Monday, February 20, 2012


I saw a familiar face while I was bagging my groceries at the market today. She looked to be close to my age and had two girls with her that looked to be about my boys' ages. We started chatting and thought the connection was that we had both worked out in Yacolt but it turns out we were there at different times. Finally, she asked me what my name was and and it clicked, for one of us anyway.  One of the girls said, "You were my kindergarten teacher." My mind was blank.  I didn't recognize her at ALL!  Embarrassingly, I had to ask her what her name was. "Destinee," she said and as soon as she said it, it all came flooding back to me. She was in my very first kindergarten class. I remember how intelligent Destinee was. I remember that she was one of my most capable students. I remember the day she figured out that between her first, middle, and last names there were 26 letters.  I can still see the twinkle in her eye when she ran up to me with her full name printed out with each letter counted.  The smallest things bring so much happiness to 5 year olds.  I remember that in March of her kindergarten school year, her dad had his long-awaited kidney transplant and I remember that the next year, when her brother was in my class her dad had to go to rehab to fight an addiction to the painkillers that had sustained him for so long.  She was tall and gangly when she was in my class but now she is just stunning. I felt embarrassed that I didn't immediately recognize her and I covered my eyes when I learned that she is now a 7th grader.  Wasn't it just the other day...

As I walked to my car, I felt the embarrassment of not recognizing such an important figure in my life.  I wanted to push my cart back into the store and tell that little girl what a difference she had made in my career, in my life. I had been so afraid to switch grades and begin teaching kindergarten but when I got there and witnessed the amazing growth my little charges could make in one school year all of my doubts were erased.  It was your curious mind, willing heart, and excitement for life and learning that hooked me as a kindergarten teacher.  It was then, in my 12th year of teaching, that I had found my true calling.  That is when I had met Destinee and my life was changed forever.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Love is Love

 Valentine's Day in Mrs. Ortner's room is an exciting time. We started by reading Valentine Bears by the amazing Jan Brett. We cut out hearts and wrote I love sentences both simple and complex (a 1st grade standard). We learned a sign language song called L-O-V-E Spells Love.  For math, we used the candy hearts with messages written on them to sort by color, create a graph and then use the information from the graph to tell about our candies.  You must hold off on eating any of the candy hearts because it will skew your data, a concept mostly lost on my little charges.  But if they can hold off they will be able to eat all of the candy once their graph is complete.  Not an easy feat! Finally the day ends with a party complete with the passing out of valentines, eating treats both sweet and healthy, parent volunteers, and most importantly, squeals and giggles.  It is such a fun day to celebrate love.  The kind of love that is pure in the 6 year old heart that will hold the hand of their classmate just because they have a plan to play together at recess.  The kind of love for yourself that comes from being able to read your own valentines for the first time ever.  The kind of love that as a teacher I hold for my precious charges whose faces light up as they read each valentine. The kind of love that every childhood should be filled with because that is how they were designed, how we are all designed, to give and receive pure love freely.  It is never so abundant as it is on February 14th in room 105.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Gem

I've been experiencing technical difficulties and a lack of patience to figure them out.  I'm ready to try again so here goes...
We started the snowman project yesterday.  I remember doing this when I was a kid.  It was the only kind of art I was ever good at; wrap tissue paper around the end of a pencil, dip it into glue, stick it on the paper.  I'm not sure it even qualifies as art. But I brought the project to my students and they enjoyed it. Some students took great time and care in creating a pattern or plan for their art.  Others just wrinkled tissue paper, dipped it in glue, and stuck it on their template.  Once everyone was finished, I called my little charges to the carpet area.  I had them write a description of the snowman they created with enough detail that someone could find theirs in a crowd of snowmen. A first grade writing standard is to write more than one sentence about the same topic.  Another standard is to use descriptive words to explain ideas.  I thought I could knock out 2 birds with one stone. Some students came back with sentences about the colors of tissue paper they used and where it was placed on their template. Some came back with sentences about what they like to do with their snowman. Hmmmm...After talking with several such writers, I determined that their lack of detail was not with the words they chose but within the eye that was looking at their art. They came back from recess to find their snowmen in the center of the floor and someone else's writing at their table spot.  As we sat in a circle around our grand creations the goal was to pick out the snowman that was described in the writing. Most were able to do it. As the writing and the snowmen were linked together I noticed that the randomly decorated snowmen were the same that the writers had trouble describing.  I think it is so interesting that the same students who haphazardly threw together their snowman also struggled to find precise words to describe it.  How do I teach a 6 year old to have a discerning eye?  Better yet, how do I teach a 6 year old to have a discerning mind? Come to think of it, it's not unlike blogging. How do I sift through the details of my ideas and find the gem to polish on this page?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Almost Lost

I didn't know until half way through our first day back. Raelyn's appendix had burst during the break and she had spent a week in the hospital.  It's a miracle she's alive.  I can't explain what it feels like to almost lose a student. I have lost them to a move, to a divorce, and heart-wrenchingly to a foster home. I can't tell you how thankful I am to have not lost Raelyn. She spent a week in the hospital including Christmas Day.  I asked if Santa found her in the hospital and she said he had.  Thank goodness! She told me about how her parents took turns sleeping with her in the hospital bed and one night even both of them had stayed with her.  The fear they must have felt, I can only imagine. You can see the toll this ordeal took on her little frame.  She's only coming to school in the mornings this week. I miss her.  We all miss her. Raelyn is a bright light in our classroom; sweet and demur, shy yet intentional. Yesterday she wrote about her hospital stay during Writers Workshop:
*Dpendix is so much cuter than appendix and I just love her picture of the bed going up and down!

Translation: I went to the hospital. I got my appendix out. I don't like the hospital. I pushed the buttons to make the bed go up and down. (later today she added, It was a little fun.)

When I talked to the class about what happened to Raelyn and how we would need to help her and look out for her for a while we talked about how the doctors helped save Raelyn.  I told them that those brilliant doctors were once six year old first graders learning to read and write, that some of them had even struggled with math and gone to the principal just like them. But because they had worked hard and stayed in school, they became great, life-saving heroes.  I asked my little charges if they thought they could grow up to be a hero someday. Every single hand went up.  Here's to hoping!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Making 10

Today we worked on addition strategies.  One in particular; making 10. I would never have thought to teach such an advanced concept to 6 year olds but this is what the District's new math adoption says to do.  So, the idea is to teach the kids to make 10 from the two addends in order to make adding them together easier.  For example, 9+6 becomes 10+5.  I was stumped when I looked at the student pages (also known as workshits by renowned brain researcher Dr. Mary Howard).  How can I teach this concept to six year olds that are still struggling to understand what 10 is? But I went after it regardless because that is the next lesson in the book.  I don't teach like this!  Why am I teaching like this?  I am least confident in my ability to teach math. I am most easily led by a mathematics teacher's manual.  I once knew our state math standards inside and out but that was when I still taught kindergarten. Two years ago, I left what I feel is my true calling, teaching kindergarten, to teach 1st grade.  The idea was to reduce my workload and therefore my stress and free myself up to spend time with my family.  There is less prep work but there is new stress in that I am not as familiar with the 1st grade learning standards.  Of course, I'm making the transition to the literacy standards comfortably.  But math is a different story. How can I help my students gain these learning standards when I can't master them myself? I decided to take it slowly and think about what I know about how six year olds learn.  They have to see it and feel it if they are going to have a chance to understand it. I made ten-frames and passed out counting cubes.  I made up addition stories using my students' names (they are always more interested when they think it is all about them) and had them place 9 cubes on the ten-frame.  Then, continuing the story, had them add 6 more counting cubes to the ten-frame and the leftovers below it.  I asked them to tell me how many cubes were in the ten-frame: "10," and then asked how many cubes were outside of the ten-frame: "5".  That's how we turned 9+6 into 10+5.  They used the manipulatives throughout the lesson and most were able to complete their work with very little help. Will they be able to recreate this scenario and use it effectively to solve addition problems?  A few of them will.  Maybe when they see this concept again in 1st grade and again in 2nd grade and each grade beyond, it will resonate somewhere in their young minds.  More than likely they will develop their own strategy to solve addition problems.  Hopefully, what they learn the most is that they can solve problems with a little help from Mrs. Ortner.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Welcome Back!

Days like today are the reason I teach and at the same time the reason I find my job so taxing.  I love my job. I love hearing the exciting stories of what Santa left under the tree. I love teaching my charges new and exciting things; to read, to write, to add and subtract. The essentials!  But today was our first day back after a 2 week winter break. Many people think we choose to go into teaching for the long breaks in our work year but this is the part of my job I find most difficult; the stopping and the starting.  It feels like as soon as we get on a roll, it's time to stop again. Don't get me wrong, I love the opportunity the breaks give me to catch up on my sleep and projects around the house but I love my routines, too.  Morning work: Writers Workshop. After lunch: Read Aloud. After recess: Snack and a Story.  I miss my students when we are not at school and I miss the challenges I face at Daybreak Primary school.  I am supposed to re-charge and re-energize myself during these breaks but instead I find myself winding down simply to wind myself right back up again to start anew.  Or on a break like this one, my time is simply filled with a different kind of work; caring for Grandma Evie, welcoming my darling nieces who were born on the 29th, witnessing the decline of my mother-in-law into the abyss of Alzheimer's. I think I'm better at my day job of teaching first graders than I am at my job of running this house and nurturing these boys. I belong in room 105 and that's where I will be for the next 59 school days until...Spring Break.