Welcome to My Blog!

Welcome to my blog! I use my blog as a way to reflect, share, organize, and re-conceptualize my views as an educator. Enjoy and feel free to comment, post, disagree, and share your opinion. The more perspectives, the better!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


A quick story that happened on Friday:

We have this behavior management system at school called PBS (Positive Behavior Support) that centers around recognizing students who are doing the right thing rather than focusing on the students who are misbehaving. I am not completely bought into it, but it seems to work for most of my kids. Part of the system is that we reward students with “Cubs Cash” that they can trade in for prizes, special privileges, etc.  On Friday’s I have a Cub’s Cash store that students can “buy” from with Cub’s Cash.  Well one of my students, A, had apparently been saving his Cubs Cash (80 tickets!) and wanted to buy two toy dinosaurs.

To give you a little background on A, he is one of my sweetest, most eager, yet academically lowest students. He is a refugee from Thailand. His mom left A’s older brother and dad in Thailand to bring  A and his little brother here. They came here with absolutely nothing. Mom understands no English and now that their transition aid is running out, it is clear that they are barely making ends meet. To make matters worse, I recently learned that A had Malaria when he was about 5 years old. The medical care they had in Thailand through the clinic was very poor and he had it on and off for a year. Mom told us that she had to completely re-train A to eat, walk, go to the restroom, everything. We suspect that he has some developmental delays and language acquisition issues as a result of his Malaria left untreated for so long.  

Anyway, I told him that he could only buy one thing, which has always been the store rule. Instead of buying one of the dinosaurs he just kind of walked away with his head down. I wasn’t really paying attention, but when I caught up with what had happened I asked him why he didn’t just buy one dinosaur.  He told me (in a lot less words…he has very little English) that he was saving so he and his little brother could play together. I am not even kidding you; it took everything that I had not to burst into tears.  (And yes, I let him buy both dinosaurs). 

Most kids his age would never have even considered buying something for a sibling. To make the story even more special, I had a few students in the room who witnessed it. Another student, S, asked me why I let him get two things. When I explained to her and the students that were there what it meant to be a refugee, and that A doesn't have toys at home like most kids; they just nodded their heads and moved on. 

Times like these are the reason that I really like working with my population of students. They have so much more empathy and understanding of each other’s challenges than other kids their age (I am sure more than I did myself).  It is hard to explain, but they really just “get it.” There are some things you can try to teach, but I don’t think I could ever teach the type of empathy, support, and compassion that my students have for each other. It truly is amazing.

Friday, November 16, 2012


My students invented a new vocabulary word today.

Jancing: the act of dancing and jumping.

Jancing is what happens when you try to say dancing and jumping and one word comes out.

Imagine 8 3rd grades breaking out into a 3 minute jance party.

Happy Friday

One woman

Every Friday I eat lunch with my table winners. I usually get them settled and then take a minute or two to get myself settled and prepped for math before joining my students. Today I had the pleasure of overhearing the following comment...

D: "I wish there was only one women in the world."

(In my head) "Sweetheart that will all change in a couple of years.."

D: "Yeah, then we could all just date her."

(me) hiding my laughter with a coughing fit.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reasons I don't like missing school...

1. Incompetent substitutes who cannot find the lesson plans for the day. Yes, the lesson plans that are in the binder marked "Subsitute Binder" in the first section that says LESSON PLANS with today's date highlighted on the very top of the page.

Maybe the binder was hidden? NOPE it was sitting on the top of my desk in the tub marked "SUB TUB" in huge letters. The substitute folder from the office also has "see substitute binder" written on it in at least 10 places.

Under the binder was every single thing the sub would need in order of the day (with the instructions AND an exemplar for each activity.)

Rant over. Thanks for letting me vent. Good night.

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Why don't you just sleep here?"

Today I was teaching a vocabulary lesson and we were talking about the word echo. One of my students mentioned that the hallways can echo when they are empty. To affirm this students' question, I told a quick story about how I was the only teacher in the hall this weekend and I dropped my books. The noise echoed. Moving on? Not a chance. One of my students asks,

"Miss Prinzo, why don't you just sleep here?"

Maybe I need to make an effort to be at home more...

Hot Cheetos

Hot Cheetos... add them to the list of weird kid things I don't understand. They can go right after folded paper squares. Seriously, why do kids want these bright red, spicy, worm looking things? 

On Fridays I eat lunch with my table winners. Do you know what we talked about for over half the lunch? You guessed it...Hot Cheetos. One of my students in particular is a Hot Cheetos connoisseur. On Friday he put Hot Cheetos on his hamburger and then bet the other students at the table that he could eat the whole bag without drinking milk. The other students at the table were amazed. I guess I know what I need to do to win my students over... 

In all seriousness, every student has that thing they need to break the ice. This particular student has had two non-academic conversations with me this entire year. Both conversations were about Hot Cheetos. He is a student that kind of gets lost in the shuffle, and I am glad to have something to talk with him about. It is hard to find time in the day to really get to know students, but it is totally worth it. The rest of the day on Friday, this student participated twice as much as usual, and to think, it was all because of some Hot Cheetos.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We are Diverse Learners

One of the things I am most excited about this year is the diversity among my students. For those of you who do not know, the majority of my students are English Learners or bilingual. Students in my classroom speak 6 languages and come from about 10 different countries and/or other regions of the United States.  By the statistics alone, we are a diverse group of learners. My students LOVE to share their cultures with each other. I am pretty sure I hear the words, "In my country..." at least 15 times a day. 3rd grade is a really great age to share about cultural diversity because many of my students are old enough to remember moving to the  US and/ or remembering trips they have taken to their home country, and can share their experiences with each other. Most of them also speak/ understand enough English to discuss and ask questions to each other. They are also not old enough to have developed some of the strain between ethnic groups that seems to come in during the middle school years. (Although, hopefully our diversity discussions will help prevent some of these later strains).

Right now we are writing cultural narratives. My students have been drafting short paragraphs (4-6 sentences) on the different aspects of their culture: language, clothing, holidays/ traditions, and food.  They many choose to write about the country that they came from exclusively or write about how their family has blended their native culture with American culture. Right now we are in the revising stage, but hopefully in the next two weeks, we will be able to type and publish our writing. Then it is all about the sharing. I am in love with this project! I have been learning so much about my students. There are so many little things that I have learned that have helped me to better understand my students. For example, I realized that a few of my students take part in fasting during Ramadan.

This past weekend I was invited over for lunch by one of my students. His mother works in our school cafeteria and treated two other teachers and me to a traditional Kurdish meal. It was delicious! It was also quite the cultural experience. Their family traditionally eats together on the floor. Our hosts were extremely concerned that this would bother us and kept saying that we could go eat at the table (FYI..the table was their coffee table). After lunch we were treated to Kurdish black tea (with a TON of sugar!) and pastries. There were also figs and a few other fruity/ nutty looking things that I was not brave enough to try. We did have one slight cultural mishap when we used ashtrays/ nut casing collectors as dessert plates. We also learned a little bit about how the family came to the US and about their families that were still in Iraq. Our host was also telling us that adult children, women in particular, typically stay a part of a household until marriage. It made the three of us, who are all single, under 25 and living on our own, chuckle when she told us about her friend who is so frustrated because she  has children between 22 and 25 at home who just cannot find the "one." Lunch was definitely an interesting experience. I really enjoyed it, but I have to admit that I was much more comfortable being alongside two of my colleagues. There were a lot of gaps in conversation and periods of uncertainty that were made much easier with other English-speakers!

The Tennessean also had an interesting opinion piece on the diversity/ history of immigration to our region. I really enjoy learning about the history and benefits of our diverse community. Here is the article: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120907/OPINION03/309070052/Local-diversity-model-all

Thursday, August 23, 2012

You Have the Best Clothes

" Miss Prinzo, you have the best clothes. My mom is jealous of them."

Fact: I have never met this student's mom.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fake Mistakes

Today we were working on drafting our family paragraphs. At the beginning of the lesson I drafted an example paragraph with my students. As always, I made a few mistakes. One of my students caught a lot of them, but I told him not to worry I would fix them later during editing. Later we went back to our seats and he asked me, "So we are supposed to spell things wrong on purpose?" Needless to say, he made my day :)

Running in the Hall

Today we were in the hallway and one of the first grade teachers jogged by my class. As she walked by she told the kids jokingly, "You don't see me running in the hallway!"

My kids were fascinated. Of course, they had to know...Are teachers REALLY allowed to run in the hallway? I said yes and one of my students blurted out:

"I want to be a teacher so I can run in the hallway!"

Forget about touching students' lives or instilling a love of learning. The next time someone asks me why I wanted to be a teacher I am going to say that I wanted to be able to run in the hallway.

Morning Meeting

I LOVE morning meeting. It is by far one my favorite part of the day. I love it; the kids love it; and I rarely have behavior problems. Morning Meeting is WAY more fun with 3rd graders. We actually get to do all four parts just about every day. For those of you who are unfamiliar, morning meeting has 4 parts:


I pick a new greeting to share with my students every week. Last we did handshakes (hello important real world skill) and this week we are working on high fives. I will give you one guess about which one the kids like more. For the rest of this quarter my plan is to introduce a new greeting each week. As we learn them they will be put into a jar. After the first 9 weeks we will draw out of the jar for the greeting. I am also really looking forward to having my students teach us greetings in their native languages. My classroom has 6 different languages (not including English) spoken and the kids love to share about their native language.

The share can be anything. So far this year we have done class graphs, shared our starring me posters, read journal entries, and learned about our royal friend. I try to do at least one thing each week in which everyone shares, but on most days 3-5 students share and we celebrate their work with 3 claps or 2 snaps. Shares are usually voluntary/ by sign up and I make sure to tell my students in advance who will be sharing so those students can prepare. 

The message is a short letter to the students that I write each morning. I generally use it to go over the day's standards and schedule changes, visitors, etc. I am hoping to do some activities later in the year, but for now it is a quick way to give everyone a run-down of the day and practice some reading fluency. I also take questions about the day right after the message. 

The activity is some sort of game or small group activity. For example, today we were zookeepers who needed to compare the weight of the different animals we have at the zoo. I put the students into 5 groups of about 3-4 students and they sorted the animals by weight from least to greatest. I love tricking them into doing a little more math or reading! If you are a teacher interested in these cards you can download them here.

My favorite morning meeting moment of this week: "YOU like rollercoasters? Teachers don't like roller coasters!"

Monday, August 13, 2012


1 real week down and I am still loving my 3rd graders. Things are settling down and I am about finished with teaching routines and procedures. I am excited to get to teaching actual content, but I am also admittedly terrified. One of the biggest changes I have observed from switching grade levels is that the achievement gap is so much bigger.

I thought the gap was big with my first graders. I really did. 3rd grade is a whole new ball game. The reality is that some of my 3rd graders are below the level of my first graders from last year. I can compare my first graders from student teaching in a high-performing school to my 3rd graders, and the middle-low of my first grade class would outperform all, but a handful of my 3rd graders. It is scary.

We did a lot of diagnostic testing this week and I have identified our two biggest obstacles for this upcoming year...writing and math. I identified these target areas earlier this week, but I did not grade the diagnostic tests until today. The actual scores made the challenge we have ahead of us so much more real.

The chart below is a crop of my writing and math tracker. The top bold score is where TFA expects my students to be at this point in the year. This benchmark assumes that my students will need to make 1.6 years of growth to be on grade level. The second row is my class average.

I know writing does not look that much lower, but students are expected to average a 5 out of 6 points by the end of the year. As I was grading their diagnostic tests, I did not have a student get a score of more than 4 in ANY of the 7 rubric categories. Many of my students cannot form a complete sentence. 

The math diagnostic speaks for itself. The math diagnostic we give is based on the second grade standards. Our kids are going to have to make extraordinary gains to be on grade level. Our pacing guide has us teaching pretty much all of the 2nd grade prerequisite skills in the next 2 weeks. My roommate/ partner teacher (convenient, right?) has similar data in her classroom and we are working together to decide if we should extend our first unit to ensure mastery or move on so we have a chance of teaching the big 3rd grade skills to mastery. It is quite the balancing act.

Right now I am intimidated by my data. Not discouraged, but intimidated. Right now my most pressing challenge is how to present this data to my students and families in a way that will inspire hard work and best effort. The gap, of course, is the reason I joined TFA. I wanted to understand it. I wanted to be a part of the solution. I guess you get what you wish for. 

And finally, in an effort to "lighten the mood" I got a friend request from one of my summer school students this week. I am sure you would be shocked when I tell you that I politely declined her request with, "I would be happy to be your FB friend when you graduate from high school."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Learning and Implementing School Wide PBS

This year my school has mandated that we move to a school wide PBS (positive behavior support) system. I really like the concept behind PBS, but admittedly I do have some reservations. There is a lot that goes into PBS and it has been challenging to implement a system that I am not yet fully trained on. So far I have introduced our school wide expectations (Be responsible, Be respectful, and Give your best effort), school-wide procedures and reward system. I am seeing good results with my students, and would probably see better results if I could remember to keep blue tickets with me.

Here is how I introduced the system to my students:

I started the discussion by talking about why we have rules and expectations (We have rules and expectations so everyone at our school can do their best learning). Then we did a group brainstorm about rules and expectations the students already knew. 

I then told the students that this year at our school there were three words, called expectations, that would help up us all do our best learning. Everyone, including teachers, will be working this year to meet these expectations. 

I introduced the the words responsible, respectful,and best effort. Then I gave a simple, kid friendly definition of each of them. I put up a synonymous word or phrase to help students remember the difference between the words (see below). 

Next we did a sort of procedures that would help make sure we are being responsible, respectful, and giving our best effort everywhere in the school. I modeled with classroom rules and then the students were broken up into groups to do sorts for the other areas of the school (bus, playground, cafeteria, restroom, arrival/ dismissal). 

After students presented their sorts to the class, I put the sorts up on a bulletin board under our key words (expectations). 

To end the lesson I had the students create a tri-fold and give an example of how they can show each expectation. 

Throughout this upcoming week I will be doing a series of character building activities and read alouds. At some point in each activity we will come back to our key expectations and talk about how our we (or the characters in our books) are/ are not demonstrating our expectations. I am looking forward to some great discussion with my students!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Welcome to OUR Classroom!

The kids are here and I am officially making the transition from "my classroom" to "our classroom." I worked really hard to make our classroom student friendly. The only place in our room that is off limits to my students is behind my desk. The front and side of my desk will be shared with my students. The front of my desk plays host to our classroom shout out board and the top of my desk hosts pencils, tape, staplers and hole punches.  I have a ton of storage space and I am planning on labeling all of my cabinets so that my students will have easy access to what they need. One of the things I am already loving about my third graders in their level of independence. It has been really easy to teach them procedures so far b/c they have so much more school experience than my first graders did.

Here is a quick tour of my classroom:
View from my door. I have decided to do tables this year to maximize opportunities to practice English for my students. The white tubs are temporary. I put some books in them for the first day because I have not yet taught library procedures. On that note, check out my BEAUTIFUL library. I added 8 new boxes for chapter books and an additional box of Social Studies books for this upcoming year!

Back of the room: You are looking at my lockers, student mailboxes, homework board, milk crate shelves (holding tracking binders), guided reading table, and community supplies. The back cabinets are dedicated to CAFE and will eventually have different reading strategies that I teach. 

Front of the classroom: classroom expectations board (we are creating graphic organizers on the different expectations tomorrow to add to the board), big goals, daily objectives, calendar/helpers/class promise board, and another view of my library. On the side wall by the TV (the one you can't see) I have FIVE, yes FIVE, student computers!

Side Wall: "Great Work" wall is up top using clothes pins, alphabet strip, word wall, new vocabulary words, student lockers and turn in spot (on the easel so work stays in number orders). 

Close up of desk: The red and white binders are for student tracking, the purple books are science and social studies workbooks, the front of my desk is for students to write shoutouts, and the cart is filled with supplies I need to introduce to my students (math journals, agenda books, etc.)
And finally, my first assignment. I gave my students a chance to write me a question, something they want to learn in third grade, or something they want to do in third grade. After my students wrote, we discussed all of their questions and comments. The assignment generated a lot of great discussions. We talked about college, the Olympics, doing research, the diversity of our classroom (language and nationality), TCAP, monkeys, fish, and recess. My favorite student response is below. This is paper is a great reminder of how important it is to build concrete experiences into my math lessons before moving to abstract formulas and word problems.

"I want to learn math is sometimes its hard for me so I try to figer it out. But I can't so I use blocks for my hands. But if I get it wrong I use my head but sometimes I take it to recess."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ready or Not...

...Here They Come!!!!!

Tomorrow is my last teacher work day. Our students come WEDNESDAY! Fortunately for me, Metro does this weird start up schedule. We have a half-day on Wednesday, in-service on Thursday, and our first full day on Friday. It is nice to be able to ease back into the year (from a sleep/ I want to be watching the Olympics perspective), but it is difficult to accomplish much in the first day and a half.  It is what it is, and the kids are coming and I am really excited to get this year started.

I had a great summer teaching in an EL summer science program, and have been working steadily throughout the summer to transition to 3rd grade and finish my master's degree. I would be totally prepared, but I have taken a lot of time over the past week to mentor a few new TFA teachers coming into our school. I am also, surprisingly, not too stressed. There are moment where I feel the pressure, and I am definitely in work mode, but it is not the beginning of the year chaos I felt last year. For example, I have found time in my schedule this week to work out, cook dinner, go out on a Saturday night, and watch the Olympics. Last night I even made my acting debut in an awesome SLANT video.

I have some great resources to share, pictures to post, and stories to tell, but for now the bottom line is:
YEAR 2 is so much better! 

A sneak peak at future posts. I cannot take credit for the idea behind the poster or thought bubbles (thanks TFAnet!),  but the design is all mine and I am pumped to share SLANT with my students!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I survived!

Its official. I survived my first year teaching. Let's try that again, I SURVIVED MY FIRST YEAR TEACHING! There are very few moments and challenges in my life that compare to my first year teaching.

Before I started teaching I would hear statistics about the retention rates of teachers. Things like "30% of teachers leave teaching in the first 3 years, 45% leave in the first 5 years." I just couldn't understand it. It didn't make sense for someone to work so hard to get licensed and then just leave. Now I get it. I totally get it.

Not even 2 months into my first year I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. I was in hell, but least I was getting paid for it. 

3 months into the year I made a deal with myself: I will finish my TFA commitment and then try a different type of school setting. I put four years to begin this career, I felt like I should try it for at least that long. 

4 months into the year and my eyes were on June. Could I make it? I honestly wasn't sure. As I got ready every morning I would count the hours until I got to go home. 

5 months into the year, holy crap...I am over half way done. 6 months into the year: I had given up...well at least that is what I told myself. The reality is that I didn't give up, I just needed to break the cycle of exhaustion. I went home immediately after school every day except Thursday--tutoring day. Thank God for tutoring day. I LOVED Thursday tutoring, and so did my kids. After 2 weeks the rest of my class was begging to come to tutoring too. 

7 months into the year. I think I might be getting the hang of this. I am used to the chaos. And I think there might be some learning going on. Just kidding, let's review how we move from our desks to the carpet. 

8 months into the year. Let's finish up this year so I can have a fresh start. I sort of know what I am doing now. Just kidding, I won't be teaching at my school next year. Oh shit, I need to find a new job. I have a new job--3rd graders are big. Wow, there are a lot of people who believe in me. Maybe I am making an impact?

Last month of the year. Pressure is off. What are they going to do to me? I am already leaving. Let's have a little bit of fun. I am going to plan my own way...just to see if it works. It works, but I wish they would stop writing all over my damn classroom. Too bad they love cleaning. 

Last week of the year: My mom is a life saver! She is an awesome packer too. We don't need a schedule. No, we can't stop learning. Just because it is the end of the year, doesn't mean we shouldn't learn. I love you, have a great summer. I won't miss them. I'm not sorry about it either. I SURVIVED!

And there you have it. A quick summary of my year. I still can't believe I am done. I wrote the summary to show how I was feeling as the year progressed. The reality of this year was that I was miserable. The reality is that I loved each and every one of my kids...I just hated my class. The reality was that despite our many, many challenges my kids learned. They learned! As a class we achieved 1.4 years of reading growth. For many of my students that means they are more than prepared for 2nd grade. For the rest of my students I can only hope that they will continue to rise to the challenge of reading and writing.

One of the most important things I taught my students was that they are in charge of their learning. My mom mentioned it to me when she came down to visit a second time, and she is right. They know what they need to do to learn. One of the best illustrations of this is a conversation I had with my kids who did not get to go to the end of year RAH (read at home) party. This means that they did not meet their at home reading goal.
B: Miss Prinzo, Do you remember when I got to go to the RAH party. I read a lot of books.
Miss Prinzo: I know B. I was hoping that you would read more this quarter.
B: I needed to do better.
C: I didn't have books at home
(before I could say something..)
T: That's not true. Miss Prinzo makes sure everyone has books.
B: Yeah, all you had to do was ask.
J: It is your job to get to the RAH party. 
B: We didn't get to go because we didn't read the books.
It sounds crazy, but this is one of my favorite moments from this year. I could not have been prouder of my boys---they truly understood that they were in charge of their goal and refused to let "C" blame me for it. For the record, B had already started his summer reading log before the last day of school. Hopefully it will stick.

On the last day of school I was given 2 notes. I have read both of them at least a dozen times since then. They have helped restore the belief I once had in myself.

One was from one of my most difficult students' parents, "You treated him like a star. You are truly skilled at your job and you are an inspiration to these little kids...the impact of your work is so significant, it will help him for the rest of his life."  I cannot tell you how much I appreciated her note.  It helped me put my year into perspective and realize that I did make a difference. Not the difference I had hoped for, but a difference.

The second note was from my team leader. She was a rock for me this year and I am pretty sure she helped kept me from quitting more than a few times. "I know this has been a rough year for you, but you made it through it--stronger and smarter..."

I am smarter and stronger. I made it through my first year teaching and I am ready for next year.

Mrs. Prinzo reading to my kids during the last week of school.
Read alouds were the best part of teaching this year!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Caine's Arcade

This video was shared with me the other day. It has been on my mind ever since. I was in tears by the end of it (its not sad, I promise!). It is a great reminder of the potential of a child's imagination. It is also a great reminder of the impact that adults can have on children's imaginations. Caine's dad could have said not to touch the boxes, thrown away his creations, or even called them stupid. Instead, he gave him the freedom to create and validated his work. This is a lesson I hope to take to my classroom. I want to inspire my students to be creative instead of squashing their creativity. This is especially applicable in writing. A major goal I have for next year is to move towards a workshop style writing block. I want to give my students a chance to write about their interest and learn to express their ideas. You never know...I might have the next Caine in my class!

Update: I actually ended up showing this video to my kids. One of my guided reading groups was reading a story about pretending with cardboard boxes so I pulled it up. They loved seeing Caine's creation and asked to watch it a second (and third) time!

Changing My Classroom Culture: Update

I have been working towards a better classroom culture for the past few weeks. I began the first few weeks with an intensive, 30min a day culture building block. I could not keep up the stamina of it, however, I have still be teaching 2-3 lessons a week. Some are read-alouds, some are discussions, and some are written scenarios.  So the big question is: Is it working? I wish I could say that my classroom was now all sunshine and rainbows, but it is not and I doubt it will ever be. This unit has definitely made a difference--not for the major challenges, but for some. It has helped give me a reference to talk about problems, reduced tattling, and helped give my students away to be advocates for themselves.

Over the summer I will post a full unit and resources, but for now, take a peek at some of the fun...

I think that I will begin this unit in the fall of next year. I did not go as in depth into community and culture building as I should have at the beginning of this year (first year teacher mistake #10000000001). I truly believe that if my students had more of the skills at the beginning of the year that I am teaching now there would have been far fewer fight, hurt feeling, and yelling (from the teacher).

Monday, March 5, 2012


My classroom theme is underwater. My students voted at the beginning of the year to be called the "Rainbow Fish." So when it came time for character day I, of course, dressed up as the rainbow fish.

Unfortunately my stapled concoction was not necessarily what my students had in their imagination. Some of my students completely got it: "oohhhh, Miss Prinzo, you're the Rainbow Fish!"

Some had a delayed reaction, "You're a fish? The Rainbow Fish? What's that...OH! Like our class. You are the Rainbow Fish!"

Some missed it all together, "Fish? Miss Prinzo, we are going to have fish?" In his usual fashion, this students ignored my response and instead informed the rest of the class that we were getting fish. I cannot tell you the disappointment I have created now that it is 2 days later and there are still no fish!

"Confessions of a 'Bad' Teacher"

An editorial on the moving target/ changing expectations of teachers. This is definitely an, "I couldn't have said it better myself." read!

Confessions of a 'Bad' Teacher

THIS IS MY LIFE...someone else just says it better!
"Behind all of this is the reality that teachers care a great deal about our work. At the school where I work today, my “bad” teaching has mostly been very successful. Even so, I leave work most days replaying lessons in my mind, wishing I’d done something differently. This isn’t because my lessons are bad, but because I want to get better at my job.

In fact, I don’t just want to get better; like most teachers I know, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I have to be. Dozens and dozens of teenagers scrutinize my language, clothing and posture all day long, all week long. If I’m off my game, the students tell me."

"The truth is, teachers don’t need elected officials to motivate us. If our students are not learning, they let us know. They put their heads down or they pass notes. They raise their hands and ask for clarification. Sometimes, they just stare at us like zombies. Few things are more excruciating for a teacher than leading a class that’s not learning. Good administrators use the evaluation processes to support teachers and help them avoid those painful classroom moments — not to weed out the teachers who don’t produce good test scores or adhere to their pedagogical beliefs."

"Worst of all, the more intense the pressure gets, the worse we teach. When I had administrators breathing down my neck, the students became a secondary concern."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Differences in Professions

"Let us pretend that physicians of all specialties were held to similar measures of accountability and enveloped with the same kinds of discourses that we see in education reform debates. What might that look like, and how would the general public, in addition to doctors, feel about that?"

I found What if We Treated Doctors the Way We Treated Teachers? to be an interesting editorial on the challenges of teaching related to both political and societal expectations. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Changing My Classroom Culture.

My classroom culture sucks. There is pushing, yelling, tattling, and a disregard for personal space, personal property and shared materials. It is frustrating and it does not bring out the best in me. I spent the past two weeks or so in a very apathetic mood: nothing I was trying was working, so I am just not going to bother and wait for a new bunch of kids next year. If you know me at all, you know that this feeling could not last long. So I am trying something different.

I completely revamped my schedule and beginning next week will be rolling out a 6 week culture building/ character development plan. We will spend 30 minutes a day on our culture building program (the name is still in the works) and as much extra time as I can find during the day to supplement the plan with trade books and writing. This 30 minutes of time will be an non-negotiable time in my schedule because while academics are important, my students need to learn social behaviors to be successful in school. Social development, in my opinion, is a critical part of early childhood education and one of the reasons I am so passionate about early childhood development. I cannot justify just teaching academics to my students. They are missing out on so much  from their education. I did not become an educator to force content into my children. I became an educator to teach children to become learners and citizens. For me, this is where it begins.

Below is my tentative unit plan. I drafted it after collaborating with our school's literacy coach, EL coach and my TFA MTLD. Click here for more information on the Social Star program used. I am pulling most lessons from books 2 and 3.  Any feedback/ suggestions on my  would be more than appreciated!

I do not know if this is going to be the magic solution I am hoping for, but I do think it will help, and it definitely cannot hurt!

We are problem solvers
(1)Kick-off: make puppets, talk about how we are all unique and how each of us are the same and different
Literature Connection: Amazing Grace
(2) What is a problem?
               A problem is something that hurts your body, feelings, learning. Sort problems
(3) Is this a problem?
               Sort things that are problems and things that are not problems.
(4) How we stop someone who is causing a problem.  
Teach sentence frame: __________. You are hurting my ___________ because _______.  Please_________.
(5) Use puppets to respond to mock problems.
Literature connection: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Really Bad Day (have students use puppets and respond to Alexander’s problems)
Appropriate touch
(1) Stop hitting me! Sort: good touch/ bad touch
(2) Defining types of touch: hit, bump, poke, tap
      Sorting appropriate touch:
(3) Please stop touching me!
 “_________stop ___________ because _______. Please_____.”
(4) Physical Space: Define your own space.
“You are hurting my learning because________. Please______”
(5) How we get someone’s attention.
puppet scenarios: if someone is on the other side of the room, if someone’s back is facing us, if someone is asleep, if someone is working with a grown up.
Respect: We respect others
(1) Kind actions—sort kind and unkind actions
Literature Connection: Read the Kindness Quilt
Writing Connection: Create a block on our class kindness quilt
(2) What is a friend? (Being a Friend, Social Star lesson A p195)
(3) Friend v. not friend (Being a Friend, Social Star lesson C p208)
Literature Connection: The Recess Queen
(4) How we can be a friend (Being a Friend, Social Star Lesson D p213), Blast off to friendship game
(5) We like Compliments! (Giving and Receiving Compliments, Social Star Lesson A p234)
Literature Connection: Have you filled a bucket today?
(6) Inside and Outside Compliments (Giving and Receiving Compliments, Social Star Lesson B p238)
(7) Receiving Compliments: practice giving and receiving compliments in partners
Tattling or Reporting
(1) Read “don’t squeal if it isn’t a big deal” and identify what a “tattle” is
(2) Sort: tattling v. reporting
Practice reporting with puppets
(3)  Get it out! What to do if we need to tattle.
Introduce the “tattle box”
Owning your Feelings
(1) Labeling Feelings (Social Star, Taking Charge of Feelings, p97)
Literature Connection: How are you Peeling?
(2) I am in charge of my feelings (social Star, Taking Charge of Feelings p101)
(3) Use puppets to respond to situations, “I feel _____ because _____”
(4) I statements: “ I feel____when____. I need _____”
Use puppets with “I statements” to respond to scenarios on SS p. 143
Taking Charge of Anger
(1) What is anger? Good anger v. bad anger (Taking Charge of Anger, Social Star p. 191)
(2) Anger Shrinkers: Strategies for dealing with angers (days 2-5)
(Taking Charge of Anger, Social Star p.196)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Weekly Behavior Chart

Here is the link to a block-by-block behavior tracker I use with two of my students.  It was recommended by my school's literacy/ instructional coach and has made a huge difference in the behavior of the students I use it with.

These are both students who are very bright, but have a difficult time with my class-wide behavior system. They need more reminders to stay on track and this gives them a fresh-start several times a day. It also gives them the opportunity to earn daily and weekly rewards (neither student had been very successful at earning my weekly treasure chest reward).

The students keep their chart on a clipboard and after each lesson of the day take it out and record a "happy face" which means I needed 1-2 warnings or a "sad face" which means 3 or more warnings. A lot of times I will ask them how they think they did as a way to start a conversation about behavior.

The students each chose their own reward. Both chose a technology reward of 5 minutes on the computer and/or ipad at the end of the day.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Ignore the awful cliche in the title, but I am too tired to be original. As I move farther from January I am trying to stay committed to my new year's resolutions (1. Make my bed every day, 2. Find a balance between work and the rest of my life, 3. become a more active blogger) which means forcing myself to blog in my unmade bed.

So here it goes:

The Good:
I have created a block-by-block behavior tracker that is working really well with some of my students. It gives them a fresh start at each block and both an immediate and weekly goal to work towards. It did not work well with my lower students, but has given some extra motivation to two of my bright, but difficult students.  It is available for download here: Weekly Behavior Chart.

The Bad:
Tomorrow during what will likely be a very intense parent-teacher conference I have to explain to a very traditional Muslim family what "the finger" means and why we can't give it in school. This is to the same family that came in distraught that their daughter had written that she "loved" a boy in her journal.

The Ugly:
My students made my sub cry on Friday. They misbehaved to the point that a 30 year veteran teacher and regular sub in our building was so upset that my principal had to come down to speak to my students on Friday afternoon. Today we wrote apology notes "I am sorry I _______. Next time I will do ______" instead of going to recess.

We also had a behavior meeting in which we discussed our rules for the 100 millionth time and created a consequence bubble map of consequences that can happen as a result of bad choices. Did it work? Maybe for 10 minutes! I am trying to stay optimistic and give my best every day, but the reality is that the conduct in my classroom (including my own) is not where I want it to be. My classroom environment is not conducive to the academic and social-emotional gains that I came into this year expecting to make. The reality is that I don't know what else to do other keep a mild chaos from turning into a down right destructive environment. I have done my best to apply what I learned in school, from TFA, from COMP training, and what I have read in my classroom management books. Right now I am looking into purchasing materials from the Love and Logic Institute which was recommended to me by my MTLD. Hopefully you will see and update about the wonderful results I am seeing!

The thing I should be mad about, but honestly find really funny.

Last week at lunch one of my students was sent to the office for "pleasuring" himself with a corn dog. The office didn't find it nearly as funny as I did.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why School Reform Can't Ignore Poverty

A voice of reason! http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/why-school-reform-cant-ignore-povertys-toll/2011/10/07/gIQAYPHMUL_blog.html

This article also adds fuel to the fire for why I went to school for EARLY CHILDHOOD, not elementary education. Lately I have been encouraged to look into teaching the "upper grades" aka 3rd or 4th grade. I am not really sure how I feel about it. In some ways it is a perfect fit, but in other ways it takes me even farther from helping students to acquire the foundational skills they need for their rest of schooling. It has been on my mind a lot lately and to be honest you will get a different answer each time you talk to me.

Here are some of my "ah-ha" and "yes, I totally agree with that" statements from the article:

"Research has shown that high-quality, intensive early education helps prepare students intellectually and socially, and seems to improve academic success, reduce dropout rates, and reduce the need for special education programs and grade repetition. Such programs also can increase the likelihood that students will pursue higher education or training, which translates into reduced delinquency, arrests, teen pregnancy, and welfare reliance. The gains have been particularly noticeable in students from disadvantaged backgrounds who enter such programs by age two."

"Through the 18th birthday, the average child will spend less than 9 percent of life in school. That leaves most education occurring outside the schoolhouse."

"studies show that the best early childhood programs are staffed by teachers with college degrees and early education certification, offer developmentally appropriate education, include a focus on language development and comprehensive services such as meals and health and developmental screenings and encourage parental involvement."

"But the dozens of Memphis public school teachers I have met over the past several years are serious, dedicated teachers who care about their students, take too much work home, and spent money out of their own pockets on teaching supplies"

So I have pretty much quoted the entire article at this point...

Monday, January 30, 2012

"In what other profession"

An interesting editorial that gives a new perspective on the pressure our society puts on educators.


Read it. Think about it. Make your own opinions.

My personal favorite quote from the article,

For no other profession do so many outsiders refuse to accept the realities of an imperfect world. Crime happens. Fire happens. Illness happens. As for lawyers and coaches, where there’s a winner there must also be a loser. People accept all these realities, until they apply to public education.

If a poverty-stricken, drug-addled meth-cooker burns down his house, suffers third degree burns, and then goes to jail; we don’t blame the police, fire department, doctors, and defense attorneys for his predicament. But if that kid doesn’t graduate high school, it’s clearly the teacher’s fault."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Miss Prinzo, I'm Learning to Read."

The title says it all. One of my most difficult students said this in a very sincere tone today during Literacy Rotation. I almost cried. The best part is that he is right. Things are starting to click for him and I couldn't be happier. His attitude has really improved over the past few weeks. He even has started filling out his reading log with "I RDBK" ( "I read a book" for those of you who are not fluent in first grade writing) every night . I didn't have a chance to check his folder for it yesterday and he reminded me at least 4 times. This is what drives me. You cannot bribe this type of motivation--it is a real desire to learn.

"We need talented and committed people"

I had the opportunity to see Wendy Kopp speak at Vanderbilt tonight. I typically do not do much on weeknights, but I am really glad that I made the choice to go. Hearing Kopp speak really helped to reaffirm my choice to join TFA and to find my role in the larger education movement.

I have spent much of this year feeling incredibly frustrated. As someone who typically does well in her endeavors, it was/ is increasingly frustrating to put ALL of my time and effort into something and STILL only see mediocre results. My anxiety and feelings of not being good enough have been heightened by seeing and hearing things my TFA colleagues are doing in their classrooms. I, and I know many of my fellow CMs, feel a lot of pressure to be extraordinary teachers. We are pushed to be the best. We are pushed to do whatever it takes for our students. This is a great thing and a huge personal burden. Over the past six months I have been overcome with the feeling that I am not good enough--that I do not have what it takes.

Tonight Kopp acknowledged something so realistic (and probably common sense to most of the non 1st year CMs in the audience) that has even in a few short hours helped reaffirm my choice to be a classroom teacher. Kopp told the audience that she knows that not everyone will be a teaching super star. She told us that yes, we need superstars, but we also need just as many talented and committed people to the cause.  Her belief is that if we can put extraordinary leaders into a position in which they have access to teams of committed and talented teachers/administrators we can begin to make systemic change. This is a belief I support. It is also a comfort. While I am going to keep striving to be great at my profession, I felt a release in the pressure to be great. I know I am committed. I know that I am a capable teacher. I believe that my capability will refine a talent for teaching.

Kopp also said something in the Q & A session that resonated with me. She talked about the 2 year TFA commitment and the goal that TFA alumni find their niche in the larger education movement. She spoke of how alumni take their TFA experience and make a critical decision about what is best for them in the movement and their personal lives. This is an experience that without a doubt changes you. I cannot imaging anyone coming out of this program affected in some way.

Up until recently, I had not really considered my role as an alumni of the program. I intended to stay a classroom teacher for at least 5-10 years after my commitment. As of lately I am not so sure. I plan to teach for at least 4 years, but I have already started to think of other roles that I might be able to play in the education movement. For me it is almost like the difference between my experience as a Peer Leader vs. a Peer Leader Captain. I enjoyed being a PL and was a decent PL, but I was far from extraordinary. I was a much better PLC than PL. As a PLC I had more of an opportunity to effect programming, curriculum and resources in our program. I feel similarly about being a classroom teacher. I really enjoy the planning aspect of teaching. I like creating and modifying resources (as my Pintrist and blog clearly illustrate) and I feel like I have been a valuable asset to my grade-level team. I also feel really connected to higher education and have a lot of ideas on how to enhance teacher education programs. These are areas that I want to pursue. It is a long way off, but never too early to start thinking about!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The ultimate goal

Today I read this in the comments section of this article.

"At 72 I am just as interested in learning as I was at birth." 

I want this for myself. I want this for my students.

I will take "D" for Differentiation for 1000 Please

This past week was probably the best overall week I have had so far. While far from perfect, I was really able to put in place some differentiation strategies for my students. Gone are the days of whole-group hell and in are the days of independent, partner, cooperative, and skill groups!

My students adjusted really well to the changes and really showed me that they are more capable of independent learning than I have been giving them credit for. While I have not given the majority of my assessments for this past week (thanks to a snow day), I am confident that I will have data that is at or above this past quarter's data. We shall see.

Break Down of the week:
Low point- being called into the principals office after Monday's surprise observation and told that I was "not awful."

High Point- Being observed by the director of my TFA region and receiving both positive and constructive feedback with more to come.

My goal for this upcoming week is to build routines that will continue to give my students opportunity for peer-scaffolded and independent practice. I also am hoping to get back into the habit of posting more resources and units on my blog. I get so much from teaching blogs and I want to do my best to contribute to this community as well.

My first "snow day"!

Monday, January 9, 2012

It's all about the data: Semester Review

My first semester as a teacher ended right before winter break. Since I took the majority of winter break for relaxation, family, friends, and a very good football game, I am just now getting to really look at and analyze my data! The nerd in me REALLY loves looking at data so this is a fun post for me.

First up, my running record levels. Running Record Reading levels rule pretty much everything at my school (DIBELS and DEA coming in 2nd and 3rd respectively) so running records are always the first thing I look at. I use my running record levels to determine my guided reading groups, student partnering, seating and beginning next week my word study instruction. Here is a look at the reading growth my students have made:
Running Records Growth
TFA Benchmark Goals
I am proud of the progress my class has made, but there is definitely room to grow. I have a few all-star students who have grown over 10 levels so far and several students who are on pace to make at least a year's worth of growth. What worries me is that I have a few students who have shown little or no growth. 

My other major concern is that only 7 of my students (less than half of my class) are reading above the first grade benchmark for this time of year. This means that despite growth being made, they are still reading below a first grade level. One of my driving goals for this year is that my students will make 1.5 years of progress (or grow 15+ levels) so that they are adequately prepared for second grade. This is seeming like a long shot for many of my students which is really frustrating. 

Once I had the data I realized a few things. While I am proud of my progress (especially considering the amount of time during the first semester I had to spend on classroom management and routines), I have a lot of work to do if I am going to meet my Big Goals. The teaching methods I have been using need to be revamped.

I am spending to much time teaching to "the middle." The middle is typically a safe place to teach to, but if you look closely at my data you will see that my students are divided into "high" and "low" groups. The low group consists of students who are all under a level 5 reading level. Students are actually supposed to enter first grade on a level five so these are students who have not yet mastered kindergarten reading skills. When I teach to the middle I alienate these students or find myself asking them the lower-order questions so they can feel successful. My higher students are not being challenged enough and often answer questions so fast that they students who need to think about it cannot get a chance ("wait time" is difficult in a first grade classroom b/c inevitably someone will whisper of shout out the answer). 

With this divide in mind I have decided to revamp my schedule so that I am spending more time working with small groups of students who are working on specific skills. I have dedicated my math block every Wednesday to be an intervention hour. I will have my students playing math enrichment games, using an online program called https://www.xtramath.org/, and meeting with me in small groups. My table will be a combination of math re-teaching and hopefully also time to address some reading skills my students need. I am also going to try to work with some of the third and fourth grade teachers to have a few student volunteers in my classroom to help my students with AR testing and even tutoring a few students.

I am also going to divide my word study instruction into two ability level groups. As I was doing report cards I realized that my low group (the below 5s) did not pass a single spelling test this entire quarter so I am going to go back and re-teach some of these skills as well as do some vowel sound remediation with them. My higher group will start word study independently while I teach the low group. The word study routine is something these students have mastered so I think they will be able to handle it without the lesson first and then the two groups will switch. I built in a 3 minute transition time so that I can check the high group's work in between sessions. During this same time I have one student who will be going to a kindergarten classroom to get additional reading support and one student I have developed an independent word study lesson for.

This student is so high that even when among my other high readers she is not being challenged. So starting this week she will be going to a second grade classroom in the morning for reading and then during word study I have her set up on http://www.spellingcity.com/ with her own differentiated word list based on the Words Their Way spelling inventory. I have created a checklist so she can study independently and on Friday I can give her an online quiz. 

Click here for a copy of the differentiated spelling checklist

So begins a new 9 weeks. I am trying a LOT of new things. Right now my only concern is if I can handle the preparation and time involved with setting up so many new systems and procedures. It is a new year and for me it is really a "now or never" type of thing so ready or not, here I come!