Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Back to Work I Go

I made a very brief mention last week that I had gone back to work. This has been an interesting experience all around, for several reasons. The decision wasn’t made lightly, but it was made sort of last minute.

The original plan had always been to return to work at the start of the 2015-2016 school year. Babycakes would be a year old, and my mom would be retiring soon after the start of the school year, making the baby’s full-time stint at daycare relatively short. I was never in any sort of panic about this plan, as I would be returning to my own classroom, to a district, school, and grade level I knew. The biggest unknown factor was whether or not something would come up with Babycakes that would require me to put off my return to work for another year.

And then we moved to Charlotte.

The original plan needed modification. Obviously there have been HUGE changes in everyone’s lives over the past 6-8 months, and the question did come up between me and the hubs if my going back to work was going to be worth it.

Because we’re effectively 750 miles from our support system at present, it all hinged on two things: landing a position at the right school, and finding the right daycare.

Both happened. I had actually narrowed our daycare choices down to three that I was comfortable with back in May, when I first started applying and interviewing. Similarly, I had three schools I would have considered comfortable choices if offered a job.

I was offered a one-year position at my number one choice of schools.

The kicker was that I was offered this position 13 days before teachers had to be back to work.

And it was a new classroom, which meant I would literally be starting with bare walls and some furniture, and that’s about it.

It was crunch time.


I’m two weeks into the school year, and while I still feel like I’m half-assing my way through every single day, I have to think, in general, it’s going well. As the hubs predicted, it does feel good to get back to my career and socialize with people who are, you know, capable of having conversations beyond, “Give that to Mommy,” and “Nononononono…”

(Babycakes is officially a toddler. Don’t let the fact that she’s not walking yet fool you.)

At the same time, I’d sort of forgotten what it felt like to have 20-some odd kids trying to get your attention and ask for help at the same time.


And given the fact that Babycakes is STILL not sleeping through the night and has also decided that 5:30am is the PERFECT time to wake for the day, I’m surprised I haven’t started an IV of Coca Cola by now just to get through the day.

i'm tired

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is also a HUGE district with literally HUNDREDS of schools, and there is way more paperwork and procedural stuff than was ever remotely dreamed of back at my little semi-rural district in CNY. I’m still slogging through the punch list of stuff I need to take care of within the first 30 days of work.

Hide My HEad

And of course, I’ve already caught my first cold of the school year. In fairness, I could have caught it from Babycakes, who could have picked it up at daycare. Or I could’ve brought something home from school and passed it on to her. Either way, we’ve been going through a lot of Little Remedies saline nose drops.

elsa cold

The hardest part – okay, second hardest part, because the hardest part has been actually making the decision to go back to work and put Babycakes in daycare – is allocating personal time at night and on the weekends to getting myself organized. Like, I went to school on Saturday morning for almost three hours and just did mundane stuff like finally posting the daily schedule. I’d much rather be spending my free time with my family and working on writing. But until things settle down and I actually figure out what I’m doing, I don’t foresee much of that happening.

Dowager Duchess weekend

As crazy stressful as it’s been, I am glad I decided to go back to work. I’d been starting to lose myself a little bit. I worked so hard over so many years to establish my teaching career, finish two graduate degrees, and land all the certifications I was qualified for. It wasn’t something I was ready to completely walk away from. Maybe someday I will, but not yet.

And while it may just be this one year and then I’ll have to start subbing until something permanent comes back around, so be it. At least I’m getting my feet wet again and making sure my teaching chops are still in top form.

lets do this

Though the sleeping thing has got to improve. After all, you can only consume so much Coca Cola in a day.


Welcome to My 6th Grade Classroom!

Open House was this past Thursday, and in the couple of hours between dismissal and the start of Open House, I finished spiffifying my room. Would you like to take the grand tour?

My classroom is sort of the transition point between the “still a little elementary” feel of the fifth grade rooms and the “now you’re in middle school” feel of the other sixth grade rooms. But I like making it fun and homey.

Classroom setup

Please come in!


Front of the room

The daily schedule, calendar, reminders, etc.

Where Are You Magnets

The “Where Are You?” board. Each student has a magnet with their class number on it, and anytime they go somewhere in the building, they move their magnet to the appropriate place so I know, at a glance, where people are. I modified this idea from something I saw on Buzzfeed, where a similar board was made out of a cookie tin.

Classroom rules

Classroom rules, aligned to school rules, created and agreed on by my students.

SWAG and Homework

The Homework Board and a reminder that our class has S.W.A.G. (Success, Willpower, Attitude, Goals)


View of the front of the room. See my Common Core Learning Targets?

Classroom Library

Perhaps the most important part – the classroom library.

Classroom Library Sign Out

You borrow a book? Sign it out!

Literature genres

Basic literature genres.

Classroom Library

Various magazines and books of interest.

Classroom Library

I labeled every single dang book!  I also didn’t realize how messy this shelf was until after I took the picture.

So there it is! Settled into sixth grade, almost five weeks down and ready for more!










The Countdown to School Begins

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because my red pen is a little rusty from two months of disuse.

As I crawled into bed last night, my final thought before falling asleep was, “School starts three weeks from tomorrow.”

Yikes. Where did the summer go?

To be completely accurate, school actually starts, for me, three weeks from yesterday. But students start on September 4th. Given that time frame, and given that I have to completely set up a new classroom from scratch, I decided I’d best get my butt in gear.

This is going to be a year of big changes for me. About two weeks before the end of last school year, I found out I was changing grade levels. This meant that not only was I leaving second grade for sixth, I would also be changing buildings. I will not deny that there was a great deal of shock and perhaps a few tears on my part. I’d worked in the elementary school for nine years – two as a teaching assistant, and seven as a teacher. If you count the fact that I did my first student teaching placement there, it was really more like ten years.

That’s a long time to work in a school building, to develop a sense of not only camaraderie with your coworkers, but also a sense of family. Together, we went through the ups and downs of Reading First, two huge construction projects that required the relocation of classrooms to unaffected parts of the building, retirements of teachers and a principal, two reading curriculum changes within ten years of each other, and the ever changing, ever stressful advent of Common Core Curriculum Standards.

Once I got my head around the fact that this move was actually happening, I then had to figure out where to begin packing up seven years’ worth of teaching paraphernalia. June 20th found me standing in the middle of my second grade classroom, surrounded by pencil-smudged desks and empty cardboard boxes into which I would have to pack my teaching career.

A coworker and friend poked her head into my room. “Need any help?”

My response? “I’m not sure where to start.”

But I did start. I didn’t finish in an afternoon as I’d hoped. It took another full day of packing to get all my personal belongings sorted out from school and grade level materials. I had ten boxes of classroom library books alone. Another five or six held the rest of my stuff. (I guess that hints to you how I prioritize personal classroom spending.) And as I stood there, staring at my boxes and bins and baskets, I could only send up a prayer that everything would make it over to the middle school without getting lost in the shuffle.

Were there more tears? You bet. It was a sad moment. But then I turned off my lights and went home, determined not to think about it until August.

Well, August is here now. I’ve had a few days of training on the new Common Core Curricula for math and ELA, and I snagged copies of the social studies books I’ll be using.

Did I mention that I get to teach World History this year? Not just a little bit of exposure here and there. Like, actually teach World History. The only thing that could make that sentence better is if World History was replaced with American History. *squees and flails*

I’m starting to get excited. The kids coming up to sixth grade this year are my second class of kindergarteners and my second class of second graders. There are a handful I’ve had twice already, and even if I didn’t have them, they know who I am. That’s what happens when you teach, by the way. You become a sort of celebrity to the kids who’ve gone through your classroom. I’m hoping that the fact that I’m not a stranger to these kids will help us get off on a really good foot. And if somebody starts acting up, I can say, “I’ve known you since you were five. Stop that.”

Unfortunately, my classroom is far from ready. That was the other thing that made moving hard. I finally, FINALLY, after five years of teaching second grade, had my classroom set up perfected. Everything had a place, and everything worked. Now I’m starting from scratch again. I don’t even have student desks in my room yet. However, after about two and a half hours of working today, I’m almost sorted. Other than the classroom library books. I’m not touching those yet, mostly because the carpenters haven’t finished installing my new shelves and everything is covered in dust.

Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I go from “Where do I start?” to “I’m ready to start.”

21 days, people.

Never Too Early to Cultivate History Geeks

While I always identify myself as a primary grade teacher, many people who know me well are often saying stuff like, “You should be teaching high school history,” because I love history so much.  I’m actually certified to teach through 9th grade in social studies, which means if I ever did move to the 7th-9th grade level, I would get to teach history all the time.

But you know what? I do get to teach history all time, despite the fact that my students are 7 and 8 years old.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. What kind of history could possibly be taught at the 2nd grade level?  Well, on the most basic level, you would be correct in assuming that there is very little to no history (American, world, or otherwise) in the NYS second grade social studies curriculum.  I mean, the general curriculum standards look at things like community and basic map skills, and being able to identify, say, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

You’d be surprised how many kids think MLK was a president.  Which is awesome, but often requires some lengthy explanations.

A couple years ago, my school started using a program called Studies Weekly, which is like those good old Weekly Readers you and I used as kids (which is still in existence by the way), except nothing but social studies.  The program covers everything from school responsibilities to the Constitution, to historical figures like Frederick Douglass, to how money and markets work.  You try explaining to a 2nd grader that when you use a credit card to buy stuff at Walmart, you still have to pay somebody something at some point.

Anyway, this program is, in my book, officially awesome.  Mostly because it has given me a launch point to hold dozens of in depth discussions about various topics in history.  The little magazines cover the most basic aspects of history, geography, and economics, but I don’t stop there.

Want to know why?  Because, my God, the QUESTIONS these kids ask!

They ask fantastic questions.  They ask me for books about the people, places, and historical events we learn about.  They want to see pictures – I’ve shown them everything from a video of a Civil War artillery demonstration to different photography collections on the Library of Congress website.

Want to know what’s even better? They remember and make connections between what we’ve talked about at different points in the year.  For example, because of the yearly calendar, we learn about MLK before we learn about Abraham Lincoln.  And we study them about a month apart.  (Well, this year was a little different – we did some Lincoln learning in September when the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was in Syracuse.)  One of my students made a very astute observation. “Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King were kinda the same because they both thought there were laws that were unfair and they tried to change them.”

Very simple, yes, and perhaps not a particularly accurate comparison.  But remember, this came from a 7 year old.

So I must now proudly admit that, over the past three years, I have manged to turn three classes of students into little budding history geeks.  There are some topics that I have to sort of simplify – I get asked every year when we talk about Abraham Lincoln, “Why did the Civil War start?”  Then that leads into showing some maps and discussing slavery, which in turn leads to lots of little horrified gasps at the idea that people were once treated like property.  Echoes and echoes of, “But that’s not fair!” ring through all those discussions.  And there’s visual relief on their faces when they discover that slavery was made illegal, even though it took a hundred more years for all people to start getting treated equally in this country.

But even though it’s sometimes necessary to “tidy up” very complex historical issues, the fact that the kids are so interested and ask about stuff in history proves that they can and should be taught about history. I’ve never believed in dumbing down instruction in case a student doesn’t understand a word or two.  When I read a book about MLK that talks about segregation, I just pause and explain what the word means.  Fortunately, many fantastic books, and other materials, have become available in recent years that offer instruction on topics in history while still being kid friendly.  It piques their curiosity.

This week, I just wrapped up my President Biography project with my class.  Each student had to choose one president (except George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, since we learn so much about them in class) to study and write a very brief biography about.  They were so excited to choose their presidents, and during reading station time and free time, they looked through the books and information about other presidents by choice.

I can’t wait to do the women’s history project at the end of this month.

Now, I do realize that most 2nd graders are naturally curious, which is why they get just as excited about finishing all 100 addition or subtraction problems on their weekly timed test as they do when I break out the magnets or read about George Washington.  And I also realize that in just a few short years, that curiosity will be stunted by the general apathy that accompanies the onset of puberty.

But maybe, just maybe, someday I’ll stumble across a former student at a Civil War reenactment who will tell me, “Mrs. Rowan, you made me love history.”

Back to School!

Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new school year.  Students don’t start until Thursday, but tomorrow and Wednesday we have staff and training days.

My favorite thing about tomorrow’s staff day?  The building is open for an hour in the afternoon so families can come in and kids can find their rooms, meet their new teachers.  This is the first time in six years that I have a class that’s completely new to second grade – no repeaters on my roster.  And only one is the younger sibling of a former student.  Lovely new batch!  I can’t wait to meet them all and get started.

I’m particularly excited to start the new school year because a coworker and I spent two days this summer developing a new writing curriculum.  It’s a true writer’s workshop format, which I’ve never been able to successfully implement before, mostly due to scheduling.  Plus, our old writing program didn’t lend itself well to the writer’s workshop format.  But I foresee great things in student literature if things work the way I hope.

I’m also implementing a version of the CAFE Method, not the full Daily 5 because I don’t have enough time in my reading block.  I guess it’s more of a Daily 3 or Daily 4 – three stations and one reading group for every student.  Fingers are crossed that it works.

So summer is over, but I’m ready to go back.  Positive thoughts!  Good things ahead!