Clarissa Explains It All

So, now that training is complete and the flattering embarrassment of the luncheon has come to a close, I can finally fill you in on what happened at the end of the day when I went back to my own school and conferenced with my principal.  *Sidebar:  I've also realized that I'm going to be referencing these people A LOT in the coming year, so I best be coming up with some creative pseudonyms for my main characters (to maintain professional and public anonymity).  Therefore, my principal will hereby be affectionately be referred to as "Clarissa" for the duration of this blog.  Why "Clarissa"?   Because it's kind of funny...and because I was a child of the 80's & 90's - and I fully expect this Clarissa to "explain it all".  You got that, Melissa Joan?  This is probably your first official shout out in a decade....  be excited.

So, my meeting with Clarissa consisted of two very memorable moments (among an entire hour-long conversation about what the be prepared for on the first days and weeks of the new school year).  The first of which came when she went through my class list with me.  First of all, I'm thrilled about the number - 18!!  The fact that I'm under 20...or even 30 given the state of things...is both welcome and remarkable.  But the real excitement came as she perused through the list and began to provide American-Idol style back-stories on each student.  All of the sudden, she says, "Oh.... his mom is on the PTA board."  "Oh, crap!" I said aloud.  She of course, reassured me that it would be fine.... that even though this uber-rich community has a parental force to be reckoned with, their support of our teachers is PARAMOUNT.   I shouldn't be so worried...After all, in this artist's rendition of them, they appear to be the gosh-darn sweetest batch of parents in the world. 

But seriously, I needn't worry - every piece of evidence I could find has proven our parents to be tremendously supportive of public education and our teachers (see: exhibit A {artist's rendition above} ). They move heaven and earth to make sure their children are getting the best possible opportunities in our school district.  Why then, is it so intimidating?  Maybe because they move heaven and earth to make sure their children are getting the best possible opportunities in our school district.  And as one of two new classroom teachers in the entire school, Clarissa has already told me there is a lot of small-town chatter about who the new 4th grade teachers are.  She confessed - that all eyes are indeed upon us.

So, after I finally got over the fear of having a child of a parent on the PTA board in my classroom, we kept on moving down the list of students.... as her finger passed over the names, I heard things like "She's a doll".... "He's such a good student"...."She's very low, but she loves writing" ..."He's got some behavioral issues".  Finally, and rather unexpectedly, she came to a name and paused (and kind of winced).   

"What?!" I said nervously.   
"Oh...", she groaned.  
I looked at her with growing panic and said, "What!? ... GOOD 'oh'?  BAD 'oh'?  WHAT?!"  .... Finally, after a small pause, she said,
 "Her parent is the president of the PTA Board." 

Oh. My. God.  "Are you kidding me?!", I blurted out in disbelief.   Clarissa very nonchalantly just said, "You'll be fine!... They'll love you.".  To be honest, I was so freaked out by having Sasha and Malia in my classroom that I forgot what name she even pointed to.  Boy?  Girl?  First name?!  Last name!? I have no idea!?  So, now there are basically covert CIA PTA undercover ops in my classroom.  Malia incognito. Sasha in disguise. Visions of those goofy Groucho black glasses with the fake eyebrows and big noses floated around in my paranoid head and blurred my eyesight. Goodie. Big brother is watching. 

Thankfully, Clarissa was able to distract my fear with the second memorable moment of the conversation by putting me in stitches (the figurative kind).  While reassuring me and my fellow other 4th grade new hire (who I'll now call "Cady" because she too has been to Africa, and "Cady Heron" in the movie Mean Girls, had lived in Africa as a child....and because I love the movie Mean Girls.... and because this Cady and that Cady are both very pretty....) anyway... Where was I?  Oh, right - Clarissa was addressing Cady and I....  Anyway, Clarissa was telling us NOT to worry about being observed the three mandatory times during our first year.  In all of her awesomeness, she very jovially told us that she is here to help us, support us and teach us - not frighten us and tear us down.  

She punctuated her sentiment with a fantastic story about the very first time she was observed as a new second grade teacher.  She said she had a terribly cruel principal who ruled the school like a totalitarian.  She said she would shake with fear before she entered this woman's office.  In part, she said that's what inspired her to become a principal herself - because she knew there had to be a better way to rule a school.... that you could in fact be a kind, generous, incredibly warm and helpful principal (which Clarissa COMPLETELY is!).  

So, she said on the day of her observation, she was incredibly nervous.  She was calling all the students by her favorite two pet names during the entirety of her super energetic, scatterbrained, and panicked lesson.  She would call out encouragingly, "Great job, peanut!!"  ...and "Fantastic, sweetpea!!"  She kept on switching back and forth between the two as her nerves and energy grew ... "You're right, sweetpea!!"  .."Stellar answer, peanut!"  ..."Sweetpea!!"..."Peanut"..."PEANUT, SWEETPEA!"  ... Before ultimately during a regrettable moment of mixed-up confusion BLURTING out, 

"Way to go, PENIS!".
As I'm writing this now, I'm laughing again. In fact, I laughed so hard at the time in her office, I cried.  We were practically crying together...but not the Extreme Home Makeover kind of cry....the MXC Extreme Elimination Challenge college roommate cry. 

I screamed, "What happened?!"  
She said, "The kids FROZE!"  They F.R.O.Z.E in underage shock and horror.  They each had that "Oh my god, the grown up in charge just said a bad word" stunned look on their face.  

Then I said, "Well, what did you do!?!" .  
She said, "Oh my god.  I lost all control, and I just doubled over and began hysterically laughing in the middle of the lesson.  I simply couldn't compose myself to finish"  
We cried some more.  
She said her totalitarian principal simply walked out of the room right then and there.

So yes, I finally agreed with her - NOTHING can be that bad.  She had renewed my faith to no longer worry about my upcoming observation at the end of the month.... or for that matter, the fact that I have the First kids in my classroom.  Thank god for Clarissa.  Hey - look at that, she really did explain it all.


The Big Finish

Training Day Four: The final day (Part 1).....and it definitely went out on an incredibly embarrassing  high note.   This is kind of a longer post - but I'm hoping the hilarity of the story is worth it!

The day started off at our own individual schools (instead of the high school.... pictures to come), where we talked about the physical logistics of actually setting up your classroom for Writer's & Reader's Workshop (leveling your library, organizing it properly for efficient usage, setting up procedures and systems so that there isn't a 20-student pile up when they go to get their Writer's notebook, etc.).   But the real fun came when I found out in front of all of my fellow elementary school new hires that my principal had taken several school administrators on a tour of my room without my knowledge.  So, my skin turned into a shade of redness I didn't know I could achieve when our district literacy coach looked at me and said outloud to my principal in a jovial manner "He's MINE!!".  To which my AMAZING principal (I *LOVE* her!) jokingly said in return "No! He's Mine!" ...which then prompted an open discussion about what I had done to my room, which my fellow new fourth grade Africa traveler joined because she had seen it last week and loved it.  I anxiously dove face first into my Dunkin' Donuts Mocha Coolatta (with skim milk of course) and hoped we could just move on to the minutia of which book is a level 'P' and which is a level 'O'.  Little did I know, the embarrassment would reach epic proportions just a few hours from that.

What was absolutely amazing, is that during a break at my school, we went out back to check out the student-run gardens.... and they were stunning.  A butterfly garden (yes, teeming with butterflies), a vegetable garden (pumpkins progressing heartily), and a salad garden run by the fourth graders which supplies the ingredients for our big spring community "salad party" where parents join the teachers and students to enjoy the fresh lettuce, carrots and onions that were harvested.  But the pièce de résistance was the outdoor reader's theater mini-amphitheater.  I promise I will bring my camera next time now that I know it's there.  It's adorable.  It's a well manicured and landscaped little area with beautiful little benches and a concrete stage, surrounded by one of those little architectural walls designed to focus the sound forward.  Unbelievable....what money, parent volunteerism and a love of public education can do.

All of the new hires united for our final lunch at the beautiful historic hotel downtown where we were hosted by the local chamber of commerce (which, you guessed it - FIRMLY supports our public schools). We were joined by several administrators, including, the head honcho himself, our quietly  intimidating superintendent.  We dined in the beautiful front atrium room (which thanks to photoshop, is highlighted in the photo), and enjoyed a chicken francaise lunch which sadly did not live up to the stunning facade of the building.  Happy to be reunited with my new friends, we were looking forward to gossiping about our experiences thus far when.... Mr. Superintendent himself looks at me, grabs the chair next to me and says "Is this taken?".  "Nope!" I say with feigned ease.  "Join us!" I say with more mustered up courage and excitement.  Awkward silence....  crickets...   ... more crickets....  "This salad is delicious!" I say as I die a little with each passing moment of silence.  

Apropos of nothing, he suddenly says in his short-and-sweet-I-can't-tell-if-you-love-me-or-hate-me-style,  "Ken took me on a tour of your room today."  (Ken is the amazing head of HR).  More silence.  Trying desperately to gauge his reaction...or at the very least, anticipate his next minimal conversational contribution, I said "Oh! Wonderful!".  I didn't want to speak too much because I'm hyper as it is, and babble way too much on a regular basis....often incoherently....ESPECIALLY when I'm really nervous...like flop sweat nervous.  You know the feeling... three words: sudden back sweat (ew).  So, I was hoping he would just offer up the next piece of dialogue.  ....Not to mention, my already embarrassing experience with him.... You see, when I first interviewed with him, (at a SUDDEN impromptu interview, no less) I talked VERY excitedly about education and my abilities.  I said I was "very energetic and ready to bring my enthusiasm into the classroom."  He just looked at me and said in a very 'holy-crap-chill-the-eff-out-manner', "Yeah - I can tell you have a lot of energy."  Burn.  I can't remember the last time I dialed it down so quickly.  

So, anyway, here we are, back at our table...and yes, I'm STILL waiting for his reaction to not only HIS bringing up of the fact that he saw my room, but MY conversation prompt of "Oh! Wonderful!".  ...Finally, I cave....with very controlled energy,  I said "Well, what did you think?  I hope it wasn't too loud...I tried to make it really inviting and kid friendly...and yet colorful at the same time ...and...." Oh crap... it was happening again.  Nervous word vomit.  I think I just stopped somewhere in the middle of the word "engaging" while awkwardly smiling.  It was so nerve-wrecking because Ken and my principal had previously raved to me about how wonderful it looks....so I knew I had administrative support for my creativity.  But, obviously, the buck stopped with him.  Finally....FINALLY...after more awkward silence, he offers up a simple.. "It was nice."  Done.  SOLD!  I'll take it.  If you'll excuse me, I need to go throw up that delicious salad now....or at the very least, swallow it back down. 

It was wonderful realizing after that exchange, that the majority of lunch still had to play out in all of its glorious vomit-inducing uncertainty.  Luckily, my awesome fellow fourth grade new hire and I started up a conversation about Africa to which he was happy to contribute (he and his wife went all over the south of Africa for two weeks in the 70's). Little did I know the real embarrassment was just minutes away.  After the president of the local chamber of commerce bragged about the school system and how each of her three kids went through our schools (one went to Georgetown undergrad and now Harvard Law, one is now in South America in the Peace Corps and the other is...I forgot...who knows...probably organizing another international Global Warming summit in Vienna somewhere)....she gave away prizes from local business via raffle.  And they were random (including mini-harmonicas from a local music store).  

But the "grand prize" was a 1/2 hour full body massage... Drawn from the bag of names, somehow my HR director pulled MINE just as my stomach was finally regaining control over all of the food it had just eaten.  I've never had a full body massage - but I've secretly always wanted one.  Happy (but slightly embarrassed because of the stigma attached to women vs. men getting massages), I quickly grabbed my envelope out of his hands and sat right back down. (Thankfully, he was right next to me, so the walk of fame....shame...wasn't too far.)  Ecstatic that any imaginable future embarrassment MUST be over with, I sit back down and regain my composure. AND THEN, he opens his mouth. In front of the entire luncheon, he says "You know, if anyone deserves this massage, it's him!  Has anyone seen his room!?  Do you know what he did?"  He proceeds to tell the entire story... "He came to his principal and asked if he could paint.  Teachers ask all the time if they could paint...but they usually just paint the moldings...or the trim.... This guy painted the ENTIRE ROOM.  Floor to ceiling.  You really gotta get over to his school and see it.  It looks incredible."  After which, the happy murmurs begin amongst the attendees... I hear a combination of " Wow's " and " I didn't know you could do that's "  ...and "I wanna see it!". 

I longed for the time when the worst of my embarrassment came this morning where I was able to retreat into my DD Coolatta.  I felt the food coming up again.  This time, it was Francaise and not salad.  And FLOP SWEAT!?  Let's just say I had to wipe my brow with my cloth napkin while disguising it to make it look like I accidentally brushed my napkin against my face as I leaned over to "grab something" on the ground.  

Flattered?  Yes.  Secretly thrilled to find out people I respected (and worked for) loved the final product?  Absolutely.  Wishing my body was incapable of producing sweat?  Ummmmmm...whattayou think?  I dialed J.K. Rowling right then and there to ask if I could borrow Harry's invisibility cloak.

So many more stories from yesterday - including more embarrassment and more hilarity.  Except this time, not entirely at my expense.  But I gotta call it quits... this post has reached War And Peace magnitude.  


Sense of Belonging

Training Day Three:  The never-ending flow of information continues....the never ending parade of smiling faces continues....the never ending outpouring of positive energy and savvy advice continues.

It was a rather revolutionary day for me - for one main reason....but I'll save that for last.  

Today, the three big workshops were one on technology, one on becoming acclimated with the electronic database that our school system uses for grades, attendance, email, calendars, and networking, and a very powerful one on inclusion (including all students no matter what their special needs are in the regular ed classroom).

Lunch was provided by our local union while we filled out our state education association forms to join both the state and local chapters - which is pretty damn important right now in my state considering the disturbingly radical and unfairly unilateral decisions being forced through our state capital regarding public education funding.  Am I looking forward to losing a grand out of my paycheck over the course of the year?  No.  Is it worth the amazing work they do to protect our rights, fight injustices, and run conventions and workshops for us (among a million other things)?  Absolutely.

Once that paperwork was out of the way, we spent the afternoon learning about the extraordinary commitment our district has to integrating technology into EVERYTHING.  We have a middle school social studies teacher who after a successful grant, has eliminated textbooks and replaced them with iPod touches that the kids use to create their own textbooks over the course of the year.  We have elementary school teachers who produce adorable newscasts with their students (watch your back, CNN).  And we have high school teachers that use history and science classes as an opportunity to produce web videos featuring music, pictures, video clips and voice-over commentary to produce informative presentations on things like space exploration, prohibition (above), and the history of dance.  

Blogs - wikis - glogs - podcasts - youtube - smartboards - skype - twitter - flipvideo cameras - iPods - digital cameras.... they're ALL used by almost every teacher. They firmly believe (as do I) that you're working against the grain if you hold tight to your 20th century upbringing - and to describe their efforts as a "big push" to move forward into the 21st century is an understatement.   It's both really exciting and a tad intimidating to know that they expect you to embrace uber-creative ways to use technology in the classroom.  Perhaps, part of my fears lie in the fact that the entire district uses iMacs - in our computer labs, in our classrooms, in our libraries....everywhere!  Seeing as I've been a PC person my whole life, (though I've been dying to make the change to a Mac since last year), this means that in addition to learning how to integrate brandy new "webby" things like glogs & wikis,  I have to also learn how to use a computer again. 

But the real take-away from today came in the form of an unexpected epiphany that hit me like a ton of bricks.  During the morning, we watched a video called "Including Samuel".    It was a powerful documentary about a beautiful little boy named Samuel who happens to have a rather severe case of cerebral palsy.  His story is remarkable...his family is remarkable...his teachers are remarkable.... HE is remarkable.  But the real epiphany came after the lights came up, and our HR director spoke to us about what we had just seen.  

As a new teacher, the thing that has intimidated me the most has been inclusion.  Not because I don't believe in it, but because I'm nervous I will be inadequate at differentiating instruction and adapting the material for severe special needs learners, and therefore consequently fail to bring each student (including all of the other students) to their fullest potential.  Because of these fears, I've questioned whether or not it is possible to succeed with every student.  Because of these fears, I've questioned whether or not there are in fact, some cases where the special needs that students have are so severe, it might not be in their best interest to be in a gen ed classroom - perhaps here, they would be most successful in a classroom or school that deliberately specializes in special needs education.  

But then we watched that video... then we analyzed it from a civil rights perspective... then we talked about "separate but equal".... then we talked about the feeling of belonging and being included.  And let me tell you something - boy, do I know a little something about civil rights, "separate but equal", and the feeling of being included.  So, when our passionate HR director took a quiet moment to gather his thoughts and emotions in order to utter his concluding remarks before lunch, I was listening with my head and my heart - and what he said will stay with me forever.  "Inclusion is about one thing:  Belonging.  If you as a teacher don't BELIEVE in your heart that these children BELONG in your classroom, then you probably shouldn't be in public education.  You need to BELIEVE that they BELONG....that they deserve to be in your classroom along with all of your other students.  THAT is what inclusion is all about.  Believing that they belong."

Suddenly, all of the fears, doubts, concerns, and anxieties I had about my own abilities regarding the accommodation of special needs learners in my classroom simply vanished.  Even though I had already believed in inclusion, my entire perspective on its purpose has changed forever.

They belong...end of story.   


Go Big or Go Home

Training Day Two: I have yet to encounter something or someone that I don't like.  Before I go on, I should provide a little background first.  Come to think of it, I should have mentioned this yesterday.  There are about 25-30 new hires in the entire district besides myself, each of whom is wonderfully friendly, extremely capable, and very committed to the education of children. The breakdown is ROUGHLY the following: 7 special ed teachers, 5 related arts teachers, a couple counselors, 5 high school teachers, 3 middle school teachers, 3 early childhood teachers and about 5 elementary teachers.  (Keep in mind there are two primary centers, five elementary schools, one middle school and one high school in our district {above}). 

We of course played a few ice-breakers yesterday - one of which was created by the head of H.R. by plucking factoids about us from our interviews with him.  We had to go around the room with our checklists and "find the person who...."  "taught in Africa" ...or "went on a 100 km pilgrimage through Spain" ....or "Sang on the same stage in Vienna which was once graced by Mozart".   The unexpected upside: I quickly became known as "the one who taught in Africa".  The downside:  I was not "the one who went on a 100km pilgrimage through Spain" or "sang on the same stage in Vienna that was once grazed by Mozart."  

Actually - funny story.  The last minute, one of the other teachers on our fourth grade team up and left the district, prompting them to expeditiously find a suitable June replacement.  It turns out she too has taught in Africa (just north of my stomping ground in bordering Kenya.)  What are the odds?  Yes, we hit it off immediately.  No, we did not trade exotic communicable diseases or swap tropical insect horror stories a la Monsters Inside Me no matter how much my mother is fascinated by the possibility that 6 years from now, I will finally discover the eight foot long worm that's been growing inside my large intestine since my trip to Tanzania. 

Oh - and why you ask did the other fourth grade teacher up and leave this amazing district so suddenly?  Get this:  he had been currently working hand in hand with Lucy Calkins and the Reader's/Writer's Workshop at Teacher's College to help further evolve her revolutionary model.  He was so good, Lucy Calkins personally called him to offer a full time position working with her to improve upon her already wildly successful, nationally embraced Writer's and Reader's Workshop Models.  Um - whoa.  Recognizing that this means absolutely NOTHING to those of you who have no idea who Lucy Calkins is, or what she means to the world of language arts education, let me offer you this simple analogy:  It's like being in the film industry and getting a call from Steven Spielberg himself, personally inviting you to come aboard his team.  

Yes, THESE are the everyday educators in my district.  Suffice it to say, the bar has been raised.  The gauntlet has been thrown.  Go big or go home.  You're eizer EEN or you're OW-OOT! (*Klum accent required).  Do you need me to throw more trite little reality show cliches and catchphrases at you?  Fine - one more.  (For Paula.)  You gotta make this job your own.

To open the day today, one of the accomplished elementary school principals held a workshop on culturally responsive classrooms.  I'm a HUGE believer in cultural competency - so I went Tracey Flick on their asses (but without letting my zeal slip ever so carelessly into her trademark obnoxiousness.)  These workshops have consistently reminded me of my just-concluded work in Grad School;  Very "in-the-know", very well led, and chock full of wonderful teaching points, creative ideas, and energetic discussions.  Yesterday, for instance, we watched two very short, but very thought provoking videos and then discussed them as a group (both of which are posted below this blogpost on the main blog page):  One 2:30 video featuring the wonderful success story of a child with autism giving his high school graduation speech as SALUTATORIAN (get the tissues!) and one 5 min video on the importance of using technology creatively in the classroom (the factoids will blow your mind!!).  I think no matter WHO you are, BOTH are worth watching. When you hit the bottom of this post, scroll down a notch to find the two videos and watch them!  *You may have to go back to the main page to see them... 

During lunch (penne w/ vodka sauce, sausage and peppers, steamed veggies, garlic bread and caesar salad - and warm belgian waffle sundaes for dessert....NO, I'm not kidding) we were introduced to the town council, board of ed, and every district administrator.  During lighthearted intros and passionate speeches, we learned that the district, parents, and community support everything there is to support - all sports, all of the arts, technology, students, teachers, etc....we were state champions in football and lacrosse last year, we sent kids to the national forensics tournament, more than a quarter of our graduates go on to the top schools in the country, we win Rising Star Awards for our musicals, we have some of the top primary centers and elementary schools in the state, we put a man on the moon, cured cancer in our bio labs and invented post-its.....After a while, that's what it started to feel like. It's enough to make you think that you tricked them all into hiring you.  Don't worry - no pressure.

After lunch, it was a final workshop on the Writer's Workshop Model, and then time with our patient H.R. secretaries to make sure we filled out and handed in all 3,000 pieces of paperwork correctly.  Oh - and did I mention THE TOUR of that aforementioned half million dollar multi-media room from yesterday's blogpost?  Do you KNOW what that room is? I'll leave you with this AWESOME thought: the privately funded room is a state of the art television studio complete with green screen, cameras, lights, and an entire control room full of iMacs for editing and production.  Oh - and it gets better.  They broadcast on Fios and Comcast on their OWN channel throughout the area, featuring their OWN unique programming created by the students and teachers.  (you know - like Oprah's 'OWN' network.  Ok - Why am I obsessed with Oprah?)  They even have the ability to stream events live from each of the different schools - which made me giddy thinking about broadcasting my first big reader's theater performance....or better yet, a big Antiques Roadshow where the kids read and write about an old artifact from their family's history....or airing the movies that they write, act and film all by themselves for the whole world to see!  And by "whole world", I mean "two or three surrounding towns".  Have more ideas?  By all means, comment away!
*I should also clarify something about yesterday's blogpost that never occurred to me until a good family friend pointed it out (thank you for that!!) - It may appear that I physically took those photos of the homes in the area myself....  And I must confess that I'm completely embarrassed to think that it might of come off that way - not to mention, very cognizant of the fact that it makes me seem brazenly creepy.  Truth be told, I nicked those from a real-estate website featuring town properties....Though it is rather hilarious to imagine me dressed like a bush, secretly stalking these mansions through the trees, waiting for the best time to jump out and scream, "CHEESE!" at a seven-figure property....and then getting tasered by their hyper-paranoid dog-walker.

A Vision of K-12 Students Today

Inspirational Graduation Speech by a Student With Autism


Royal Treatment

Day one of training - and I'm left speechless.  I had no idea my district was this amazing. The staff is incredibly warm, intelligent, and dedicated and the district-wide amenities are remarkable. (More about the AMAZING staff & workshops tomorrow....)   Don't get me wrong - I knew through personal experience, and growing up a few towns away that this particular area was swanky - but it's even more impressive than I had previously anticipated.  For one of the first times in this uncertain public education climate, I feel like there does exist a town that overwhelmingly values their public schools and their public school teachers. The support from the committed community is staggering - and I'm NOT just talking about financial support. It's clear that these residents hold their schools and teachers on a lofty, and well guarded pedestal.  It's both wonderfully gratifying and mightily intimidating at the same time. 

That being said, I know I shouldn't obsess about the financial supports in place district-wide, but it's honestly hard NOT to react to after you've student taught in an urban district and an international school, both of which had limited resources for different reasons.  Here, there's not only an additional town educator's union in place that functions separately from our state educator's association, but property taxes a la 90210, and slew of local benefactors - which means that the money that flows into our schools and into grants for teachers and students is mind-boggling...and it honestly fills my heart with educational promise. I guess the funding shouldn't be too surprising when the average home runs about $1 million and the average household income is about $125k.  Intimidating much?   (See: actual homes from the district above & on left....yes, we can gawk together.)

For starters, we met at the high school today (which is where we'll be until Wednesday) - and it was STUNNING.  Not yet an adolescent, the school was built several years ago and let's just put it this way....all I could think of was Richard Attenborough as John Hammond in Jurassic Park saying "We spared no expense!".  Don't get me wrong - it's not the least bit showy or opulent... but you can just tell it's a beautiful new building that is extremely well equipped to handle an engaged student body.  There is a half million dollar multi-media room made possible exclusively by private donations from town citizens, new fiber-optic wiring connecting all of the schools in the district together for a lightning-fast network no longer beholden to pricey telecommunications companies, and a library that looks like the offspring of two previously smitten college campus libraries.  Not to mention, there is district-wide funding provided for EVERYTHING;  From zealous students pursuing their science fair dreams to a teacher wanting to begin an elementary school chess club.

Ok, I know it's early, but I kinda feel like I've died and gone to public teacher heaven.

I felt like we worked for one of those corporations that takes really good care of their new hires. And apparently, the royal treatment for all new hires will continue for the rest of the week!  In store are more delicious catered breakfasts and lunches, more educational workshops all day long with some of the most accomplished administrators in the district, a meet-and-greet with the entire city council and mayor tomorrow, and a final Thursday lunch at a prestigious local historic hotel (above). 

Whoa....  I feel so honored...so excited....and all too aware of the enormous expectations that lay before me.  

More from training day two tomorrow!

* See: note about photos of beautiful homes in above blogpost entitled "Go Big or Go Home". 









And now, for your viewing pleasure, (after a week's worth of NONSTOP work), here is a WHOLE LOTTA "AFTER"!

The Classroom Library:
Genius education/literacy studies have consistently shown that the classroom library is a pretty big deal.  So, I wanted to make something fun, comfortable and inviting.  This way, the students are more inclined to get into the designated library space, pick up a book, and READ.  Oh - and the cool multicolored lights?  I thought a great way to engage students in our read-alouds would be to shut off the overhead lights, and turn on the funky spotlights in an effort to add a little bit of excitement, suspense and drama.  Now, they'll feel like it's an exciting and separate theatrical event severed from the monotony of endless classroom time.  *Also note that this classroom renovation time has conveniently corresponded precisely with my own personal household move - which means I can save lots on storage by cramming my classroom full of inviting furniture & warm homey touches.  (But no, I didn't have a house full of small rainbow beanbags).

The Classroom Store:
Ok - so while the plans for the classroom Dunkin' Donuts bit the dust due to some finicky franchise laws and one particularly confrontational local owner, the classroom store on the other hand was seen to fruition.  Driven by a previously successful Positive Behavioral Support classroom management strategy (while student teaching), students will earn dollars for good behavior, character, and work ethic.  Then, they can peruse through the catalog, and purchase a whole slew of student friendly prizes like cool pens, funky erasers, book marks, books, cards, rock star trophies, travel games, etc (THANK YOU Oriental Trading!).  Additionally, they can buy a free homework pass, or proactively work together as a class to pool their money for an expensive class prize like a kickball game or classroom trivia show.  ....By the way.....shhhh.....Home Depot doesn't know I "borrowed" their logo. )
The Rest of The Room:
I'm not exactly sure how I'll use this activity center, but I made it in Grad School and have yet to  modify it down a couple grade levels.  Modification will also include a general facelift - like gluing the letter "t" back in front of "he 5 longest rivers...." or like taking a blue Sharpee to all the blue lights forming the rivers that have faded to an icky bluish-white.

And thank you to Target for the $2 perpetual wooden calendar and $5 hooks-bar - on which hangs the adorable $8 hall-pass lanyards courtesy of Oriental Trading. Now, the students will be able to choose just which pass they need to leave the room - though I still think the nurse pass should be the red one (instead of the girl's bathroom pass).  Right?

Anyway - that's it for now!  So, hopefully, I've made Nate Berkus & Oprah jealous.....and I guess Ty Pennington for that matter.  Judging from the picture he sent me, he looks pretty thrilled with the results.  Come to think of it, I can't decide which introduction I would have rather had;  Oprah's famous screaming intro, or Ty and his masses actually screaming "MOVE THAT BUS!" (you know - the two-story one that's somehow parked in front of my second floor classroom).