Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Sometimes it drives me crazy that on top of making sure my little charges reach benchmark academically, for some reason I am expected to provide them with gift making opportunities.  Thus the Hallmark title.  Grump grump! I'm about $60 into our gingerbread houses (no graham crackers here!), Christmas tree magnets, Shrinky Dinks (I still have mine Alli from our kindergarten year!), beaded candy canes, and Polar Express Santa bells, but I don't really care.  Now that I'm into the week and I hear the little squeals and see the grins that come along with making Mom's present it's worth every penny, every minute standing over the oven baking, every bit of glue from the magnets I peel off of my fingers.  Look how cute they turned out!  Abby asked me today if my job is fun.  What do you think?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Ashlyn captured how I feel this week-before-break- report-cards-due-gingerbread-house-making week!  It was sharing time last Thursday and Ashlyn was sharing one of her beloved 21 stuffed animal ducks.  As she told the kids all the things she likes to do with her duckie, she posed him like this and said, "STRESSED!" It was really funny but what made her say such a thing? What do first graders know about stress? My guess is they know that their mom's aren't quite as patient these days of advent.  They know that when they go to the store with Dad there are a lot more people moving a lot faster than they usually do.  They probably know that their teacher is talking way too fast and taking more "teacher time-outs" than she usually does.  So this week we are going to all just slow down a bit and enjoy the season.  After all, they only get one week-before-Christmas-Break as a first grader.  I plan to make the most of it for them! Bring. It.On.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

That Time of Year

our still life subject
It's the end of the calendar year but the school year has not quite hit mid-stride.  September is all about new routines.  October is assessment and conferences.  November is when I hit the academics with gusto.  Then comes December...

Me: Sentences end with a period.

First graders: Santa is coming!

Me: Subtraction means you take things away.

First graders: Santa and Rudolph are coming!

Me: New plants have five parts: seed, root, stem, leaf, flower.

First graders: We got our Christmas tree last night!

Me: A tree is like a plant.  One of the symbols of Christmas is the poinsettia plant.

First graders: I see the leaves on the poinsettia plant... and Santa is coming.  He's bringing me presents!

sketches outlined with black crayon
wax resist paintings

the finished product
Me: Let's get out the paints...

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I've been running since my senior year of college; 20+ years.  Running has been my greatest friend, my worst enemy, my task master, and my sanctuary.  My favorite time to run is early in the morning, before anyone else in the house is even considering waking up.  I gear up; including my head lamp, reflective vest, and pepper-spray, and run just under 4 miles during the week. On my solo runs, with music from my iPod blaring in my ears, I get some of my best thinking done. During those 40 minutes, my mind becomes my sanctuary. I figure out how to help students overcome their latest struggle, how to fit one more standard into my lesson, what to cook for dinner, what to say in a conversation I'm worried about having with Tom.  As the cool air brushes my cheeks and my breathing falls into a rhythm my mind is sparked with creativity solving all the problems of the world! At least that's what it feels like.  I haven't been able to run for 4 months due to a major surgery I had in August. My body can't handle the jarring of a run.  I've been walking but it's not the same.  This week I started swimming.  I swim efficiently enough for it to be exercise. The pool at the gym has become my sanctuary as I raise my arm, turn my head and kick, propelling myself across the pool.  There's a rhythm to it just like running. Stroke, stroke, stroke...breathe.  Stroke, stroke, stroke...breathe.  The water surrounds me like a cocoon, suspending my body while I glide through the lane.  It's not the same as running but I'm liking it more and more.  I find myself looking forward to it and plotting my activities for the week around my trips to the gym.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to exercise again.  It feeds my soul.  There's no music blaring in my ears and somehow my mind can only focus on the act of swimming instead of the effortlessness that running has become to me. All I can hear is the air I force out of my nose and the giant gasp as I turn my head and take in air after that third stroke.  Breathing in and breathing out.  I guess it's like running just without the world-saving ideas. I think I'm too busy (one) making sure I don't lose count (two) of my strokes (three) until I take that (gasp) breath.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oh Fudge!

This has been a stressful week for me.  One that caused me to say to my student teacher, "Run! Run away to another major.  This job is SO hard!"  Behavior troubles with multiple students that flow over into troubles with other student's families who voice their concern for their first grader that's being bullied in my classroom.  How did that happen on my watch? Standards based reporting pilot, iPad grant, assessments for report cards that are due NEXT sad song could play on and on.  But that is not what I want to say.  That is not where I want to go.  That is not who I want to be.  I need to take the time to reflect on my day like this even when I feel like there is no time.  Stopping for just the few minutes it takes to write gives me the opportunity to glance back at my day and think of all the good that has been infused along the way.  Emily and David moved up a reading level. Gracelyn successfully used her counting cubes to solve a subtraction problem. Ashlyn, Spencer, Madie, and Raelyn practiced their Little Red Hen reader's theater parts with gusto and a pig-like voice reciting, "Not I! Said the pig."  Ella's mom sent in some homemade fudge wrapped in a simple red bow. Isabella ran back in after music class and after the bell just to give me a hug and say, "I love you, Mrs. Ortner!" What was it that had me in such a dither?  With a list like this, I'll be back tomorrow.  And so will Miss Click!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A True Home

Mt. Hood on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.
Looking to the Washington side of the
 Columbia on our trip home from the coast.
This is where I live, the Pacific Northwest;  marked by the Cascade mountain range, sliced by the Columbia River.  I didn't grow up here. No, I'm an L.A. girl, and Alli is, too.  I think we consider where we went to high school to be "home" but she lived with me in the San Gabriel Valley longer than she lived in Chicago. After college and a short mission trip to Russia, I came up to visit a friend and put the final touches on her impending wedding.  During my visit the engagement broke and I decided to come live with my college roommate in Washington State.  I thought I would live here for 2 years and then head north to Seattle, a city more befitting my style.  Boy was I wrong!  My first teaching job, finding the keeper of my heart and soul, two beautiful boys, and 18 years later I am still right here in Southwest Washington. I love the cool, crisp air.  I love that the temperatures are so mild the majority of the time that I can walk out my front door and go for a run.  I complain about the rain every February only to reap it's benefits in a beautiful, green spring and summer.  When people ask me how I ended up here I am always a bit befuddled.  It's a convoluted story of looking for the wide open spaces of geography but also to stretch the wide open spaces of my youthful heart.  I will be independent!  Tom says the real reason I came here was to find him. It's sweet every time he says it when he thinks I'm not listening.  How else do you explain finding your soulmate at Yacolt Primary School?  The trip from Southern California, my first home, to Washington State, my true home is much longer than the 1,100 miles would make it seem.

This is the view from the balcony off our room. The darker
 blue between the trees is the Pacific Ocean.
The chairs we would have sat in to enjoy the rare sunshine
 on the coast of Oregon if it hadn't been below freezing!

Monday, November 21, 2011


I, like many other women across the world, have two full time jobs.  I am, as you know, Mrs. Ortner - first grade teacher.  But what you might not know, and what I often forget myself, is that I have another full time job, Deb - wife, mother and friend. During the school year so much of my time, thoughts, and efforts go into running my classroom.  As my boys have gotten older, they need my time and devotion in different ways, more consuming ways. Like to drive them 10 miles to their basketball practice, spend an entire weekend at a baseball tournament 30 miles from our house that awaits upkeep and repair, or working endless hours in a concession stand selling food to people that I would sooner die than put in my own body to raise money for the team.  All this needs to be done while I'm cooking dinner (mostly done in a crock pot before I leave for work in the morning), chasing the dog off of the couch, reviewing student work, completing knitting projects, attempting home decorating projects, and hopefully having a conversation with my husband.  My evenings and weekends are just a different kind of work and I love this job just as much as I love being a teacher, even more so. I would not change one thing about my life.  I love shuttling my kids around and watching them grow. But I think my most important job falls to the wayside more often than it should; being Tom's wife. Our relationship is the foundation our family rests upon. It needs my full time attention as do all the rest of the things mentioned above.  How do I find the balance I need to do all of my jobs well?  It doesn't always go smoothly nor as planned but I think I'm getting the important parts right. I married the most amazing man.  This weekend, on a stolen get-away, he recited the words to a song being played in the background at dinner "you're my pride and joy" as he looked at me.  I was done. My heart melted as did all thoughts of assessments, dinner, and practice.  I found my balance. Upon my rock.
Tom, keeper of my heart and soul

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dear Me

"Dear Me, Alexa  Rumimbr to bring your Snak owase at school. bekos they..."

Ok, I'll translate:

"Dear Me, Alexa

Remember to bring your snack always at school. Because they..."

Alexa was upset about not having any snack this afternoon.  When I couldn't seem to get her past it I suggested she write a note to help remind her mom to pack her a snack. There's really only one part of this note that Alexa wrote to herself today that matters; Dear Me, Alexa.  Alexa is a 7 year girl with an amazing sense of self that is not typical in someone her age.  Most of my little charges expect perfection of themselves and have no room for errors. I tell them, "The only thing you're perfect at is being you!" and they look at me like a little puppy with their heads tilted to the side. I tell them, "Don't worry, you're not supposed to know that yet." and they slowly nod their heads thinking ya, right. I tell them, "That is what first grade is for; to learn to read." and they pout because they can't sound out the word 'are' (who can?). There is so much pressure to achieve but none more than the pressure they put upon themselves.  Alexa has these same unrealistic expectations, even higher at times. But she has a quality about her that will serve her well beyond the first grade.  She knows how to like herself.  Even though she is hard on herself at times she also recognizes the infinite amount of good she possesses. Alexa is a wonderful little girl with a creative mind and artistic flair.  She answers every question I ask, loudly.  She sings every song, loudly and off key. She pouts when it's time to clean up.  And she writes, "I like me sooooo much." in her writers workshop journal.  She came to me this way. I pray she leaves the same way or maybe even with a little bit more.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sweet Grace

A late addition to my classroom this year came in a pint size package. Gracelyn joined our class about 2 weeks into the school year. She already had several friends from kindergarten and a soccer team she plays on. She fit right in. She was an immediate attraction for all the kids; someone new to sit by, someone new to work next to, someone new to chase at recess. She sits in the back row in the carpet area where I do all of my instruction.  I have a bird's eye view of sweet Gracelyn and the bundle of energy she brings to our group. She's probably the smallest first grader in the school but she is never looked over, she makes sure of that! Gracie is excited about life and she shows it.  When I tell the kids to get ready for the simplest of activities, say lunch, she tenses all of her muscles, puts her fists high in the air and squeezes.  The best part is when she brings her arms down and she throws in a few snaps: snap, snap, snap snap! Because this little girl loves life, I get to see the squeezes and snaps several times a day. Lucky me!  I smile every time.  I've started to watch for it; to watch for Gracelyn's snap of approval.  At an all school assembly recently she got caught up in the music and joined in.  Of course, she added a few of her signature moves.  I chuckle every time I think about it, still.  Sometimes I need to borrow Gracie's excitement for the little things that happen in our classroom.  I'm so glad she came with enough to share.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Veteran's Day

Every year our school (mostly the work of our music teacher) puts together a Veteran's Day assembly that cannot be surpassed.  It's not that there are grand speeches or ornate musical performances that make it so wonderful, it's the close feeling of community that permeates the room that makes it so special. It starts at the door as the community members, school children, and invited guests file into the cafeteria with hand-made cards thanking our veterans for their service taped to the walls. The whole school dresses in red, white, and blue for the day. There's not a dry
eye in the house when our principal invites any Veterans in the audience to come up and receive a gift from the children of our school.  There were 28 this year including a teacher and a teacher's aide from our school.  Korean War veterans, Vietnam veterans, Gulf War veterans and some currently serving.  My heart swells with appreciation and respect every year as they walk past my class knowing the horrors they've seen so I didn't have to, the families that waited behind while they served in countries far away, and the slight grin that creeps upon their lips as they hear the thunderous applause of 500 school children, their parents and other community members. I don't know any of what they have experienced and yet my heart still breaks thinking of what they've done for me.  Each Veteran is handed a flower by a student and gets a firm hand shake from our principal.  They pass the microphone and tell where and how they served. And then the crowd erupts again as they walk back into the audience to assume their seats while 5, 6, and 7 year olds try to figure out how to give a standing ovation (surprisingly difficult for my little charges). The music is the sweetest sound of children's voices singing familiar tunes that you may have grown up with in school: You're A Grand Old Flag, My Country Tis' of Thee, and others. We all join in. This year the 3rd grade classes sang a collection of patriotic songs including 3 anthems from the branches of our military. While they sang the anthem for the Marines I saw a white-haired gentleman standing, mostly stooped over from age, leaning on a walking stick but out of his seat none the less to honor his branch of service.  I wanted to stand with him, so he wasn't alone, but knew only he had earned the right to stand during that song. I don't think you have to be an American to be proud of those who put themselves in harm's way on our behalf. Selflessness is a trait we should recognize more often than every November 11th.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Learning what's important

Man, that last post was a hard one for me.  I felt like it was important to tell why I hadn't been able to post: I have been hampered by technical difficulties.  It's an interesting story.  But while reviewing my post, I began to wonder what was taking center stage: the story of our painted pumpkins or my technology woes?  They both seem important but for different reasons.  The computer problems are frustrating, time consuming and I suspect, universal.  The activity of painting pumpkins and sweet Ruth asking me with eyes filled with tears if she had to paint her pumpkin is more compelling.  The thing is, I want to be the person with the compelling stories but often find myself as the person chasing my tail in the universe of ordinary.

Little Dark Cloud

Our painted pumpkin patch
Even with paint, they make Jack-o-Lanterns

Except for Ruth, who couldn't stand the
 thought of painting her very first pumpkin.

I haven't been able to post much lately because we have been experiencing technical difficulties. When our first computer's hard drive died I just thought it was probably time since we'd had the computer for 5 years. After several hundred dollars and a new computer tower later, we determined that our old printer is no longer compatible and needs to be replaced. Next, the power cord receiver on my laptop broke off inside the computer. It can work but doesn't because it can't be powered. When I returned from Best Buy after finding out my warranty on the laptop expired in September (UGH!), our router stopped working. True story! By this time I could clearly see the dark cloud following me. You know, like Charlie Brown. Anyway, we have a new desktop computer, a new router/modem combo, and me - rebuilding the football season slideshow I have spent HOURS creating on my laptop but that cannot be retrieved in time for the end of season party. ARGH! We also have days of photos downloaded but not blogged because I haven't had the time nor the energy to do so with all the time I have put in to fixing our technology problems. So here are some pics and captioned details.
When a student from another class saw our
 painted pumpkins he asked,
 "Why did you paint them?" 
 I answered the only way I knew how to,
 "Because we could!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

OUR Pumpkin Patch

After attending the pumpkin patch field trip we were inspired to create our pumpkin patch in room 105.  But of course Mrs. Ortner HAD to make it a learning activity.  Last week we painted the pumpkin to give the kiddos a chance to make that big, sweeping motion with the paintbrush - good for fine motor development.

I put them up in "our pumpkin patch" by the window. Next I talked to the kids about setting; the place where the story happens, what you see in your mental images while reading, all the details you see when you are writing about a story in your head.  After discussing settings, I took the pumpkins out of the pumpkin patch and gave them back to the kids.  I asked them to draw in the setting of the pumpkin patch.  Here is what they came up with:

 With a few crayons and some background knowledge this is what my little charges can create!

Notice the detail of the vines


Oh and don't forget our science study of New Plants so take notice of the things that plants need to live: soil, roots, stems (the vine), light, and water. I love curriculum integration.  Mostly, I love it when a plan comes together!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Patch

 It's here! It's here! Finally, our field trip to the pumpkin patch has arrived!  A hallmark of the first grade year is the October outing to the pumpkin patch.  The day couldn't be more beautiful; blue sky with just a hint of puffy clouds, cold enough for hand warmers but not cold enough to wish you weren't there.  And DRY!!! A beautiful thing on a fall day in the Pacific Northwest. We boarded the school bus for a 20 minute drive into the country to a farm that transforms itself into a celebration of fall designed to excite and educate young children.  The pumpkins are already off the vine and child sized for easy picking. First to the hen house to feed the hens and learn about the rooster. Then meet the goats, run through the hay maze, and use the water pump for plastic pumpkin races (a new addition this year).  Eight parents come to help facilitate the fun (God bless the volunteers!). Then its off to the tractor-pulled hayride to the pumpkin patch. A pumpkin carefully placed for each child to pick and take home.  Then a treat!  The hayride continues for a mile winding through the woods on the north side of the farm.  A farm house, a couple of cows, and a mile filled with fields flutter past as we chug along behind the John Deere.  Then the surprise that somehow never finds its way to the ears of the 6 year olds of this community: the pumpkin people!  The purveyors of this farm create small vignettes throughout the woods and fields with familiar characters dressed with a pumpkin for it's head. Just plain silly! This year we see Superman, Elvis, Cinderella, a church-going family, Rapuntzel,  road construction workers and many more.  The first graders squeal with delight as we ride past each setting.  Gracelyn makes up a song that she sings over and over:

"Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin round. 
I see a pumpkin on the ground."

It sounds so simple but it's not.  She's developing her oral language which is the precursor to reading language and  then written language. She used her phonemic awareness skills to create rhyme and rhythm, and connected it to our classroom learning. Literacy on the farm! It doesn't get any better than this. I am so happy to be right here, right now! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Digital Age of Room 105

 My husband, Tom, bought me an iPad for Christmas. I bought him a shirt and a water bottle. Oh well!  Anyway, as I played with my new toy I wondered what I could do if I had one in my classroom.  I did some research and found out that many teachers and districts across the country had already figured out new and creative ways to use this exciting technology. My next step was finding the money to purchase a number of iPads. I wrote and received a $10,000 grant, with the help of my former student teacher Jessica, to purchase up to 15 iPads to use with my first graders.  Why do 6 year olds need MORE technology time?  I'm not thinking of it that way (although I do plan to monitor their use).  Kids today are raised in the Digital Age.  Their lives will be filled with technological advances that will transform life as we know it.  I want my students to be a part of this exciting time! I have decided to embrace the Digital Age and welcome it into room 105.  I brought out the iPads during choice time last Friday.  Just one to start with and then another and another. To become familiar with how an iPad works we started with some simple art apps - Paint Sparkle. So fun! Soon we will be using them for phonics, math, listening to stories, researching animals, and so much more.  This week we are practicing poems and then using the iPads to video ourselves while we read.  We will view the video and evaluate our reading and think about what needs to be worked on to become better readers.  How crazy is that? I have two weeks left to spend the remainder of the grant dollars. It's a stressful and hectic time for me but I know it will be worth it. I'm excited to see what these amazing devices will add to the learning in room 105.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Torn Pages

Last week was a tough one for me in room 105.  If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all...and I was really struggling to find the bright moments, therefore no posts. It started Tuesday when (we'll call him Jimmy) Jimmy* was upset about his take home book selection.  8 years ago when I first started teaching early primary (kindergarten) I started a take home book program.  I saw the need for my students to practice their reading at home.  Also, there is plenty of research to support a strong connection between school and home.  I saw a take home book program as a way to meet both of these needs so I wrote a grant for $488.  I was successful and was able to purchase 80 books at early kindergarten levels that the kids could take home each night and read to their families.  I tracked how often they brought their books back to school and found that after 3 months, students that returned their books even 40% of the time were reading at benchmark (right where they are supposed to be).  I parlayed this action research into another grant for $1500 for more books at more levels.  Books are a precious commodity in my classroom held in the highest regard.  That was until Tuesday.  Jimmy was unhappy with his take home book choice and decided the best way to express it was to ruin the very book he wished to take. In a fit he threw a pitcher of water on the ground, tossed his reading journal, and tore the page of one of my books.  I was completely taken aback. I'm sure you're thinking it's not that big of a deal. It's just one page of one book but it's just so much more than that. Those books are my blood, sweat, and tears. I provide them for my students because I believe with all of my heart that they will help boost not only their reading achievement but their love for reading.  How could he do such a thing? What is going on inside a 7 year old that prompts him to act this way? What is torn inside of him that he could become so angry? Luckily, I have several colleagues that will help me find out. A little tape will repair the page of my book but I think it is going to take much more than that to repair Jimmy.