#kinderblog    Summer writing challenge

The challenge will last for 6 weeks, with a new prompt added on Wednesdays.

"Ideally, our topics will be reflective and thought-provoking, with a balance of fun and serious."

Wednesday, July 6th

Blog Challenge: Question the first!

And, it's on: The Great Kinderblog Summer Blogging Challenge begins... now!

Tell us the story of the first group of children for whom you were "Teacher." Maybe it was at a school, but maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was a childcare centre, or a daycamp, or a swimming pool or a dance studio or a hockey rink.  Maybe it was in your own home, or their home. Who were they? Who were you? What did it FEEL like? Maybe it was amazing. Maybe it was terrible. Either way, there is a story there. Tell it.

Miss Dorothy and The Westmont Montessori Kindergarten Class of 1985

Two weeks after graduating college I was hired as an assistant in a Montessori pre-school class. Then the Kindergarten Music and After School Care teacher quit, and I was offered the additional hours.  I was so excited about the chance to teach all day!  7am till 6pm seemed like nothing because at least for that window of time with the Kindergarten class, I would not be an assistant, I'd be the teacher! 

There were so many amazing young minds in that class, and they were going to change the world!  We sang songs, did fingerplays, danced and played games.  We learned together about notation and rhythm and melody and harmony and dynamics.... Boy did I learn a lot about dynamics!  

I remember sitting with them in a circle on the floor in a cool darkened room and wondering if I would ever be able to teach in a lit room without whispering to hold the group's attention.  It was only one hour out of the day that I was in charge of this group, but they took more energy than the other 10 hours combined! 

I knew that Kindergarten would always be my favorite age group because their minds sparked in ways the pre-schoolers weren't ready for, and the 1st graders were already beginning to forget. And they made me the teacher I am in more ways that I can name.

I loved that group and even did babysitting as a side job for some of their families.  I taught some of their younger siblings in subsequent years when I had my own classroom, but this was the group that convinced me that I was "home" as a Kindergarten teacher. They kept me jumping just to follow their thinking, humor and energy, and I fell in love with the challenge.

Some of them are married now, some with children of their own. Some have advanced degrees, and some have careers I envy. At least a few of them are still in touch with me, and that's an accomplishment I'm proud of!  
It's not every teacher who can say she has a relationship with her Kindergarten students into their thirties!

All the training, coursework, degrees and certifications I've acquired, have allowed me to meet many groups of children.  But these are the students that made a teacher of me.

July 13th

Blog Challenge: Question the Second!

Tell us about the teacher preparation you attended. (You don't have to name the school if you don't want to.) Did you love it at the time? Did it prepare you adequately for teaching? How did you feel about it as you were in it? Does it look different now, looking back? Would you change it if you could? What did get out of it? What did you not get that you needed?

I'm Always Learning to Teach

Teacher Preparation is continual. We are always taking more classes and trainings and learning new things to become better teachers. One thing I would never change about the field is the push for ongoing development. We can never be fully prepared because the world is always changing, and the students we meet are unique. I hope to always be a student as well as a teacher so that I can continue to grow in my ability to best serve my students.

My college degree was in Psychology, not Education, and while I took some classes in education, the bulk of my BA was in child growth and development.  I believe I learned more about the whole child by this route, and I wouldn't change it for the world

I was then trained as a Montessori pre-primary teacher. The quality of the the program, and how it prepared me for understanding children and how to follow their lead and respect them as individuals is unparalleled.  I learned to be an observer, and to be a guide, and to trust the passions and impulses of my students.  It was the best introduction to education I could have asked for.

When I transitioned to elementary, it was an on-the-job training in a project approach, one-room schoolhouse.  I learned from peers how to build on what I knew from years in Montessori and how to support students in making a connection to the content.  I learned from expert teachers and from my students and from training courses with Lillian Katz and Sylvia Chard and Outward Bound and others about pedagogy that made sense.   

Then I used the 'alternative licensing' path to state certification. I worked with a professor over the course of a year, and created a portfolio of evidence that my teaching career had led me to meet or exceed the teaching standards set out by the state. It was grueling work to prove that I was doing everything I would have learned from every class in a formal teacher prep program.  I managed to gain certification in Early Childhood (birth - 8years) Elementary (k - 6th) and Secondary English (Middle & HS) based on a combination of course work, experience, documentation and testing.  

Through this process, I learned the more traditional content scope and sequence and lesson planning approach to teaching. This was the first time I really had to learn to be an instructor rather than a facilitator of learning, and the first time lesson planning was more about what I was going to do than about what the students were doing. It helped me to communicate better within a traditional school and district setting, and to work with teachers who's first training was different from mine.

I have taken some certification courses and started graduate programs in Gifted Education, English Language Development, Special Education, Integrated Arts Education, Environmental Education, Constructive Math, Science and Literacy.

I have learned how differentiating for students can be a challenge when your focus is on direct instruction of content.  I can write lesson plans that include differentiation, but I tend to teach with a focus on individuals and not on content, so differentiation is my starting point. 

I have yet to complete a Masters Program because it is very hard for me to give up what I know about developmental and individual and cultural appropriateness for the sake of a standardized curriculum.  

After listening to, and talking with a broader group of Kindergarten teachers, especially through #kinderchat and #edchat groups, I realized that a lot of teachers of young children think about education differently. 

I have learned that in Early Child Development, many teachers understand the difference between teaching a curriculum to children, and teaching children a curriculum. Its all about where you place your focus.

The Masters program I am in now is an early childhood leadership program, and I'm thinking that this time I might finish it. 

Another certification, another degree, but still not done learning to be a teacher... that 

goes on forever!

July 20th

Blog Challenge: Question the Third!

Imagine that a parent of one of your students, stumbling around the internet, happened to land on your blog. Not your class blog with your cute photos of all your munchkins and their amazing brilliant work. Your personal teacher-reflection blog, the one where your intended audience is mostly other teachers. Pretend that parent managed to figure out exactly who you were, and that you were their child's teacher. What would you want that parent to know? What would you say to that parent? Write the letter that you would want that parent to read.

Ready? Set? Go.


No fair.

My target audience is the parents of my students. Well, of any students actually. Or teachers of students. But still, this isn't a very fair writing prompt considering that I use my blog to write to parents already.

So, a change of prompt.

What if one of the students were to find the question their mother sent me, and my response? What would I want that student to know? What would I say to that student? Here is the letter I would want that student to read.

Ready? Set? Do-Over.

Dear Student,

Please understand that sometimes the way something is worded makes it more likely to catch the eye of passers-by.  

Your parent's don't actually think of you as "lazy" lol. I just chose to use that word for it's impact value. Also, they don't consider you "hopeless" and they don't really want to sell you. jk.

These are the things we say when we are uncomfortable to express strong feelings like frustration and exhaustion. smh.

Not that you make us frustrated or exhausted! I'm just giving that as an example. srsly. 

You see, sometimes parents and teachers say things in an advice blog that they don't exactly mean. ;) And sometimes the advice-giver sensationalizes it a bit to make it more exciting to read and to help people who REALLY have these problems. 

Which you don't. OMG. Obviously. 

It isn't that making you go to school in your pajamas or sending you to a tutor are really what we WANT to do, it's just that this kind of talk is popular among the crowds of people who flock to my site to read about people's problems and my brilliant responses. XD

None of this really pertains to you.  It is about someone else altogether. Honest. For Reals.

Nothing to see here. 
Move along.

July 27

Blog Challenge: Question the Fourth!

Tell the story of one specific child, who walked into your life and changed everything.

We've all had that kid, at least once.

In All Fairness

In my 22nd year of teaching, in a half-day kindergarten class I was given the gift of a student who stretched the edges of how I work with all my students forever. 

"Joe" was a little boy who was born with downs syndrome into a family that was new to this country and
 spoke, read and wrote in Russian at home. Joe had just begun to communicate in Russian. 

While I had some strategies for working with learners of English, they were mostly built on my experiences with students who's first language was one I could understand a little of, and communicate a little in. I knew no Russian.

While I had worked with special ed students in the past, and had some strategies for meeting different needs in the classroom,  I had not taught toilet-learning-level life skills in a kindergarten class before. I knew meeting Joe's needs would be a challenge.

I have always believed that what is "fair" in school is not when everyone gets the same thing, but when everyone gets what they need. And suddenly, processing this concept with 5 year olds became important.

In the classroom, we would talk about the calendar every day. Singing the days of the week and counting to the date helped us have some shared learning routines. Joe always sat quietly through calendar time, smiling and watching my every move. After calendar time, I would read a book with the class.  

Joe tried to sit through story time for a while. He would cross his legs and fold his hands in his lap, and grin at me expectantly.  And as I started to read, in English, his attention would drift off, and eventually he would get up and go explore the room.  

Some of the other children asked why Joe didn't stay sitting for the story, or why Joe got to play while it was story time. I explained that Joe was looking for the thing he needed to learn more about, and that, for right now, it wasn't a story.  

I was certain that Joe was learning very little in my classroom.  He handled lots of materials, and gave out lots of hugs, but teaching him to use the bathroom seemed to be the best I could offer.

Until, one day, when we sat down for a story, and Joe chose not to join us.  He picked up the pointer and began going over the calendar on his own.  The one thing that we did every day without fail, the one thing that had been repeated day after day in exactly the same way, was making an impression.  

I wanted to watch and listen to him, but I had the other 26 children to read with, so I read with one ear on Joe's vocalizations.  He was trying to sing the days of the week in English, and he was counting the numbers on the calendar in some mix of Russian and English - though it may not have been Russian at all and just random noises.  

Every day the class did the calendar routine with me, and every day Joe waited till we were done, and then practiced again on his own.

Some of the children complained that Joe was loud and it was hard to hear the story, and so we talked about how practicing over and over was helping Joe learn something new, and because it was what he needed, it was important.  

We moved our story spot further away from the calendar so everyone could focus on what they needed to focus on.  

Whenever a new child joined the class that year, the other students thought it was important to explain about Joe and the calendar. One clever little fellow said "It's fair if he does calendar during story time and we don't cause he needs extra practice at that. It's like if you are really hungry and I'm not, you could have extra snack and that would be fair cause I don't need it and you do."  

I learned so much from Joe, but the most important thing I took away was how ready kindergarten students can be to distinguish between equality and equity.  They were confident that if they needed something extra, or something different, that, like Joe, they would get that need met in school.

At the end of the year the students presented their learning to their families. Some sat with their parents and read stories they'd written. Some sang songs they'd learned to their families. When Joe moved to the calendar, all of the children brought their guests to sit and follow along. They all sang with him as Joe lead the days of the week song, and they helped him with the counting. He was so delighted to be the teacher and just beamed up at me when he was done.

Joe made me a better teacher of students with special needs, of students who are learning English for the first time, and of the trust and understanding of 5 year olds. They all knew Joe was different. It was ok for me to say that Joe needed different things. They knew they were different too, and I no longer hesitate to tell a class that everyone has the right to get what they need in school.  

I wish I'd met Joe earlier in my teaching career.

August 3, 2011

Blog Challenge: Question the Fifth!

Tell us about your greatest classroom disaster. The biggest mess, the lamest lesson, the most snooze-worthy circle time. Hopefully, even if you couldn't laugh about it at the time, you can laugh about it now.

Ok, go.

Flooded Out

I taught a K-1-2 combination class in an Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound school, and part of the curriculum was to take the children out for wilderness adventures and camping trips.  

There were many trips over the years, and lots of "interesting" experiences like: the tornado warning that had us pack into a brick bathroom building, the tents on the top of the hill that blew over with kids sleeping in them, the owls nesting above the tents keeping us awake, the 'haunted' cabin, the snowy night, the "fire" ants, the rattle snake, the leave-no-trace grey water...each one a story in and of itself... but the biggest mess of all was the flash flood trip.

In preparation for the trip, we walked to the grocery store and looked for prices and ingredients for meals.  We planned meals, figured out portions, and walked to the grocery store again to purchase what we needed.  We packed the food and our gear, and on the day of the trip we headed to camp.  When we arrived, we set up tents (not on hills, under nests, or too near animal homes) grabbed lunches and headed to the water's edge for some beach adventures.  

A short while later they closed the swim area because of storms rolling in.  We were ready to go back to the campsite and start prepping dinner anyway, but by the time we reached our tent area, the weather warnings had turned into flash flood alerts.  

In case you don't know about a flash flood, there is really not much time to plan or even think clearly. By the time you know it is coming, it could be too late to get away, so you simply ACT and act quickly.  Well, acting quickly with 25 young students is a challenge, so my co-teacher and I rounded up the chaperons, loaded the children into cars, and drove off in the opposite direction from the storm. 

We returned to the school knowing the trip was cancelled and started re-grouping.  Chaperons formed a posse once the storm had passed, and went out after our gear, food, tents and equipment, and I tried to console and rally the troops for a completely other kind of adventure.  We played some games, got the 'ok' for a lock-in at the school, and tried to make the best of it.  

We microwaved marshmallows (now THAT's a mess!) to make our smores, and cooked what remained of our food as dinner.  We spread sleeping bags out in the classroom and told campfire stories around flashlights.  We had a great time despite not getting to sleep under the stars, and only a few tent pieces and assorted gear didn't make it back.

Now, that "field trip" is one that I will always remember as a disaster of disorganization and chaos, and making the best of a crazy situation, and the children remember it too.

One student from that group (now in High School) recently contacted me to try and organize a reunion camping trip... back to that same they could finally have the trip that got flooded out! I told her I'd be happy to attend, but someone else would have to do the planning and organizing this time, and they'd better have a good contingency plan in case of disaster!


  1. "I knew that Kindergarten would always be my favorite age group because their minds sparked in ways the pre-schoolers weren't ready for, and the 1st graders were already beginning to forget."

    You explained how I feel brilliantly! The challenge is to encourage the older grades to embrace a Kinder Philosophy, and maybe the spark will ignite!

    Thanks so much Mardelle

  2. Ready Set Love it!

    Teaching kinder it never occurred to me that a teacher might have a student find their blog - great tangent! FOr reals - snort laughed out loud! I do not know what the initials for that might be . . slol?