Day 10: I'm Angela Bower, Dammit!

Ok.... so I gotta be honest.  I don't want to get ahead of myself... but I must say, I feel as though I'm finding my footing.  Am I still tripping?  Oh yeah....I faceplant about five times a day.  But I'm learning and adapting... quickly.  My new organizational system hasn't failed me yet (a shiny agenda complete with daily post-it system where I note sudden important messages/to-do's on one large neon pink post-it throughout the day and then take the post-it home with me in the agenda and transfer all of the changes/updates/meetings INTO the agenda) {See: Photo Below... and YES, that does say "Observation 9/30"...as in, my first official observation from my principal is next week.} 

Anyway - where was I?  Right - Now that I've planned the next few weeks of lessons in each subject, I feel much less sudden-death-stress every evening before I go to bed.  Don't misunderstand me - I have not written out giant lesson plans in every subject for every day for the next three weeks.  But I have written a simple one liner teaching point for each subject on each day.... and my GOD, does it help to know right now where I'm going and what has to get done.  I cannot overemphasize the importance of MAPPING your immediate future out.  

*ALSO HELPFUL:  Establishing an efficient homework system with the kids to cut down on confusion, slackers and excuses.  This is one of those on-the-job learning opportunities I mentioned in my last post.  Finally, I think I figured out the best way to manage eighteen kids and five school subjects, each with different homework assignments.  There is a homework depository attached to my desk, and on the board is one laminated piece of paper per subject with a giant bold title for easy dry-erase homework assignment usage.  Additionally, I made up one homework spreadsheet per subject for myself to check off everyone's name as they hand in their work each day.  Done.  Here's to hoping the excuses end TOMORROW.    

But I wanted to address the bean bag punishment since I mentioned it.  I failed as teacher my first few days teaching....well, more specifically, I failed as a disciplinarian my first few days.  I was so awestruck, dumbstruck, excited and scatterbrained that I didn't have the wherewithal to really stick to my guns and lay down the law of the land (mostly because it was unfamiliar territory... I didn't even know the lay of the land yet!)  Despite everyone telling me the most important thing to do on the first day is to let them know who's boss, my version of "letting them know who's boss" just wasn't.....bossy enough.  Keep in mind - the kids were amazing the first few days... then week one hit.  And they got rowdy... during transitions....while lining up..after settling down from recess...they weren't in a single file line in the halls...  and sometimes, it took WAY too long to get back on task.  Crap - Who's the boss?  The D'Angelo dollars work well....but their effects are not instantaneous.  

To make matters worse, they started to abuse the library privileges... and despite my casual policy with the beanbags in terms of leaning back a bit to get comfy, too many were abusing the privilege altogether and laying all the way back... or on their sides... or even closing their eyes and completely withdrawing from the lesson.  Crappity crap - Who's the boss?  A couple days into last week, I actually started to hear the theme song start to play in my head.... that cheesy 80's synthesizer... those first shrieky high-pitched notes... and that god-awful lounge singer starting off, "There's a time for love and a time for living..." .  Please - at one point, while the kids were particularly rambunctious on the third day in a row, I actually got that visual of Angela Bower standing in her pink robe wearing a towel turban....or if it was the 90's, wearing a Turbie Twist.  I knew who the boss was.  It wasn't me. 

Drastic times called for drastic measures.  I caved - despite my firm commitment to Positive Behavioral Support (the decision to only praise good behavior and never penalize bad behavior - no really, countless studies have recently proven it works much better than traditional methods), I decided to pull ONE stunt....just ONE... to shock them...and let them know that the game is over.  Guess what kids?  Even friendly Mr. D has a breaking point.  So, knowing already that I was getting frustrated with their behavior, I surprised them with two shockers on Friday.  When they walked into the classroom, the beanbags were all in a pile behind the table in the library with a big sign on them that read, "With Freedom, Comes Responsibility"  (which has been a recurring mantra in my classroom).  On the board , I drew a hazard sign and wrote the following stern message:  

"TOO many people have been disrespecting the rules, their classmates and myself.  The beanbags have been removed from the library floor and will return only when everyone in this room starts acting like the fourth graders that they are."   

After a two day hiatus (Friday and Monday), they came back today.  It definitely worked - they snapped back into place immediately.  (I even heard the cartoony "boioioioiiiiinnnnnng" sound with some of the behavioral slackers).  But will it last long?  I'm doubtful.  And if I'm being honest, my own jury is still out on how I feel about the move.  I'm sure there was a less immature way to proclaim, "I'm Angela Bower, Damnit!".  So, I'm not really happy I did it - I don't agree with it.  I think I'm really angry that I didn't run a tighter ship from the start. I'm angry I dropped the ball and ended up desperately needing a reset button.  And I'm angry I took the easy and dangerously gimmicky way out, ultimately  compromising my own pedagogical principals.  I don't think I'll ever do it again.  I shouldn't have to ever do it again....but you know what, like the show's theme's lyrics says: "You take a chance and face the wind."  At this point, I know who's boss and they know who's boss.  It's Angela Bower.  No wait...It's Tony Micelli.  Wow...what a clever title that was.

I especially feel bad for the students like Dakota Fanning who always follow the rules and never act out of line.  Ohhh...right.  I haven't introduced Dakota yet.  She's BRILLIANT.  She looks JUST like an actual Fanning child.  And every time I see her, I think of that SNL skit called "the Dakota Fanning Show" where Amy Poehler plays an overzealous precocious know-it-all Fanning who surprises unwitting peer interviewees looking to discuss simple age-appropriate topics with uber-intelligent philosophical issues related to Russian Literature, modern day international governments and multi-ethnic conflicts in African countries.  (see: hilarious clip below)  

No, my Dakota isn't NEARLY that obnoxious.  But she has her moments where he precociousness treads ever so closely to arrogance...but I ABSOLUTELY LOVE HER.  She's got just the right amount of sass to temper her introverted, book-reading, super-quiet, peasant-skirt-wearing-personality.  She's a BRILLIANT wordsmith for her age - and her reading skills are unparalleled in the entire fourth grade.  The reading levels in the Teachers College system go from A to Z....'A' being children in kindergarten, 'P','Q', & 'R' being average for fourth graders, and 'Z' being the pinnacle of reading most achieve at some point in middle school.   Dakota is a real-life, one of a kind, fourth grade Z.  No one else even comes close.   

On the first day, when I was talking about "the need to maintain order in the classroom, because we don't want....chaos", she jumped ahead of my sentence, and during the split-second delay before I uttered the word "chaos", she offered up a ho-hum "anarchy" instead.  And on the most recent spelling pretest to establish their spelling levels, she's the only one in the entire class who spelled every single word correctly out of 25 words... and we're talking "monarchy", "circumference", and "illiterate" here.  But the real surprise came when I noticed something else on her spelling test....take a look at this actual photo of her test.  See if you notice it.  It's not too hard..... check out the sass infused geniusness jumping off the margin.  

That's right; she actually wrote "harder words please!"  Oh. My. God.  I love her.  But I'm scared of her....not because she outsmarts me.... but because I'm losing her already. She's too high above the rest of the class and she needs to be challenged HARD and FAST or she's going to keep pulling her favorite book out during what must seem like a remedial math lesson to her.  I never thought accommodating my highest learners would be as challenging (or more challenging) than accommodating my special needs learners.  SHE will be a challenge for me.  Luckily, she loves hugs.... and she seems to have taken a liking to me.  I worry about Dakota though....she's a loner. On the playground, she reads.  And she looks too sullen too often.  I check in with her throughout the day as many times as I can before it becomes noticeable....and comfort her each time to try to boost her confidence and garner a smile.  But it's not enough....she will be a year-long project for me....and luckily for her, I love projects.  

Anyway, I gotta go.  I'm on the "Sunshine Committee" and our September Staff Birthdays Celebration is tomorrow....I have to make my mother-in-law's famous egg casserole tonight so it can refrigerate overnight.  Luckily, it's easy, fast and it's a surefire showstopper.  Stand back curious staff - I can cook.  

Btw - I'm communicating with a pet adoption agency to take in a pair of abandoned guinea pig siblings and using craigslist to buy all the supplies at a significant discount.  I'll keep you posted.


  1. I think "with freedom, comes responsibility" is brilliant! That's a good life lesson, not just a classroom lesson. You shouldn't feel bad about it, kids just have to test their boundaries, especially with a new teacher. I've listened to my mom complain about her students for years and sometimes you just have to be a little tough.

  2. Mark! This is Elisa. I may have deleted my fb but I wanted you to know that I'm a faithful reader! Your blog is awesome. You're already a great teacher because you care. Don't ever forget that!