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Moments of Courage

This post is about courage. When I think about all the difficult days I've had in my life, and all the incredible obstacles I've had to overcome in my life and in my teaching career, that would be a long, long, story.  
Moments of Courage: This post tells about an experience that showed me what I have worked for mattered in the life of a young lady.

The most difficult obstacle I've ever had to overcome was when my husband left me. I had to pull myself and my 2 1/2 year old daughter together and forge ahead. I'd tell the details about that, but it's far too personal to post online. All I can say is that I buried myself into my job and into being a mom, and I'm still here.  


I could tell about my stroke, but I've already done that.  (See When Bad Things Happen, Make Lemonade.) Instead, I wanted to tell you about a lesson I had, when I really knew the importance of making it through every day in the classroom, and giving each child everything you can.

I've been teaching long enough to see many of my students grow up to become adults, even wives, husbands, and parents. 

Unfortunately, I've been around long enough to see a few pass on.
By far, the worst, was a beautiful young lady with a 6 month old son, who was shot in front of the child by the child's father. I had Crystal when she was in 5th grade.  She wasn't a brilliant scholar, but she was a good kid who loved to read. Like many, math didn't come easily, but she worked hard. She was a very social 10 year old girl, and didn't hesitate to write to me in her journal about which boys she thought were cute and her frequent crushes. I always wrote back. I honestly don't even remember what I wrote, but I made sure she knew I cared.

Crystal went off to middle school and high school, and I never really heard from her, but I thought about her from time to time, especially when I'd heard she had a baby.

Then... the horrible news. I saw the story on the news and read about it in the paper. I knew I had to go to the wake, although it was tough. I remember seeing photographs of Crystal, several were taken around the time I had her in class. 

I'll never forget the look in her mother's eyes when I shook her hand at the wake and reminded her I was Crystal's teacher in 5th grade. I also remember how the mother clung to my hand, and wondering if she'd let it go.  

Finally, I left of the wake and started walking back to my car. A girl about the same age came running over to me saying, "Ms. DeCost, I'm so glad you came! You were Crystal's favorite teacher!"

I can still see her running over to me and saying those words. It's moments like this that remind me that everything we do may matter in the life of some child. I'm glad I gave Crystal everything I could. I really hope I made a difference in her life.
Moments of Courage: This post tells about an experience that showed me what I have worked for mattered in the life of a young lady.
 

Classy Mail

Ever have one of those days where you just can't come up with a writing mini-lesson, or just don't have the time to put it together? 

Classy Mail.  This is a tried and true writing activity that can be used over and over again, and it's great for the sub tub! (There's a freebie!)

Maybe it's near report card time, or you are pulled for a meeting and need to leave something easy for an Assistant. Or maybe you're going to be out and need something to leave for a substitute! 
Classy Mail.  This is a tried and true writing activity that can be used over and over again, and it's great for the sub tub! (There's a freebie!)

This activity is one I always keep in my "sub tub"! Run off the letter and envelope back to back, and you'll have a letter on one side, and the other side can be folded into an envelope. (See HERE or see the image for the link to this resource.)
 
Classy Mail.  This is a tried and true writing activity that can be used over and over again, and it's great for the sub tub!

I like to start off by having each student fold and address an envelope to himself/ herself. We have the "Wee Deliver" program in my school, where children mail their letters in a "real" mailbox, and once a week, students work with a parent volunteer to process and deliver that mail. Everyone in the school has an "address" according to their classroom. (My street is "Broadway", as I'm a big musical theater fan!) Even if you don't have this program, you can assign a "class address" for each child, since using home addresses might not be recommended for privacy purposes.

For younger students, the envelopes can be pre-addressed. My second graders struggle to remember all the parts of an address, so I make several copies for each child and keep them for "those days". (Another advantage to this activity... it can be repeated over and over!)

Once the envelopes are addressed, the teacher collects them, and shuffles them. Then the children choose one of the envelopes (making sure they don't get their own) and write a letter to that person.

With younger students, I spend some time making sure the children have ideas for letter writing. We brainstorm a list, which I keep in the view of the children. I'll spell key words for them, and make sure they have plenty of ideas.

If someone is absent, I'll have early finishers write to them, or even better, I write to them myself. 

I find this activity to be rewarding for all involved: it's easy on the teacher's valuable planning time, the children enjoy interacting with each other, and it has "built in feedback"! When the children get the letters, they respond! If they enjoy the letter, that's feedback! If they have trouble reading the letter, that's feedback, too. Honestly, when the children have a captive audience of a classmate or friend, they tend to focus on writing so their audience will enjoy it!  
 
Brain research tells us that authentic feedback is the best feedback of all. It also tells us that interaction with others and activities with true meaning are motivating to children. What's more motivating than passing notes in class... writing letters to classmates?
Classy Mail.  This is a tried and true writing activity that can be used over and over again, and it's great for the sub tub! (There's a freebie!)

Music in the Classroom

I play a lot of music for a lot of reasons. Sometimes I play "fun music", just to lift the spirits of my students. I find I need to do this a lot in the morning, since they come into the classroom sleepy. Fun music usually brings smiles to their faces, and that's a great way to start the day, isn't it? (Click any image for a link to Amazon.)

      
I have loads of collections of Party Music just for this purpose. I don't yet have these yet, but I'm looking to add them to my collection!

                                
I also like to play quieter music, for those other times when they really need to concentrate on their work. I bought Music for Concentration years ago, and I play it often. Sometimes I even play it when the kids are gone, during my planning time. It really helps. This company has several others along the same lines, including Music for Productivity (Which I have, and love!). Music for Learning (which I want!), and Music for Thinking (which I also want!) 

 I also like to play music connected to what's going on in the world, or connected to what we're learning. 

  
Around every patriotic holiday, I play patriotic music. I have loads of great music for those days! 

  
When I was celebrating the Olympics, this CD came in handy. The children loved listening to the National Anthems of other countries. Of course, when our own national anthem played, we always stood up, no matter what we were doing! 

  
I play this around St. Patrick's Day. 

  
I play this around Cinco de Mayo. 

Music helps make a real connection to whatever children are learning.
What music do you play in your classroom?

For the 35th Time, Ending on a Monday

I just finished my 35th year of teaching, and I am proud to say I enjoyed another year.  I not only survived, but I'm happy about how it went!

I'm kind of glad our last day turned out to be on a Monday. I know it seems silly to come back to school for just a Monday (especially since it's a half day) but I really liked the way it turned out.


The week before school got out was crazy.  My report cards were due for inspection at the beginning of the week, so I worked all the previous weekend on those.  (The report cards we use are quite complicated, and really do take that long!)  Then I spent my afternoons planning my End of Year Academic Olympics activities, and tried to find some time to get ahead on end of the year packing. At home, in the evenings, I was typing up this year's Memory book.


I was determined to stay Friday evening until the custodians kicked me out at 11:00.  I had dreams of having the whole room completely packed up except for the few things I'd need on Monday.  My "gentleman friend" (I'm far too old to have a "boyfriend") came to help at about 4:45, and I was pretty wiped out by then.  Most of the school supplies were in boxes, and I had set aside the few things I'd need for the last day, but the place was a mess, with a lot to be done.  He was amazing, piling boxes, carrying stuff to my car, and keeping my spirits up.  We finally called it quits at 6:15, when I was pretty much a vegetable.  But my room was in good shape.



Our last story for the year!
I had no school work to do all weekend... that was a very strange feeling!  My report cards were done, printed, folded and packed.  My cumulative folders were stuffed and marked.  I was all planned for Monday, and my only paper work - the Memory books - were run off and waiting.

By the time Monday came, I was rested! I wasn't stressed about finishing the packing, since I really got a lot done on Friday.  So I got to enjoy the last day with my students!!!!  I honestly don't remember a "last day" where I wasn't overtired and stressed about finishing.


It's a quick day, so I didn't want to waste any time with the children.  As they came in, I had them work with partners on individual whiteboards.  Some played hangman, some played Tic-tac-toe.  As long as they were thinking, I was fine!


We had our morning meeting, and I read them one last story, then showed them their Memory books.  After choosing a gel pen color of their choice (I bought a selection of 24 colors) I gave them 15 minutes of Independent Reading time. I insisted they spend some time alone reading the memory book before the conversations/ autographing began. They were fun to watch when it came to autographing each Memory book.  I also got to autograph most of them, which I was glad to do.


What's in the memory books? A couple of weeks ago, I asked the children to write a comment about each of their classmates.  I also asked them for their favorite things about second grade, favorite things about the school, and ideas for things to do during summer vacation.  Since not all children were allowed to be photographed, I took the photo for the cover of their hands (idea from Pinterest!) And I took a picture of each child holding their favorite book... in front of their face.  I wasn't about to have all the children's pictures except one!  Here's my picture from the Memory book, with their comments for me beside it.

This is my "picture", and what the children had to say about me.

At 10:00, our PTA has a tradition for the last day of school:  ice cream sundaes!  We lined up for the last day of school tradition (Thank you PTA!) and enjoyed our last recess together.  I gave the children some time for centers when we got back.  I had a few books still out so they could have partner reading time.  I kept out the math cards so they could play math games, and the white boards were still out for playing Hangman.  No brilliant skills were discovered on this last day, but they were involved in activities to practice the skills they've learned, and I got to enjoy them for one last day.  At 11:45, we all lined up for our 5th graders' final walk, then they went off on their buses for the last time this school year.

It was completely a fabulous day.  I eventually finished packing my room, and checked out for the school year.  I've done a lot of sleeping since, and I'm starting to catch up on the housework I haven't done in months.  But it was a very good day.

I thought you'd like a little freebie from my kids.  Here's a copy of their "Things to do during summer vacation so the TV won't suck out your brain" list!  Enjoy!

Let the Games Begin!

We had the first day of our Academic Olympics today, and we all had a great time!
Let the games begin! This post tells about a great way to maintain academics at the end of the school year and have some fun by adding an Olympics theme. (It also works well in summer school.) Plus, there's a freebie!

We started with our Opening Ceremony first thing in the morning. The children were dressed in their country's color, and carried their banners and flags. I also had my teacher assistant carry the Olympic Torch and an Olympic flag. The countries lined up in alphabetical order, just like they will in July in London. I carried the American flag at the end of our parade, after all, that's where the "host nation" always goes. We marched up and down all the hallways. Many of the other students and teachers peeked out of their classrooms to wish us well.

When we got back to the room, we made a big circle with all the countries. Each academic athlete touched the Olympic flag while they recited the Olympic Oath and the Olympic Creed. (I copied these almost word for word from what they use at the Olympics, with a few slight changes. I added the word "academic" in front of sports, and I left out the part about performance enhancing drugs.)

After the Oath and the Creed, I had all academic athletes shake hands with each other and say the words: Let the games begin!

We held several contests today! The team events we had:
  • brainstorming
  • math puzzle 
  • banner design
  • reading endurance (they earned points for the team if they were focused on reading when I checked)
  • Group phonics scoot
Then we also had a couple of individual events:
  • reading with expression (Judged in 4 categories... volume, expression, clarity, and presentation)
  • math facts (both addition and subtraction)


Then we had medal ceremonies! I let the first place winners stand on chairs, and as that country's national anthem played, I placed medals around their necks. I still get all goose bumpy when I think of their faces as I placed the ribbons around their necks... they even did that little "head dip" to allow me to get the ribbon around them, and they picked it up and looked at it proudly, just as I've seen Olympic athletes do! (I'm a sucker for ritual, and the kids really loved it!)

Well, it was a VERY busy day, and we still have more tomorrow! I wanted to share a couple of papers I made up for my Olympics, just in case you get any inspiration for end of the year activities, or summer fun! Explore the image or HERE for your freebie!
Let the games begin! This post tells about a great way to maintain academics at the end of the school year and have some fun by adding an Olympics theme. (It also works well in summer school.) Plus, there's a freebie!
For a more complete resource, explore HERE.
 
Let the games begin! This post tells about a great way to maintain academics at the end of the school year and have some fun by adding an Olympics theme. (It also works well in summer school.) Plus, there's a freebie!

Looking for a little more Academic/ Olympic fun? Try these No Prep activities with a Summer Games theme!
 
Let the games begin! This post tells about a great way to maintain academics at the end of the school year and have some fun by adding an Olympics theme. (It also works well in summer school.) Plus, there's a freebie!

How do you keep the excitement going while keeping academics in focus?




Let the games begin! This post tells about a great way to maintain academics at the end of the school year and have some fun by adding an Olympics theme. (It also works well in summer school.) Plus, there's a freebie!

A Proper Farewell

We have a lovely tradition on our last day of school.

Since our school is K - 5, we get ready to say goodbye to our fifth graders. Just before it's time to leave, all K - 4 students and teachers line the hallways.  We do collect quite a few parents as well.  When everyone is in place, the fifth grade teachers walk their students down the hall for the very last time.  We give them plenty of applause.  After all, they worked hard for their 6 years at our school, they deserve the applause.  Many are emotional.  They know this is a place where they were loved.  Who knows what will happen when they get to middle school?

After the fifth graders have made their final walk, all the other classes walk down the hallway for the final time of the year.  Everyone goes out to wave goodbye.  None of the buses leave until everyone is ready.  The children hang out the window waving, many are crying.  They are chanting all the naughty chants they know they shouldn't do, but can get away with on the last day.  Finally, the buses start to drive away, with the bus drivers beeping, the kids chanting, the teachers waving.  It's a little crazy, but it's definitely a happy/ sad/ sentimental time for us all!

I've been teaching in this school for 27 years now, and we've had our "Grade Five Send Off" for close to 20 of those years.  I can honestly say I haven't had one "Grade Five Send Off" where I wasn't in tears.

One nice thing about being a teacher in the lower grades is that you get to watch the kids grow up, even when they are no longer in your class. By the time they make that final walk down the hall, most of them are taller than I am, and have grown in many ways!  It's hard to say goodbye.

I also find it's hard to say goodbye to their families as well.  After all, by the end of 5th grade, I've known them for 4 years! If I've had siblings, I've known them longer than that!

I'm lucky to work where I work!

What's your last day of school like?

Learn About the World with Flat Stanley!

My students learned about Flat Stanley this year! 

Learn About the World with Flat Stanley! This post contains ideas, books, information, links, and a freebie about getting Flat Stanley to help your students learn about Geography!


It's a great project. We send tagboard copies of Flat Stanley home, and the families either take Stanley someplace, or they send him to someone somewhere in the world.

 

In case you've never heard the story, Flat Stanley had a bulletin board fall on him. He wasn't hurt at all, but ended up quite flat. Luckily for us, he was flat enough to put himself in an envelope and send himself anywhere he wants! 


Children can make their own Flat Stanley, and send him to various places around the globe. I've seen pictures of Flat Stanley near a variety of landmarks with a variety of famous people. In fact, I've even seen Flat Stanley with the President and on the Golden Gate Bridge!


So we made our Flat Stanleys and sent them out. Stanley was due back in town by June 1st, so we started sharing stories Friday during Social Studies.


It was a great project. Children came back with pictures and notes from Stanley from a variety of places. Flat Stanley has been fishing in the Adirondacks, playing in North Carolina, touring in Disney, even exploring forts in Puerto Rico! We haven't seen all the responses yet, as we just started sharing on Friday, but there are a few more to share on Monday, and I suspect there are a few more coming in. (Rumor has it Stanley was seen somewhere in Asia, and was running late for our June 1st deadline!)

 

Being the reflective person that I am, I've been wondering how I can make the project better for next year. I started by retyping the letter I used. I added more information and attached a website with samples, ideas, and activities for the kids. I made a point to mention that this was a geography project, which I neglected the first time, and it let to a couple of "mystery adventures." Luckily, we solved the mysteries. I've attached the letter with blanks for you to fill in as a freebie here or see the image below.

Learn About the World with Flat Stanley! This post contains ideas, books, information, links, and a freebie about getting Flat Stanley to help your students learn about Geography!
 Be sure to visit this website  (www.flatstanleybooks.com/) to learn more about what you can do with Flat Stanley. You can even download your own Flat Stanley from this website! Plus, there are plenty of great photos of Flat Stanley. All images of Flat Stanley books on this page are affiliate links to Amazon.

Enjoy!

Learn About the World with Flat Stanley! This post contains ideas, books, information, links, and a freebie about getting Flat Stanley to help your students learn about Geography!
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