Which contains a very specific warning you would be wise to heed

The meatloaf cupcakes strike again! Helblabi made a batch for the first graders on April Fools and graciously invited me to observe. It was hilarious. Some students took huge, unsuspecting bites, then rocketed to the trash can to spit mouthfuls of meatloaf. Some were more cautious. They gingerly peeled back the wrappers, poked, prodded, and wisely abstained. But my favorites were the kids who were clearly grossed out–some licked the mashed potato “frosting” and grimaced–they even watched their classmates gag and sputter, but then apparently thought “what the heck!” and shoved ‘em down the hatch anyway.

So, so trusting.

It was even funnier (in a sadistic way) because I’m pretty sure some of the kids didn’t even know what April Fools Day was. Going to school, minding their own business, and one day their normally nice teacher feeds them meatloaf and laughs maniacally. Just a random act of cruelty.

It’s a cold world.

April Fools always makes me nostalgic about past pranks. I’d like to share a past prank gone awry.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I lived in an apartment on the fourth floor of Chodska 17 in Prague, Czech Republic. I always took the stairs to and from the fourth floor instead of using the elevator because I am German and Germans do not believe in doing things the easy way. One late October morning, while trotting down the stairs past the third floor landing, something seemed out of place. I paused. Yes, something was definitely odd.

It could be nothing other than the six-foot penguin leaning against the wall next to #10.

This penguin was the mother of all penguins. It was three of me. I immediately ran upstairs to fetch FM#2 so we could take funny pictures before our neighbors hauled it away.

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But they did not haul it away.

Day after day, I passed the penguin on my way to work and grinned a wide grin.

On the third day, I began to think of the penguin’s pranking potential. I could hide it behind someone’s closet doors. Or prop it in the tub with the shower curtain pulled. Or hoist it on the back seats of tram 22 and send it on a tour of Prague. The possibilities were staggering. What a waste–just sitting there!

Dear reader, I must confess…I began to covet my neighbor’s penguin.

I started to think things like, “They would probably be happy if someone got rid of it for them. I bet it took up their entire living room.

Maybe they’re too frail to carry it to the dumpster.

Lots of people put give-away stuff in the hallway.

In fact, people in our building did set things out for give-away, but those things were usually books and vases and were neatly arranged on a windowsill under a sign that read: Zdarma! (free of charge)

They were not giant penguins.

But finally, I could stand it no longer. I telephoned an equally prank-minded friend who had the added qualification of knowing some Czech, and late one mild November evening she,  FM#2, and I knocked firmly on #10′s door.

No answer.

We hemmed. We hawed. Time, I felt, was of the essence. If we did not act quickly, the penguin was certainly on its way to the landfill. Certainly.

We decided to leave a note. (This, of course, is the responsible thing to do before pilfering a penguin.)


A rough translation:

“Good evening. We have your penguin. We think you do not want this penguin. But if you want the penguin, mark here: ⊗ YES and we will have it for you. Thank you. We will come tomorrow to check the letter.”

Later, I was struck by its resemblance to a ransom note. We didn’t really intend to sound threatening–in fact, we were downright impressed with our friend’s ability to produce such a comprehensive note.

The realization that we sounded like criminals came too late.

At the moment, we focused on quietly cramming the penguin into our elevator,


unobtrusively carting it five blocks  and through a park (“Act natural,” we hissed to each other as passersby raised their collective eyebrows and snorted. [We did not, obviously, have a car.]), and shoving it through the doors and up the stairs of another apartment building–the residence of two lucky colleagues.

We plopped the tučňák squarely in the doorway, knocked, and scurried upstairs to hide in the shadows and wait for their reaction.

At first, they thought someone was inside the penguin, and after much prodding and laughing, they pulled it inside. We snuck downstairs and giggled the whole way home, quite chuffed with ourselves. The nefarious note was far from my mind as I dozed off, imagining my friends figuring out how liquidate their new pet.

The next day, I paused at the third floor to see if the letter had been moved.

To my horror, a very bold, very emphatic X marked the YES box and words in block letters with many exclamation marks were scrawled over the paper. I snatched the note and skidded down the stairs. We were just being polite! I hadn’t imagined they might actually want it back! What was the Czech punishment for petty theft? A fine? Community service? Deportation?

At school, a Czech teacher translated: “I DEFINITELY WANT IT BACK!!! THE PENGUIN WAS A GIFT!”*

Fortunately, the animal in question had ended up at the school–the girls planted it in one of our classrooms. So after school, I dictated a very heartfelt apology to the Czech teacher who wrote it in a card and FM#2 and I purchased a nice wine of restitution. Then we yanked the stolen tučňák through the doors of tram 16 for its final journey back to Chodska.

Shamefacedly, we brushed off the dirt and grass as best we could, noiselessly propped the rogue bird on the third floor landing with the apology gifts nestled in its flippers, and tiptoed up the stairs.

The next day, penguin, wine, and card had vanished.

We never spoke of it again.

Just kidding. We talked about it all the time. But for a while, I took the elevator so as to avoid the third floor altogether. I’m sure they knew we were the penguin-snatchers. No native Czech speaker could have constructed such a note, and to my knowledge, we were the only foreigners in our building.

I often wondered what happened to the penguin. Did they keep it as a conversation piece? Did they ever wish, while vacuuming around it, that they hadn’t asked for it back? Did they try to get us deported?

We’ll never know. But I did learn my lesson. I have never again stolen my neighbor’s penguin.

(I like to keep my life lessons pretty situation-specific.)


* The only thing that kept me from having a coronary was an asterisked sentence at the bottom that said: “Well, maybe I would sell?” A few days later, I responded via sticky note, “How much do you want for the penguin?” She/he responded, “How much do you offer?” I bid a low 200Kc (about $10). This was apparently an insulting price, because that was the last I heard re: penguin.

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Posted by on April 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


In which March refuses to exit like a lamb

Well, what have we here? A March snow day? Whoo-ee!!

I’m all for delayed gratification in most parts of life, but the immediate pleasure of discovering you can go back to bed after barely dragging your bleary self out of it, completely trumps the knowledge that you now must go to school on Easter Monday.

At least, in my opinion.

Speaking of going to school, I have a real teaching job for next year!

I know it’s real because I have to sign a contract and my classroom will have windows.

I’ve surprised even myself with my excitement about this teaching position. Prior years, I’ve half-heartedly applied for classroom openings and the one year I actually got some interviews, I awaited the principal’s response with dread. I frequently feel not nice/patient/creative/with-it enough to have my own classroom. (No matter that I did have my own classroom–it seems like decades ago and at very small schools that didn’t breathe down my neck about AYP.) But this year, as I prayed about the Season of Applications, God brought this passage of Psalm 18 to my attention several times:

 You light a lamp for me.
The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
In your strength I can crush an army;
with my God I can scale any wall.

 “God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
For who is God except the Lord?
Who but our God is a solid rock?
God arms me with strength,
and he makes my way perfect.
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
You have given me your shield of victory.
Your right hand supports me;
your help has made me great.
You have made a wide path for my feet
to keep them from slipping.”

And I thought, on my own I can’t do a good job. But my confidence isn’t in me (thank goodness). It’s in Christ. He arms me with strength and supports me. With him, I can do anything. And–bonus!–he was the greatest teacher ever. So I entered this S of A with much more enthusiasm. And, despite later discovering my fly was open during the entire interview, I was offered a job, and this fall I’ll be a first grade teacher at the school where I’ve been working for the past three years.

If you’re facing something large and scary (or small and wiggly), take heart! When your confidence is in God, he will enable you to stand on mountain heights.

I also planned to teach summer school. When I learned about the real job, I promptly and apologetically backed out. Summer school would have not left ample time to freak out because my only books for a first grade library are a set of Berenstain Bear books from when I was in first grade, nor time to shore up my reserves of tenacity and perseverance and all those other qualities I said I had during the interview.

This summer is devoted to scrounging for items of first grade, laminating, practicing being nice, and memorizing the standards.

If you know of anyone selling the entire contents of her first grade classroom for a pittance, send her my way!


A fifth grade boy (the one who thought I was a terrorist) was reading aloud a section of Sign of the Beaver: “He was sore from head to toe, and his eye was almost swollen shut. But to his surprise, deep inside he felt content.”

He stopped and looked up, “What does ‘content’ mean?”

“It’s a feeling of happy peacefulness,” I said.

He thought about that briefly and said, “Oh! I always have that!” and carried on reading.

Aw. ♥

In other news, my sewing business is booming. My clientele has tripled,* so I decided it better have a name. My brother suggested Sew What? I think this really encompasses the values of my company and the laissez-faire attitude I have toward life in general.**

“Oh, I stitched the bottoms of your trousers shut? Sew What!”

“The napkins I made were delivered pre-gravy stained? Sew What!”

Anyone want to be my venture capitalist?


*from one to three


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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Uncategorized


Of irritating asides and inner peace

Has anyone else noticed this and/or found it annoying? I’ve witnessed a new–not sure what to call it–trend? tic? It goes like this: a writer makes a general remark, then follows it with a specific, humorous example. That example is in parentheses prefaced with the word “hello” and a comma.

As though this apt exemplar slipped like a single jewel from deep within the writer’s mind and plunked onto the page in not quite the right place, but the author was so thrilled to see it she greeted it warmly and wrapped it in punctuation.

The first time I saw it, I thought, “Huh.” Then it kept popping up. I saw it in books by actual professional writers, and reflexively grimaced:

All the things I thought a man would hate about me (hello, two cats), he adores.*

The professor of my online math class used it, and her ethos was shattered for three paragraphs:

We want to know the difference (hello, subtraction) between the money Nathan started with and the money Nathan has now.

I heard a pastor say it in his sermon.

I don’t know if there’s a name for this parenthetical greeting, but I hope it fades before someone slaps it with a gag-worthy moniker (hello, emoticon/hashtag).

Can I do that? Can I “hello” two things at once?

A hashtag, at least, serves an actual purpose. I think. Doesn’t it? And when people say “hashtag” aloud (hello, Jimmy Fallon) they’re usually being sarcastic. (Can I do that? Can I “hello” a person?) But this, this is just annoying.

In response, since I am such a trend-setting writer myself (hello, sarcasm), I am going to pepper my posts with these cheerful asides–but they will have nothing to do with what I’m writing. Both proactive and practical (hello, pulled pork). People’s heads will spontaneously combust as they try to figure out how my “hello” illustrates my point. This will be an exercise in futility and the Department of Health (hello, rush hour) will soon put the kabash on this parenthetical nonsense.

We can only hope (hello, skinny jeans).


* From It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single by Sara Eckel. Found out it’s not me…it’s you. So now I don’t have to read anymore books! (hello again, sarcasm!)

Eckel, I read in the introduction, is a student of Tibetan Buddhism, so basically the book was about using loving-kindness meditation and regular meditation to not punch people in the kidneys when they say stuff like: “You’re too picky” or “You’re too intimidating.”

This was all very enlightening (pardon the pun) not because it inspired me to buy a yoga mat and nature tapes, but because  in her explanations of Buddhism I recognized components of Conscious Discipline–this classroom management philosophy that our school is adopting and which I felt from the get-go was a load of hooey.** And now I know why!

In fact, when I grabbed my copy of Conscious Discipline to compare, I wondered how I’d missed the Buddhist aphorism heading the introduction (something about believing nothing until you’ve decided it promotes the welfare of all beings). The author, Becky A. Bailey, markets her program to “those who know inside them there is a better way.” In the introduction she writes, “Conscious Discipline empowers teachers with the Seven Powers for Self Control. These powers allow teachers to draw from within themselves to become proactive…They create a peaceful inner state…These powers allow teachers to stay in control of themselves and in charge of children.”

Now the aim of both Eckel and Bailey is inner peace. And certainly, no one has kicked the bucket from too much inner peace. But to me, their method for achieving it seems hollow.

Here’s Eckel’s explanation of using mindfulness meditation to manage your feelings:

Give those deep, dark feelings about yourself some breathing room. …Take your intellect out of it and allow yourself to feel whatever you’ve been resisting. Treat those sensations like they’re part of a scientific experiment. Note what happens to your body. Do you feel heavy…? Is there a knot in the center of your chest? Is your stomach clenching? Just allow it to be there, just observe. Normally, we treat difficult emotions like a judge or a boss–like a punishment for some wrong we’ve committed. When you no longer fear the feelings behind the judgements, then you become the boss…

And here’s Bailey on the same topic from a chapter in her book called: “Until you feel your feelings, you will not allow children to feel theirs” (catchy, huh?):

Bring into your mind a painful experience… As the feeling of upset surfaces within you, allow yourself to feel it. Close your eyes and join with the feeling. If thoughts enter your head, just let them go by and refocus yourself on the feeling. When you are focused on the feeling, begin a conversation with it regarding acceptance. You might say, ‘It is okay that you are here. You don’t have to go away. You can stay as long as you want to.’ You might even begin loving the feeling. Metaphorically, you can wrap your arms around the upset, soothe it and rock it…. The ultimate message is that this feeling is acceptable and allowed to exist.

Clearly, I’m out of touch with my feelings because I can’t read that without rolling my eyes/snickering. That’s not the point, though. The point is that Eckel and Becky A. Bailey are taking notes from the same book.

Here’s a bit from Eckel on another type of meditation:

With loving-kindness meditation, you wish happiness to others through a short mantra–the one I use is ‘May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you be free from suffering.’ If genuine feelings follow, great. If not, that’s fine too.

And here’s Bailey:

Wishing well is something the class might do when a fellow classmate is sick, upset, or going through a difficult time. The wish well leader can help the class sing…’We wish you well! We wish you well! All through the day today, we wish you well!’


I understand their goal, but what difference does it make if you wish someone well? Maybe it helps you feel better, but it doesn’t do anything for the other person. What good is it to turn your body into cold storage for every crappy feeling that wants to hang out there?

And perhaps Buddhists have more noble souls than me, but when I “draw from within myself,” the stuff I pull up is not love and forgiveness and “all through the day today, I wish you well.” Manufacturing my own inner peace is like mending my boots with duct tape–it’s not pretty and it won’t last long.

It seems much more effective to approach your emotions by addressing Someone who can actually help. I’m not saying God will take away your emotions–who wants that, anyway?–but you’re enlisting the assistance of the ALMIGHTY GOD to put them in the correct perspective. You can pray power and transformation into someone’s life–not passively wish them well.

“God, I feel angry at this person right now. Please help me remember that you created him and sent your Son to save him. Help me understand how much you’ve forgiven me, and treat this person accordingly. Even though I’m mad at him.”

Or, “God, I feel lonely right now. It’s so good to remember that when you walked this Earth as a man, you were lonely many times and you know exactly how I feel. Thank you that even when I feel lonely, you will never leave me or forsake me.”

Or, “I’m worried about (person’s name). Thank you that you will meet all her needs according to your glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Thank you that you are able to do immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine in her life.”

This is logical, it’s tangible–because I’ve been forgiven much, I can love much. By comparison, any other recipe for inner peace falls short.

Inside of me…it’s pretty chaotic. I’ll take some third-party inner peace any day!

** It’s not complete hooey. The program has some redeeming bits.

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Posted by on March 16, 2014 in Uncategorized


Which predicts the fall of a giant

McDonald’s sales have fallen steadily in the last three months. In January alone, sales in the United States were down 3.3% according to an article on

The article blames McD’s slump on the cold weather, but I know better.


It’s these.

This machine was the hot Christmas present of the year, and now it’s taking a toll on the mega-chain.

My brother got my cousin one of these for Christmas, so I, in turn, got one for him. One of my better decisions.

This unnecessary part of your complete breakfast not only churns out a great sandwich, but adds savoir-vivre to any kitchen. (I don’t know what savoir-vivre means, but it’s French, and therefore synonymous with “classy” and there is nothing more classy than accenting your kitchen with a tiny appliance that looks like a droid.)

This thing is the cornerstone of a delightful breakfast sandwich buffet: Canadian bacon, regular bacon, sausage, pancakes, bagels, English muffins, potato patties, spinach, tomatoes, red peppers, mushrooms–any breakfast desire, squashed into this machine and held together by cheese of an infinite variety and an egg.

It takes some time to warm up and four minutes to cook, so it’s not for work days when I only have time to down a glass of orange juice while drying my hair. But for the weekends, it’s tout simplement parfait.

Saturday mornings haven’t been this fun since they cancelled Woody Woodpecker.

If you’re not convinced that you don’t need one of these, but you’re going to buy one anyway, here is a fun review. I like it because the guy has a British accent (I’m a sucker for those) and there’s a great facepalm reveal towards the end (6:17). Also, while U.S. McDonald’s sales fell, European sales rose 2%. Obviously, that’s because Hamilton-Beach doesn’t make this with international plugs. No matter how superior to a McMuffin, it would be un casse-pieds to haul out your £100 industrial-type voltage converter (2:45) anytime you fancied a breakfast sandwich.

In light of their dismal sales, Bloomberg reported that: “McDonald’s has said it will try to draw Americans with breakfast foods and new McCafe drinks.”

Ha! Good luck, McDonald’s. Your breakfast foods do not work on me!


Friday was Career Day at school. The kids dressed in the outfit/uniform of what they wanted to be when they grew up. I saw some policemen, a few football players, and a zoologist.

Two boys in my first grade reading group were dressed in slacks and ties. One of them told me he wanted to be the President of the United States. (This same boy, one day last week, spent a full ten minutes of reading skills weeping loudly and wailing: “I just want my MOMMY!!” [I've heard this is pretty common among high-ranking politicians]). I asked the other boy if he was also an aspiring Presidential candidate. I thought we could have a debate.

“No,” he said. “I’m going to be a pastor. I want to tell everyone about God.”

Oooh!! I smiled real big and told him that was the best job of all. He is just the sweetest little boy I’ve ever met. I would go to his church.

I wore a Hawaiian shirt with a camera around my neck and a book of crossword puzzles stuck in my back pocket.

Because, of course, when I grow up I want to be retired.


(That’s my co-student council advisor. She wants to be a stay-at-home-mom when she grows up.)

Haha. The kids didn’t get it (a second grader thought I was a hula dancer–a frequent second career for former teachers), but the grown-ups chortled, because isn’t that what we all want?

One of my fifth grade reading group boys took a look at my get-up and exclaimed, “I know what you are!! You’re a terrorist!”


“I mean, a TOURIST!”

Another fifth-grader mentioned casually that he wanted to be an NFL player, but if that didn’t work out, he’d be a spy.

“Because I like chocolate,” he said.

He stopped for a moment which gave me time to marvel at his logic and wonder if, in fact, he knew what a spy was.

But he continued, “So my parents hide their chocolate from me, but I always find it. So I think I’d be a good spy.”

And I concurred. Who am I to question the skills of espionage?

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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Uncategorized


Readin’, ‘Ritin’, and ‘Rithmetic

What does one ponder while sewing 96 Christmas napkins? The curriculum you’d use if you started your own school, of course!

Having only taught/para-ed eight years, I have certainly not sampled the full buffet of curricular delights, but I’ve loved some series and nearly run others through the shredder. I know a school’s curriculum is not equivalent to the series of books it buys, but a decent resource sure as heck makes the curriculum easier to implement.

Teachers generally teach the way they learn best. When I try to learn something difficult–reading a new sewing pattern, playing guitar, speaking Czech–I need structured step-by-step instructions and lots of practice. Not surprisingly, the texts I’ve chosen for the “hard” subjects–language arts and math–contain explicit instruction followed by gobs of reinforcement. For history and science I favor a more experiential approach.

Here is my list of the Big Six: math, grammar, spelling, reading, history, and science.



Saxon! The high school math teacher in PoDunk didn’t like it because he felt the students he got couldn’t think logically, but frankly, that can’t be fixed with a new math series. As a fifth grade teacher, Saxon was my saving grace. Math scares me a bit. If I may be so bold, I believe many elementary teachers are elementary teachers because the degree requires only one general math course. If we were all really good at math, we’d be engineers. This is scary because it means we’re producing similarly deficient mathematicians. Enter: Saxon Math! It’s heavy on basic facts, mental math, and it breaks down complicated concepts–like everything you can do to fractions–into bite-sized chunks that are constantly reinforced in the assignments. Hurrah!

This was the opposite of the next math series I used which was produced by the Association of Christian Schools International and made me want to smash my head against a wall. It gamely tossed rounding to the hundreds place in a thousands number, front-end estimation, and expanded form to the billions into the same lesson. A number soup of misery. And the lay-out of every assignment varied, so instead of focusing on the math, students spent most of their time deciphering the stupid directions. The only thing Christian about it was that the story problems had Johnny raising money for Bible camp.

Speaking of story problems, I’m taking a class right now on the Singapore Math method of solving word problems by model drawing. I began the class with mild skepticism, but last week a frustrated fifth grader hauled her thrice re-done math test to the resource room for help. A few questions she had wrong were story problems.

Tom lives three blocks from the library. Rhonda lives two blocks farther from the library than Billy. Billy lives twice as far from the library as Tom. How far is Rhonda from the library?

What better way to make a kid hate the library? But after I revealed to her the ancient Singaporean secrets of model drawing–cha-CHING! She nailed it.

So the perfect combo in my school would be Saxon math garnished with a sprig of model drawing.


Whatever you call this subject, it has been woefully neglected. Most “language arts” series have shoved grammar into a couple workbook pages and one paragraph of an already bloated week plan. The grammar is incidental, rarely sequential and, in the series I’ve used, the authors treat it as review. “Oh, we won’t bore the kids with dependent clauses or irregular verb tenses–they’ve heard it all before. Just have them do five samples, and call it good.” But, see, they’ve heard it, but they’ve never had enough sustained practice to understand it.

Something as complicated as the English language requires its own book–not an arbitrary smattering of syntax.

For this I choose Easy Grammar.

easy grammar

I love it! Again, it’s been disparaged by a few middle school teachers, but I’m starting to think they just like to complain. The first chapters begin with identifying prepositions and prepositional phrases–vital if one ever hopes to isolate the elusive subject and predicate. It provides tons of practice and, like Saxon, does not squeeze too much into one lesson. Its author, Wanda C. Phillips, includes great games and projects that clarify grammar–not muddle it further. I so appreciate her focus on the rules that govern English, not the exceptions. Other series highlight the exceptions so often that students throw their hands in the air and say, “It don’t matter. I’s never gonna understand this anyways.” I used Easy Grammar in a class where a quarter of my students spoke English as a second language and it kept me from removing fistfuls of my own hair.


I think we should throw in the towel on this one. English spelling is ridiculous. I propose overhauling the whole system in favor of phonetic spelling. It would eliminate spelling woes. Reading scores would skyrocket. Scrabble would be a lot more fun. Instead of trying to figure out if the “ough” is saying o, oo, uff, off, ow, or aw, students could focus entirely on comprehension.

But until that happens, I choose the Spalding method for teaching spelling.


This teacher’s guide, or whatever it is, has the most appalling layout of any teaching resource I’ve seen. I break a cold sweat just remembering the day I discovered I had to coax a spelling curriculum out of this behemoth. If someone compiled a user-friendly version of this thing, I would give it two thumbs up. As it is, I only accept this book because it integrates these:

card card1

These cards teach the 87 phonograms of the English language. (Eighty-seven?! Why?) If you must learn to read and spell standard English, it helps to know these. It’s actually essential. But rarely are phonograms explicitly taught beyond second grade (and then, only some of them).

My mother, who taught second grade at a reservation school, swears by these cards. Her prescription for students who entered her room as non-readers was:

1) memorizing the most common phonograms and

2) lots of student reading with the teacher reinforcing those phonograms

So many of her students became readers that the principal took note. Unfortunately, it isn’t a very glamorous or exciting method, and requires a great deal of perseverance for both teacher and student. Edutainment, it is not. Hence, rarely embraced by teachers my mom has dubbed “spray and pray”–they spray out the information and pray some of their students get it!

Back to spelling.

That dreadful Spalding book has a cool system for highlighting phonogram pronunciation which improves spelling and decoding. But it only contains lists of spelling words–no worksheets or packets to go along with them. When I first used it, I struggled to find meaningful ways for the kiddos to practice their words. But now that Daily 5 word work’s become all the rage, I have a thousand fun ideas for spelling practice.

Daily 5 brings me to:


I haven’t found a reading series I like yet. The Sisters explain the problems of one-size-fits-all reading programs and offer an alternative. With modeling and mini-lessons, they also take the ambiguity out of “reading strategies” the kids are supposed to use. What fourth grader can explain synthesizing or inferencing? They can hardly pronounce these strategies, let alone consciously use them to improve their comprehension. I really like the way Daily 5 and CAFE are tailored to individual student needs.

In the primary grades, however, students need a more structured, phonics-heavy curriculum so they have the tools to figure out the words. Though advertised as primary-friendly, I think CAFE and Daily 5 work best for students who have already mastered decoding.


Sound Partners is a great resource for individual phonics instruction, but doesn’t translate well for an entire class. I’m sure there’s something out there.

sound partners


Now calledsocial studiesbecause it must encompass culture; time, continuity, and change; people, places, and environments; individual development and identity; individuals, groups, and institutions; power, authority, and governance; production, distribution, and consumption; science, technology, and society; civic ideas and practices; and global connections–this subject has the potential for greatness but barely registers mediocre.

No wonder social studies books are so lame. With all that filling there isn’t room for anything thought-provoking. One series I used shoved everything from Teddy Roosevelt to the Berlin Airlift into one chapter. Probably to make more room for civic ideas and consumption. Just about gave me consumption.

When I was in school, teachers were gung-ho at the beginning of the book. I learned more about the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans than their own mothers knew. But things slowed down around the Industrial Revolution and we were lucky to hit the Great Depression by May. We never studied the really interesting stuff–in fact, none of it was interesting. Momentous events warranted a few paragraphs–maybe a sidebar about Nathaniel Hawthorne or the Battle of Antietam–followed by inane comprehension questions about events for which I had no context. Unless the teacher collected supplemental resources, (some did–but mostly about the Aztecs) we had only the scantiest briefing of the past.

My history text would be A History of US.

social studies

These are great books! Unfortunately, the series only covers American history, but Joy Hakim has done an outstanding job of making history fascinating for students. The reader actually feels a connection–nay, even empathy, for historical figures and has enough background to realize why said figures are important in the first place. And from what I’ve seen (I haven’t read the whole series) Hakim does it without being obnoxiously politically correct.

I heard an annoying interview on NPR with Cokie Roberts, sometime author of Founding Mothers, a children’s book about ladies’ contributions to U.S independence.

The interviewer asked her what made her want to tell these stories for kids.

She responded, “Well, I feel strongly that when you recognize people in history that history is more relevant to you.”

I absolutely agree. When you know the people–events make sense. But then she kept going:

“And our little girls have a hard time recognizing people in the great story of America. …The National Archives are the closest thing we have to a cathedral of the country. There are these fabulous murals up on the walls…and they’re all white men in white wigs with tights, and I don’t think they’re recognizable to a lot of Americans.”

Wait, what? Because I’m female, I can’t identify with a great American simply because he looks different from me? That seems so–dare I say it?–close-minded.

Can’t I identify with a great American’s ideas? Vision? Character? To insinuate that a girl can only “recognize” a historical figure if that person is also a woman is insulting. You needn’t artificially prop up a particular gender or race because you think students can only interpret history from a person who looks like them. Teach them to recognize history makers by their actions and beliefs, not their gender or skin color.

Hmph. Carrying on…


The school in Prague used FOSS.


FOSS believes students should perform many investigations and from said investigations draw profound and lasting scientific conclusions. In my experience, the students were all for the experimenting (My fourth graders made a working telegraph using an electromagnet. It was beyond cool!) but balked at the drawing of conclusions. A few more years might have honed my facilitating skills, but at the time, I pined for more substance. But, man, I was in love with all the stuff; the kits burst with all manner of scientific goodness.

PoDunk used this Harcourt series:


While I appreciated the thorough text, I was constantly scrounging for materials for demonstrations and investigations, always borrowing the high school science teacher’s mineral collection, skeleton, incubator, beakers, etc.

In my school, I would marry FOSS’s stuff and Harcourt’s text.

There you go!

So who wants to start a school with me?? I’m thinking some tropical isle in the Caribbean. And the only students allowed will be hard-working, eager cherubs who don’t have parents.




Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


In which ND is likened to a creeper (tho’ it’s really not)

I put away my Christmas decorations yesterday.

You know what I think is funny?

How nativity sets include a couple sheep with the shepherds. I mean, it makes sense for the Wise Men to have camels. They rode them there, obviously. But the shepherds? It’s like they said to each other, “Hey guys, let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about…and why don’t you toss a sheep under each arm? I think we’ll go faster that way.”

There’s probably some spiritual application here, but I will leave that for you, my discerning reader, to uncover. Let me know what you’ve got.

In other Christmasy news, a lady at work liked the Christmas napkins I gave her so much that she ordered a whole bunch as gifts for next year. She’s going to pay me and everything! This is the first time I’ve sewn anything to sell. I’m kind of excited! Well, I am now–we’ll see when I get to napkin #48 and I’m only halfway through.


The other day, I heard a lady on the radio report that: “North Dakota tourism officials, along with Governor Jack Dalrymple, are slated to unveil the state’s new marketing campaign to lure visitors.”

Hmm. North Dakota cannot attract visitors. Or even draw them. Or entice them. No, we must lure them here, like unsuspecting trout.

Makes you picture North Dakota in a sketchy van with tinted windows parked by a playground. “Heeey kids…come check me out. The huntin’s great…and I’ve got candy…”


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Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


Of young love and the obligatory shark

School’s just been called off for tomorrow due to “dangerous wind chills” of -50 F. Hooray! Keep those chillens indoors. In honor of a long weekend and a short week, here are a few school stories:

I am one of the student council advisors. Among other activities smacking of school spirit, the student council decorates two artificial Christmas trees–one by the gym and one by the office. Let me tell you, nothing kills your Christmas spirit like trying to assemble and trim a tree in half an hour with a bunch of third and fourth graders. When we put the trees away before break, the janitor informed me that we had actually put half of it together upside down. That, along with tangled garland and dead lights, made the finished product difficult to look at. (The office tree looked fine. The other advisor did that one.)

Anyway, while eating lunch with the student council prior to the tree fiasco, I parked my tray across from two fifth grade boys deep in conversation. Apparently, a female classmate had posted on Facebook that boy #1, we’ll call him Dallas, was her boyfriend. He hadn’t seen this post, so boy #2, Bart, was filling him in.

“Yeah, she had, like, six exclamation marks,” said Bart.

“So do you think she likes me?” asked Dallas.

“Well…” said Bart, after some thought. “I think she probably does. How does she act when you sit by her in social studies and science?”

I admired their spirit—boldly probing their tenderest feelings despite a teacher sitting not three feet away. Maybe they thought I couldn’t hear them because I was studiously gnawing a hamburger bun and avoiding eye contact. Or perhaps they hoped I would chime in with a female perspective.

Ignoring the salient question of what a fifth grader is doing with a Facebook account in the first place (Aren’t you supposed to be 13 to be on FB? I guess if you’re 13 and still in fifth grade, you’ve got bigger things to worry about.), I would conclude that if a girl claims a relationship on Facebook with a boy without his knowledge, it is a safe bet that she likes him. Or she’s being ironic. Either way, she doesn’t seem like the type you’d want to sit by in social studies. She’s probably copying your answers.

That would have been my advice. But they didn’t ask, so I kept working on my hamburger.

“Yeah…I think so too. Whenever I sit by her, she’s always staring at me like this,” and Dallas made this face:


And I started furiously cough-laughing which unfortunately ended this most amusing conversation.


Before break, I was lingering in the door of a third grade classroom, waiting to speak to the teacher. The kids were having indoor recess, and I noticed two boys by the back cupboards, playing with a Magic 8 Ball.

They asked it silly questions and dissolved in giggles. Then one boy told the other, “Ask it who you’re going to marry!”

The other boy suddenly got very serious and took the ball in his hands. His brow furrowed and he asked slowly, “Am I going to marry Lindsey?” He paused and addressed the ball again, “It’s a yes or no question.”

He turned the ball over and read carefully, “As I see it…yes.”

“Yes!!” he exclaimed and gave a modest fist pump.

Then he saw me in the doorway. “Who’s Lindsey?” I asked.

“I don’t know…” he said, and promptly turned red.

“You do TOO!” shouted his friend.

Fortunately, my dear co-worker, Helblabi, was in the hallway so I had someone to chuckle with and we spent the next few minutes checking the class lists of all the third grades for a Lindsey. We’re pretty professional like that.

When I made it back to Romeo’s classroom, he was happily playing Legos with some other boys, satisfied that his future was settled to his liking.

Ah, if only ’twere that simple.


And finally…this isn’t really my story to share because I just happened to see the paper in Mrs C’s room, but I’ll go ahead anyway. She had her first graders fill out New Year’s resolution pages for a class book. “This year, __________________ would like to _______________________.”

“This year, Lindsey would like to read more at home.”

“This year, Bart would like to learn to tell time.”

One of her boys wrote: “This year, I would like to train a shark.”

Which makes my resolutions seem pretty lame.

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Posted by on January 5, 2014 in Uncategorized


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