April 7, 2018

Oklahoma Teacher's Walkout - A Centrist Teacher's Summary

It has been a hard week so far.  I have slept very little.  I didn’t see my kids at all from Sunday through Thursday morning. My students had three days of school with me absent.  This is the worst part.  It would be so, so, so much easier to be with those little people whom I love so much.  I will squeeze them all when I return.  My feet hurt, my legs hurt, my brain hurts, and many times this week, my heart has hurt. If I didn’t think this movement was worth it, if I didn’t think this movement was gaining ground, I would stop going.  I would tell you.  I wouldn’t keep fighting.  Let me tell you something, this movement is GROWING.  Each day when I show up, there are more people, more students, more parents.  There are more people honking as we walk to the building.  The lines are longer and it’s harder to speak with people because you may have to wait 30-45 minutes before meeting with a legislator.  We ARE making progress.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently on that.  I have seen it with my own eyes.  I have seen answers change.  I have seen votes from social media polls to show support.  I have seen the passion.  We won’t back down.   This is going to be a long post, so I need you to bear with me.

I know I have been all over your newsfeed lately, and wherever you go you can't escape news of some sort about the teacher walkout.  I am sure that there are some who have hidden me from their timeline and wished for my battery to die so I can quit with all of the posting. 😊  I am not here to persuade you to support, to beg for your pity, or to chastise those who are against this movement.  I respect everyone’s stance and opinion on the topic, and I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing different perspectives and solution propositions from people on both sides of party lines (or those in the middle, like myself).  I know I have told you already, but just in case you are seeing this for the first time, I have spent the last four days talking with just about every person that would listen to my questions.  I have spoken with our local district’s legislators, as well as many from other districts.  I have listened carefully as legislators talk to groups of teachers gathered in the hallway.  I have talked to Senate and House, Republican and Democrat.  I have talked with secretaries, ushers, fellow teachers, troopers, and lobbyists.   I have looked up bill numbers, statistics, and talking points.  I have been extremely fortunate to be included in discussions as other constituents visit with their local legislators and hear the questions and answers from their perspective.  I have truly been fascinated, and a few times, disgusted, with the goings on in our state capitol. 

I am going to do my best to put into words what I have seen, and what I am hearing.  I have been running on fumes this week, and it is just so much information.  If there is anything I do not address, that you would like to ask of me, please leave me a comment and I will do my best to find you an answer or to direct you to where you might get an answer.  I know I have said this before as well, but a great place for NONPARTISAN information is okpolicy.org.  I strongly suggest following them on Facebook.  Another source is ecapitol.net:  this one you need a subscription for, but they also have a Facebook page. 

These are the questions I am currently asking every single legislator I meet with:
  • ·         Will repealing the capital gains exemption include an amendment to exclude agriculture?  I have heard that it will.  If that is the case, what needs to happen for this to reach the House floor?
  • ·         What revenue sources do you see as the most sustainable for long term public education funding?  Why?  Which of those options can help us now?
  • ·         There are a lot of things flying on social media about audits.  What is your opinion on this?  Our local school district has been cut to the bone, there is no “fat” left to cut. 

The answers from the above questions vary a little depending on who I am talking to.  I have done my best to fact check the answers I am given on nonpartisan sites.  What I am finding is that my local House Representatives answers do not line up with nonpartisan factual info, when I can track them down or get an email response.  Neither were available in their offices after the first day this week.  My local senator has given me accurate information, has shown me that he values my opinion and questions by going above and beyond to make himself available and show his support when he can by his votes.  His answer has been there simply cannot be anything else done this session, but I don’t think that is the case.  Not because he is lying, but because one of the most viable revenue sources isn’t being allowed to be heard on the House floor.  That is the capital gains tax exemption repeal.  Here is a quote from okpolicy.org, “By reforming the capital gains deduction, lawmakers can protect farmers, middle-income Oklahomans, or other favored groups while still eliminating most of the cost of this large tax break. When combined with the revenue measures already approved or moving through the Legislature, capital gains reform would bring more than enough new revenues to meet the needs identified by teachers, state employees, parents, and students. It would put the whole state budget on a much firmer foundation going forward.  The path is clear, if lawmakers are willing to take it.” 

We listened in as a conservative House Representative, Representative Derby, spoke to his constituents in the hallway.  He said the majority leader controls whether or not capital gains reaches the floor, and he believes it will not reach the floor.  When his constituents asked why, he responded, “You will have to talk to the floor leader.”

Here is the thing, teachers in the capitol this week are being told two stories.  One of them is, “There is no more money, you have enough.  Be appreciative of our ‘herculean’ effort and return to your classroom,” (not a direct quote, but a compilation of several statements that are similar).  The other thing we are hearing is, “Stay and fight.  The money is there,” (also a summarized statement).  When you look at the facts, the second statement lines up.  The money is there, and the capitol tax exemption repeal with affect less than 1,000 Oklahomans – those with the deepest pockets.  Those who I believe are the campaign backers of the incumbents who are refusing to give their constituents direct answers and allow this bill to be heard on the House floor. 

Other revenue sources we have heard are
  • ·         Restoring state income tax by raising it ¼ percentage.  This is probably the solution that would create the most sustainable source of funding, but raising income taxes is not  a popular thing in the eye of the general public.  The latest cut to income tax was ¼ made in 2015 following a teacher rally asking for more funding.  Yet, legislators wonder why teachers are hesitant to believe they will follow through on their word. Rep. Forrest Bennett said, “If I get lost in the woods, I do my best to get out the way I went in.”  Meaning, the state legislature has continually cut taxes, so to get out of this mess, some of these taxes will have to be restored.
  • ·         Taxing wind energy or cutting tax breaks to wind corporations.  I really believe this will hurt our rural schools.  Schools in my area receive funds due to ad valorem taxes (property taxes) paid by wind and gas companies.  This could slow growth in the industry, and ultimately harm small schools.
  • ·         Unclaimed Property Taxes – this was explained to me as a fund that receives any benefits from mineral rights or other property taxes that are “forgotten” about because people don’t even know they have them (maybe they were inherited from a great aunt), and after so long the state can use them. 
  • There were a few other sources that I haven’t been able to research yet, such as the CLO (Commission of Land Office) Bill, HB1279 which includes income tax and combined corporation reporting, and Earned Income Tax Credits.

As far as audits go, state agencies DO have regular audits.  To get information on this, you can view audit reports here:  https://www.sai.ok.gov/audit_reports/index.php?action=justreleased.  You can also visit with agency heads to find out more information on this matter.

I am by no means at all a political expert, or even an expert in the field of funding education.  I am simply someone who cares about my students so much that I want to make sure I have explored every avenue, knocked on every door, and heard every option there is.  That way, when this is finished, no matter the outcome, I can say I did what I know was best.  I can say I was a warrior for them, that I did everything in my power to provide them with the best education possible.  This movement is in no way a throng of greedy teachers.   We are not bullying legislators.  We are simply asking for honest answers and honest solutions.  Education benefits everyone.  Those with kids in school, those with businesses in our state.  It has the ability to fix our overcrowded prisons and help the state of mental health.  It is the pillar that holds up society.  We need to show our students that our state values them.  They are the future of the world, and our most precious resource.  I have said it a million times and I will keep saying it until something changes, our students deserve MORE, and they deserve it now.

July 20, 2017

Don't Let the Pigeon Come to School

Unless you've been living under a rock this summer or have vehemently avoided social media, you have probably heard about the Kohl's Cares Mo Willems plush characters and books that have been highly coveted by teachers everywhere.  I personally snagged up Pigeon, Elephant, and Piggy.  Duckling, unfortunately, was not available at my closest store.  Mo Willem's stories are some of my favorite children's literature out there.  Each year, my students beg me to read his funny stories, and if my little darlings start to read independently, there is great rejoicing in the land when a student gets to check out an Elephant and Piggy reader to take home.  Long story short, Willems is nothing short of a superhero to my classroom.

Each year, my school chooses a school-wide theme.  We are a PK-K site, and our principal lets us nominate and vote on the upcoming theme at the end of the previous year.  This May, my colleagues voted in favor of a transportation theme "The Boomer Journey Begins at the ECC!"  I shamefully forgot to vote.  I didn't dislike this theme, but I wasn't really excited about it either.  I know you are wondering, "What on earth does this have to do with Mo Willems?"  Well, it wouldn't be like me to get to the point without a backstory.  Just ask my husband!

I sat and brainstormed a few ideas for my personal theme.  I don't re-do my entire classroom, but I do "theme" our hallway displays and some of the consumable items we use each year, like our take-home folders.  I searched high and low for cute transportation classroom decor.  I found lots of hot air balloons, sail boats, airplanes, even some rocket ships.  Nothing spoke to me.  So I started trying to think outside of the box.  What else "goes?"  I thought about Monster Trucks, for so long in fact that I created a Classroom Basics kit for it.  Then I thought about school buses.  I thought this would go perfectly with "back to school."  It took me a bit, but finally the heavens opened and I settled on "Don't Let the Pigeon Come to School!"  This theme, of course, is based on Mo Willem's popular character, with a school bus in place of a regular city bus.

Again, I struggled to find what I needed to make it happen.  That is how my "Pigeon Classroom Basics" file was born.   I can't wait to get to work on my classroom and show you the finished result! For now, here is a peek at some of the things inside:

In every one of my "Classroom Basics" sets, you will find a student gift tag.  These are great for Meet the Teacher and/or Open House!  I love how this one turned out!  

New to this set is a craftivity and writing project that is perfect for back to school!  I plan on using it to reinforce the importance of rules!

I would love for you all to check it out and give me feedback!  Also, stay tuned for an update once I get my room all put together!

May 8, 2017

Quick and Easy Mother's Day Gift

It's that time of year!  The time where we frantically comb Pinterest for something fast and simple to do for Mother's Day with our precious students.  I want something that parents will actually use/display, and being the recipient of several school gifts, I know parents want something that their child actually helped to make. 

Last year, my students made canvas paintings.  While it was fairly easy, it took a series of days to complete.  I found this new idea on Pinterest, but the link just took me to a photo, so I'm not really sure who to credit with the original idea.  When I first pinned it, I was slightly intimidated, just because it is something new.  New projects give me a little anxiety.    However, I am so glad I gave it a try!

 ****DISCLAIMER:  Please forgive the low quality iPhone photos.  I didn't remember to take my good camera the day we made these!

I found these 2-pack frames at my local Walmart for about $1.80 something for the pair.  They are plastic with glass inserts.  They do have a little kickstand you can pop off the back and attach to make the frame stand up.  There are also holes for hanging it on the wall.  I chose 4x6 size solely based on the fact that it was cost efficient and my store had enough of that size in stock.

Before beginning the project, I cut some scrapbook paper I had on-hand into 4x6 size pieces.  When I do this next year, I will try to find some cute patterned paper to use!  I also cut some smaller lime green cardstock pieces for my students to cut their leaf and stem out of.  Approximately 2x4 and 3x4, if I was guessing.  It doesn't really matter too much.  I let the students choose their paper color and passed out all the pieces for just the paper/stem/leaf.  I modeled for the students how to cut the stem and then the leaf.  I also modeled a curved stem instead of straight.  I could have created a template for them to cut, but I really wanted each student's flower to look unique.  I spend a lot of time during art projects teaching the kids that our creations shouldn't all look the same, and perfect doesn't matter as long as we do our best.

I then collected all the papers and called the students one at a time to my table and asked each one to write his/her name in pencil at the bottom of the paper.  This way, they could fix a mistake if one was made.  I then traced over the pencil with a fine point black Sharpie. After this, I put the paper with the leaf, stem, and their name into the frame.  I DID THIS BEFORE I GLUED THE FLOWER. The student then chose what color of muffin liner (regular size, also found at my local Walmart) he or she wanted.  I placed the student's school picture that I had cut in a circle small enough to fit in the flower and glued it down.  I then hot glued the flower on top of the glass.  Done!  These turned out so cute, that I wish I could keep all of them!  My own little Kinder"garden."  Alas, I must let the little darlings gift their parents. 

Happy Mother's Day!

Donuts with Dad

Hey y'all!  I have been absent for awhile, and for that I apologize.  Blogging while Momming and teaching ain't easy!  My kiddos have been busy with soccer, ju jitsu, and dance.  Now that it's almost summer, we are winding down.

You didn't think I would miss the chance for a mom-brag, did you?

Last spring, I hosted a "Muffins with Mom" in my classroom shortly after Mother's Day.  It was fantastic and I was so pleased with how smoothly everything went.  Because of that wonderful experience, I decided to try a "Donuts with Dad" this year.  Before I get into how it went, let's talk a bit about set-up.  I mimicked my "Muffins with Mom" TPT file to create the one I would use for "Donuts with Dad."  Also, because the timing I chose for my event (late April), it was bananas crazy and sadly we didn't really get a craft done for the fathers.  My teacher bestie, Kayla Pittman did get some adorable jars with building blocks done for her dads.  Click the link to see "The Seasoned Mom's" blog post where she got the idea!

We started by making the crowns and filling out the questionnaire in my unit.  We are also very fortunate to have a VeriQuest cut out maker at our school.   I used a template on the cut out maker to cut out the ties, and then just had the kiddos decorate them.  I also added their pictures onto the ties.  Decor was pretty minimal.  I just put a plastic table cloth on each table and then set out each student's work at his/her seat.  I also hung the "Welcome" banner from my unit and made a quick photo backdrop with butcher paper and a giant Sharpie.  

The morning of, I sat my students down and walked them through the instructions for the event.  I told them they would be seated at the carpet and would go and greet their guest(s) at the door and show them to their seat.  I also told them they were to serve their guest(s) first, and then come back and get their own food and/or juice.

Because I knew that some dads and grandfathers may not be able to attend, I asked my dad and another family friend to come as "stand-in" dads for my students.  This was such a life saver and the kinders whose family couldn't come still had a great time and never shed a tear!

Dad, you're the real MVP!

Just as with the "Muffins with Mom" event, I was so impressed with my students and their manners!  The event went very smoothly and every one had a wonderful time visiting with their student and letting them show them all around the classroom.  This was certainly another successful event that I can look forward to each year!

October 13, 2016

Ask Me About My Day!

I am super excited about these little cuties!  These "Ask Me About My Day!" jars are filled with meaningful questions that Mommies, Daddies, Grandmas, Grandpas, and other family members can ask their little darlings about their school day!  I plan to send them home with parents at conferences in a couple of weeks.  

Inside each jar are twenty-four slips of paper.  Each contains a question that will hopefully spark a conversation about school, friendships, learning, and help parents get to know their children better!  I know that parents (including me!) ask "What did you learn today?" and get "Nothing" or "I don't remember" in response.   We ask "How was your day?" and we get "Fine" or "Good."  I really think that these little slips could open up a whole new world of conversations for my parents and their children! 

I originally got this idea from Glennon Melton's blog post on "The Key Jar."  In fact, my original plan was to use the questions that Erin Waters and Glennon created.  As I read the questions, I found many of them a little too deep for my own six and four year old children.  So I combined the idea of the Key Jar with the lists of questions I have seen floating around Facebook that suggest what to ask instead of "How was your day?" and this is what I came up with! Examples of a few questions are:

"Who did you play with at recess today?"
"What is something you did that made your teacher happy?"
"Which part of your day is the most fun?"
"What rule was the hardest to follow today?"

If jars aren't really your thing, I think that the slips of paper would look cute in a paper lunch sack gussied up with the label on the front.  I also found that the labels fit just right underneath the lids of the jars!  

This file is a FREE download over in my TPT store.  If you find any new ways to store or cutesy up the questions, please let me know in the comments! 

EDIT:  If you are a parent, and not a teacher, just shoot me an email and I will be happy to send you the file! :) keepcalmandlovekinder@gmail.com

August 28, 2016

Reading Bags

One of my favorite tools to use with my students each year are these reading bags:

We take them out each day for different activities, including phonics, poetry, sight words, and much more!  The Reading Bags are just zippered pencil pouches that I bought at Walmart a few years ago.  They have lasted me about four years!  Let me give you a better look at what we keep inside.

We use the letter charts when we sing Jack Hartmann's "Learning Letter Sounds."  The kids use their "Reading Finger" (the witch finger) to point as they sing.  We also use these fingers to point when we read predictable books, poems, and pretty much everything else!  The highlighters are used for highlighting our Rainbow Words (high frequency words) and for coding chunks we know (more about this at the bottom of this post).  The purple sight word cards are part of our Rainbow Word program, which is from rainbowwords.com.  The stretchy snakes I use to teach students to stretch out words when we are spelling phonetically and also when we are listening for beginning, medial, and final sounds in words.  Throughout the year, I will also add our Saxon Phonics letter tiles to the Reading Bags as we learn each letter.

These Reading Bags make learning hands on and really help my students stay involved during whole group lessons.  I used to have students store these in their chair pockets, but last year I received a Donors Choose grant that allowed me to get Wobble Chairs.  I LOVE my Wobble Chairs, but the chair pockets had to go.  So, I tried having students store the Reading Bags in their cubbies, but found that we didn't use them as often because it was a hassle to have them leave their seat to get them.  It is MUCH better when they are on hand and ready to use!  This year, I am trying Command hooks under the table.  I will update you on how it works for us!

Click text under the photos below to go to my Teachers Pay Teachers Store for the "Learning Letter Sounds" FREE Download and or to purchase the posters I use when we code our "chunks" in predictable readers and poems!

August 15, 2016

A Quick Teacher Tip!

Today's post is a quickie!  I am busy prepping my room for our first day, which is Friday!  I can't wait to meet my new little Kinder family!  One of the the things I do every year to keep my classroom easel looking nice and new is cover each side with lamination.  So quick, so easy, and saves me lots of clean up.  I only have to change the lamination about once a year, sometimes even less!  I hope that this little tip helps you in your classroom!

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