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Back in the Saddle

So, I pretty much disappeared at the end of last January.

Actually January was surprisingly productive. As you may remember, we read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe which culminated in a student-written play performed for the entire school. And the rest of the school year’s teaching was a success. But I added a play (this one starring me) to my plate which made it pretty darn full.

And then I found a publisher for my book.

You see, I’d written a romance novel before I started teaching, and after failing to find an agent or publisher, I’d retired it to the proverbial drawer. During mid-winter break an author friend suggested I send the manuscript to her publisher. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I sent it. By Spring Break I had a publishing contract. So I had to add the editing process to my full-time job and the play I was in. (“Into the Woods”, BTW. I was the Witch.)

Needless to say, this blog was low on the totem pole.

My novel, Two-Room Flat, was published this summer. A dream come true. Feel free to click the title if you’d like to read more about it. It’s also available on Amazon, iTunes, B&N, etc. Or, if you prefer to watch funny, unconventional book trailers you can watch mine on YouTube.

But now it’s back to teaching. My first post was the day before I started teaching. Now I’m beginning my second year, and I’m almost as nervous and insecure as last year. Maybe that’s always the case. But I notice my notes are a bit more detailed than last year. These first weeks are about training the students, and I intend to do a more thorough job from the get go this year than last.

And, yes, I still enjoy decorating my doors. Check out the one greeting my students tomorrow.

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Entering Narnia

I haven’t posted anything since before Christmas. Boy, did this first-year teacher need that break from school! I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a Christmas vacation more.

Now, I’m in the middle of second quarter report cards. In an effort to streamline the process, my Darling Hubby has developed a new computer program for me to make the third quarter report cards a breeze. Can’t wait!

Meanwhile, things in my classroom are back in full swing. And, we’ve launched the quarter with a new literature book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe from the Chronicles of Narnia series. So, to get the full effect, of course I had to turn my classroom into Narnia.

My ceiling is now hung with white lights and snowflakes (cut out by my students.) My Narnia bulletin board has a large-scale map of Narnia, a sparkly border and, of course, a lamppost. But, to enter this magical world, one has to pass through a wardrobe door. So…

Entering Narnia

Entering Narnia

You remember from this post how much I’m enjoying decorating my door. This one is simple, but gives just the right feel of entering an old wardrobe. I knew I’d created the right effect when one of my students exclaimed, “Wow! What a cool door!” as she entered the class on a dreary Monday morning.

 

Chicken Mummies for Christmas

While everyone else seems to be steeped in gingerbread, Santas, reindeer, and snowmen this last week before Christmas break, my class’s focus was on…mummies. Chicken mummies, to be exact.

This year’s history curriculum centers around the Ancients. So, we’ve been studying Ancient Egypt. The eager First Year Teacher in me decided that my small class size enabled us to get really hands-on. What better way to make Ancient Egypt come to life than making our own mummies?

Ah, the bliss of the unknown.

I decided to make one mummy for every two students. So, I purchased four chickens at the market and set out to enthrall my students.

We began the Great Chicken Mummification Project back in October. I had one parent volunteer the first day. The kids were curious, but a little doubtful, about what we were about to undertake. It took me a few tries to clarify that we were mummifying store-bought chickens, not slaughtering live chickens to preserve. (They all breathed a sigh of relief at that.) Our first project day was spent cleaning the chickens with alcohol, which caused a lot of drama over the smell. Then we dried our chickens and packed them in Ziplock bags in a mixture of baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Disinfecting our chickens with alcohol

Disinfecting our chickens with alcohol

We filled the chicken cavity with a salt/baking soda/baking powder mixture. Adding the baking soda and baking powder more closely resembles the salt from the Nile region.

We filled the chicken cavity with a salt/baking soda/baking powder mixture. Adding the baking soda and baking powder more closely resembles the salt from the Nile region.

My students got creative in naming their chickens.

My students got creative in naming their chickens.

We repeated the process–minus the alcohol step–three days later, then approximately once a week for several weeks. It was a messy process and usually took longer than it should. I also never had a parent helper again until the last week when we finally wrapped our chickens. Needless to say, I got a bit tired of the process. But, I was determined not to just give it up. I figured, if nothing else, I was teaching my students about persistence and seeing a project through. That being said, I must confess that after about the fifth time of changing out the salt, I was bored of the process and let the chickens sit in the same salt for about three weeks. But, since they were mostly dry by that time, I didn’t worry about it.

It was interesting to observe the shrinkage of the chickens over time. At the beginning of the process, they barely fit into the bags. By the end, they were easy to insert.

Finally, it was time to wrap our chickens. I enlisted two extra helpers for this part. That was a good move. I really couldn’t have done it with fewer. We removed all the salt from our chickens. Then we rubbed them with cinnamon and cloves. At this point they smelled quite pleasant.

We rubbed the chickens with cinnamon and cloves to make them smell good.

We rubbed the chickens with cinnamon and cloves to make them smell good.

Next, we brushed our chickens with oil. Dabbing the oil on with paintbrushes worked better than brushing it on.

We brushed our spiced chickens with oil. You can also use fragrance-infused oil and skip the spice step.

We covered our spiced chickens with oil. You can also use fragrance-infused oil and skip the spice step.

Finally, it was time to wrap the chickens. My students’ parents had donated t-shirt strips and sheet-strips. Since the t-shirt strips were skinnier, we used those for the wings and legs. Each strip was dipped in a glue and water mixture, much like papier mache, before wrapping around the chicken. I will not use t-shirt material again. Its tendency is to roll, making it difficult to smooth. The sheet strips worked better, although they were cut a bit wider than the recommended two inches. I had little plastic jewels and beads that the kids inserted between the layers, just like was done for the pharoahs. (Except, of course, their jewels were real.  Because, as we all know, you can never be too prepared, especially when traveling.)

The whole wrapping process took longer than I anticipated (of course) and by the end of an hour and a half I and my helpers were just ready for those darn chickens to be wrapped. So, they’re not the most precisely-wrapped chickens you’ve ever laid eyes on. (Then again, I feel pretty confident that you don’t have a lot to compare to.)

Our chickens finally look like mummies.

Our chickens finally look like mummies.

Now, I have four mummies drying out in my classroom. Originally I thought we’d bury them. Further reflection has led me to believe the effort would be wasted. We don’t live in a dry climate, so unless we place the chickens in a cooler with a dehumidifying agent they’d probably rot or mold. And, a cooler would require quite a big hole to be dug. I think we’ll just decorate them with hieroglyphics once the linen has dried. And then, who knows? I, for one, am ready to move on.

The timing worked out perfectly, though. We are visiting the King Tut exhibit in a few days. I have no doubt that my students will have a greater appreciation for how much work it took to preserve humans. Which, I suppose, fulfills my purpose of giving them a greater understanding and appreciation of people who lived before us.

Will I do this again with another class? Hmm. We study history on a two-year rotation. Next year it’s the Middle Ages. So, perhaps in two years I’ll have forgotten how much work this was and will only remember the cool factor…maybe.

 

 

Challenging My Students

In my class we have what’s called “Wise Time.” This is time when a student is finished with his classwork, but the period is not over. At that point a student can work on homework, study, or read. Still, there are times when I know a student has finished any other work and the book he (or she) is reading is not exactly stretching his brain. At those times I want the student to have something more to challenge him.

So, I’ve developed a new incentive program for my classroom. I took one of my bulletin boards and turned it into the Challenge Station. On the board I have nine file folders, each with a different worksheet or activity. It looks like this: Challenge Sheets

Each Monday my students face a new set of challenge sheets. I find plenty of free and inexpensive worksheets on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers. I also purchased a book of Mind Benders and 101 Activities for Fast Finishers from which I copy worksheets. The green ones are math-related, the red are grammar-related, and the purple can hold anything from brain teasers to Bible games. Doing the worksheets is not mandatory. However, those who complete all nine worksheets by Friday at 10:00 (snack time) get a prize.

I keep track of which students have done which sheets by putting stars next to their name on the file folder holding the worksheet. The students have slots on the wall just for holding their challenge sheets. This way the worksheets don’t clutter my inbox of the day’s work to be corrected. Challenge Sheet slots

For the first week’s prize I made giant chocolate chip cookies, timed to come out of the oven just before snack time. Rather devious, I know, but I wanted those students who hadn’t bothered to put the effort into the challenge sheets to be motivated to try harder the following week.

By the way, it’s an all or nothing deal. If you only finish half the sheets, or even most of them, you don’t get half a cookie. Harsh? Maybe. Real life? Yes.

Some of the students grumbled a bit at first. It seems some of them think that extra worksheets should always be fun, easy, and not require much thought. The first week I’d point to the board and say, “Look at the board. They’re not called Easy Sheets.” By the second week others in the class would say it for me if someone complained about the sheets being “hard.” I don’t let the students take any sheets home for homework on Monday or Tuesday, but if they want to Wednesday or Thursday, I will let them.

It’s been fun to watch students grow in their motivation to finish the pages. And, the sheets have been a great supplement to my lessons. If there’s something they need more work on, you can bet one of the challenge sheets will cover it.

The best part is that I no longer have students coming up to me and asking, “What should I do now?” They’re definitely more focused–especially those who are motivated by food! And, since I make enough treats for my own family as well, they’re feeling placated, too.

I call that a win-win situation.

December Classroom Decor

In case you thought I was all out of Christmas cheer after my last post, I thought I’d show off my December decor to assure you that Scrooge hasn’t taken over my classroom.

Per my post about door decor, I set the mood for Christmas cheer before you even enter my room with a door decorated like a giant present. Christmas Present DoorOkay, I realize that silver and blue are more traditionally associated with Hanukkah, but that shiny, striped wrapping paper was too pretty not to use. Since the picture was taken, each student has decorated a gift tag to hang from the giant bow. And, you know how I like to make my doors last. In January I will take off the striped ribbon, keep the blue paper, and have the kids decorate snowflakes to fall in the night sky. If I’m really inspired I may even add a few snowy hills to the bottom half.

Now, for the inside. On my Pinterest page I pinned a picture of a wonderful indoor Christmas tree made of books that someone else had built. I tried to create a smaller version of the tree on top of my cabinet, but to no avail. A shorter version simply looked, well, silly. Then I had the idea of standing the books up to make my tree and, viola! An indoor Christmas tree made of children’s classics.  Literary Christmas TreeThe Book of Common Prayer with the gold cross for a tree topper was a lucky find at the local thrift store. The most rewarding part was when my students first saw the tree. They oohed and ahhed over all the book titles they recognized. I can probably improve on this next year, but I think it was a good first attempt.

I also have colorful Chinese lantern lights strewn over my whiteboard, as well as a Christmas quilt on the ceiling. Yes, the ceiling. It was the only place I had room. And it provided the perfect spot for the Gingerbread Man to hide when he ran away from the first and second grade class. Hidden Gingerbread ManSo, never fear. Christmas is alive and well in my classroom.

 

December Crunch

Like all teachers at this time, I’ve been looking at December’s calendar trying to figure how to fit everything in that I need to in the next few weeks. After all, it’s supposed to be a fun month, right? We’re supposed to do beautiful crafts, learn songs for our December assembly, make presents for the parents, and generally spread Christmas cheer, all the while continuing to progress with other curricula. Add to that the pressure of getting Christmas ready for my own family. Where does a full-time working mom find the time?

It’s enough to make me throw up my hands and cry, “Bah humbug!”

While I was on the Scholastic Book Clubs site (with a cry of, “Aargh! I’ve got to get those orders in!”) I stumbled across this article about Overcoming New Teacher Exhaustion in December. It couldn’t have been more timely. So, I thought I’d pass it along.

Peace to you.

Dealing With Death

Remember when I wrote about the stresses kids have to deal with? This morning I got a call from a parent alerting me to a new one: death.

One of my student’s uncles drowned. On Thanksgiving.

I was so grateful to the mother for giving me the head’s up. (She called from out-of-state, where she is living.) So, when the child got to school I was able to talk with her before class started. She started to cry and poured out the story to me. The uncle was thirty years old. He had recently moved back here to be closer to family. My student was looking forward to seeing him over the holiday weekend.

It’s always sad when someone we love dies. It’s even sadder when their life is cut short by an accident, something that shouldn’t have happened.

I am so thankful that I work at a Christian school. I can’t imagine what I would say to comfort my student if I couldn’t mention God, if I couldn’t acknowledge the truth of her comment when she told me her uncle is now up in Heaven with his grandmother. I am thankful that as a class we could pray for this student and her family.

I can’t even imagine what I would say if I didn’t believe in a loving, forgiving God. I guess at that point you just focus on appreciating the life that was lived. But that feels kind of empty when the life was cut short. And that puts all the good in the past and takes out a key element: hope.

Not that I have all the answers. Not by a long shot. But, I have faith. I have faith that God loves me, that He loves all of us. I have faith that, while I don’t believe God causes bad things to happen, He can make good things come out of bad. And I recognize that my brain can’t possibly fully comprehend God. While that frustrates me at times, I can accept it.

Mostly, I know from firsthand experience that God can comfort where no one else can. So when my words of comfort aren’t enough for this young girl, I don’t have to worry. God’s got her heart in His hands.

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