Thursday, June 17, 2010

Notes to Self

Here are some thoughts that I have...uh...thought...recently about what I would like to try and do differently next year in my second year of teaching.

1. Give myself a break during reading units--do NOT do more work than the students.
2. Require more writing towards the beginning of the year and focus on developing strong writing strategies.
3. Conduct more small group research projects in science, social studies, and language arts--they can be a lot of fun!
4. Fine tune the math notebook situation...actually, change it completely!
5. Make sure that math is graded daily in a consistent way by one person--have good meetings with my TI to make sure that she understands exactly how every aspect should be done--from take fractions of points away, to factoring in English support, and how to mark a problem if it is incorrect.
6. Create an even MORE comfy classroom with lots of book nooks and places for small groups to work....somehow....despite seas of desks
7. Be better/more disciplined about one-on-one reading and writing conferences
8. Start consequence letters at the beginning of the year
9. Get parents' email addresses at Open House, even if they don't speak English
10. Conduct a better organized Open House--be extremely straight to the point!
11. Improve on parent-teacher communication at least one more notch--maybe send monthly newsletters along with our usual weekly tiger tips.
12. Be extremely clear and strict about classroom and school policies from the start
13. Start the no-talking during morning work policy immediately :)
14. Find more ways to include positive reinforcement
15. Squeeze in a bit more guided reading
16. Have as much ready as far in advance as possible
17. Be a teacher first, always
18. Delegate, delegate, delegate
19. Avoid advance vouchers like the plague
20. Find ways to improve upon some social studies units
21. Change the sequence of language arts units
22. Enforce desk organizational skills like there's no tomorrow


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I need some ear plugs.

Usually, I should be at Chinese lessons right now. However, I lost the battle with a sickness that I have been trying to fight off for a week. I woke up late this morning, and Adam had already left for his own language lessons. Soon after I woke up, Aiyi arrived and started cleaning our apartment. It was quiet and nice, and becoming cleaner by the minute.

About five minutes ago, the door bell rang and in walked the miracle maintenance crew from our school. Seriously, these guys can fix anything! They were here to remove the last of the horrible children's furniture in our spare bedroom. Last week, I couldn't stand it anymore and told the Land Lord that if he didn't remove the furniture we had no intention of paying for the space--because really, we were not using it at all. Actually, our company pays the Land Lord, so my ultimatum was not entirely factual, but I don't want our company to be wasting money either.

Apparently the only way that these guys can get the furniture out of our place is by sawing it into pieces. So, I'm holed up in my bedroom, hoping that no one will come in here because I'm sick and tired--listening to some pretty frantic Chinese as these guys figure out what their plan is. The worst part about what is happening on the other side of the wall is that I can hear the noise of the saw cutting the furniture apart. I hated that furniture, but I can't help but feel a bit guilty about it being destroyed. I'm having some severe internal conflict right now.

Why do they have to cut the furniture apart? This spare room is located in a place where the hallway turns. This makes it hard to move large pieces of furniture in or out. It seems like there should be an easier, less destructive way to get the job done...I mean, how did the Land Lord move the furniture into the room originally?

Back to the internal conflict...My mind is tortured by the SAWING of destruction--it makes a small part of me regret redoing that spare room this summer. My mind is racing about all the alternative plans that I could have chosen in order to spare the ugly furniture. What have I done! Just because the furniture was ugly and unusable doesn't mean that its existence was worthless...maybe.

The good news is (and there is very good news) is that we will probably be able to get the wall paper removed and walls painted (white--at the Land Lord's request) before we leave for the US. Adam and I will buy some furniture, new curtains, and a rug for the room. Which means that we will finally be able to use all of the rooms in our apartment!

When it is finished, it will probably be something close to a study/small living room. I will post pictures when it is finished. This is the very awful "before" shot. The bed is already gone, hopefully the desk is gone now too. Maybe even the wardrobe...? Soon the curtains and wallpaper will be gone too.

Poor Aiyi. She's probably washing the dishes and wondering why I didn't tell her that these guys were coming to wreak havoc on the children furniture. Honestly, I had no idea!

In other news, I had a terrifying dream about the first day of the next school year. The only good part about it was that my classroom had tripled in size--but everything else was haywire.


Friday, June 11, 2010

TVaholics Anonymous...sort of

In the winter months, when its thirty below outside and pitch black by five o'clock, what should one do? Perhaps read a book, put together a puzzle, do some household chores, or maybe play games.

But all those things take energy, which I did not have after teaching all day, going to meetings, and carrying out all those drama director jobs that were endless.

So, I watched TV instead. Here is a list of all the TV shows that I have watched since coming to Shenyang. I hate to admit to this list because it horrifies me. I actually don't like watching TV, but somehow I got sucked into the tube's spell. Next winter, I would like to lessen my TV intake. There are so many better things that I could be doing, and as you'll read in a moment, I've had enough TV for a life time. Remember, this is a list of just the TV shows I've seen since October-ish. I have no idea how many movies there have been.

1. Project Runway: seasons 1-5
2. Friends: season 1-10 (lots of repeats too)
3. The Office: seasons 1-6 (definitely watched season 1-5 at least twice)
4. House: seasons 1-4
5. How I Met Your Mother: seasons 1-5
6. Foyle's War: seasons 1-2 (this is a great show that I actually recommend!)
7. Seinfeld: various episodes
8. Family Guy: various episodes
9: 24: seasons 1-3 (and a little of 4, but couldn't stand it anymore)
10. The Unit: season 1
11. Felicity: seasons 1-2
12. NCIS: seasons 1-7 (like this one a lot)
13. Lost in Austen: season 1
14. Chuck: seasons 1-3 (favorite!)

Ok--this is more embarrassing than I thought it would be! I guess once its all written out, you see how terrible it really is.

One thing that has happened because of the TV addiction is you start to realize that how many actors who play bit parts are recognizable because you've seen them in other shows. This is why is a great website if you are glued to the tele.

Needless to say, many breaks and cold winter evenings were spent in front of our big, old school TV. Some of it was funny, some of it was stupid, and a lot of it was a waste of time. My brain is MUSH! There are so many excuses that I could offer--like how cold it is outside, how we don't have English TV, how dvds are insanely cheap here, how its such a temptation to just relax after school, how easy it is to procrastinate....But nothing is really good enough. Oh well. Now you can all laugh at Adam and I! :)

Kids, stop watching TV and get outside.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Before & After

Here is what our apartment looked like in September. It was even more different in August--wish that I had taken pictures of it then so you could see what it looked like when we first arrived. Here's some of the changes our main room went through since then!



In progress still, but here you go!

Han4 Zi4

Chinese Characters

So, today in my Chinese lesson, my tutor and I started talking about the word "xin". It has two meanings: letter (i.e. mail); and to believe or trust in. I thought it was really cool how the same word used for believing or trusting in also means the piece of paper that you send in the mail. Assuming that "belief" was the first meaning of the word and "letter" came later on, it helps me to remember the different meanings of the word. Because in my mind, when you send a letter, you trust that it will arrive to its destination....But wait! It gets better.

We were specifically looking at the radicals within the character for "xin". The first radical is for "person/man". The second radical is for "words". On an obvious level, people write words onto paper and give them to others: men use words to write letters. In addition, my teacher and I thought it was really neat that when you trust a man's words, belief is the result. Also, we trust in the Son of Man's words and believe them to be true. Furthermore, the ultimate letter, from the ultimate "Man" is contained in a 66 volume book that we believe and trust in today after thousands of years.

These fun little "AHA!" moments when connections are made keep me curious and make me want to learn more Putonghua, instead of give up.

Chinese characters are tough...but they are also fascinating, beautiful, and full of insight.

I took this picture in Paris almost eleven months ago. I wish that there were cafes lining the streets in Shenyang. China has many advantages--but I do miss English libraries and large English book stores with espresso machines, jazz, and clearance rows. Right now, I'm almost ashamed to admit it, I'm reading "The DaVinci Code" just because there's nothing else to read! :)


Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Sometimes...actually, most of the time, it is hard to judge how long a simple task or errand will take here. For example, when Adam and I went to pick up the new pillows for our couches, it took us about 90 minutes to travel home--although had plans gone perfectly we would have been home in 10 minutes.
It has been getting warmer and warmer in Shenyang! It is hard to survive in the heat after becoming used to the cold. I can't wait until it starts to cool down again!
Today I finished packing up my classroom and covering all the furniture with newspaper--with the help of friend it didn't take long at all. It is nice to have a break from teaching, but I can't wait to get started again! It will be wonderful to have a fresh start and I am excited for all the changes that I will be able to make. Adam will be taking on much more work next year compared to the past school year. He will be teaching five periods, plus an elective and a homeroom.

Now on an entirely different note, here are some pictures from when Adam's parents visited us in Shenyang about three months ago. One of the days that they were with us, we visited the Imperial Palace here in Shenyang--it is the only other existing palace other than the Forbidden City. Although it is only a fraction in size compared to the palace in Beijing, I still think that it is a fun place to visit! Too bad it was such a COLD day. We were freezing after our visit to Gu Gong.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Evolution of a Classroom

I was going to call this post something like, "before and after" or, "then and now", but actually, lots has happened in the course of the school year. Here is a little bit of what my classroom looked like through the months and how it ended up with everything off the walls and pushed to the center of the room yesterday.

I'm trying to find pictures of my classroom towards the beginning of the year--when it was still pretty disorganized and the walls were completely bare. I guess that I didn't have time to take pictures of it! The arrangement was all over the place and I couldn't find anything, let alone curriculum books or teacher guides. I had no idea where anything was, and I literally had 20 minutes to find it all! I barely remember my first day of teaching, and there are zero memories from the first week put together. Jet lag, stress, and anxiety never gave my memories a chance to sink. I remember thinking that this was very much like a nightmare.

The First Grade and Kindergarten teachers decorated my classroom as a surprise on my birthday. There were balloons, streamers, and other thoughtful decorations all over the place! To get rid of the balloons, third graders got to take home some every day that week!

Here is a lame picture of a tiny bulletin board during our second novel study. This is our "Courage of Sarah Noble" vocabulary of the day house. I'm not sure if I will do this again next year, but it was one little idea that kept me sane.
You can also see some colors appearing on the wall at this point (maybe September 2009).

Here are some story stars from during our first novel study. Once again--was running low on the idea scale at that point.

Here is a more recent bulletin board from our research unit. Sort of inspired by my work with "The Secret Garden", third graders spent three weeks researching and going through the writing process steps to write about the history, occupations, and a few different genres of theater. They turned out very well--and compared to the "Charlotte's Web" stars above, I'm so impressed by how much they learned over the school year. There were some really great writers and some great improvements made overall in third grade this year! This bulletin board was slapped together really quickly, it used to be our window for our coffee house during our poetry unit. Probably inspired from watching too much "Friends" after school. :)

Ok, now rewind in time a bit. The picture below is from sometime in September probably. Notice the word wall that failed...there was a misunderstanding and the word wall which should have been smaller and accessible, ended up being huge and unusable. Oh well...I took it down during Christmas break too.

Getting ready to dismantle everything and create more space and reading areas. This was also during Christmas break. This is when I was finally able to organize my classroom. Because we arrived later than was ideal, there was no time to set our classrooms up they way we would have liked. It wasn't until Christmas break that I was able to have some time to start working on the classroom.

Now in the third quarter. Organizing the library...just beginning the picture below. Wang Wei helped to create a new check out system--here is what it looked like in the beginning stages. Eventually, we had books separated into genres, series, or author (if we had a lot of something in particular), gave each section a specific color, created pockets for the inside of each book with a card that had the title and author written on it. To check out a book, students just had to take the card out and put it in the pocket with their name on it. When it was finally finished it was much easier to keep organized.

Now in the fourth quarter. The easel turned into our spelling center where students worked on their end of year dictionaries.

Started using props from "The Secret Garden" in my classroom since there was not enough money from the ticket sales to reimburse my purchases. :) Mary's suitcase turned into my treasure box, Colin's wheel chair and Mary's screen turned into another Book Nook, and a few other odds and ends like the gardener's basket, some flowers, and Robin found there way into the 3rd grade room too!

Curtains were a fun touch! They made the classroom feel much more cozy. Thanks Lauren for the idea!

More evidence of organizing. Tall white shelf has dvds, group art supplies, and small white boards. Small brown shelf has construction paper in rainbow order and all our most frequently used graphic organizers. Grey shelf is organized by subject.

Finished library! Yahoo! Can't see the whole thing--but you get the idea....Scholastic is amazing! I can't wait to continue building my library next year!

This is what my classroom looks like right now...except that it also has newspaper covering everything. This is in preparation for the painting that will be done throughout the main school building during the summer.

All right, that's it for now. I'm still unable to find more classroom pictures.

Goodbye 3rd grade 2009-2010!

Some China Pictures

One Year Down...

Yesterday was our last day of teaching for the school year. We still haven't gotten used to the idea of not teaching yet. We feel like we have to go into school on Monday and go back to work. But wait! We actually do have to go to school next week and finish packing up our classrooms so that the walls can be painted during the summer.
Starting on Monday we start our hard core Chinese lessons...oof.

Overall, it has been a fantastic year of teaching and I don't want to forget any of it! Which is probably why I should have started this blog ten months ago. :)

Plans for this weekend include buying bikes fore easier transportation, and outfitting our couches with new pillows. Goodbye multi-colored madness!

Here is some worksheets from some of my students. Sometimes while grading seat work, funny stuff pops up.

Off to the market.