Help me do it for myself.

Montessori in a Dene Kindergarten – Montessori in a Dene Grade One Classroom

Archive for July, 2012

#kinderblog2012 Summer Challenge #4

Posted by mrsmelva on 24/07/2012

On to this week’s question. It is pretty short and sweet, but I have worded it 2 different ways, so feel free to choose whichever one resonates more with you:

Version 1: If you had not become a teacher, what other field or line of work would you have pursued?
Version 2: If you had to quit teaching tomorrow, what would you do instead?

North Thompson River from the van.

These are hard questions to answer. I love teaching. If I had to quit teaching, and if I wasn’t currently raising a grandchild, I would put my hubby to work. (Not that he doesn’t work now, but I would encourage him to do a different job). I put a picture of the North Thompson river at the head of this post. I took the picture while riding in our van last year with my hubby and grandson. I love traveling with my husband, he is an excellent driver and gets along with people wherever he goes. Ideally, I would put him to work running a hot shot service delivering trailers etc. and I would ride shot gun, taking pictures, tweeting and connecting with kinderchat tweeps whenever I  could. Of course, I’m not sure if that would pay enough for the data roaming charges that I would incur, and the dogs might get bored and I don’t know what we’d do with the cats. I could probably road school our grandson, but …

Freshly pedicured feet with pink gel toes.

If I had not become a teacher at all I would probably have become a hairdresser, and later an  esthetician. I would also consider esthetics training if I had to stop teaching. I love feeling good after a new haircut, and even more so after a manicure and pedicure. I would love to be able to make other people feel that good too. There is room for creativity too, I have had some wonderful nail art over the years, including Chicka Chicka Boom Boom palm trees. (tried to bill the school, since it was an invitiation to literacy, but they wouldn’t pay – jk). When I was young, mostly I wanted to be a teacher, and I had a school and library in the basement, but for a few years my cousin and I wanted to be nurses, like our Auntie Joanne. My cousin became a nurse, but I became a teacher. I worked as a waitress and bartender while putting myself through university and enjoyed both of those jobs, especially the people I met while working.

I am very thankful to be a teacher, it is my passion, it is fun, creative, challenging and rewarding all at the same time. I love my students and hope that I am having a positive influence on their lives.


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Becoming “Mrs. Melva”

Posted by mrsmelva on 16/07/2012

As a student teacher many many years ago, it was very exciting the first time a student called me  Miss Schmidt. However, when a student had difficulty withpronunciation and called me Miss Shit, it was not so exciting. When I got my first teaching job I was happy when the vice principal told me that teachers here went by their first names. My colleague who had come to the interview with me, expressed some concern over whether or not the students would respect us or not. As I would be teaching middle years kids I was glad not to be risking the mispronunciation that was innocent in grade one. I doubt that it would have been so innocent with the older kids.

Several years later, on the first day of school we were told that we would all be switching to using our last names with mr., mrs, or ms.  This decision was made by the principal based on discussion with an elder who felt that it would solve discipline issues. By this time I was married, and now had the same last name as several other staff members. There are a limited number of last names in the community, derived from the fur traders who came here years ago. I went to the principal and asked if I could opt out of the change, citing the examples of several teachers who had opted out of using their first names. The answer was no. I then suggested either Mrs. Melva or Mrs. Pink but the answer was still no. It was a confusing year.  There were Ms. Hermans, Mr. Hermans and Mrs. Hermans and we kept getting mixed up. The last straw was a child from grade three bringing me a bunch of stuff that clearly wasn’t meant for me and insisting that her teacher had said to bring it to me. When I questioned her more specifically I found out that her teacher had said Mr. Herman. It was an innocent mistake on the part of the student given the similarity of the names and the fact that in Dene, her first language, pronouns are not gender specific. I gave her Mr. Herman’s first name and she trotted off smiling to deliver the items.

After school I met with the principal and told him that while displeased with the name change, I was totally unaccepting of the gender and that from then on I was going to be called Mrs. Melva.

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#kinderblog2012 Summer Challenge #3

Posted by mrsmelva on 15/07/2012

Tell us about your pet peeves. Do it however you want: write a list of 50 things that drive you crazy, or an essay about just one thing, or story combining several things, or write a song, or some limericks, or an epic poem. A photo essay! A slideshow! Video journalism! Stand up comedy! The sky is the limit, just tell us what grinds your teeth as a teacher (or an administrator, or a program director, or in whatever capacity you are joining this challenge.) (Yeah, parentheses again. I think I need an intervention.) Be careful: your blog is public, and you never know who is reading. Be positive and professional, but tell the truth. You can do it.It’s hard to list pet peeves when trying to maintain a positive attitude but reality is that we are human beings and things bug us. Usually it’s little ongoing things that bug us most, not big serious issues.  In times of trouble people tend to pull together and support one another.

  • cutesy bulletin board captions such as “beary good work”
  • purchased posters/bulletin boards with rainbows that do not show the correct colour sequence
  • technology that doesn’t work properly
  • people who think that using manipulatives in math is a sign of weak skills and something to “wean the children off” rather than a tool for understanding and showing their understanding
  • 6 pages of worksheets to accompany a 2 page story
  • writing sub plans, especially if the sub does not follow the plans
  • students arriving chronically late (I’d still rather have a student arrive late than miss the day, but some are late almost every day)
  • parents who think that 10:00 (or even later) is an early bedtime for a k/1 student
  • pages and pages of seatwork
  • expensive math workbooks
  • people who think kids can’t do things for themselves; like pour milk, get cereal, use a stapler, put pages in a duo tang, etc.
  • separate health curriculum – all the health outcomes could be put into phys. ed., social studies and science (Saskatchewan provincial curricula)
  • parents who expect teachers to tie shoes, zip jackets and even wipe bottoms for students!
  • staff who sign up for extra curricular/committees and then don’t do it
  • preparing a parent meeting (presentation, make & take project, snack & free book) and only having 1 parent show up
  • keeping a hand written attendance register
  • back breakingly low table for prep work in the staffroom
  • no proper teacher prep room
  • dirty dishes/sink/counter/coffee area in the staffroom
  • people coming out late for recess supervision
  • people who wear their snowy, wet, muddy footwear inside
  • paper towel holders that are jammed or empty
  • empty toilet paper, soap and hand sanitizer dispensers
  • Having to hunt down reading group leaders to get kids’ running records that should have been put in files

Well I think that is more than enough pet peeves for one grouchy old bag.

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#kinderblog2012 Summer Challenge #2

Posted by mrsmelva on 14/07/2012

Tell us about one (or two, or a few) of the classrooms you have had over the years. Not the kids, the ROOMS. What have you  loved? What have you hated? How did you FEEL in the space? What did you DO with the space that, looking back, seems ridiculous? Or brilliant? We all spend so much time in our classrooms, we really do develop a relationship with the physical space. Tell us about that (those) relationship(s).

In my 26 years of teaching I have only had 4 classrooms. My first two years were spent at the grade 7-12 building of our school, teaching a middle years alternate class in a small room with navy walls. I had over 30 students jammed into a small space, seated at folding tables and with very little storage. Their were some cupboards at the back of the room. I removed the doors to make open shelving. I also requested shelving to be built under the window, but that has never happened.

When I moved to the pre-k to grade 6 building to teach kindergarten, I received quite a shock. A lot of the wonderful things in “my” classroom belonged to the teacher who was leaving and she had taken them with her. I began exploring the school. I found a workbench and three sand/water tables down in the grade 4/5 classrooms, being used for teacher storage. I hauled them up to my classroom. I also found paint easels and set them up in my room. Then I went to see the vice principal and told him I needed stuff and asked if there was any money available. The previous teacher had spent the year’s budget on one Little Tikes car. Not what I would have chosen. He said there was some money, but didn’t give me a dollar figure. He told me to make a list and prioritize it. I did. The number one priority on the list was unit blocks, but they are very expensive. He called me into the office to ask if there was anyway that I could connect the unit blocks to language and literacy development. Easy peasy for an early childhood educator. So he bought me unit blocks with some library $. The day that the blocks arrived he delivered them to my classroom while we were seated doing the calendar. We opened up the box right away, and the vice principal stayed to watch. As the box was opened, one little boy excitedly exclaimed, “holy shit!” The vice principal replied with a smile, “I guess he likes the blocks”.

At the end of that year, we had a problem at school. Increasing enrollment meant that we needed another kindergarten class and there were no empty classrooms. A colleague and I talked about team teaching in a large area at the end of the hallway. This area had been designed around a central almost circular space with smaller rooms around it. Most of it was not being used except for storage and nesting areas for mice. We wrote up a proposal to team teach in this area, two teachers, two classes and one awesome space! I taught in that room for twenty years, sometimes in a team teaching set up, sometimes as a single class with tutor/teaching assistant support, and one year mainly on my own. I loved that room. It had spaces of different sizes. The janitors painted circles on the floor in the central area. There was a separate room for paint, water and sand. There was a separate room for the house/hospital, vet clinic/post office. There was a room with tables for writing and other table activities, a boot room, a real kitchen (which eventually had a dishwasher that I fundraised to purchase), two bathrooms, a room for small group instruction and an office. It was heavenly. There were also skylights in the central area. After several years in the room I even managed to convince the powers that be to paint the ceiling pink. It was beautiful and very cozy.

Students sitting in the central area listening to guest musician Don Freed.

Students making gingerbread houses in the table room. It had three of these double trapezoid set ups, later replaced with three horseshoe tables.

The dramatic play room, set up as a house.

The small group instruction room. The window is only boarded up because the picture was taken during summer holidays, when the windows are boarded to keep out the heat and prevent vandalism.

Making pumpkin soup in the kitchen. Making pumpkin soup is a Halloween tradition in my class. That way the kids have something healthy in their tummies before they go trick or treating, and I don’t have to have a Halloween party. We still dress up and participate in the school wide costume parade in the gym.

The skylights and pink ceiling and our head janitor, Hank.

The water, sand, paint, workbench room.

As you can see by the pictures, it was a wonderful classroom. There were windows into all the small rooms except the dramatic play area. We also had all the doors to the small rooms removed. Each year I and any others working with me, made changes to the room. It was always a fun place to teach. When I was told I would have to move out of that room, into a “box”, I cried and cried. I was able to have the dishwasher moved with me and to have a fridge and stove installed in my box, but it was still a box.

Grumpy as I was about the move, I tried to make the best of it. I was told that I MUST have a carpet. My first team teaching partner and I requested to have the carpet removed from the previous classroom, and started the school wide move to get rid of germ trapping carpets. I chose a semi circular alphabet carpet with lower case letters (not easy to find). I was also told that I could order new tables, so I did. I ordered six small rectangular tables and two small horseshoe tables. I only received one of each. Luckily I had a class set of clipboards and a class set of trays. The rectangular table became the snack center and the horseshoe table was used for small group work. Everything else was done on the floor!

I have completed three years in the boxy room. It does have a bathroom, dishwasher, sink, stove and fridge, and an exit/bootroom shared with only one other class. In the three years it has been a straight kindergarten class, straight grade one class and a k/one split class. It will be a split class again next year.

Back half of the room, as a straight kindergarten class.

Front corner with book racks and science table.

Half the class working with pattern blocks at the rug while I am doing art with the other half. (I was alone with 25 kinders at a time for most of the year)

The other half of the class, on the bare floor with trays while I am teaching them a basic cut & glue learn the procedures start of the year activity.

Cleaning blueberries at the small group table.

Eating Thanksgiving dinner on the rug. Yes, we did get gravy on the rug.

Making pancakes at the front of the classroom. Not as convenient for cooking as the lovely kitchen in my old room, but I refused to let the room change destroy the learning.

The year that I had a straight grade one class I was able to get rid of the rug by giving it to the kindergarten teacher. Whooo hooo! However I had to exchange it and my two nice tables for a bunch of desks. I arranged them in parliamentary style rows because I am a firm believer in children having a direct view rather than having to turn their heads. That said, I did not stand at the front of the class all day and the children did not stay in their desks all day.

Working at their desks recording observations about their apples.

An elder telling stories and showing pictures of our community’s past.

Students helping themselves to bannock and jam after the storytelling.

Stuffing our Christmas turkey.

Math on the floor.

This past year I had a split k/one class. The ones had desks at the front of the room and the kinders had two horseshoe tables at the back. We did things as a whole class, as two classes, in small groups and in centers.

I’m glad we didn’t have to eat these sticky caramel apples on that rug!

Even though we have table/desk space for everyone, the floor is often the preferred place to work.

The smartboard is a perk due to having the k/1 split. Kindergarten and pre-k do not have smartboards yet. Ours was only hooked up late this year, so I haven’t utilized it to its full potential. The kids loved having the full of beans wiki on it so that they could help each other with writing.

The other day I went into my room and saw that the janitors had finished waxing the floors. I really wanted to start moving shelves and setting things up. Of course, that is unrealistic right now since I have a new knee and it has not healed fully. Despite the room and grade changes, I have learned that what really matters is the students and making sure that they have good learning experiences. How we, as teachers, arrange the learning space has a great impact on our students and we need to be creative in order to make whatever space we have work to our advantage, and most importantly, to our students’ advantage.

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#kinderblog2012 Summer Challenge #1

Posted by mrsmelva on 06/07/2012

What did you learn this past (or, for our southern hemisphere friends, what ARE you learning this current) school year that you couldn’t have learned any other year, from any other students or colleagues or administrators or parents? What lessons did this particular year, this particular setting, these particular children bring into your life?

The biggest thing I learned this year was that when it comes to new things sometimes we just need to take the plunge. I also learned how important it is to feel sage and supported when plunging into the new and unfamiliar things. My first plunge was into twitter. I had no clue what I was doing but I knew 5 people to follow: @kicode @courosa @kathycassidy @maxxakahotdog & @wrightsroom. I had met all but @wrightsroom in person so it wasn’t a particularly bold leap. As I began to read a few tweets I followed a few more people. I was still clueless especially about hash tags but #kinderchat caught my eye so I clicked and my learning snowballed. I learned about and #skypeplay. While my class didn’t #skypeplay this year we did blog and we also shared information about growing beans on I found that my students really enjoyed writing when blogging or contributing to the wiki. I felt so welcome when I joined my first Monday night #kinderchat. It was like  visiting face to face; the talk was professional, educational, with personal bits added in. Although I was a little shy about budging in to the group I was quickly accepted and welcomed. there were teachers from all over the world sharing ideas, strategies and stories and they were almost as crazy as I am!!!!! (multiple ! Are for my new friends, you know who you are :):):)! My colleagues at school are great people to work with but we do think differently and have very different teaching approaches. I am the crazy lady letting the kids play and not doing all the phonics sheets. My new kinderchat friends inspired me to plunge again, this time into blogging with my kids. I had long admired the way @kathycassidy blogged with her kids. I have always been a Mac girl, so do not do well in our pc based computer lab at school. I don’t really like a lab environment for computer instruction, especially in early childhood and especially when the technology often doesn’t work! When I taught straight k it was not worth while to walk all the way to the lab and back in a single period. Last year I taught straight grade 1 and “they made me go to the lab”   Many times things didn’t work and it was very frustrating for all of us. During a staff meeting the idea was brought up that it would be more beneficial if instead of going for two single periods every six days, each class went for a single double block instead. One of the nice things about my school is that when ideas are brought up we take time to discuss them in our grade level PLC groups, the grade leaders meet with admin and often change happens. Because I was teaching a k/1 split this year the change meant that every day 4 my grade ones would spend half their instructional time in the computer lab. Yikes, if I didn’t ramp up my skills that would be an awful lot of “falling stars”. We would go to the lab and the kids went to, worked with TuxTyping and TuxPaint and typed their names in msword. Pretty lame, but better than nothing. I showed the kids @kathycassidy’s class blogs and they were very interested but I was still unsure, knowing I didn’t know how to do all those things that she does and afraid to look stupid in front of my kids.

Back to twitter and #kinderchat where I “met” @islandsparrow. She had a link to her class blog, including a link to her students’ blogs. I read the kids’ blogs and commented on a few. Then I took a deep breath and emailed @islandsparrow with many questions about how she had set up her kids’ blogs. She replied and explained it all very clearly. I set up blogs for my kids at and was ready to start.

At recess time I went down to the computer lab to make sure things were ready and working for the kids. I was nervous about the technology but also nervous about “not doing it right”. We plunged in anyway and the kids had fun. I demonstrated on the big screen, printed the password on the whiteboard and we began to blog. It was fun, noisy and engaging. It felt right for us.  We continued blogging, sometimes with an assigned topic and sometimes free choice. One morning, after I had spent recess setting up, the Internet went down across the division. We survived. Another day a disgruntled student shut off the master switch to the lab and everything disappeared. We survived.  We had fun. We commented on a few other blogs.  Some grade three students commented on our blogs, so did the principal and vice principal and a couple of parents.

We were blogging and having fun. I had taken the plunge and so had the kids. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t fancy but it was learning. I would probably not have plunged into kidblogging without the support of the friends I had made on twitter. That got me thinking again about the importance of relationships and a supportive environment for kids to take risks, try new thing, and LEARN. My twitter friends gave me the support I needed to take this plunge, I passed that on to my students, and soon they were passing it on to each other, helping with spelling, ideas, and basic technical stuff like how to click on “publish”.

This whole experience taught me to take risks and try new stuff with my students, even if I didn’t feel confident in my own ability. It taught me that most people want to help, not  judge. It taught me that I need to remember that if I want my students to take the plunge I need to support them and make sure that they feel safe. THANK YOU to all my “tweeps” especially the “kinderchatters”!

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