Face it…you aren’t allowed to have a bad day

In many other jobs, if you’re having a bad day, there’s usually somewhere you can hide.  Turn off the phones for a bit.  Take a long break.  Shoot, go sit in the bathroom for awhile.  You really don’t have that option as a fifth-grade teacher.

I have a very small amount of time to capture my kids’ imaginations.  Part of that is the old adage that they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.  So here you are on your A-game for the first part of the year while you’re energized, investing in the kids, making them want to be at school, and building respect and rapport.  You’re getting notes and emails from parents amazed that for the first time ever their child wants to come to school in the morning. That fragile child who has never opened up to anyone, sees you as that adult they finally trust.

And then you’re having a bad day.  And that kid who trusts you, but also hasn’t put his name on a paper all year, doesn’t have his name on his paper AGAIN!  Your day has been junk and your patience is limited.  And out of your mouth comes that comment that expresses your annoyance with his behavior, and you immediately undo ALL the progress you’ve made with him.  You realize instantly and pull him aside.  You try to explain you were having a bad day.  You’re sorry.

You have now become another adult he can’t trust.

Face it…you aren’t allowed to have a bad day.  But, regardless of our superhero powers, we do have bad days.  So, what do we do about them.

Tell them up front.  Kids are amazingly forgiving if they know ahead of time that you aren’t yourself that day.  Be honest and tell them, “I’m having a bad day.  Please be patient with me today if I mess up.”  Not only will they forgive you easier if you slip, your honesty, if you’ve developed respect and rapport, will most likely buy you a calmer class than normal. I know this flies in the face of many of the “experts.”  They say your students should have no idea of your mood because you should have a game face on.  Yeah, right.  That advice is written by “educators” who haven’t been in a classroom for years.  Be honest with your students.  They know when you’re lying anyway.

Elvis In the House

This may seem disjointed at first, but hang with me.

1) I’ve been an Elvis fan as long as I can remember.  My mom was an Elvis fan.  It was the most natural thing in the world to also be an Elvis fan.  Fortunately, my best friend was also an Elvis fan.  We would put on concerts in his play room.  Stereo blasting, he would be belting out Elvis and I was singing the part of back up J.D. Sumner. Well, belting the bass parts as well as an 8-year old can.  It never left me as I got older.  My brother-in-law gave me a life-size stand up of Elvis in his gold lame suit.  It now greets my students at the door.

2) Last year was easily the worst year of my career. Too many changes.  Too much flowing from upstream that I had absolutely no control over.  I pursued teaching in my thirties.  I felt called.  It was an irresistible call.  And then last year actually made me question if I was still supposed to be teaching.  It was that bad.  Just when I needed it last year, former students dropped by to see me.  One brought the most incredible framed photos of us when she was in 5th grade and one of us when she was a senior at her soccer teacher appreciation night. Those visits began to push aside the horrible year I was having.

3) On our first teacher day this year, our new vice principal had us write down our favorite memory of when we were in school.  Then he challenged us to figure out what it was about that memory that made it so special.  For me, it was Mr. Clark’s class.  It was special because of the relationship we had.  We examined this some more and made the connection that the relationships are what I strive for with my students.  Some teachers strive to present challenges.  Some strive for perfect lesson plans.  For me though, it’s relationships.  I want my kids to want to come to school, to enjoy every minute there, even when they struggle.

So, imagine the confirmation when I checked my email this morning and found an email from a former student in her first year of education classes in college.  She had an assignment to write about a former teacher.  She thought I would like to see the essay.

Forgive me the indulgence of putting this out there.  But this is why I teach.  This is affirmation of what I do.

Elvis Presley was My Fifth Grade Teacher:
The Teacher Who is My Inspiration
(Name removed)
Miami University

Fifth grade was a difficult concept to grasp. I was leaving my beloved elementary school that I could easily walk to for a large middle school with strange teachers and even more students. My parents said I had nothing to worry about but I knew within my gut that fifth grade would be an abhorrent experience. That was until I switched to my language arts and social studies class where I entered a room of books that filled two whole book cases, maps placed all around the white boards at the front of the room, and a tiny window draped with Elvis Presley curtains. Wait, Elvis Presley? “Who is that,” asked my unenlightened fifth grade brain. As my brain continued to wonder, Mr. Kesselring introduced himself and changed the way I thought about school for the rest of my life. Mr. K and Elvis helped me to define my passions as a student, to never be afraid to demonstrate those passions, and to keep one goal in mind: to inspire.
Mr. K was an amazing teacher in every way (and still is). He genuinely cared about the wellbeing and needs of his students. He used many examples, some of them Elvis related, and told lots of stories that helped explain topics we were going over in class. This helped me to better comprehend the subjects and eased my anxiety of not being able to keep up with the class. One of my favorite moments in Mr. K’s class was during our social studies part of class and we must have been going over the voyage of Lewis and Clark because Mr. K had sent one of the students in my class on a bogus journey across the white boards. I don’t remember all of the details but I remember how much I enjoyed that particular lesson and how hard my class and I laughed. Mr. K was also an excellent reader. I already had a deep love for reading but Mr. K was the first teacher I had that expressed emotion as they read a story aloud. We read a terribly sad book about a dog and Mr. K had started crying. His emotions helped me to realize that stories are just more than words on a page—they are there for any one person to completely delve in and comprehend the author’s true message. Just the way Mr. K taught or spoke sometimes resonated deep within me how passionate one person could be about anything! He truly opened my mind to a world of wonder and possibilities.
Now how did I come to call Mr. Kesselring Elvis? Most know that Elvis Presley was a truly amazing artist and inspired many to follow their own passions in the music industry. Well, Mr. K is my Elvis Presley. He is the true reason as to why I am becoming a teacher. He helped me to realize that fifth graders have so much potential and how much more impressionable they are than other grades, thus being the reason why I want to teach fifth graders. And now that I am in college and I reflect back upon my earlier teachers, Mr. K fully embodies the ideal teacher: someone who listens, respects, understands, and most importantly, cares about each student and what they embody at such a young age. I want to be that exact same teacher. Finally, Mr. K gave me one central goal to focus on as a teacher: to simply inspire. To inspire all of or at least one young mind that I encounter in years to come to encompass that they are someone who can change the world or the world around them. Thank you Mr. Kesselring, for everything.

If you’re a teacher and read my blog, go out and inspire your kids.  And if they’re only your students and not your kids…start right there.



Bubblegum and lockdowns

2014-08-27 10.01.09What a crazy day today!  In the midst of teaching theme, we had a lockdown that basically lasted from 11:30 till 3:00. Police escorting the buses at dismissal.  Pretty sure we made the national news. Craziness.

ANYWAY.  So the subject was theme today.  On my side I gave direct instruction with guided notes about theme. I started with a humorous hook of fables and their morals.  Humorous, you ask.  In a room full of fifth graders, it gets rather giggly when you are reading about the Donkey and the Lion’s Skin.  Just remember, when Aesop was writing, they didn’t call them donkeys.

After the right side notes, I gave them some cutouts from Grade 5 Reading Notebook by Nicole Shelby.  They were a gumball machine and five gumballs.  The gumball machine has the definition of theme formed as a question on it.  The idea is that just as blowing too big of a gumball can create a sticky situation, theme is what sticks with you after you read.  That idea gets carried through to the gumballs.

On their side, the processing side, they had to look back over their notes and pick the five things that needed to stick with them from the information.  This forces them to prioritize the notes.  To do that, they really need to think them through.

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Today’s hiccup…Apparently there isn’t a whole lot of new material in the 5th grade version compared to the 4th grade version.  A portion of the kids who all had the same 4th grade teacher said they had these same cutouts last year.  I thought maybe the teacher had been challenging her students with the 5th grade book.  But alas, she told me she has the 4th grade version.  I’m hoping it doesn’t all repeat.


Frayer Models In the Notebooks

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Here is a page we started Friday and the kids completed over the weekend.  On my page on the right is an introduction to affixes and word roots.  I used their page to introduce Frayer models.  If you aren’t familiar with Frayer models, they are an in-depth vocabulary graphic organizer, and they are on of the recommended Marzano strategies to focus on similarities and differences. A typical Frayer model has the word in the middle, a definition in the upper left, an illustration in the upper right, examples in the lower left, and non-examples in the lower right.

Because improving my scores in acquisition of vocabulary is a target for me this year, I tweaked the definition box.  In addition to a  standard definition, they have to break the word into parts and define each, prefix, root, and suffix that makes up the word.  I also have lowered the center oval to create a larger area for the definition and the illustration.  I supplied the kids with one model and then they were responsible for recreating it the second time.

To extend them on this page, they had to use two of the three word parts (prefix, suffix, and root word) for their center word.  They were allowed to use any resource to find the meanings of pre-, suf-, fix,root, and word.  I let them work together to break the words into parts and find the definitions, but solo on the rest of the Frayer model.


Trouble spot:

When we set up our notebooks, I followed the advice on many of the websites to have the kids prenumber their pages to 100.  I made the mistake of assuming 5th graders knew left from right and could follow simple directions as to setting up the notebooks.  Now we have numbered pages that don’t match my running example and kids putting my materials on their side and then having to do their work on my side.  If I hadn’t had them number all the way through, we could tear out pages and glue them again. The Elmer’s really does its job.  Once the pages are in there, you aren’t getting them out unless you catch it right away. Next year, I’ll know to monitor that much more closely.

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Interactive Student Notebooks

Last year I started researching interactive student notebooks.  I have always used a quick-write notebook, but this strategy takes that a bit farther.  I teach 5th grade ELA.  This blog will be an attempt to chronicle our notebooks’ successes and mistakes.  Hopefully someone out there will read this and have some input.

One thing that is necessary is a sturdy notebook.  Many sites recommended the small, old-style composition books.  I considered those, but the drawback was everything I copied for the kids would have to be cut down.  One site recommended Mead 5-Star notebooks.  I looked at those and decided to go with them.  My preference is the 3-subject, college ruled with the plastic sleeve cover.  It has multiple pockets inside.  I purposely went with the college ruled to rein in some of my sloppier kids.  That spacing is new to them and forces them to concentrate on bringing their writing under control to fit the lines.




The plastic sleeve on the front is great because I have the kids personalize their notebooks with a custom cover.  Rather than tape it on the front where it can get snagged on the edges, they simply slide it in the sleeve.  After personalizing the cover, the last page of the book becomes the author page.  I shared several different versions of an author page for examples.  My favorite is Casey at the Bat, a Caldecott Honor Book illustrated by Christopher Bing.  He adds personal touches and an illustration of himself.

I gave the kids three table of contents sheets to glue into the first three pages. More on the glue in a moment.  The contents pages had three columns: Skill, Standard, and Page Number.  After the contents, they began numbering their pages, starting with 1 on the left side.

Glue.  Elmer’s.  Don’t mess with glue sticks.  Elmer’s is made for this.  I showed the kids a die and explained that the pips on it were exactly the amount of glue needed to stick each corner into their notebook.  You DON’T want them to cover the page like they’re putting ketchup on a hamburger.  It’s unnecessary and makes the the paper gooey, causing it to rip when they try to write on it.


The right side of the notebook is for whatever I present in class to them.  The left side is where they do their work. Where they digest and transform the material.  I require them to use 2 colors on my side and 5 colors on their side.  Deciding how best to use the color makes them think about the material more in depth.



The first thing we added to our notebooks was close reading.  It is central to Common Core and much of what we’ll do all year will center around it.  In the photo above, I gave them our annotating marks on the right side (Mr. K’s side).  We then did some practice with close reading on a handout.  The next step was to complete the left side of the notebook (their side).  I gave them a simple t-chart with “what it’s like” on one side and “what it isn’t like” on the other.  The left side is a great place for Marzano strategies.  Finding similarities and differences is the one that shows the most gain, and I plan to use variations of it all year long.  After finding five of each, they then had to illustrate one of the items from the chart in the space below.

So far I love the notebooks.  They are a slow process to get started, however.  Just like any procedure you want the kids to do all year, it is worth the time at the beginning of the year to teach them to do this the way you want it.

Thanks for stopping by.  Please, if you have experience with interactive student notebooks, join in the conversation.  This blog will be all things middle school, but will have a lot of my experiences with the notebooks.


Mr. K