Winter Floor Confetti

I think my students are actually walking piñatas.  I secretly think they are wired to burst with winter confetti as soon as they reach the classroom.  Every morning, our classroom seems normal before school.  I walk in and feel the peace of the clean, dark classroom before all the students walk in. The desks are straightened. The floor is all picked up. All their belongings are tucked inside their desks. Most mornings I am reluctant to turn on the bright lights just so I can enjoy the quiet for a few extra moments. It’s a delight to enjoy those first minutes and get focused for the day.

Then…the minute hand on the clock ticks to 8:02.  It almost feels like the hallways take a deep breath before the bell rings (maybe it’s actually the teachers). In a moment, a flood of second graders bursts through the door, dressed in winter gear with arms full of lunchboxes, books, and computer cases.  They seem like normal children, but when they get to their desk, they EXPLODE!  That’s the only explanation I can think of!  Coats and hats and gloves and backpacks and papers and boots and Kleenex and Bulldog Bucks and pencils land EVERYWHERE!  It’s as if they jumped in the air and burst into winter school confetti.  Then they land, sit calmly at their desks and start up their computers like nothing ever happened and everything is fine.  BUT THE FLOOR IS A WINTER DEBRIS FIELD OF CRAZY!  We will spend the rest of the day desperately stuffing items into backpacks, recycling papers, tucking away boots and hats until the students waddle out the door at the end of the day, loaded down with all their random belongings. I hope their families are ready for what is about to happen when they walk through their door at home…


Flooded with Gratitude

“Turn around, don’t drown!”

Yesterday was an exciting day.  I had tickets to see Hamilton with a friend in Des Moines and was beyond excited.  I listened (and sang along) to the cast album in the car under sunny skies all the way on the long trip from home.  The performance did not disappoint, and it was on a high note that my friend and I made our way back to the house.  On the way home, the sky was clouding over a bit, but there was not much indication of the perfect (perfectly awful) situation that was about to brew with the weather.

As we chatted about the show and fixed supper, it started to storm.  It was a typical thunderstorm, with torrents of rain and a lot of thunder and lightning.  Our conversation and attention revolved mainly around the dogs, sensing their anxiety and watching their reaction to the loud thundering noise.  Although the storm lasted for quite a long time and various warnings came across in the media, we didn’t pay much mind.  After all, it is summer in Iowa, and especially this month storms are pretty common.

After a time, I thought I should head for home.  I could tell from the radar that once I left Des Moines and went south a little bit, I would be completely in the clear with the rain.  I wanted to make some of the trip in the little bit of light that was left, so I headed out.  There were still thunderstorm and flash flood warnings, but nothing seemed that unusual.

But as soon as I left the townhouse complex, I knew I was in trouble.  The right side of the road was puddling pretty quickly, and my windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the rain, even on high speed.  I leaned to the left a little bit and realized the left side of the road was accumulating water just as quickly.  Then as soon as I started to worry, the road went up a little incline and I was fine.  I shook my head and considered my options.  Without being too familiar with that area in a rainstorm, I wondered if that was just a low spot where water accumulated a little.  I really didn’t want to turn around and go back through it, although part of me wondered if I should just stay put for the night and make the trip home in the morning.  By then I had come to a stoplight, and other cars were slowly making their way around me, so I shook it off and turned to the left.

As soon as I rounded the corner I was in trouble.  I was in the water before I saw it.  There was no chance to “turn around, don’t drown”, and no warning to stop or think about whether I should try to proceed or not.  I was in deep water.  A lot of thoughts went through my head, including thinking my car would be swept away and picturing being rescued from the roof.  To my left, another driver was stranded–the water up to his headlights.  Yelling for help at the top of my lungs, I slowly kept going, mainly because I didn’t know what else to do.  I expected my car to stop at any moment and I fully panicked at the thought.  It was the worst scenario I could have imagined.

I have no words to explain how I managed to get through that water.  I steadily kept going and then I was out of it and on firm pavement.  There was a man with a flashlight who had come out of his house and was frantically trying to stop other people who couldn’t see the danger ahead.  He told me not to go any further because the next intersection was even worse than what I had just gone through.  He didn’t need to tell me twice because I was completely shaken and ready to be done with driving. Fortunately, there was a small college up just ahead with a side road leading to it, so I carefully pulled over onto the side under a streetlight and tried to gather my emotions and thoughts.

I learned several lessons last night.  First of all, I realize many people largely pay less attention to flash flood warnings than other types of warnings–myself included.  And for the most part, people are aware of areas that flood easily during bad weather.  However, the northern part of Ankeny, where I was driving, was under a deluge that resulted in TEN INCHES of rain falling within three hours.  The roads and intersections that flooded had never done so before.  There was not a river nearby.  No one could have anticipated the flooding that occurred, and many drivers were caught unaware.  First lesson–pay attention to warnings and be aware of road conditions as best as possible before venturing out.  Second lesson–thunderstorms make things dark.  Was there a streetlight out on that corner?  I don’t remember.  But I know I did not see the water until I was in it and becoming submerged.  In the dark, it’s best to stay where you are until the rainstorm is over.  And third lesson–pay attention to the radar.  If I had checked more carefully, I may have been alarmed by the fact that wave after wave of heavy rain was aimed right over Ankeny with almost no end in sight.  I don’t know if that would have translated to thinking seriously about flooding, but it was another indicator that something wasn’t normal about this summer rainstorm after all.

My story had a happy ending.  I was able to make it out of the deep water without my car stalling.  I didn’t have to be rescued or leave my car in water.  I found a safe place to park and was able to call friends and family for help.  There was even a kind lady traveling with her dog who pulled in behind me and was just as frightened, but just as glad to have someone to talk to.  In the end, I had only traveled a mile from my friend’s house.  She dressed head to toe in waterproof gear and came for me on foot.  My friend, the lady and her dog, and I walked the mile back to the townhouse complex through the wet soggy yards and I had a dry, safe place to sleep.  Upon retrieving my car in the morning, it was in perfect running order and none the worse for its trip through the floodwaters.

Not everyone was so fortunate.  There were cars abandoned that looked to be quite damaged.  There were people wandering through yards and down streets trying to help others or figure out how to get home themselves.  And one man lost his life when his car stalled in the floodwaters and he tried to escape.  All of those facts weigh heavily on my mind when I think about my own experience and how easily there could have been a different outcome.  I have no doubt that I was guided through those waters, and I am very grateful.  I will always think differently before driving during a thunderstorm and be much more aware of the situation as it develops.  This was an emergency that took the whole community by surprise.  People were immediately out in the storm helping each other and supporting those who were in trouble.  There were a lot of lessons to be learned last night, and the cost was high for many people, homes, and businesses.  Pay attention–more than you think you might have to.  Don’t take safety for granted.  Keep a level head and freak out afterwards.  Look for people who might help you and then help someone else along the way.  And don’t live under the illusion that you will always have time to stop and turn around so you don’t drown.  Summer storms can be beautiful, amazing, powerful, and very dangerous all at the same time.  I’ll drive differently during them now, and I hope you will, too.


imageIt happens once in awhile that someone has a little accident at recess.  There are all sorts of kids running in all sorts of directions, so it’s no surprise that occasionally someone falls down and gets a bump.

Today, Chloe was running without looking and bumped into the slide.  At first, she was most upset because she was so surprised that the slide was in her way.  Then she cried even harder because the pain of the bump set in.  The playground teacher checked her over carefully and sent her in for an ice pack.

When we returned from lunch, Chloe was feeling a bit better.  She had kept the ice pack on for quite some time and her head wasn’t even hurting anymore.  She was still tearful, however, and wanted to tell me the whole story.

The more I heard, the more I was concerned that her head bump really was all right.  She seemed to get more and more upset as she told the story, until she really wasn’t making much sense at all.  I asked her questions, which only made her more inconsolable.

Finally, after I apparently asked one question too many, she stamped her foot, shook her head, and said…’

“I don’t KNOW!  I bumped my HEAD!  I have SHORT MEMORY LOSS!!”


Potter Time

imageI’ve been waiting for a long time.  From the time my nephew was small and I noticed that he not only listened to my bedtime story reading with rapt attention, but actually seemed to absorb the stories and then live in them through his imagination, I just knew.  When the time came, he was going to love Harry Potter.

He was not only going to love Harry Potter–he was going to become immersed in the world of Hogwarts.  In other words, he would not be a Muggle by any means.  I wished for him to have as close to the best experience as possible, which is hard now that the books and movies are all out and so easy to get.  I was afraid he would start watching the movies and go through all of them before reading the books.

A lot of people have accessed Harry Potter through the movies first, and have enjoyed that approach very much.  It’s just that knowing him so well and knowing his love of words and story, I wanted him to discover everything through reading the books before watching each movie.  It’s a magical experience!

And after years of fending off offers to watch the movies with him from well-meaning relatives (thanks, Grandpa), it has finally happened.  He’s ready!  Some of his friends at school are reading the books and they are talking about them and playing out scenes during recess.  That is what got him hooked.  He has formerly been a little hesitant about reading the books because they are lengthy and packed full of unfamiliar words.  But his desire to know what his friends are talking about has caused him to jump the hurdle, and he has avidly been reading The Sorcerer’s Stone.

I’ve been cautiously optimistic, but today I got really excited.  He wants me to bring him the second book so he has it in his hand before he finishes the first.  He wants to know if when he finishes the first book that he can watch the movie. (Yes)

And my sister texted and wants to know why her son is wandering the house in a bathrobe with a paper wand, muttering things she doesn’t understand…

This is going to be so much fun!



imageThe house is so quiet.  I’m here by myself, waiting.

I’ve just come from a family funeral.  My mom’s aunt passed away last weekend, and the services were today.  So I’ve just come from a place of sadness and heavy hearts.  My parents have dropped me off at home so I can be here to greet the visitors.

My brother’s family will be here soon.  They are just coming for the day so we can visit and we can all go over and see Grandma.  As soon as they walk in, the house will be filled with joy, smiles, and laughter.  There are so many things I want to do with them in the few short hours they will be here–so I have board games set up, lunch ready on the counter, and fun hidden around every corner.

This day will run the gamut of emotions–but the hard part is over, and now bring on the fun!

Except just right now, I am still waiting.

Sitting Around

imageThey have been asking for awhile now.  It’s starting to turn into pestering.  They can sense that they are wearing me down, but they can’t quite convince me.  The kids in my class want to change their seats.

I usually like making new room arrangements and finding new ways to group kids together.  It’s just that we changed the room around just a couple of weeks ago, and it still feels fresh.  Plus, I have ulterior motives when I move them around.  The kids who carry on continuous running conversations with me sometimes need to be placed farther away from my usual landing places.  The kids who quietly play with lip gloss in their desk during math need to be closer to the front.  The kids who do their best in a quiet environment need peaceful people in their group.  The kids who like to cause a ruckus need to be spaced out carefully.  It’s a delicate balance!  I usually reach a point when the room arrangement starts driving me crazy, and then I know it is time to change.

Apparently this time the room arrangement is driving them crazy.  So I decided to tell them we would switch things up, but then they started writing persuasive letters outlining their requests and reasons for requesting and I decided to let that play out for a little bit.  I’m enjoying the letters that I’ve received so far!

“I don’t want to sit on the mealworm side any more.”  (Yeah, kid…I’m with you on that.)

“I’m smashed over here.  No pressure.”  (Move your desk over.  Less smashing.)

“There are boys sitting by girls.”  (well…yes.  No way out of that one.)

“My friends are driving me up that wall.”  (Hey!  That figurative language lesson is catching on!)

The thing is, although we don’t have “flexible seating furniture”, we practice a sort of flexible seating.  As we move through the day, students group themselves and move pretty freely around the room.  It’s not that big of a deal to me where they settle in to read, write, or do assignments.  They use their own desks as places for keeping their belongings and having their own “real estate” when they want to have space to themselves.

Regardless, since they are going to the trouble of writing me letters, I will let myself be persuaded.  Besides…just when I think I’ve seen it all I get a letter like this:

“My neighbors are driving me up the wall.  And R is kicking me non stop. And also he won’t stop singing.  And he can’t read in his head.  And C can not keep her feet to herself.  And she also always talks in a high pitched voice and I hate it and it never stops.”

I had better rescue him…



Breaking Out

imageWe are doing a Breakout Box challenge with our third grade friends today.  This involves a series of puzzles or clues to solve that lead to the combinations of several kinds of locks.  We’ve solved three Breakout challenges as a class already, and the students find it a whole lot of fun mixed with some intense thinking and a dash of frustration.  It’s not only tough to solve some of the puzzles, but then figuring out how the solution relates to a lock combination can be mystifying for the kids.

On the other hand, the hardest part for me as a teacher is setting all of this up!  I have to read the instructions several times to get the big picture, and then there are pages to print and post around the room.  That is fairly straightforward, but then I have to take a deep breath and face the hardest part…setting the locks.

I started with one of the hardest locks–the directional lock.  I read and reread the instructions.  I watched a YouTube video twice.  I took the whole lock apart and put it back together…and it worked!  I reset the combination successfully!  I grabbed the ABC lock (which works the same way) and reset that one as well.  I felt great!  This was going to be a piece of cake this time!

I should have known better.  Not only could I not figure out how to reset the 4-digit lock, I couldn’t even get it open.  I had to look up the last Challenge we did to figure out the combination we used.  Then I followed the directions and reset the numbers.  It wouldn’t close.  I did it again.  And again.  And again.  I rewatched the video.  I had the custodian try it.  It wouldn’t close not matter what we tried!  I considered just hanging it on the lockbox and telling the kids to PRETEND it was locked..but that seemed pretty lame.  I put it down in desperation and worked on the 3-digit lock.

The 3-digit lock was easy to reset!  Hmmmm…so the 4-digit lock should not be so obstinate!  I knew what I was doing, it just wouldn’t cooperate.  I tried again, and then again.  I wasn’t going to give up!  I thought maybe I was holding it at the wrong angle, so I hooked it to my desk drawer and pushed and pulled for all I was worth.  It locked!  Success!  Thank goodness!  I was relieved to know that our Breakout Box Challenge (which was now just a short time away) would go off without a hitch.

I can’t get the lock off of my drawer.  It won’t open.  The drawer won’t open.

Forget Breakout Boxes…I need to break out of this day.


Buggy Standards

imageI’m still in the middle of Bugville with this life science unit.  I managed to handle the mealworm habitat.  It wasn’t too terrible.  I just had to partially fill a tub with bran, slice in some sweet potato, and add mealworms.  (The “add mealworms” part was a LITTLE dicey, but I got it done.)  I lucked out with the second “life science item” because it was a packet of Brassica seeds.  Whew!  I enthusiastically led the class in adding soil to cups, tucking in the tiny seeds, and adding water.  It didn’t even matter that they also required this intricate structure of PVC tubes and a hanging light–because they stayed still and didn’t wriggle around, like mealworms.

But now we have the milkweed bugs.  Apparently the usual accomodations are not quite to their liking.  They require more amenities.  I can’t just toss them a sweet potato and hope they are happy.  So now we are busy building them homes fit for bug royalty.

They don’t just need a bit of water–they get a water fountain.  They eat sunflower seeds, but they must be hung up high, wrapped in a sweet little net.  And they get a fluffy little ball of cotton that is suspended halfway up the straw.  And did I mention that all of these items then are precariously balanced diagonally in a large baggie?  The baggie must then be hung in a not-too-warm, not-too-cold, not-in-direct-sunlight sort of place.  (And my requirement:  not-too-able-to-be-messed-with-or-knocked-down-by-squirmy-nosy-second graders.)

I was relieved to find out that we could stop there.  They don’t require a built-in library, a hot tub, or an inground pool.  They didn’t ask for further appliances, workout equipment, or on-site laundry.  I was afraid we might need to hire staff, but apparently they are self sufficient once we install their water fountain.  I’m considering charging them for home association dues, but I don’t want to press my luck.  They might insist on becoming a gated community, and I don’t have resources for that.  (Although my Dickens Christmas village does have some tiny fencing…)

I think we get silkworms next.  I’m afraid to look ahead to see what accomodations they prefer.  But just in case, I’m going to look into small mortagage loans.


Pranked Again

imageLast week I pulled an epic prank on my students (see blog post “Gotcha”  for the story).  I laughed all the way home.  However, over the weekend they were plotting on how to get me back.

After teaching first and second graders for such a long time, I am used to the “There’s a Bird on Your Head” trick and the “Your Shoes are Untied” trick.  I even expect random things from my desk to go missing and only reappear after someone asks “Hmmm…I wonder where your stapler is?”  In other words…youngsters are amateurs.

I should have known that these kids would up their game.  It started with the spider hidden cleverly behind my laptop with just the legs sticking out.  Then near lunch time, a student asked if I would help her open her can of mixed nuts.  I know…I know…I should have seen that coming!  I was just distracted.

But their pièce de résistance was yet to come.  In the middle of independent reading time, when all was peaceful and quiet except for the murmur of a few voices, Eva let out a howl.


I jumped!  Eva is not the sort of girl to be loud in any situation.  I should have noticed the mischievous glint in her eye, because reaching from behind her back she held up her hand–WITH A BLOODY FINGER AND A NAIL RIGHT THROUGH IT!

Well played, second grade.  I’ve taught you well.  And since you carried it out with such finesse, I will help you pull the same joke over on every other school adult we see today.

We especially enjoyed the Art teacher’s reaction.  I’m sure she’ll get her nerves settled back down soon…


Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner

imageI am trying so hard to help my second graders better understand figurative language.  It’s an uphill battle!  (Hey…there’s another one.)  We’ve been finding examples in text, practicing examples from a box of sayings, and listening hard for examples when people are talking together.

Every conversation, however, takes a strange turn.  They are so literal!  In particular, my little boy from Morocco finds it almost impossible to wrap his head around phrases like “for the birds” or “off your rocker”.  You can imagine the conversations that ensued when we talked about “spring chicken”!

We talked about it throughout the day.  I explained and explained.  We practiced with examples.  A few of them even included it in their writing.  And then I realized maybe I had highlighted that particular phrase a little too much…

First it was the music teacher.  When I picked up my class, she mentioned she had a behavioral concern.  Some of my students had flapped their arms at her and told her that she was “no spring chicken”.

Then the custodian followed me down the hallway and asked what in the world was wrong with my class–they were flapping at him and whispering “spring chicken”.

I’m not sure if I have the energy to work on this again.  I know they understand what it means–now I need to get them to stop USING it on unsuspecting people!  I can already tell I’ll have to put this in my newsletter before parents start calling…