aloud to my fourth grade class, I asked my students what they thought the author’s message was. One response was all it took to verify my decision to read this book aloud. “If Ada can make it through all her tough times, then I can.” 

Many of my students do not come from ideal home situations. I’m happy to know that Ada’s strength will stay with them. Hopefully Ada will help them through their tough times. 

Here is a synopsis of the book from School Library Journal

Gr 4–6—Bradley turns her keen historical eye from Monticello (Jefferson’s Sons, Penguin, 2011) to the British home front during World War II. Ada isn’t exactly sure how old she is; for as long as she can remember, she’s been a virtual prisoner in her mother’s third floor one-room apartment. She was born with a clubfoot and her mother uses her disability as an excuse to abuse her both emotionally and physically. Ada watches the world through the narrow confines of the apartment window, waves to neighbors in the street, and carefully gauges the danger of being beaten during each encounter with her hateful mother. She envies the freedom of her little brother, Jamie, who goes to school and generally roves the neighborhood at will. When her mother prepares to ship Jamie out to the countryside with other children being evacuated from London, Ada sneaks out with him. When the two fail to be chosen by any villagers, the woman in charge forces Susan Smith, a recluse, to take them in. Though Susan is reluctant and insists that she knows nothing about caring for children, she does so diligently and is baffled by the girl’s fearful flinching anytime Ada makes a mistake. Though uneducated, Ada is intensely observant and quick to learn. Readers will ache for her as she misreads cues and pushes Susan away even though she yearns to be enfolded in a hug. There is much to like here-Ada’s engaging voice, the vivid setting, the humor, the heartbreak, but most of all the tenacious will to survive exhibited by Ada and the villagers who grow to love and accept her.—Brenda Kahn, Tenakill Middle School, Closter, NJ

Questioning, I Need Your Help

  

 How do we go from toddlers and preschoolers asking questions about everything around them, to school-agers who hardly ask questions at all? What is the message being sent to students in the way we view and deliver teaching and learning in the standard classroom?

Our staff is reading articles about questioning and student engagement. When is a child truly engaged? What is our definition of student engagement?

With these question running through my head during Winter Break, I feel torn by what is expected of me as a teacher, and what I believe is best for the whole child in my classroom. Where is the balance? What is best for one child is not necessarily best for another. How do we get children to be engaged for true learning instead of pleasing the teacher and finding the right answer. 

Some of the things I have implemented this year is the focus on effort vs. getting the right answer. The focus on learning vs. the right answer. The focus on effort vs. correct spelling. I have to say this again and again in my classroom. I find students slowly taking more risks and less fix-mindset, negative thinking. But I cannot do this alone. 

How do we change the culture of school? How do we change a classroom into a learning/wonder/investigation studio? 

I do not have the answers. I cannot begin to pretend to know how to make this change. But I know what I believe in my heart, and I am torn. 

I am turning to my PLN, Twitter community to help me begin to find the answers to these questions. Please help me start the conversation. Please help me find the courage to move forward.

Time for the Little Things

  
I built a Lego house with my girls today. Yesterday, I cleaned the house. I didn’t grade papers or plan lessons.

I spent time on the little things. I took time to relax and keep away from my job for the weekend. It was nice. It was refreshing. It was calming.

I didn’t worry about falling behind. I was present in the moment. I was able to do this because I am doing the same thing with my students this year.

I am taking time for “Yoga Breaks.” I take time to play transition music. I take time to just “be” with my students. 

I am a person who loves schedules and checklists. I am efficient and know how to throw out the “fluff.” But what I am realizing is that I can be too good at this. I need to take the time for the little things. And I finally am. 

I’m adding back in the joy in my job and in my life. It is okay to just “be.” Be in the moment. Be present. Be there for your students and your own children. Be there for your spouse. Take the time for the little things.

Make Mistakes

  
Make mistakes. This phrase is our fourth-grade class focus for the year. Yesterday was the first day of school. I explained to my class how effort=success and that mistakes are okay. In fact, they are to be celebrated, because making mistakes is the only way we learn.

“Make mistakes,” I said. Many heads nodded. A few look at me confused. I then continued to explain to the anxious faces that I will not focus on getting the “right” answer, but I will focus on learning. And we learn by making mistakes.

Make mistakes. Today we tried a challenge to “Save Fred.” Six out of the seven groups successfully completed the challenge. One group broke the life preserver and did not save Fred. We discussed what we learned from the mistake the group made. The group responded that the life preserver was stretched too far, so next time they would make sure to not stretch the life preserver too far. They made a mistake, but they learned from it. They enjoyed the challenge. They had fun. 

Make mistakes. What can we learn from our mistakes? Isn’t learning what school is all about? How do you celebrate mistakes?

Three More Must-Reads!

  
Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

What a beautifully told story about a boy and his family who are struggling with the loss of his younger sister. Little did they know a foster girl, who loves trees, would help heal them in more ways than one. A perfect addition to any classroom grades 4 and up.


Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Who knew a magical story about chickens could be so entertaining yet so touching at the same time? Told through letters written by Sofie, a girl who’s family moved from LA to her late great-uncle’s run-down farm. Learning to raise unusual chickens is more difficult than it seems! A great addition to any classroom.


a handful of stars by Cynthia Lord

One of the best books I’ve read this summer dealing with loss, hope, change, and moving on. A touching story of growing up and friendship. I could not put this book down. A must read and must add to your classroom!

Five Ways to Bring the Joy Back

As I read educator blogs, Twitter feeds, and professional books this summer, I cannot help but think about how stressful our job as an educator can be. We care so much about our students and being the best teacher we can be, sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves first. Yes, I said first.

How do we take care of ourselves and still be an excellent educator? I have a few ideas on this topic I’d like to share.

First of all, enjoy your summer. Even if you are not going on an official vacation, do something for yourself you normally cannot to during the school year. For example, I went on a private wine tasting event where we were able to compare wines straight out of the barrel. We are also traveling to Lake Chelan this week to relax with my family and my new nephew. Take advantage of this precious time we have during the summer!

 

Barrel Tasting!
 
During the school year, here are a few thing you can do to keep the joy in your teacher life, and the stress out.

  • Do something with your class that you are passionate about and enjoy. I happen to love technology and teaching my students how to use new tools. I introduce them to blogging, storyboards, google drive. I get so excited when students discover how powerful these tools can be, how motivating they can be, and the students can see this excitement in me too. Together we are truly enjoying the experience.
  • Change it up. Students and teachers can get bogged down by the same routines. We naturally need something fresh, different, to help not only students be engaged, but teachers too.
  • Have fun! At least once a week, plan a fun activity with your class. It could be a simple team-building activity or game. Make sure it is something you will enjoy.
  • Read aloud books you enjoy. I happen to love children and young adult novels. I read up a ton during the summer and choose my read alouds for the school year that I am passionate about and know I will love reading again.

How do you keep the stress at bay? Please add to the list of ways we can take care of ourselves so we can be better teachers for our students.

Summer Reading: Four Highly Recommended Books

In two days I completed four books. I would not have accomplished such a feat if it was not for the genius writing of these four authors. Thank you for sharing these stories with the world!

1. Fish, by L.S. Matthews

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A family must face a difficult journey escaping the war-ridden country. If only they will make it over the mountain and cross the boarder. I could not put this book down.  Matthews draws you in until the amazing journey of a boy, his family, a guide, and a fish is over.

My story starts the day that my parents told me we must leave our adopted home forever. Because of the soldiers and the drought we barely had enough to eat and we could no longer stay to help the people in our village.


Right before we were leaving I saw a fish in a small brown puddle and I knew I had to take it with me. The journey would be hard to get across the mountains—to the safety of the border and the people there who could help us. Yet when I put the fish in the pot I never realized what we would have to face. It never occurred to me to leave Fish behind.  Synopsis and photo from Amazon.com

2. Lost in the Sun, by Lisa Graff

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Powerful story about a boy who cannot forgive himself and in the process deals with outbursts of anger. His life is falling apart and only a girl, who has a mysterious scar, can save him. I was totally sucked in. A MUST read!

Everyone says that middle school is awful, but Trent knows nothing could be worse than the year he had in fifth grade, when a freak accident on Cedar Lake left one kid dead, and Trent with a brain full of terrible thoughts he can’t get rid of. Trent’s pretty positive the entire disaster was his fault, so for him middle school feels like a fresh start, a chance to prove to everyone that he’s not the horrible screw-up they seem to think he is. 
If only Trent could make that fresh start happen.
It isn’t until Trent gets caught up in the whirlwind that is Fallon Little—the girl with the mysterious scar across her face—that things begin to change. Because fresh starts aren’t always easy. Even in baseball, when a fly ball gets lost in the sun, you have to remember to shift your position to find it. Synopsis and photo from Amazon.com

3. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina

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It is amazing how one person can cause such havoc in another’s life. A moving story about a girl who is the target of extreme bullying. You will fall in love with the characters in this book.

One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away? In an all-too-realistic novel, Meg Medina portrays a sympathetic heroine who is forced to decide who she really is. Synopsis and photo from Amazon.com

4. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

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Wow, the way Green intertwines a prodigy’s mind, mathematics, and love all into one story is genius. The characters are easy to like and find who they really are through an amazing, fun journey. (Recommend for high school and up due to mature content.)

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy–loving best friend riding shotgun—but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself. Synopsis and photo from Amazon.com

Stay tuned for more summer reading recommendations. Please leave your recommendations as well!

I Wish

The last leg of our journey together as a class. Nine more days to go. Wishful thinking enters my mind as I prepare to send you all to middle school.

What I wish for you…

  • Love
  • Laughter
  • Hugs
  • New adventures
  • Old friends
  • New friends
  • Confidence
  • Perserverence
  • Struggle
  • “Aha” moments
  • Family
  • Passion

All of the above can be found in life AND books. Keep moving forward. Celebrate mistakes and learn from them. Remember, I will always be your biggest fan.

Your Teacher,

Mrs. Druffel

Students’ Top 10 Books for Fifth Grade

I am excited to share our class’s top ten list of MUST HAVE books for a fifth grade classroom library. All of our read alouds made this list. Here are the most loved books in our classroom in order of popularity!

  1. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart 
  2. The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth  
  3. because of mr. terupt by Bob Buyea    
  4. Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone
  5. The I Survived Series by Lauren Tarahis
  6. Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
  7. Smile, Sisters, and Drama by Raina  Telgemeier
  8. The Bone Series by Jeff Smith
  9. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm  
  10. City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau