Tuesday, November 07, 2006


This quote was on my Starbucks cup last week. I keep thinking about it, and how a lot of my students are the ones with the machetes.

A child’s mind isn’t a blank slate; it’s more of a jungle. Each time a parent helps a toddler read, the child is walked through this jungle from one side to the other. Trip after trip, a seemingly impossible passage becomes a well-worn path. Children sent to kindergarten skipping merrily along this path to literacy fare far better than those sent to school with machetes.

-- Keith Mastrion
“Reading Man” and 1998 National Teacher of the Year

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Familiar Faces

I was so blessed last weekend to have a chance to see a familiar face. Tony, one of the parents that I got to know through nannying was in Hesston KS., doing a weekend seminar. I emailed him and we met up at a Starbucks before I ran him to the airport. I had tears in my eyes when I saw him, I guess I have been so consumed with my life here, that I've forgotten how much I miss my family and people from home. I mean, I guess it is good that I am busy instead of being bored and lonely, but I am truly so thankful for my family, and I miss them a lot.

The same weekend I was caught off guard in a dollar store when I heard a surprised "Ms. Johnson?". I don't know if she was surprised that I do normal things, or that I too shop at a dollar store. (I was there for prizes for my prize box.) I was totally out of teacher mode, and it took me much longer to respond than usual. When I turned around there was one of the students I have been tutoring after school, smiling huge! It was so weird to be recognized, but really nice as well. I got a hug, which I can never have too many of, and also got to meet her mom and siblings.

This last week was nutty with the kids! Between halloween, which I didn't like before, and now I like even less, and the day after halloween it was 20 jumping beans jumping off the walls! I am going to be very thankful for this next week, since we have Friday off, and I already made plans to go and visit Zach in CO. It should be nice to see that familiar face of my favorite brother.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

For the love of books

Every time I read a book to my students, I tell them how much I love the particular book we are reading. This week one of them finally said "Ms. J, you say that about every book!" Well, I guess it's true, I love books.

I guess I have to contribute my love of books to my very unique childhood. I was homeschooled from Kindergarten to Third grade, and that is most definitely where my love of reading began. Being homeschooled allowed me to have one on one interaction with my mom as we sat in our basement in the woods of Wisconsin and read. We read a lot. There were weekly trips to the library, where I would explore and find new favorites, and always check out the tried and true ones. I think that my love of books was encouraged by my being homeschooled, since I was able to march to the beat of my own drum.

I am proud now, to say that I was homeschooled, even in the public school setting, where it is often looked down upon. I am glad that my mom made a decision to invest in my brother and my sister and I, even though it was not the wisest decision financially. It is so amazing to see her now, being blessed by God because she made that decision 20 years ago. I am thankful and blessed.

So hopefully, I'll pass my love of reading onto my TV watching, video game playing students. Maybe one day they will tell a child in their life "Oh I love this book. My teacher used to read it to me". And in the meantime, I'll keep reading to them, and keep loving books.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Three ring cirus

I have decided this week that teaching is like working in a three ring circus. Also, instead of being the ringleader, I more like the clown that comes out while everything else is going on, trying to steal the spotlight. This week has been completely indescribable. I had a student start a fire in my room on Monday, while I was at meetings all day. He obviously saw having a substitute as a moment of vulnerability. During a break one of the facilitators of the meeting came in and had a message for me to call school as soon as I had a break. With my heart pounding I called school, wondering what in the world they would need me for. I found out all the details and had a restless afternoon and evening waiting to get back to school. It is pretty amazing how fast they cleaned everything up. Besides smelling strongly like cleaning materials, my room was amazingly not too disturbed, thanks to the people who worked overnight to make sure we could be there on Tuesday.

Obviously that threw our week off a bit. Yesterday afternoon I was completely burned out and tired. I felt numb. It was funny because I felt like I was watching my class from the ceiling. I have pyromaniac; one student who has been in the office all morning because he made an explicit comment; a student who has a hand on his desk, pushing himself up and down as he hits himself on the butt with the other hand; someone chewing on his backpack strap while still wondering why I didn't let him eat the marshmallow from science that fell on the floor; an ultra-quiet girl, who hardly ever smiles, but does amazingly well in school. There are papers all over the floor, backpacks are on the backs but unzipped and close to losing their contents. Maybe we should blame all the crazy on the smell...oh, I work with some great kiddos!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Smelly hugs

I always have my students give me either a hug or a high five when they leave each day. I remind them everyday that it is because I want them to know when the leave that I care about them. This week there has been one of my students who has been particularly hard to love. He is being watched for ADHD, and sometimes I am amazed that he doesn't go crazy and start pulling apart the bulletin boards. He is brilliant though, so I am sad that he sometimes can't work as hard as his potential shows, because of his behavior. I don't think he bathed at all this week, his uniform has been dirty, and he has been pretty smelly. Even some other students in the class came to me and told me they thought he smelled. So when he came to me for a hug at the end of the day I reluctantly gave him a little hug.

Why is it that the smelly people are the hardest to love? I am not trying to be funny, but really. Smelly people probably need the love the most of all, and they are the people that we so often intentionally forget to see. Whether it is homeless people, alcoholics or immigrants, our society tells us that smelly people are lesser citizens, somewhere between human and not. Strange. Here I am with plenty of hugs to go around, yet I find it hard to hug the smelly ones. I guess this week I gained the perspective that I can hug the smelly kids. I can squeeze those little gems even though I don't want to get head lice or to have to "get smelly". My clothes can get washed, I can change when I get home, and if I get lice, Kaylee my wonderful colleague has already volunteered to help me with the disinfecting process. After all, having to deal with something so small will pale in comparison to knowing that hugging a smelly kid can possibly make a difference in his life. So hug someone smelly this week, or at least recongize them as a person.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

My first month

I know I have been slacking in the blogging area, and now I am going to try and pull everything that I have done and experienced in the last month into a blog entry. If I tried to cover everything, I would probably use most of the infinite space on the internet...so I'll just highlight things for you.

I jumped in with all limbs when I first got here. I had exactly 1 day to find an apartment before I started training, so that was stressful and challenging. God is amazing though, and He provided the right place in exactly the right time, 5:30 that night to be exact! Then I began my training as my parents carried things to my aparmtment, ran errands and supported me in a big way! The first week was tough, I was totally out of my element, it was annoyingly hot and I doubted if I had done the right thing. Then my parents left, and I was all alone.

Thankfully I was so busy in meetings, setting up my classroom and getting ready for my students that I barely had time to do anything else. I worked really hard those first couple of weeks, and the work continues still.

School started and with it came my 20 wiggly, squirmy, grubby, lovable little family. I feel like these kids are my family, and in a way I think of them like they are, since my own family is far away. They have so much need, and at times I am overwhelmed at how much I feel like I need to compensate for what they might not get elsewhere. Most of my kids get free lunch and breakfast at school, and they are definitely children from another culture. I saw a baby the other day who had pop in his bottle, and so I don't wonder anymore why I can see cavities on their little teeth.

The school is amazing in all that they provide. I have always heard that people will live up to the expectations that you have of them, and I truly see that at Cloud. We just had parent teacher conferences and every single parent came. That is amazing! We also provide a lot of additional support to parents or families who may be struggling by having parent support, counselors and even free dental clinics for those oh so many cavities.

It is challenging to be here, there are moments when I wonder why in the world did I think this was a good idea. I get frusterated with the politics of teaching and why I can't do what I want when I want, then I come back to my class after a meeting and there they are and I forget all the frusteration. They are truly a joy, and I can honestly say that I love my job.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wichita, here I come!

One week from today I will be packing up the Saturn and heading down to Wichita. A week ago today I formally accepted a teaching job at Cloud Elementary in Wichita, teaching 2nd grade. My attitude in this time of intense excitement, anticipation and challenge is "the kids need me".

Cloud is a school with a majority of the population consisting of Hispanic students and most of them recieve ESL, English as a second language, services. It is also a high poverty school, although it is not in an urban setting. I know this year will challenge me and probably break my hear more than once.

Right now I am purchasing and packing. Thanks to a good friend who diligently pushed my cart around IKEA, I won't be sitting on a mat in the corner of my apartment that I have yet to find! I am excited for this transition, and glad that you will be able to share it with me throught cyberspace!