Category Archives: Awesomeness

Reasons I Am Awesome, #8

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these and I figured I’d basically covered everything I could think of. And this one is, I’ll admit, slightly lame. Well, it’s fairly insignificant, all things considered. But I’m including it.

I go through the lunch line in the cafeteria with my students.

from John Lester’s flickr (our trays aren’t this colorful and fun)

This means I don’t just drop them at the cafeteria door and walk away. I take them in, I walk through the line with them. I don’t buy lunch but I go with them. Lunch lines are often places where kids get a bit out of control. They don’t always behave respectfully.

I figure the folks in the cafeteria aren’t paid enough (in my opinion) and the least I can do is help make their job a little easier. In addition, it’s always possible I can help my students make healthier choices when it comes to their lunches. I’m not likely to convince them to get one thing over something else and I’m not trying to. I just might be able to convince them to grab a second vegetable or a fruit rather than pass them by. (I do realize that doesn’t guarantee they eat it. But they can’t eat it if it isn’t on their tray. So…)

This hasn’t always been a part of my routine. I started doing it when I taught first graders and it was tough for them to reach certain things in the cafeteria line and they were prone to forgetting their lunch numbers. I continued it when I went to kindergarten and then to third grade because I feel it helps out. It might cost me a few minutes of my lunch time, but I can take that. I’ve been a teacher long enough that I know how to eat fairly quickly. (A sentence that will shock my parents who believe I am the slowest eater in history.)

There are many folks in a school who often are ignored. The people in the cafeteria are definitely on that list. However, they are crucial to our days. I am grateful to them and happy to do a little to help them.

Reason I’m Awesome, #6

Every month I (try to) invite families to come into our classroom to do something with us. In September I usually invite them to join us first thing in the morning for our morning meeting. It lets them see how their child starts their school day and be a part of it. We’ve had families join us to create art, play math games, share our writing, and more. I try to schedule these invitations for different times throughout the day because I know the majority of the adults in our families work. Their work schedules are not all the same so offering a variety of options throughout the year gives everyone (hopefully) some opportunity to join us.

Last night our school book fair opened. It seemed like the right time for an evening event so I invited families to come and read with their children. In the invitation I included information about the evening book fair hours so that they could do that as well, if they wished. I shared my plans with others on my hallway and two colleagues decided to jump in with me on this.

In my classroom just over half my students came with some of their family. Some had visited the book fair and couldn’t wait to dive into their new books. Others grabbed their book boxes, ready to share what they’ve been reading with their family.

The other two teachers and I had ordered pizzas and gotten juice for the evening. (It’s tough to invite families to come to school in the evening and not impact dinner time so I try, if I can, to just take away that stress.) Pizzas were eaten, juice was drunk, and many, many books were read.

We no longer have a Back to School Night (we do all of that stuff at our Open House before school starts) so I took this opportunity to give families a magnet for their fridge with the school phone number, my email address, and our class website where we post pictures regularly. I also gave every family three to six photos of their child at school in the first couple of months.

Mom and kid are reading together while big brother looks at the photos I gave them. Dad showed up a little later when he got off work.


This kid wanted to share some writing we had done this year with his mom. They did a lot of laughing together all evening.

This family got to the book fair before joining us so the older sister had a new book she could’t wait to read. (I taught her two years ago.)


The pizza was a hit!

This kid came with her older sister because mom had to work later. Dad showed up mid-way when he was able to get there. I invite ‘families’ rather than ‘parents’ because I know families don’t all look the same.

I don’t want to teach pre-schoolers but having them there last night was an absolute joy.

The chance to share our classroom, our work, and our community with families is important to me. They are a huge part of the growth my students will make this year and I want them to know I value  them and that we are a team (me, the family, and the student). Events like this give me the opportunity to talk with families without the formal structure of parent-teacher conferences. It helps build relationships that will benefit all of us all year.

Reason I’m Awesome, #5

I am addicted to books. I own far more than I’ve read or could ever manage to read (and we got rid of a significant number of books and about half our bookshelves when we moved a few years ago). I utilize my public library system frequently and with great passion. To the extent that I check out about twice as many books (or maybe three times as many) as I read. Far too often I’m returning books I haven’t cracked open.

As one example of this, these are the two packages that arrived at my house yesterday.

A book I couldn’t put on hold at the library but think might be a good read aloud for my class and a pair of leggings covered with book spines. Yup, a serious obsession with books.

The benefit to that obsession is an enormous classroom library.

That obsession also means my love and energy around books is clear to my students. This afternoon one of my students brought Real Friends over to me saying that she had finished it. I looked a little perplexed so she reminded me that some pages were falling out and I had promised to fix it when she finished. I thanked her and took the book. A few minutes later she came back to see if she could take it to another girl in our class because she wanted to read it. I immediately taped up pages and delivered it.

My students are sharing books with each other, passing them around. I know if I book talk a book at least some students will want to read it. I didn’t know that they would begin that process on their own without any support from me.

When I do book talks, usually two or three times each week, we put a post-it note on the cover of the book and list the students who want to read it. When the first person finishes it, they pass it on to the next name on the list. And on and on as needed. I’ve seen students do this on their own this year.

I believe my obsession with books means my students are more passionate readers. That makes it all worthwhile.

Reason I’m Awesome, #4

This blog experiment may be nearing an end. I may be running out of ‘reasons I’m awesome’ already. I don’t think this will be quite the therapeutic process I’d planned if I can count my reasons for awesomeness on one hand…

I take a lot of pictures at school. I’ve done this for years, long before it was as easy as carrying around your phone. My first year teaching, 1998-1999, I made a photo album at the end of the year. (I got a small, point-and-shoot camera for my high school graduation and I’ve been taking pictures fairly regularly ever since.) About a decade ago I started a blog for my class. A way to share our at-school lives with families. Taking pictures gained a new purpose then.

A few years after that I began printing out some pictures, just on the printer, to hang up in our classroom. We had one of those big coat closets on wheels and the back of it was one of the first things you saw as you walked in our classroom. So I covered it with pictures throughout the year. When I took them down I gave them to kiddos to keep.

When it became fairly cheap to print actual photographs, rather than just pictures on paper, I began doing that. The photos are fun and welcoming decorations as well as great reminders of our learning and our community.

Last year another teacher passed these small frames on to me. You can write on them with dry erase markers, which I am hoping we’ll do later this week. We’ll see…

The 8X10 frames I got super cheap with the plan to display photos in them. Today was the first day all six had photos. In the first week of school I had pictures of families at our open house in the little frames along the top and in three of the 8X10s. The other little frames had photos from the first day of school.

Today I took all those out and put new ones in and hung up the other three 8X10 frames. The photos I took out will go home with kiddos in their Wednesday folders this week, both the small photos and the 8X10s.

My own daughters went to the school in which I taught for many years in elementary school. It was wonderful for myriad reasons. One thing I miss is that I always knew what was going on. Not every detail of their days by any means, but a good sense of what their daily lives at school were like. My oldest is a sophomore now and I have no clue what her days are truly like now.

I know most parents feel the way I do at this point. So I hope the pictures I take and post on our website and send home for them to keep give them a small window into their children’s lives at school.

Reasons I’m Awesome, Disclaimer


This is true for my students and it’s also true for me. This list can, just as easily, be ways we can be kind and helpful to ourselves as well.

I’m focusing on things I do well to help me remember that they exist. I could list all the things I want to do better (or to just do in the first place) and it would take quite a while. It’s easy for that to be all I see. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think we, as teachers, beat ourselves up a lot in this way. It’s important to remember all that we are doing as well as working on what we want to improve.

I feel like I need to say, however, that these ‘reasons I’m awesome’ are far from unique to me. I don’t think they make me teacher-of-the-year quality. In fact, I can quickly tell you things each of my teammates do that impress the heck out of me and that I aspire to do as well.

My teammate right next door is the most thoughtful, deliberate member of our team. She does not share my impulsivity so she sees things I completely miss. She’s the one who is able to see implications far down the road. She keeps our team balanced as we plan ahead and look at student learning. Her vision is amazing to me and I’m glad she’s there to share it with me (and us).

Across the hall from me is a teacher who makes me feel like I own only a handful of books (which my daughters will quickly tell you is far from true). She seems to know every fiction and nonfiction picture book ever written and can pull up several perfect titles for anything you might want to do. She is also exceptionally passionate and knowledgeable about issues of equity in education.

Next door to her is a teacher who works with families more regularly and with a genuine belief in working together as team better than any teacher I’ve ever known. She calls parents all the time and meets with them frequently. She and her students’ families are completely aligned in helping their students. This would impress me anywhere but in a school in which many families don’t speak English well yet, this is no small feat.

I could continue down our hallway and downstairs, listing the ways in which my colleagues are better teachers than I. But I do that plenty already, recognize their strengths and see them as something lacking in myself. I can look at these phenomenal teachers and see the things they do so well without it making me see myself as less. But it requires some effort. It doesn’t come naturally.

So I’ll keep writing posts about ‘reasons I’m awesome’, a title that was meant pretty tongue-in-cheek. I’ll also keep sharing with my colleagues all the reasons they are awesome.

Reasons I Am Awesome, #2

I’m lazy.

That may not seem like a reason someone would be awesome. It does feel counter-intuitive. However, there are definitely ways in which my laziness makes me a better teacher.

One of those ways is that I don’t want to do anything the kids can do for themselves. This has been true when I taught 5th graders and when I taught kindergartners. It’s their class and their space and they should own it. Plus, there’s plenty for me to do that they can’t, so there’s no reason why I should take on any tasks they can do!

I don’t use our overhead lights. Instead, I have a floor lamp in every corner and a couple of ropes of lights above my bulletin board and whiteboard. In each corner there’s a power strip for the lights. When the kids arrive in the morning, they turn them all on. They unstack chairs as they get ready for breakfast.

Every student has a job they applied for in the first month of school. They’ll have these jobs for the first quarter and then they’ll apply again for new ones. So they wash tables, sweep, stack chairs at the end of the day, keep our library organized, turn off the lights before they leave, organize all our materials (pens, crayons, scissors, glue, etc.), deliver our library books, return our breakfast coolers, take care of our Wednesday folders (folders with information from the school or classroom that go home every week), and tell me who is absent so I can take attendance. They run our classroom.

We also have jobs that change every day. Some are typical elementary school jobs: line leader and door holder. Jobs they love so they get to do them about once a month. Other jobs are less typical.

Our meeting manager runs the morning meeting. They choose the greeting, pick kids who want to share, choose our activity, and lead the reading of the morning message. I participate (most days) but they are in charge. Our personal trainer chooses which GoNoodle activities we do after lunch. I picked for the first few weeks so that we were familiar with a lot of different ones but now they choose.

Soon we’ll start the tweeter job (I’ve had trouble this year getting all the little things to fit into our schedule and this is one that isn’t a routine yet, sadly). At the end of the day someone will compose a tweet about our day. If we have time, others can add tweets or send tweets to authors we love. I’m not sure calendar is going to happen this year so that job may not exist. Photographer will depend on whether or not our class cameras are still in decent shape. In the past that was one student’s job for the day. They wore the camera on a lanyard around their neck and took pictures all day. They capture pictures that would never cross my mind.

As Gary Stager frequently reminds me, “Less us, more them.” He’s thinking far more broadly than I’ve discussed here, but the idea fits.