Saturday, November 1, 2014


Not about teaching Kindergarten today. But I saw this and it reminds me of my husbands grandmother. She passed away 5 years ago today. She was the definition of a classy lady. She proved that money doesn't give you class, education doesn't give you class, it's who you are on the  inside.
She was born on a farm in Central Illinois, into a family that spoke only German until the First World War. As soon as the US declared war on Germany, her family began to speak English only.
During the Depression she and her brothers would hunt squirrel in the timber for supper.
She married a carpenter who refused to let her make macaroni and cheese because that was what they fed him at the Orphanage he grew up in. They lived in a small town and had 2 daughter’s together, and he passed away about 20 years before she did.
But that is her history, it isn’t who she was. My husband refers to her as a “feisty old bird” who loved nature and animals. She created a natural habitat in her yard for the birds and squirrels. As long as she had her health, she would go out and bird watch in the country.
This farm girl was outspoken about her beliefs that crop-dusting and pesticides were ruining the environment and all our health and would tell any farmer she came across what she though.
When you became a part of her family, you stayed a part of the family. It didn’t matter. When her youngest daughter divorced, Grandma still kept contact with the ex-husband. He was one of the pall bearers at her funeral, right alongside the daughter’s current partner. When her grandson (my husbands cousin) divorced, his wife still came to help Grandma clean her house. The ex-wife’s daughter (cousin’s step-daughter) was still very much a part of the family, even though there were no blood ties.
She was feisty, a hard worker, fiercely loyal, and outspoken. Everything I aspire to be. Man, I miss her. I am so glad I knew her.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What's Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander. or: If Two Children Have to Learn English, We Should Have to Learn Some Mandarin

This year, I have 2 students who immigrated from China over the summer. I can't imagine the stress they must be under. To leave a place where you know people, speak the language, understand the culture, and to up and move somewhere totally different. I am not sure if they came from a city or a small community, but if they came from a city... well add that culture shock to it! Because the province I live in has under 200,000 people province wide!
Today I decided if they have to learn English, well we can learn some Mandarin. Please don't ask me why it's taken this long for that epiphany to hit me, but at least it came! Our Kindergarten math outcomes go up to the number 10, so I thought we could at least learn to count to 10. Well, let me tell you! The boy just stared at the video- stared like, "they are speaking my language for once!" and my little girl giggled and giggled at my pronunciation.  She would just say, "No Mrs. Marshall! No!" which reminds me of my daughter when I try to speak French (No, mom, just don't even try...). All in all, I thought the video worked well. The English speaking students enjoyed trying a new language, and the Mandarin speaking students had something they could (finally!) identify with.
Well, riding high off the success of this, I decided I needed to learn how to say "hurry up!" in Mandarin as my boy likes to take his own sweet time getting undressed from recess. So, I Googled it, practiced it, and waited for my moment... It finally came... He was dancing around just enjoying life and I said, in Mandarin, hurry up! Well! I have never seen him react with such speed. He stopped, looked at me, and went right to work!
Little did I realize that this would open the door to a whole new relationship. It is customary for our Chinese immigrants to take an English name (I don't know why), so my friend tried to teach me to pronounce his Chinese name (I got a lot of No Mrs. Marshall, NO!). But the best part was the end of the day as we were lined up to go out to the busses. He stopped me and explained, very carefully, how to say, "See you tomorrow!" in Mandarin. And then he tried to teach me "car" -he loves cars. Loves them!
What did all of this teach me? All it took was a 2 minute video of counting to 10 to open up a whole new relationship with 2 of my students. Two students I have been trying to connect with since September. I've been planning to speak with the parents of these two, hoping to set up a time where they can come and speak to the Kindergarten classes about China, moving to Canada, and just some really cool Chinese things. This has just spurred this idea on. I'm looking forward to parent teacher interviews next week.
And tomorrow? I have a feeling that tomorrow, I will learn many new words.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

So this happened today

So, this happened today. During learning centre time I told 2 of the students that they could read the book on my teacher cart if they wanted to. The best part is this picture is in no way staged or teacher directed. I told 2 students they could read a book and soon that turned into a small group of children taking turns being the teacher and reading the book with the class.

Teaching kindergarten, or any of the primary grades isn't always easy- this morning and this afternoon were worlds away from each other behaviour-wise. But teaching primary is always rewarding and fulfilling.
What is my "assessment of learning" here? Well, I can tell you that these students met 6 of our Speaking and Listening outcomes, and 7 of our Reading and Viewing outcomes. And they didn't even need me to tell them to do it!
Damn I love kindergarten!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Teachers Are People Too!


It's another #kinderchat blog challenge! And I am up for it! Especially since it's about my favourite topic- ME! OK, just kidding, just kidding! I do think this is such an important topic for teachers- who are we? What is our story? We spend so much of our time telling our students stories, telling the stories of the day in the classroom, because teaching is such an all-encompassing profession.  It's time others knew about the Real Lives of Teachers!

Just this past month, in Hollywood, there was a big photo-leak scandal that affected the lives of 100 or more actresses (someone broke into their iCloud accounts and leaked their photo's - many nudes- online). It got me thinking about what would happen if, instead of actresses, these hacked accounts were teachers? I think, in many cases, those teachers would not only lose their jobs, but they would have no careers. Why? Because of the old prejudices about teacher's behaviour's. There are plenty of stories to back up my assumption here (I am thinking of one in particular of a jr. high school teacher who posed for Playboy before she was a teacher and was fired when her school board found out about it).

I have been out for dinner, or have been seen coming out of the liquor store and had parents side-eye me- because heaven forbid, a Kindergarten teacher, who is obviously of legal age might purchase an alcoholic beverage (one teacher I know was actually sent a note on Monday asking her if she enjoyed her 12 pack!).
Those are just 2 examples. How many of us have had the "how's Johnny doing" conversation in the most unexpected places? My friend was in a terrible accident. As she was being rushed into X-Ray at the local hospital to see if she had severed her spinal chord (no I am not joking), one of the X-Ray techs asked if she was a teacher at our school. She said yes, and the tech actually asked if she knew if her son would be in my friends class in the fall! And when she went in a week later for a follow up E-Ray, was asked if she knew again! This same friend was on the phone calling for a sub that night- because ONLY TEACHERS have to do this stuff! Here she is, in the emergency room on a stretcher calling for a sub. Another teacher friend thought she was having a heart attack and called for a sub from the emergency room. We can't even get sick or have accidents without worrying about our class and students. This is who teachers are! This is what we do!
Our school calendar has been shifted a bit to accommodate family lives better. Which is great, except it doesn't help families of teachers! We can't take the day off after a holiday because we aren't allowed to extend our vacation time. Yes, we have "summers off" and "Christmas off" and "Spring/March break", but we don't get paid for them. And my children don't go to college/university in the summer. So, in order to get them home for holidays, or watch them graduate, I am forced to do so without pay, take them back early, or not see them graduate.
So, yes, I am looking forward to reading about these real people we call teachers. Real people with real lives and real stories that I know will inspire us. October is always such a great month, now it will be even better!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sand Play

Just felt like posting some pictures of my sand area, because I am in love with sand play. So much learning happens there from math: volume, measurement; to science: gravity, flow; and so, so much more. It's easy to make it something special. In order to make mine "local" I have added sand from a local beach, drift wood, and local sandstone rocks. For inspiration, I have pictures of rock formations like Stonehenge, as well as pictures of Andy Goldsworthy art up on the walls.
Any suggestions? Let me know! If you get any inspiration, fill your boots!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

When do I start Guided Reading?

If you asked me this question, even last week, I would have given you the kindergarten "politically correct" answer, "Well, when each child is ready, that's when we start..." But that's a lie. It was a lie when I told a friend that last week (sorry Michelle). I knew it, but I was too afraid to say what I really thought. Not any more.
In our Province, we have a goal that Kindergarten children will be reading at "Instructional C" by the end of Kindergarten. So, we do have the responsibility to introduce our students to reading. As I have been thinking about when to introduce guided reading, it is typically after Christmas in January. But I'll let you in on a little secret: sometimes I wait until February. But NEVER before Christmas (even though I have said in the past that if someone was ready I would start early...).
Why not begin guided reading before Christmas? Well, for one thing, we have more important things to learn. We need to learn to work as a group. We need to build community. We need to learn the routines of the class and the routines of the school. The social piece of learning is more important than the academic piece in Kindergarten,
And here's another thing: I have never seen a student not learn to read if I don't introduce it before Christmas. But I have seen plenty struggle when it is introduced too soon. Kindergarten has gotten increasingly academic over the past number of years. But that doesn't mean we have to sacrifice our children's mental health in order to be "smarter". If you are a Kindergarten teacher, I know you struggle with the same balance as I do. You can be intellectually ready to learn, but not emotionally ready to learn. And if you are not emotionally ready to learn, then it will impact far more than your reading ability. 
So, this year I make this statement and I make it proudly: I will not begin Guided Reading until January. And I might even wait until February. I'm not sure. Here's what I am sure of: There are more important things than reading and writing. Being a good citizen is one of them,
Here' to a new year!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Can Someone Please Start a Movement?

Can someone please start a movement? I would, but as it may seem a little self-serving on my part, it might not be such a good idea. But can someone else PLEASE start a movement?
I even know what the buttons and bumper stickers could say: I am a PROUD parent of a public school student! Because I am a proud parent of three children who went to public schools. And guess what? They aren't illiterate! I know, you might think they are if you live in Canada or the United States. Because lately, anything that has been said about public school and its teachers has been negative. Unless a teacher is literally sacrificing his or her own life for their students, when was the last time you read anything positive about teachers these days? A little harsh, yes I know.
But, as I said, they aren't illiterate. Quite the opposite as a matter of fact. The two older ones are in college (or University, depends on if you're an American or a Canadian). The oldest is a Mechanical Engineer major, and the middle is an English major. My youngest is in grade 11 (or a Junior if you are an American). But, just because they are in school doesn't mean they are literate. However the two older ones on the Dean's List at their respective universities just might prove they aren't illiterate. My youngest makes quite nice grades as well.

Before you may have any misunderstandings, let me clarify a few things for you:

1. My children did not grow up with wealth. We are a typical middle class family. Granted, my husband and I are both in the education field- he is a professor at a small Bible college and I teach Kindergarten (yes, in a public school- thus the reason I can't start the movement). I will say though, that I have only taught in the public system for 4 years, before that I taught in a private day care setting.

2. My children did not go to the "best" schools in the "best" neighbourhood. We live in the country and my children rode the school bus every day of their public school career.

3. They had regular classes at their high school. They did not even have the benefit of going to a school that offered the International Baccalaureate program, or even Advanced Placement courses. They had common, regular, old academic classes.

4. They would not test into the gifted category. If you took their IQ, it may be a bit above average, but still in the average zone. No Mensa members in this family!

5. My children did/do more then just go to school. They were involved in youth groups, jobs, sports, had friends.

Why am I saying all of this? Because I believe in Public Education. I believe Public Education not only works, but it is what keeps Canada and the United States going. Yes, our "test scores" are "behind the rest of the world"--but we have two countries who are dedicated to educating ALL of its children, not just the smart ones, the typical ones, the right ones. I once read that there are three types of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics. We can manipulate numbers to say pretty much what we want them to say.
Is Public Education perfect? Far from it. We have too many people spouting off too many opinions who have not spent too many hours in the classroom. We have increased needs and decreased resources. We have children coming to school hungry, cold, tired. We have too much of a disparity in how we fund public education, so the rich get the goods and the poor, underserved communities continue to be underserved. There is a lot wrong with education right now. But stop laying the blame on the teachers!
In every job there are good and bad employees. I know teaching is no exception, but I am still looking for that teacher that comes in at the last minute and leaves as soon as the bell rings. I am still looking for that teacher that doesn't worry about their students, doesn't do extra work at night preparing for the next day. Teachers care. Teachers show up to work every day knowing that someone else is sitting at home complaining that teachers have it easy. They also know that someone may be going on social media slandering them personally- it happens! And what do teachers do in response? They show up the next day ready to teach. They love their students and truly want what's best for them.
So can someone PLEASE start that movement?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I REALLY like science.

Last post was a bit of a downer. It certainly wasn't a good week that week, but I am glad to say that the next week made up for it. It seems like, as a class, we have all come so far- almost overnight! One more reason to love kindergarten. One week you are at the bottom of the garbage can emotionally, and the next week BOOM! you are noticing all of the wonderful things that are going on all around you.

This past Thursday, I was privileged to be a part of a group of like-minded educators concerned with environmental education in our classrooms. The educators in this group ranged from early childhood all the way through university. There were ECE's, kindergarten teachers, student teachers, high school teachers, alternative education teachers, and a university professor. We ran the gamut for education, and it was exciting to be there.
At the beginning of the meeting we were asked to bring in one "environmental artifact". As I thought about this, I realized how important science is to me in my classroom. I probably put more effort into my science area than many other areas. I truly enjoy the look of concentration on the students faces when they are working and investigating in the science area. I love the feeling of accomplishment they have when they are able to create designs in the sandbox just like an Andy Goldsworthy. I also love that much of our literacy outcomes can be met through science, technology, 'engineering', math, art (STEM, or STEAM)- because, you know, all that matters is literacy, right? (she says sarcastically...)

I wanted to share a few pictures with you, I hope you enjoy!

It's not a huge area, and you can't see it, but the block area is right next to the science centre, and art is adjacent as well. My goal was to have it all seemlessly flow into each other (except the art shelf goes up against the sand box).  
I want the science area to be one of personal and individual discovery. It is small, because I want it to be intimate. Too many people and we tend to lose the discovery feeling.
Because we live on an island, I wanted my sandbox to reflect our local beaches, so I have added sand from the beach, driftwood, local sandstone, shells, starfish, etc. to the area. I wanted them to be able to create in the classroom what they could create on the beach. I put up pictures from Andy Goldsworthy, some Stonehenge pictures as inspiration, as well as some pictures of their own creations. 

I am looking forward to the rest of the year as we will be moving into an Earth day/Environment/Farm (because not only do we live on an island, but farming is a large part of our economy) investigation. 
Did I say I really like science?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It wasn't a good day...

Most of the time, being a kindergarten teacher is awesome. So much excitement happens during the day, you see so much growth in your students throughout the year. When you get down to it, it's a lot of fun hanging out with the 4-6 year old crowd.
Most of the time it's fun, that is. Yesterday was not one of those fun days. Oh, a lot of good things happened, but one bad thing happened, and it was enough to make me re-think any of the good things: were they really good? were they really instructional? were they really fun? I don't know anymore.
Here is a sample of my day:
Choice time
Morning Meeting
Writers Workshop
Shared Reading
Learning Centres
other students left to read alone while I deal with major melt down
student taken to office (in order to calm down privately)
Measurement activity about Diplodocus
Get ready, Go home. 

See, lots of fun stuff happened. But what stands out the most for me (and I am sure the rest of my class): 
A major melt down. I mean a roll on the floor, sobbing, crying, screaming, kicking melt down. Why? Because she hasn't been getting along with another student in the class and I wanted to talk about it with her before she sat down to lunch. There are so many things in this situation I should have done differently. So many incidents leading up to this should have been handled differently. But, hindsight is 20/20 we all know that.
Because in this day and age of 'educational reform', where the microscope is on the teacher at all times, it sure doesn't help one feel better about the missed and mishandled situations. When you look for inspiration and you read how important the classroom teacher is, it sure appears that we must be super-human and never make mistakes. When you compare yourself to your colleagues and they never have students who melt down like this, boy you sure feel like a failure. And since it happened on a Friday afternoon, that is what I am left to think of all weekend.
So, Monday, I will get up and start my week. I will put a smile on my face and try to move past this situation. But it will not be easy to get the vision out of my mind, out of my thoughts. Because I don't ever want this to happen again. Ever. I have been teaching for over 20 years, I am not new to the profession. I think that's what is making this so hard for me to move on. I'm not a rookie. I should know/do better. I hope I do.
Thanks for letting me tell the story of my day. Thanks for not judging me (because you're not...right?). Thanks for letting me be honest. And thanks for allowing me to start new on Monday.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Perfect Example of a Perfect Society

 I know that 5 year olds are not the perfect example of a perfect society. Of course I know that they can be selfish, self-centred, egotistical, demanding, silly, and hugely inappropriate. I know this! But, there are times when I look at my class of 5 year olds, and I see how they interact, and  I wonder when exactly we lost it. When did we lose the simple, straight-forward, in your face innocence. And I wonder why we lost it, and if it is possible to get it back. There are certain behaviours that these children exhibit every day that, in their world, is common and ordinary. But in our adult world, it is almost a miracle.

In kindergarten we are colour blind in the best way. That doesn't mean we don't notice that others look different than we do. It means we honestly and really don't care that they look differently than we do. Children know that others look different than they do. Children are notorious for pointing out differences. But what makes this different in 5 year olds than in adults is huge. A child is merely making an observation. They don't care that you are different, they are just interested that you are different. And a child doesn't get offended that you noticed they were different. It is adults who project their own feelings on to this issue. Kids are just curious.

In kindergarten we practice forgiveness every day. I hit you, you hit me, we tell the teacher, we get over it, we go off and play together. My class this year is the perfect example of this. It is almost maddening as a teacher because conflicts happen every day, multiple times a day But, do they stay away from each other? Nope. Do they just go and play with other children? Nope. Why? Because whatever happened, whatever was said, whatever was done is in the past. They have moved on. In kindergarten, every day is a new day. Every moment is fresh and uncluttered with grudges.

In kindergarten we honestly have a lack of materialism. (Note: this is not a lack of entitlement, but a lack of caring what other people have or do not have). I teach in a community that is probably one of the wealthiest in the region that I live, but we do have many families who do not have as much access to material goods as others. Kindergarten is the great equalizer. By the end of the day we are all a bit more sweaty, a bit more dirty, our clothes are a bit more stained, but we honestly don't care. It is irrelevant to us that one is wearing designer clothes and one is wearing the latest Walmart fashion. We don't care what kind of car you drive. We don't care about your lunch box or backpack. We don't even care if you come to school in the same clothes you wore yesterday (or everyday). Are you going to have a fun time out on the playground? That is what we care about.

Kindergarten is the ultimate in community/civic mindedness. When it is clean up time we clean up. Why? Because we can't move on to the next part of our day if the room is still messy. And no one really wants to be the whole class is late to gym, music, or the bus. In kindergarten we are individuals, and we do make our own choices. But, over-all, we are a team, a group, a community. We work together because if we don't, we fall together. It is all for one and one for all! If some of us talk in the hallway, we don't get our class mentioned on the announcements. It's that simple (and yes, getting mentioned on the announcements is a Big Deal). We know the pride of working together to make our class community the best one in the school.

Kindergarten isn't perfect. We can be loud, and we can be defiant. We can want to do what we want, when we want. I know this. But there are moments in each day when what is possible is reality. When we can see perfection in a moment. When that one child, who loves to be the centre of attention, stops what she is doing and helps another child who is hurt. When that child who struggles to sit still during group time can become so involved in what he is writing that he spends an hour making sure it is perfect. When those two children, who can't seem to get along, suddenly put their past behind them and build the best ramp and smile at each other in the most sincere way.

No, kindergarten isn't perfect. But it has its moments.