Tag Archives: first grade

“The Heartless Teacher”

The first grade classroom is a magical place—especially my classroom.  I mean, the blue walls, the whimsical flower mural, Dr. Suess posters everywhere and all the brightly colored art work displayed on the walls, there is no place I would rather be.


Well… sort of.

This teaching year has been a very challenging year.

I finished my first year teaching feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed; I was excited to give my classroom a facelift and expected nothing but rainbows and butterflies from my incoming first grade class.

Sometimes, when expectations meet reality… they clash.  Loudly.  This teaching year has been filled with that:  loud clashing noises.

Clamor.  Noise. Uproar.  Turmoil.

Maybe I’m dramatic…

But, the beginning of the school year, I was hit with a huge reality check.  My class was filled with 15 unruly children, most of whom had never been in any sort of schooling before, and many from questionable home situations without any sort of parental guidance or support.  Combine that with a foreign language, and you get a disaster.

And that’s how I would describe the first month or so of this school year.  Disaster.  The students drew on my mural, peeled paint off the wall, destroyed the rug that I bought and had no concept of a quiet signal.

Miss Samara—the happy go lucky first grade teacher, with her big glasses and even bigger hair—was in over her head.

Fortunately I was gifted with a veteran teacher willing to come in and do a classroom overhaul.  She told me to ‘man up’ and burst all the bubbles I was still grasping for about the ideal first grade class.  Yep, she burst my bubbles and she taught me how to take control—how to implement discipline, and, in some instances, how to be mean.

It has not been easy.

I would go home many days, completely ready to throw in the towel and never go back.

But now, with 5 weeks of school left and thousands of timeouts under my belt, I have a classroom that I am (90% of the time) very proud of.


Last year I was filling this blog with tales of hilarity from my class; unfortunately, I didn’t have many funny stories to tell this year, however, as I was telling a friend about the disciplinary experiments I have tried, this story stood out.


Through out this year I have established a very predictable routine for my classroom.  The students know, in general, what we are going to do each day and what to expect from me.  The first three things of the day never change:  Bible, Calendar, Interview.  This time is followed by a four minute break, during which I play the song ‘Peace Like a River’ and the children know that they are allowed to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water or dance and that I expect them back in their seats by the time the song ends.

This is the routine.  Everyday.  Never changes.

One particular day, a couple weeks back, when ‘Peace Like a River’ had ended and I was standing in my classroom with only five students.  Five little girls, sitting diligently in their desks waiting for the day’s lesson to begin.

Where was the rest of my classroom?  (To be honest, I didn’t actually want to know…)  So I decided that I would just go ahead and start the lesson.

Apple Apple A A A 

Baby Baby B B B

Two students run into the classroom, sliding on the cement floor with their worn out socks.

Cookie Cookie C C C

Dolly Dolly D D D 

Three boys burst in wrestling and pushing and laughing.

Elbow Elbow E E E

Flower Flower F F F 

There are the rest of them—running in, asking for permission to enter the classroom but not allowing me to respond.

I was not happy.

Hands on my hips.  Lights off.  Silence.

With my authoritarian face on, I asked my first graders where they were and what took them so long to get back.

I ask, rhetorically, “Is this an appropriate way to enter Miss Samara’s classroom?” and then I answered myself, “No.  Absolutely not.” and went further, explaining that Miss Samara is not going to allow the late students to sit in on her next lesson and I sent them outside of the class.

I had them sit on a bench outside of my classroom and shut the window so they were not able to make faces or join in on any of the fun that was happening with myself and the five girls on the inside.

I taught the five girls a new letter—the letter E—a very important letter if you ask me, especially if you’re in first grade and learning how to read and write three letter words.

We practiced differentiating between the short E sound and the short A sound.  I let them watch a silly cartoon all about the letter E and we learned some new vocabulary words.  All the while, two thirds of my class sat outside.  Teachers and staff members kept walking past my classroom with looks of confusion and a couple chuckles as they realized that I kicked my class out of my classroom.

Of course, this couldn’t go on all day.  I couldn’t just keep them outside.  I had to invite them back in, but I wanted to make sure they understood the seriousness of the offense.

So, I invited them back in and decided to have a fun game of ‘board races.’

I split them into two teams—Team A, the five girls and Team B, everyone else.  They were to take turns going up against each other spelling three letter words on the board, a game we play fairly often.

Naturally, this particular day, every word that I said had a short E in the middle—fed, met, get, bed, peg, leg, web, wet, and so on.

Team A crushed Team B.

When the game was over, I sat everyone down and we had this conversation:

Miss Samara:  “Team B, why did you guys do so poorly?  Team A got every word right… What was the matter?”

Team B’s Students:  “Because we didn’t know about the letter E. :(“

Miss Samara:  “Weird!  Why didn’t you know about the letter E, but team A did?”

Team B’s Students:  “Because Miss Samara wouldn’t let us into the claaaaaaasssroooom.  :(“

Miss Samara:  “Oh no!  Why wouldn’t Miss Samara let you into her classroom? “

Team B’s Students:  “Because we were late and looouuddd. :(”

Very Good.

Lesson Learned.

Nothing like loosing miserably in order to learn a lesson.

That evening I felt a little silly for being such a ‘mean teacher’, but have since come to terms with the fact that structure and discipline, while they may seem ‘mean’ on the forefront,  are actually two of the nicest things I can provide for these students.

The next class, in order to make up for the humiliation Team B had suffered the class before, I bought a bunch of Eggs and had my students draw Eyes and Ears on them and make them look like Elephants.



Then, I gave them each a small bowl and told them to put their Elephants to sleep.  Once their Elephants were sleeping I told them to use their Elbows and SMASH their Elephants!!!

They looked at me with pure shock and disbelief, but after the first brave student smashed his Elephant Egg with his Elbow, the rest of the class was quick to follow and I once again felt the pure bliss of being a first grade English teacher.


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First through Third Grade Self Portraits

Sunshine Studios has been one big learning experience for me.

I have learned that I don’t necessarily know how to teach art.  Certain things, like holding a paint brush, choosing colors that look nice together, knowing how to mix colors, etc. come very naturally to me and I have mistakenly assumed my students would just naturally have these skills.

No.  They don’t.

I have found myself teaching how to hold scissors, how to appropriately use glue, and what you should and should not do with paint.

I have chosen projects that are way too hard and, alternatively, chosen projects that are way too easy and have been left with nothing to do and half the period to fill.

Sunshine Studios has been a learning experience… to say the least.

BUT, it has been a success.

We are wrapping up the first semester of classes, so I’ve been trying to do more exciting projects with a couple more steps to them.

I have done a number of self portraits with the little kids (first-third grade) and have had various success rates.  One of the big problems I have encountered, is that despite my handing out mirrors and us looking and the different shapes in our faces, the students want to draw themselves how they have learned to draw people, not as they actually see themselves.  As I am working with primarily Thai children, I end up with a slew of anime faces that hardly resemble their creator.

I also have a hard time getting these little ones to draw BIG and fill up their paper.

Wanting to address both of these issues and getting inspiration from this blog, I ventured into a two day (two week) project with my little ones.

The first week, we played “Miss Samara says” with a piece of watercolor paper and sharpies.  I would give instructions of what they should draw and they would follow them accordingly.  After about 10 minutes or so, I gave the students watercolors and instructions to fill the whole page with color.  “Miss Samara says there can be no white space.”

Those paintings turned out pretty neat.   Though the students all received the same instructions, each student ended up with a very unique abstract painting.

Despite the begging, I didn’t let the kiddies take the paintings home, as they were part one of our two part project.

While the students were painting their watercolors I took individual, close up portraits and then printed them out on 8×10 paper.

The next week, I gave each student the picture of themselves, a piece of transparency paper and a sharpie.  They placed the transparency over their pictures and I instructed them to trace every line on their face exactly as they see it.

This was actually a little more difficult than I thought it would be.  The students traced the general lines of their head, eyes, ears, nose and mouths, but weren’t paying attention to all the other, smaller and very important lines around these areas.

Students would typically tell me they were ‘finished’ about four times before I actually allowed them to be done–I would just keep pointing out more and more lines that they have left behind.

When I finally allowed the student to be ‘done’, we got their abstract from last week and then the students picked their favorite composition and attached the two projects.

The results were better than I could have even imaged.  I’m jealous of each and every one.

So here you are,

Sunshine Studios 1st-3rd Grade Self Portraits:

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This is Nina, she is in 3rd grade and has told me specifically that she wants to be an artist when she grows up.  She saves up snack money from her parents and pays for art class on her own and asks me every day at school if it’s art class day and has even tried to sneak into the older kids class.

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This is Titi.   He has constantly created some of my favorite pieces.  He, along with Nina, is in third grade and says that he wants to be an artist.  He has a very natural ability about him and is very naturally creative.  I couldn’t help laughing when he took his picture like this.  Oh.. and when this project was finished, he hung up his picture (the one he traced) on the mirror by the bathroom so that we see his face instead of our own.  He has the mark of a true artist.

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Pakboong, one of my favorite first graders.   Pakboong loves to draw and does a very good job.  I have found that Pakboong is a bit of a perfectionist.  She will only take her projects home if she loves them 100%, which means that Sunshine Studios has many of her discarded projects on the walls.  I really liked how her portrait turned out, it’s probably one of my favorites, though it’s hard to choose.  I really LOVE how she placed the portrait inside the shape in the center, making it look like it’s inside a mirror.  Her portrait also oddly resembles on of Frida’s famous portraits.  Way to go Pakboong.  (If only she let me keep this one…)

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Namoo.  Pakboong’s other half.  This kid lives inside of his imagination and what he creates is always interesting.  While I had some questions about whether or not he was really tracing what he was seeing, or just drawing what he wanted, the combination of his two projects looks like something I could see on display.

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This handsome boy, as most of you know, is Geshem.  My roommate and usually a co-collaborator on project ideas.  Geshem really loves to draw.  He draws from his imagination every night and his drawings are getting more and more detailed. He was at first, a student more prone to using his imagination while tracing the picture, but through Miss Samara’s repeated ‘you’re not finished yet’ answers, he was able to start seeing some of the natural lines in his first grade face!  He is also quite the lover of colors.  At one point in his growing up, he would say that his favorite color is the rainbow. This usually comes through in his color choices and in this instance, created, what I think, to be a brilliant piece.

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Finally, we have Hezikiah.  Hez really struggled the day that we were doing the abstract paintings.  He was tired and didn’t want to paint.  I wasn’t sure how his project was going turn out as a result.  The next week when we were tracing our faces, Hez was much more motivated and was one of the students that paid the most attention to detail.  I mean, check out how he handled his curly hair.  I was happily surprised when we put the two projects together, the result was actually quite nice, and like the rest of them, definitely wall worthy.

So there you have it!

First term of Sunshine Studios is almost complete and despite the hiccups and learning curve and lesson fails, I would say, we’re doing pretty well!

Lots of thank you’s to everyone who has made this possible!


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N is for Noodle… and Noise and Nonsense

So far my second year of teaching has been much more challenging than the first year.  I think I was spoiled with last years class, it was so small, the students were quite bright and keen on learning English and they were all, at least a little, scared of me. (At first…)

This year has proven to be so much different.  Not only has my class size doubled, my students come from a much wider range of ‘home situations’.  Where last years students, for the most part, attended Thai preschool and had a basic understanding of what is acceptable school behavior, the majority of this years class are just now experiencing school–let alone English–for the first time.

I’ve had to up my game.

A lot of the tricks and tools I used regularly last year do not work anymore.  Things I routinely did with last years class to quiet them down and transition onto the next activity, have proven to only make these students louder and less compliant.

As much as I have felt frustrated and lost as to what to do, the challenge has been good for me.

I have been graced with a teacher helper, who has helped me come up with new ideas for managing my students and has been pivotal in giving me the confidence I need to play the unpopular role of disciplinarian in the class–a role that I seldom, if ever, had to play last year.   With the help of my teacher helper, I have set up routines, boundaries and structure for my little 6 year old to excel in.

All that to say, my students (and I) have come a long way.

I’ve always known that first graders can’t sit in their desks and listen for any extended amount of time… this year the kids are taking me to task.  I have to make sure I come to class fully prepared with activities that will not only stimulate their learning, but keep the students engaged as well.

I’ve recycled some of my favorite lessons from last year, but have also incorporated new lessons and activities–I have even started doing station rotations with the first graders, a completely foreign concept in Thai education.


This week, we’ve been learning the letter ‘N’.

What is ‘N’ for?  

Noodles.  Obviously.

So, I cooked up a bunch of noodles (spaghetti) and let my kids have at it for some sensory exploration.

It was a blast.

The kids were content playing just with the noodles and the fun could have gone on for hours–but then, I added PAINT and gave each student a piece of paper to make their masterpiece.

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The results couldn’t have been better.

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I was so proud of my students and it was really evident to me how important sensory exploration like this is for this age group.  They not only loved the activity, they were engaged, well behaved and surprisingly quiet.   The noise and nonsense that is so normal in my classroom disappeared for about 20 minutes while my students played and created.

I don’t leave school everyday feeling like it was a success–on the contrary I have plenty of days that I feel like I need to do the entire lesson plan over again–but painting with noodles while learning about the letter N, was a successful teacher day.  So successful that I’m thinking that we’ll need to ‘Paint with Pasta’ for the letter P… 🙂


**Bonus Picture**

We also made Noodle Necklaces, so this is Graphic cheesing with his.  

How cute is he!?! 

 2014-08-28 12.04.30



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This Years First Graders

I realize the school year has been going on for sometime and I have yet to introduce you all to my first grade class.

So here you are, your first look, at the kids that steal my thoughts and energy on a daily basis.


Geshem is a first grader at the School of Promise this year, but he is (sadly) not a part of my English class.


This is Pakboong (Morning Glory) and just like last year, though I try not to have ‘favorites’ this one has a special place.


There’s a lot of them this year–twice as many as I had last year… and therefore things are just much different.  I’ve had to rethink and restructure my classroom and the way I do things for this group of kiddos, but it’s amazing to me how far they’ve come.

Hilarious stories from this class will hopefully be coming soon.

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New Year, New Classroom

The new school year has officially begun and I have begun to get to know the new first graders I will be spending the year loving.

I have 15 students this year as opposed to the 7 I began the semester off with, so that’s kind of fun and exciting.

I spent a lot of time over the summer break brain storming ideas for the new school year–how to make my classroom more inviting and new fun ways to dive into the alphabet with my ESL students.

I took some pictures of my classroom, so you all can see the finished product.

I wanted to add color and fun things to look at, I also wanted to try and break the room into sections so that rotations can happen.  I bought a big rug and smaller rugs for calendar and story time and added a few plants just to bring in the green.

I’m pretty pleased with the outcome and have now made promises to work with the other teachers to create their classrooms into a more exciting environment.

First, some before pictures.  I didn’t actually take any ‘before pictures’, but I did take a ton of pictures of my students last year–so, see if you can look beyond the adorableness and get a feel for the previous classroom.

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Now for the after pictures.

(I haven’t started taking pictures of this year’s bunch yet… you’ll have to wait for those.)

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(As always–I want your feedback!  Plus, if you have any ideas for rotations or centers to have the kids do, I’d love to hear them! Ideas, ideas, ideas… I don’t have enough of them…I want yours!)






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V is for…

My main goal in teaching ESL to first graders is to make learning fun.  I set the precedent for what language learning can be like for the rest of their educational career; I have the ability to shape the way these students see the English language.  It’s not all drudgery and grammar and pronunciation… no, no, learning English is an exciting adventure!

My class and I are making our way through the English alphabet.  I intend on the students knowing all 26 letters and their simple sounds by the end of the year.  

I am not, however, going through the alphabet in the tradition A-Z fashion, but instead in an order that gives the most simple and most common letters and sounds first–thus paving the way for reading simple words early on. 

We are 15 letters in. 

I teach class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I typically introduce a new letter on Tuesday and then we spend some time practicing the sounds, writing the letter out, doing flash cards and playing a few games to help with sound recognition and then on Thursday we work on the same letter using different methods of learning.  

For example:

For “F” they had to put their face in a plate of flour.  (After writing big F and little f in the flour with their finger.)

For “E” they had to use their elbows to crack eggs.

For “D” I brought donuts and plastic dinosaurs.  The ‘dinosaurs’ had to try to make Ds out of the donuts.


The list goes on…


The most recent letter I taught was V.

What in the world can we do with V?


As it is the holiday season and our home had recently hosted a Staff Christmas Party…one of Tracy’s party games came to mind. 

Vaseline Santa Beards.


So on Thursday after a brief review of what the letter “V” says, I put the kids into teams of three, whipped out the cotton balls and vaseline…and the children got to work.



Base, First and Aaw. (Base’s team was given the title of winning team.)


The game was a hit.  The laughter was uncontrollable.  

Unfortunately, there were some unforeseen hiccups with playing this game.  

Namely the task of de-vaseline-ing my students.  

Their hands and faces were covered with the sticky gel and the ice cold water was not doing the removing trick.  The majority of my students ended up soaking wet in the 40 degree Thailand weather, and I had to help them take off their uniforms and lay them in the sun to dry–which, in turn, left me with a classroom of first graders shivering in their undershirts.


V is for Vaseline. 

and Victory.


Happy Holidays!




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ภาษาหมา (The Language of Dogs)

I’m not exactly a huge fan of classroom observations.  Maybe this is because it’s my first year of teaching and I’m insecure in my ability to do a good job.  Perhaps I suffer from an intense desire not to disappoint; or maybe I am a little worried that the ‘controlled chaos’ of my class will not translate well to the observer.  

It doesn’t matter why, the point is–I don’t enjoy having other people in my classroom.

Regardless of my dislike of said observations I seem to have some random person in my classroom just about every other week.  Sometimes these observers come disguised as close friends, sometimes as foreign missionaries and sometimes as principles–but I see through their disguises and am usually internally dying from performance anxiety that I hide behind a big smile and bright colored clothing.


Meet Natalie.



Natalie is 7 and has one big sister.  She is half Thai/half German.  Her favorite color is green, favorite animals are cats, she likes eating carrots and making art. 

When I interviewed her for this post and asked her how she is, her response was “scared.”

She is also a fan of sarcasm and hugs.


The Story:

Every morning at the beginning of class I teach a bit about the character of God and then lead my kids into prayer time. 

This particular morning I had a guest ‘helper’ [observer] who has been part of IHOP, has lived in Thailand for some time now, speaks Thai more fluently than I and is hoping to open up a School of Promise somewhere in the South.  I hadn’t ever met this woman before aside from friendly hello’s here and there, but welcomed her into my classroom and tried to pretend that I wasn’t nervous as all get up.

I taught whatever Bible lesson it was that day and then transitioned into prayer time. I always ask the students what they want to pray for and get a variety of answers ranging from:



Miss Samara




and octopi.

 Ok, yep.  Yes, I will pray for all those things.

 And then, every morning I explain that Miss Samara is going to pray out loud in English, but that my students can pray in their heart, in their heads or with their words and that they can pray in English or Thai or a tribal language if they are more comfortable with that. 

Same routine, everyday.

This day, sweet Base (pictured below) asked if he could pray in Chinese.  Everyone had a good laugh about that and I told him, yes, of course.  If you speak Chinese, please pray in Chinese because God understands Chinese.


Base. The cutest thing in the entire world. Seriously.

We all giggled together about Base being able to pray in Chinese and I began to start praying when Natalie raised her hand.  


Miss Samara: “Yes, Natalie?”

Natalie [in thai]: “Can we pray in the language of dogs?”

Miss Samara: pause. look at observer. pause. “If you understand the language of dogs, I’m sure God will understand it as well.”


And then I start praying.

Holy Spirit, I welcome Your presence into my classroom… random barking… pause. more barking… open my eyes. 

Natalie is sitting in her seat barking. Loudly.

I think, ok.  Play it cool.  No big deal.  Keep praying.

God, I thank you for this day, I thank you for this opportunity to… louder barking. open my eyes…  look at person observing my class… more students barking. pretend this isn’t happening… keep praying…

Um, You’re so good God… still more barking.  high pitched barking.  all the students are laughing.  Miss Samara starts laughing.  pull it together…

Well God, I’m pretty sure you understand Dog Language, so well…uh… ha… Amen.


I was pretty much at a loss as to how to move on from there, or how to explain to this lady that normally my students pray quietly and in human languages–so, I just pretended it didn’t happen at all.  

Prayer time was toootally normal.

High pitched barking? What?

Lets learn the alphabet. Big Smile.


Until the end of the first term dog language was brought up every class as a possibility when talking to God and for at least a good month Natalie barked the entire time I prayed.  Honestly, I don’t know why she stopped as I never squelched her freedom of expression.

But there you have it. 

Just another day in Miss Samara’s English class. With an observer.






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My First Grade Class

My First Grade Class

The kid next to me is named, Garfield. I feel like that’s important. They’re a really cuddly class. I like them.


06/08/2013 · 04:20