Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Roller Coaster

(#FirstYearTeachingChronicles Part 2)

On a roller coaster, there are formidable drops, anxiety-ridden slow climbs, and many surprising twists and turns along the way. There's also a lot of screaming, holding on for dear life, and wondering why I am on this godforsaken thing in the first place. But as there is a beginning and an end, I know that I'll be able to plant my two feet on the solid ground in 2.8 minutes. As of today, I have currently been grounded for 7.5 weeks, having gotten off a roller coaster that lasted 9.5 months. You see, my first year of teaching was so much like that of a roller coaster ride.

A few months into teaching after 11 glorious childrearing years off, a friend shared this image with me after I had confessed how incredibly overwhelmed I had been.

Click to enlarge

First, I laughed. Then, I cried. This graph was so freakin' accurate. If you did a quick calculation, I saw this at a depth of despair, at about the end of November. Truthfully, the course of my ride had been a tiny bit different than this graph. I had reached rock bottom at the end of October, on Halloween. And the upturn had actually started somewhere by December. It went something like this:


I was elated to be given the opportunity to return to my pre-children profession at, of all places, my own kiddos' school, where I am familiar with teachers and school happenings. I was excited and nervous to meet the kids and their parents. I was worried about learning the curriculum and teaching it well. I was scared about not being "good enough" for these fourth graders because I was new. But I knew my heart was in the right place and that I was going to give it my all, as not to forsake this class of students who depended on me for an entire year's learning and growth.

I am responsible for all of these kids. I have to do things right.


I braved through a beginning of the year marked with many scheduled testings and initial school events. I asked a lot of questions and returned kind help and advice from my colleagues with the most, shall I say, adorable deer-in-headlights looks? In reading lessons, the kids stared at me, ready to learn, with expressions of "okay, teach me." And I sat there, gesturing and talking, really hoping that I looked like I knew what I was doing. I soon realized that classroom management was going to be far different than what I am used to at home as a mom managing her own two children. How is it only September?

This was also when DH stepped up and took over all household matters and became a single dad my superhero. He negotiated to work from home to help out with the chores and the kiddos. I became a shadow that appeared at random times, armored with my infamous deer-in-headlights look as I showed up for meals and came up for air.


Routines were starting to sink in. Kids were settling into their new year in school. I, on the other hand, began to fret about all the new things I had to do: cut, glue, read, staple, highlight, recycle, toss, erase, sort, pile, devise, organize, remember, print, copy, pass out, count, file, correct, record, plan, time, mark, study, execute, say, remind, email, type, redo, attend, write, encourage, discipline, change, grade, note, absorb, process, show, demonstrate, return, checkout, put on hold, pair, model, decide, answer, conference, and still eat and sleep and see my children and DH. By the end of the month, I was at an all-time low, physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you had just as simply as looked at me, I was at risk of shattering into a million little pieces. On Halloween, the school had class parties, and I "teachered" the best I could and barely made it through the day.

I dressed as Captain Nobody for Halloween because I had just read aloud the book to the class. Ironic, because inside I felt like a nobody. And DH was the superhero that took me aside and gave me The Talk that began my turnaround for the rest of the school year.


Deep, deep breath. I decided to be myself and trust my instincts. I had to be comfortable with my decisions, so I should not try to be someone I'm not. The kids really knew my expectations by now, and there was learning taking place. Huh. Besides, I just had to make it till the end of the month and there would be FIVE DAYS OFF IN A ROW! Just before break, the students wrote thank-you notes to their peers. And I thanked the heavens there would be a much needed break to spend with family, food, and a lot of wine.


We read The Birchbark House and the kids surprised me with their enthusiasm. A memorable highlight of the year was their spontaneous clapping when I finished reading the last sentence of the book. They were noticing character developments, making connections, asking tough questions, and drawing conclusions based on text evidence. We studied legends, tall tales, and pourquoi tales. We read about explorers and "went deep sea diving" to explore sunken ships. We had our school holiday musical, Pajama Day, a pizza party, and the month was over faster than I could say WINTER BREAK.

Recharge. Replenish. Rejuvenate. And two weeks turned into three because SNOW/COLD DAYS! During this break, I ate and slept and read. Over 1,000 pages of gripping, haunting words, unspeakable circumstances, and tear-jerking moments. The best way to teach a love for reading is to love reading myself, no?


Refreshed, we returned to school as the world was literally frozen outside. We dove into reading nonfiction texts and writing essays (personal, persuasive, and literary). We learned about fractions and electricity/magnetism. I felt prepared. I timed lessons better and I gauged student needs with more accuracy. I anticipated. I plan-B-ed. I pulled things out of the magic hat with more ease. Three weeks passed and the month was done.


We began talking about PARCC, the dreaded new state testing that aligns with Common Core Standards. Teachers met, discussed, and planned to help students perform as well as they could on this mandated assessment. I actually witnessed students use their newly learned knowledge to attack the practice tests. I realized that my deer-in-headlights look hadn't shown up in a while. I became aware that I even though I was still spending all my waking moments working, my body was used to the hours and I just did it. There was always Friday/Saturday if I work hard and long enough, right? And I actually finished my lunch for once. I took this pic as proof to show DH. And it only took how many months?


This month began with the craziness of rearranging our schedules to accommodate 5 days of PARCC testing, and ended with parent-teacher conferences right before spring break. I took a HUGE breath <inhale>, dove deep, and came up for air when it was time for a 10 day break. <GASP!>


We came back to school after spring break and all the teachers told me how fast these last two months would fly by. Really? In class, my kids were writing an inquiry paper, you guys! Each child wrote a four-chapter information book on The American Revolution. There were essays and narrative stories. There was research and revision. There was peer editing and illustrations. There was so much work and learning going on that our room was filled with vigor and drive. We were working to finish off the year with an inquiry project. It was going to be amazing--for the first time, I felt it.


This month began with 3 more days of end-of-the-year PARCC testing, yet again. It also wrapped up the year with other assessments, where when I finally looked at the scores and graphs, I saw the progress my students had made. The gains and growth were remarkable, and were undoubtedly positive results of their hard work and perseverance. This same group of kids that I didn't know what-the-heck-to-do with back in August are now my kids--no no, not just anyone's--but mine. <Snap, snap, snap.> Mine.

I was feeling all kinds of goodness on Success Night when we presented our inquiry projects on different perspectives (children, women, African Americans, and soldiers) during the American Revolution. The kids proudly showed their parents their writing and poster boards. It was a night--no, a year--to be celebrated.


Because of the 5 cold days we had in the winter, we had to go another week of school into June. Just as well. It was a week of fun. Pizza party, field day, and A-Minute-to-Win-It class competitions. Saying goodbye to this special class was bittersweet on the one hand. On the other, I was looking forward to sleeping and eating again.


I signed on to this blog and started writing again. (The only writing I had done all year was modeling for writing lessons and book reviews on Goodreads.) Because the best way to grow writers is to keep writing myself, amiright?


The roller coaster has come to a complete stop. It is time to disembark. No doubt the next ride will be just as momentous, though hopefully not as much a shock to my system. At least I'll know that initial death plunge isn't bottomless. The amount of learning that took place in this old body of mine this year was tremendous. Now I just have to remember everything I've learned to make next year easier.

*Gets in another roller coaster line.*

You know how they say that the more you use your brain, the slower it ages? Well, at this rate, I'm getting younger by the days.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Full Circle

(#FirstYearTeachingChronicles Part 1)

At birth, we enter the world bare and naked;

July 2014

Unadorned, imperfect;

Empty walls

Unsettled, out of place.

Random furniture

Some say we exit the world taking nothing with us,

June 2015

Except for our skin...

After 8 hours of cleaning and packing the classroom for summer

And bones.

With every speck of a year's learning sent away

Others say we take with us an abundance of Experiences and Lessons, 

Notice and Note anchor charts

From the beginning of the Journey,

Genre study of legends, pourquoi tales, tall tales, and folktales

 To the end.

Expository nonfiction reading unit

I might add to that, some Smiles,

Pajama Day

Lots of DANCING!

Classroom brain breaks, aka Just Dance videos

And some Lifetime Achievement Milestones, forever ours to keep.

End-of-school-year American Revolution Unit featured at Success Night

We come full circle, but not to an End. 

End-of-year flowers from a lovely family

For it is another New Beginning.

At least I keep the same room and same grade level!

And the possibilities are endless.

Once the gears start churning again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


With each week and month (and now, year) that passed without a new post here, I felt the unease of drifting farther away from the one thing I truly love to do. The one thing that is shelter for my soul, canvas for my paint, and overflow from my cup. How could I have abandoned this love for so long? The answer has to do with my inability to multitask and my compulsive dive into an all-or-nothing commitment.

Instead of becoming the long-term substitute for DS' first grade teacher last fall, over the summer I was offered a bona-fide full-time fourth grade teaching position at my kids' school--something that I had hoped for but didn't know if I would ever have the opportunity to acquire. Acquire I did. And deep, deep down I dove.

I knew that it was going to be an incredibly difficult feat. I had to learn a brand new curriculum to teach it. I had to learn students, colleagues, and administration. I had to learn how to balance work and family. I had to learn about learning. So I decided to give it my all.

Which meant here, even the cricket chirps quieted. Because they were dying from starvation. I went for months without ever a visit, while all sorts of spam comments piled up. At one point, when I tired of all the spam notification and came to delete them, I was so out of shape that I inadvertently deleted a hundred "real" comments. I was able to rescue the reader comments, but not my own. So long, comments.

If there's one thing I really learned about teaching, it is the absolute fact that a teacher's work is never done. There is always more work to do. Always.


I wanted to write a post explaining why I'd been away for so long. But that felt redundant since I wasn't going to be able keep up any writing during the school year. Any time I had a free moment, I just defaulted to my next-most-relished activity: reading (all intake and no output required). Since reading is one of the most important ingredients to writing, no?

Back when I happily announced my new job, I was overwhelmed with congratulatory love. One Dear Friend said, "How lucky for your students to have you to teach them writing!" It was a very flattering comment, but one that unsettled me quite a bit. Just because I like to write doesn't mean I know a thing about teaching others how to write. I write what comes to mind, in an order that makes sense to me, with words that communicate my feelings, to an audience that hopefully understands. How does one teach another how to achieve that? I had no idea.

Studying Lucy Calkins to teach her curriculum of reading and writing was probably one of the hardest things (among many) I had to do last school year. There was a method, a recipe, if you will, to teaching the different units of writing. So I did my job the best that I could--I studied her ways and I taught them. There is still a lot more to learn, to improve, and to reflect on in order to better teach writing. But I came away feeling that many of my students enjoyed the writing process and owned their successes.

Like the students who began fourth grade writing a huge block of words and ended by writing five paragraph essays. Or the students who began writing at home on their own time. Or the students who named each part of an essay as I highlighted and color-coded them on the Smartboard: hook, thesis, reason, evidence, transition words, and counterclaim. And the student who, at the end of the year, stated with absolute certainty aloud to the class, "For once in my life, I wish there was more writing time."

And for the umpteenth time in my life, I wish there was more writing time. Friends would say, You've got to get back to writing this summer. And I'd say, Yeah, I should. Once I spend a week getting a mental break and unwinding from this hardest-year-of-my-life. Once I get a real mental break unwinding from that week. Once I bake and cook all the things the kiddos have ordered. Once I get back from vacation. Once I finish reading all the books on my to-read list. Once.

This morning I read a list of quotes from writers about "writer's block." Margaret Atwood said, "If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word." Maybe I have completed all the Onces. Maybe I have succumbed to imperfection. Maybe I just wanted to write. Today.

Today, I fed the crickets. I may even shoo them away once in a while.

But one thing I do know for sure is:

This blog will live on.

If I haven't forgotten how to publish this thing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


A couple of years ago--well, precisely 4 years ago--I took DD to see Ramona and Beezus on the big screen. I remember walking out of the theater with all the feels. You see, I had read Beezus and Ramona, by Beverly Cleary, to DD the summer after her kindergarten year. Then she proceeded to read the rest of the 8-book series on her own over the next year. The movie was not a cinematic masterpiece, by any means; it was rather a girly, feel-good movie that appealed to a small, mostly young and feminine part of the population. But it got to me, because it was the first movie that I had watched alone with DD.

I remember feeling excited and calling it a Mother-Daughter Movie Date. We settled in with our popcorn and beverage, and watched the characters laugh, cry, falter, grow, and triumph on the big screen. I laughed and cried (can't help it--I'm a sentimental schmuck) and my heart swelled, willingly accepting the spot-on manipulations of Hollywood and its cheese. It didn't matter, because inside that dark, cavernous theater, I felt like a little girl all over again. I curled up my feet and munched on popcorn, much like the little seven-year-old next to me. My little girl.

Source: Wikipedia

Fast forward four years.

Two months ago, I had finally relented and gave the book The Fault in Our Stars to DD. She is a voracious reader, and is constantly seeking new books to read. I read this wildly popular John Green book earlier this year, and I noted that it was recommended for grade 9 and above. Probably because it's a love story, about cancer and dying, and portrays some tender, intimate moments between young adults. But it wasn't so much the themes of dying and sex that held me back from letting DD read this. (Okay, well, it was, to a degree.) It was more that she hadn't reached the adolescent stage of developing romantic relationships or experienced the emotions of falling in love. I wasn't sure how much she would get out of reading this book.

Source: Amazon

But I had it on my Kindle and she was asking for a new book. Again. 

So I decided to let her have a go. She could always read it again later and may be able to relate to it on a deeper level. Not surprisingly, she really liked the book, and we talked about many aspects of it afterwards, just so I'm sure she didn't have any questions about the intimate moments or about cancer and dying.

Yesterday, we had another Mother-Daughter Movie Date.

This time, some things remained the same, and some things were different.

Source: Wikipedia

We got our popcorn and beverage, watched a few movie trailers of dystopian books that we/I have read (namely, The Giver and The Maze Runner, and they both looked good--I sense more Mother-Daughter Movie Dates soon), and began watching the movie. Halfway through, I leaned over and said to DD, "Um, get ready for my waterfall, cuz it's coming." She chuckled and handed me a wad of popcorn napkins. I gave one back to her, just in case.

Then I cried my ugly cry during the second half of the movie.

Because Hazel Grace and her big, huge watery eyes. Augustus Waters and his dashing, boyish smile. Oh. My. Heart.

I cried the feels of my forty-some-odd years of life experience on love and loss thus far and what is to come. I cried for the journey that lies ahead for DD--what love and loss she will come to know and live. I cried for the meaningless injustice of cancer--the lives it took and what Life have been robbed of those that are left behind. I cried for the privilege of having been able to love and having been loved. I cried for the fortune of my blessed, rich life.

That pathetic wad of napkins had no chance.

I knew that this was another one of my very special moments shared with DD, even though it was just the two of us watching a movie. And when Hazel and her mom embraced after a heart-to-heart shouting match, my mama bear heart exploded and I cursed at the wad of wet napkins--unrecognizable because it had been torn into mushy pieces many times over--too weak to handle the weight casted upon these fragile apron strings.

After the movie, I thought back to the time DD and I watched Ramona and Beezus, when her defined cheekbones were still masked under her round, bouncy cheeks--when she was just a young tendril unfurling and reaching for anchor. Now, she is a woman child, about to fully grasp and support her Self, on the cusp of adolescence, teetering between a girlhood of silly giggles and a young adulthood of delicate modesty.

Oh, how Time slays me.

As for DD, who watched the movie with a book critic's eye, used her age-appropriate analytical brain rather than the cognitive emotional brain of an older adolescent. My little girl, who claimed that she almost cried, didn't need that single napkin after all. Like I said, she's not quite there yet. But she will be. She's just starting out and there's a long road of feels ahead. And if she's anything like her mama, one day, she will cry Niagara Falls, too.

But I know that some things will never change, even when the movie titles do. We'll always have our movie dates, and there will always be movies that stand out for us. Most importantly, no matter how tall she gets or how mature she becomes, she'll still be my little girl and my Star upon shiny Stars.


Friday, July 11, 2014


Summer school is over and my summer has officially begun. Like a little kid who has all the time in the world and no obligations whatsoever, I've been indulging in Summer Bliss.

Not surprisingly, I've been busy in the kitchen. I've reacquainted myself with my oven, oven mitts, measuring cups and spoons, stand mixer, stove, cookware, and the pantry, and I even have fresh ingredients in the fridge and from the backyard The Farm to work with.

Bliss, I tell ya. Bliss.

Today I will share three recipes with you (because three is my favorite number). Three recipes that only require three ingredients each. It doesn't get any easier, but you'll also be surprised at how good they are with only three ingredients.

First up, if you have these three things in your pantry, you are ready to make healthful Banana Oatmeal Cookies:
  • bananas
  • oatmeal
  • chocolate chips

All you need to do in three easy steps:
  1. Mash up 2 dead ripe bananas, add a cup of oatmeal, and stir in a 1/4 cup of chocolate chips. 
  2. Drop by spoonfuls on a GREASED cookie sheet or a Silpat. 
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until slightly browned. 

If YOU can't help YOURSELF and eat all 15 cookies in one day (ahem), YOU will have eaten 2 bananas, a cup of oatmeal, and a handful of chocolate chips. How healthful are YOU?

(I got this recipe originally from a friend who shared this post on Facebook, and I've made it as many times as I've had dead bananas falling off my banana stand.)

Next up is Blueberry Coconut Ice Cream. All you need is:
  • coconut milk (full fat version)
  • blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • agave syrup

To make (again, in three easy steps):
  1. Blend 2 cans of coconut milk, 3 cups of blueberries, and 1/4 cup of agave syrup in a blender. 
  2. Churn mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. 
  3. Freeze for a few hours and voila! 

And because I had some extra mixture, and I COULDN'T WAIT for all the freezing hours, I got a quick version in my Zoku slushy maker. And it tastes like summer on the beach. And I love the beautiful purple color studded with seeds. It is high in antioxidants, naturally sweet, and best of all, lactose-free! My kind of ice cream!

(This recipe is a hybrid of many homemade ice cream recipes online. A trial-and-error success, if you will.)

Finally, my third recipe is named Summer Bliss, and these are the three ingredients:
  • bake/cook
  • read/write
  • eat/sleep

  1. Make a Playlist named "Summer Bliss" with ingredients.
  2. Press "shuffle".
  3. Press "repeat".

Because right now, EVERYDAY IS FRIDAY.

Monday, June 30, 2014


How often do you mean to say one thing but something else entirely different comes out of your mouth? Better yet, how often do you mean to say A but say B and don't even realize it?

DH is notorious for the latter. He can have an entire conversation with you about one thing but actually mean another thing. Without even batting an eye. Cuz he doesn't even know what he did. Sometimes I wonder how he fares at work, speaking law lingo and having a major brain fart. Without knowing he did. 

DH: Put your shoes on. It's hot today, so just put on your flippers.
DD: Um, you mean flip flops?

Nine out of ten times, he'll miss these two terms:

DS: Can I have dessert now?
DH: Sure, you can have a Dum Dum. Go pick a popsicle flavor.
DS: You mean lollipop.


DH: It's good day for a lollipop. Go get one from the freezer.
DD: Popsicle!

How about...

DH: After dinner, we can go to Baskin Robbins to look at books.
Me: Um, Baskin Robbins to have ice cream or Barnes and Noble to look at books?


DH: Mama made lots of pancakes for your birthday party. You can have one now.
DD: Cupcakes, daddy, CUPCAKES!

Nowadays, whenever Daddy commits a Word Crime, the kiddos all scream about the List--the compilation of his crossed brain-to-speech wires. The one that will give birth to a blog post.

Me: I think we're out of tomato sauce!
DH: Look in the upper cabinets. There may be some potato sauce up there.
DD: Tomato sauce! Mama, put that on the list!

However, the apples don't fall too far from the tree.

DH: Which fruit would you like to eat?
DS: I'm not sure. I'm depending on apples or strawberries.
DD: Um, you mean deciding between?

Even Miss Word Police slips up once in a while! During a conversation where Daddy was telling about his new favorite music artist, Stromae, which is a syllabic inversion (ha!) of the word, maestro, this happened:

DD: Where's his name from again? The word maestro? Wait, isn't that a kind of soup?
DH: Uh, no. That's minestrone.

Yep, it happens even to the best of us.

DD: What's your favorite kind of pasta? Mine's penne.
DH: Yes, we know. I like all pastas except for angel hair pasta. It's too skinny.
Me: Yes, we know. That'd be why I never buy angel fish pasta.
DD: ANGEL FISH? Angel hair!

Yep, this is another example of my inheritance of DH's disorders via environmental institutionalization. Except sometimes it goes outside the home, too.

Student: Mrs. Chang, why is that word misspelled on the board?
Me: Because it's Friday and Mrs. Brain's Chang is full.

Uh, they knew what I meant.


Me: You kids hurry up and put on your flippers! We're going to the Y!

See? There's a good reason why we four peas belong in one Crazy Pod.

In our defense, DH was just talking about the process of brain expunging. We are getting on in age, to the point where when our brains have reached a maximum level of content storage, old things have to be expunged before new ones can enter. DH was telling me how he has to go review some files from a couple of years back in order to do some work for a current client. Because he had already expunged old contents to fit in new ones.

I can totally relate. On my elliptical machine, I must concentrate really hard to do everything I need to do. I need to tighten my abs or else my lower back will ache the next day. I need to keep flexing and releasing my right hand on the handle bar or else my fingers will fall asleep 10 minutes into my run. I have to keep wiggling my left toes or else they will fall asleep in the last 10 minutes of my run. Right hand, left toes, abs. Right hand, left toes, abs. Let's just say that the percentage of time that I can keep all three up simultaneously is only about a measly 10. The rest of the time my brain is too full cuz I'm either enjoying the music (too much), wondering how much time is left, or worrying about how my right fingers and left toes will be falling asleep.

So, EXPUNGE, rinse, and repeat.

But speaking of old age, this happened eighteen long years ago:

18 years and we're still on our way to becoming gray and wrinkly together. Oh wait, he's gray and I'm wrinkly ALREADY. I guess that means we still complement each other pretty well.

And we'll probably have a lot more expunging to do when we're both gray and wrinkly.

Monday, June 16, 2014

"Mine, Mine, Mine"

Week One of Summer School, DONE.

And I lived to tell!

The weekend before summer school began, I was a nervous wreck. It was all about not knowing what to expect. Sure, I was expecting incoming third graders, but I knew very little about the students' levels, compatibility, habits, and backgrounds. I did know a handful of kids from our school, which helped a bit, and I was excited to have them in my class.

It's been a while since I've done a #TopTen, so here's my list of the Top Ten Things I Learned from the first week of teaching summer school:

10. It gets easier. If the Sunday night before summer school was a total blank slate, then by Monday after school, the slate was 80% filled already. By the end of the first week, I've pretty much GOT THIS. And I just met a new student on Friday who is joining us on Monday, but even that's no biggie now.

9. Planning. I realized that I was trying to squeeze way too much into a 4-hour day, so I swiped a few lessons or simply pushed them back into the days ahead. The thing about summer school is that it is pretty much up to the teachers what to teach, so I tried my darnedest to find appropriate, common core standard-aligned, and interesting materials to teach. It's like pulling things out of thin air if you ask me. But I've got my resources (teachers and internet), and I thank them very much. Last week I was planning day by day. This week, I'm pretty much all set.

8. Kids need to move. When I student-taught back in the days, my cooperating teacher did daily exercises with her class. The kids loved it and always looked forward to it. Now, we have a sleuth of technology for everything, so instead of simple squats and leg lifts, we now have YouTube. We've been doing the Sid Shuffle for days, and the kids are enamored with it. Three minutes is all it takes!

7. Daily Read-Aloud. We are reading the book, The World According to Humphrey, a chapter a day. It is about a classroom pet hamster named Humphrey, told from his point of view. I am surprised at how much I'm enjoying reading this to the kids, as I do my squeaky impersonation of Humphrey while the kids LAUGH-LAUGH-LAUGH at me. And I am surprised at how well-behaved the kids are during the readings. They do crack up whenever Humphrey talks about his "poo," though, as one would expect from goofy 8-year-olds.

 Go to

6. Nostalgia. I did these Pasta Art Butterfly Life Cycle with my first class of second graders 15 years ago. So of course I wasn't going to give up the chance of doing it again with these summer school kids! First we read nonfiction texts on life cycles, compared life cycles of salamanders, frogs, and butterflies, and then concluded the lesson with the Pasta Art Butterfly Life Cycle. I colored the pasta shapes the night before (ditalini, rotini, shells, and bow tie) in half-alcohol-half-water and food coloring, and the kids used them to create a life cycle of egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. This isn't a rare or extraordinary project by any means, but it's one very close to my heart. And it's colorful and informative, no?

Click on photo to see details.

5. "How many more minutes?" And always followed by the words, "until recess." (In summer school, the most popular question is not "Can I go to the nurse?") At which time I just produce my most innocent look, break into my my biggest smile, and say, "I have no idea!"

4. Encouragement. A little encouragement goes a long way. Finding something positive--however minor or trivial--to say to kids really makes a big difference. It's hard to do for some kids who aren't apt to finish their work or follow directions, but I believe that the students most difficult to say positive things to are the ones who need it the most.

3. "Mine." I haven't been able to say this for a while, but this is my class and these are my students. Their well-being is my responsibility. Their achievement is my pride. And their laughter is my smile. Just take it from these seagulls from Finding Nemo:

2. Reward. I grew up immersed in the Confucian mindset of humility; the proper Asian way of responding to compliments is to deny them (confidence-boosting much?). But I've also lived in this culture long enough to have learned to simply say "thank you" when someone says something nice to me. I've had several compliments come my way since summer school started, from students and parents alike. It's just a wonderful feeling to know that my effort is paying off. Coincidentally, I've also learned that my perfectionist instincts prove to be no more than superfluous, time-wasting feats that can be quite unnecessary. But baby steps. At least I have the luxury of time to waste this summer <blush>.

And, finally,

1. That this is SO my thing. It's taken some time to get back into the act of teaching--standing in front of kids and presenting academic materials. But now I find it inexplicably comforting to be in a classroom full of kids, to be the facilitator of learning, the setter of examples, and the mother hen of these wide-eyed children. Don't get me wrong--it's not all always easy; there are excruciating times, challenging kids, and moments where my blood pressure is in danger zone. But among these little (most-of-the-time) kindred spirits, it's really my privilege. Especially when I'm given the gifts of smiles, achievements, and flowers.

One week down, two-and-a-half more to go.