Category Archives: Teaching


In my yoga practice, my favorite thing is Ujjayi Pranayama.  This is the breath that sounds like an ocean in my throat and is especially satisfying when I can’t physically be at the beach, looking at the ocean.  When time must stand still, in an asana, while showing patience, or while gathering courage, breathing can help.  So, in lieu of a mantra, since I’ve never officially been given one, I create my own.  I am breathing in, I am breathing out.

Teaching this to children, 5 year-olds, is an enlightenment in itself.  Have you ever heard children cheer when told it was time for yoga?  Have you ever witnessed the serious face of a small child gazing over his hand in Warrier 2, or smiled secretly as a little girl in triangle pose looked up at her hand and said, “Hello hand!”

Yoga can mean moving into a posture, noticing one’s environment, listening to one’s body or simple quieting the mind long enough to breathe and be calmed by that magical sound.

Gratitude, like yoga, is a practice too.  I am grateful to my teachers, to have a beautiful space to practice, to have a special place in my home to continue that practice and to share the gift of calm with 27 rambunctious 5 year-olds, who move through out the day, but who are grateful for the opportunity to slow down, listen to their private ocean and breathe in and out.


Filed under gifts, Life thoughts, Relax, Teaching

Why I’m not a bad money manager.

I am not a bad money manager.  I have been thinking for the past four years, that something was wrong with me, after all, why am I continually coming up short in the budget department?  Why, when I keep cutting corners, eliminating experiences and streamlining personnel services, do I keep receiving warning notices from that I am over my budget for….food….gas, you know, little things like that? Reading David Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover is illuminating, but this summer, I realized that simple envelope systems and debt-snowballs are no match for giant reductions in income.

This summer, I was, once again, reviewing and modifying my budget, looking around my house for more things to sell or donate in a feeble attempt to live more simply, when I happened to check the State Franchise Tax Board website to be sure my last payment had been recorded.  The site has this really cool feature that allows you to see archives of the last four year’s wages earned and taxes paid.  It was then that I realized the enormity of the Los Angeles Unified School District pay cuts and furlough days. 

Between 2008 and 2009, my pay decreased $1,072.15

Between 2009 and 2010 my pay decreased $1,572.04

Between 2010 and 2011 my pay decreased $5,977.17. 

If you have been keeping up with that math, the difference between my teacher’s salary in 2008 and 2011 is $8, 621.36

I would add an exclamation mark, but there is nothing to be excited about. I am coming up short about $862 a month.

This is not entirely the fault of our union, UTLA, for weak negotiations with the District or the LAUSD, because their budget is controlled by the California.  This is not entirely the fault of the California because the State budget is dictated by the taxes collected in the State both income and property tax and some sales tax revenue thrown in too.  Our State is suffering, just like the country, in fact we are just a small part of the entire global economic downturn, but that down turn was caused by the few and mighty who control Wall Street. 

So when I’m feeling the pinch and thinking of second jobs, launching a business, writing material to sell on Teachers Pay Teachers and my own ebooks and independently published books, it is my effort to retain a shred of dignity after 34 years of teaching almost 600 children to believe in themselves.  It is time for me to believe in myself, regardless of whether the LAUSD, UTLA the California, the Federal Government or Wall Street investment bankers believe in the value of teachers.


Filed under Education, Life thoughts, Teaching

Changing the Future, One 5-year-old at a Time

My warm-up return to the world of writing:

A whirlwind of emotions swept through my school this week with the announcement of a ruling allowing LAUSD to impose 5 furlough days this school year.  This announcement is on top of the RIF notices already delivered to 3/4 of our teaching staff and our principal.  Spirits are dipping and the fact that this happened during testing season, when teachers and students are buried under a mountain of tests is ironic.  While I am not impacted by RIF notices, the pay cut due to the furlough days impacts me as does the fact that I have not had a raise in 7 years, other than the increase I earn from earning my Masters Degree in 2008.  Fifty dollars per pay check.  My student loan payment is $250.00 per month so essentially I am going into debt each month for the privilege of my higher education.  How is one to keep one’s head up and carry on? 

     I decided to refocus for the sake of sanity and to feel empowered instead of dwelling on feelings of helplessness by taking a look at what I do for 7 hours everyday.  Children arrive in late summer (this year that will be pushed back to August 14th) to my Transitional Kindergarten classroom, some with preschool experience, others with no school experience or socialization skills.  They merge, and our classroom becomes a family.  This is no small feat and requires planning, preparation and daily lessons from the Conscious Discipline program by Dr. Becky Bailey.  We learn about using our “big” words (speaking up for ourselves), seeing the best in others, being helpful rather than hurtful, making positive choices, learning about the consequences of our actions, exhibiting empathy when encountering diversity and controlling our emotions through breathing.  My students follow the school rules:  Be Safe, Be Responsible, Be Respectful.  All of these social skills help the children evolve into students capable of paying attention in class, taking turns and learning.  Many of the students spend more time at school than at home each day and they look at the classroom family as a true part of their family. 

     Each day I instruct the children in phonics, math, social studies, and beginning technology skills.  They receive instruction in physical education and science, drama, art and music taught by myself or by specialists, passionate about their subject area.  What is the impact?  Children that take part in Transitional Kindergarten have more school success.

  While it is true, that teachers are in it for the outcome, not the income, a competitive living wage would be a welcome relief and a much needed moral boost.  Taking care of the people that take care of our youngest makes sense in the same way that funding educational programs for young children is an investment in our future.  It is time to look carefully at the priorities of our society and at the consequences we impose upon ourselves by allowing the 1% and corporations to suck funds in the form of tax breaks, from those in our society who need it the most:  the young and the elderly.  It is time to fund those who care for and serve the polar spectrum of our society, and who better to do that, than those making millions from the products sold to them?

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Filed under Life thoughts, Pink Slips, Teaching



Teaching is not for the faint of heart.


“Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.
And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do.”

~ Apple Computer (just an ad, but still pretty inspiring)

This arrived in my email today courtesy of Lynn Scheurell (Creative Catalyst) and it got me thinking about how to impart the knowledge I am required to teach while honoring differences (both biological, and emotional), preventing bullying, raising self-esteem, respecting differences, differentiating curriculum and staying energized.  Teaching is a difficult job!  It isn’t like any other.  We can’t just show up, sit in a cubical, work for 8 hours and leave.  We can’t just serve people food, help them select clothing or sell them products. We are responsible.   We are responsible for educating the whole child, physical and emotional, intellectual and artistic.  We are substitute parents when they fall down or feel sad.  We are guides through the maze of often confusing State and Federal required curriculum.  Our job has no defined hours and often continues on nights and weekends.  Our pay is attached to hours, but our hearts demand more of us and our minds are constantly thinking of our students.  A simple trip to the Dollar Tree becomes a shopping trip for classroom materials, and looking a books on Amazon is dangerous!  I have no control or willpower when it comes to my classroom.  Ideas jump in my head and won’t leave until I have satisfied them with new materials or a new lesson.

At the same time, we must honor the spirit of the children in our care.  Often we spend more time with them than their parents.  We have six hours a day to make a difference, build character, help them to learn how to be creative, different, unique, and intelligent, and while we do this, while we honor the differences, we know that in order to be heard, these future inventors, creators, citizens of the world, must be able to relate effectively with others.  To be a rebel and a misfit, a round peg in a square hole (or vice-versa), or a trouble maker, is only useful if you use it to create and to make the world a better place.  It is when the vision exists and can be imparted to others, that others will listen and benefit.


Filed under Life thoughts, Teaching

Fresh Bulletin Boards

For some reason, there is nothing as wonderful in late August, as freshly decorated bulletin boards in a classroom.  For me, once the fresh paper and border are up, the possibilities loom large in the classroom.  Slowly materials make their way to their places and the room takes form.  The reading materials nestle together in a knee-high cubby in my “u” shaped table.  The handwriting blocks, pencils, magnetic boards and letter trays gather.  The bright primary colors of the carpet squares scream out, “Where are the children?”  The toys long to be held, played with and loved.  The computers hum and the rest mats lay in wait.

There is something about the beginning of school that brings with it hope, anticipation, and high expectations.  Everything is possible and nothing has happened.  Every child is eager, well-behaved and angelic.  Parents are hopeful and tearful at the same time and teachers are excited for the newness to wrap around them and comfort the nightly dreams of unpreparedness, late arrival and the unknown.

In August anything is possible, even under the blistering sun. The cool rooms welcome learning and provide a respite from the summer heat.  In August there is so much to look forward to.

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Filed under Teaching

Pink Slips and Red Faces

I don't think pink is my favorite color anymore.

I can’t help it. The only thing on my mind now is the sad state of affairs at my wonderful little mountain school which is unfortunately ruled by a large insensitive school district and an even larger and cold-hearted State.  The wonderful staff of 16 has been sadly divided into the haves and have-nots.  Those having received pink slips and those who have not.  The pink slips are not pink, and are not slips.  They are cruel white letters notifying my friends and co-workers that they will no longer be employed as of July 1st.  Their classrooms will be vacated and another displaced teacher will move in.  Our school family will be torn apart and all of our work, building community, sharing lives, stories and  commitment to the education of our charges will be forever changed.  These dedicated teachers will move on or move away, their lives forever changed through no fault of their own.  They will possibly change careers, locations, and living situations.  Some will leave to teach in other countries.
Who is to blame for this dismantling?  The same greedy people who caused the collapse of the economy, the tumbling down of the housing market, the elimination of thousands of other jobs and the change of the world economy as we knew it.  People whose thoughts and views do not extend beyond themselves and people with no foresight, compassion or vision for a future that includes prosperity for those outside the circle of  power.
Phrases like “No Child Left Behind” are irrelevant as obviously most children will now be left behind, fall through the cracks and suffer in the silence of class sizes exceeding 30 children.  There will be no winners in the “Race to the Top” because all will wallow at the bottom-teachers, students and parents who dreamed of a better life for their children.  When these parents, elected officials and business people get older, age and depend on the younger generation for medical attention, and care taking, who will be there to do it?  The untrained masses?  Those who have the scars of betrayal left from these decisions to short-change their education?  The red faces of the embarrassed, short-sighted “officials” will not bring satisfaction to those of us affected by today’s actions.
Questions are many and answers are few.  There are, however, the faces of these teachers who are being forced unwillingly out of their classrooms, they are the faces of my friends.


Filed under Life thoughts, Pink Slips, Teaching

Making a Difference

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I spend my days making a difference in small lives, in small bits, minutes at a timeI always knew I wanted to do this and I can remember back to 2nd grade, being asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I never hesitated.  I knew I wanted to teach, to spend my days with children, helping them learn what they would need to succeed.  I have been doing this for 30 years, but  realized 20 years ago, that the youngest children in elementary school were the children I felt at home with and I loved spending my days operating at a dramatic level, performing my teacher act complete with props.  Puppets, alphabet pointers, counters, games, blocks and books, and a healthy dose of make-believe aid me in my endeavor to pass on the foundation of education, the recognition of letters, numbers, symbols.  My students learn life skills, manners, social skills and ABCs.  They learn to count and to count on each other.  They live with me for 6 hours a day and I have the awesome responsibility of giving them all they will need to succeed.  I face obstacles (illness, family trips, doctor and dentist appoints and the threat of a shortened school year) that keep them out of the classroom,  parents overcome with their own lives or mistaken in their belief that “it’s only kindergarten” and it not as important as other grades, a government that does not put education first and a school district consumed with financial worries.

With these obstacles, I still must succeed.  When Davis Guggenheim’s new movie Waiting for Superman arrives, perhaps it will inspire conversation, or will motivate a movement to save public education from elected officials and from itself.  I have hopes, yet daily, I must go to class ready to do my best regardless of these obstacles and needed changes.  I spend my days making a difference in small lives, which will one day grow from the nurturing and education I can give them.

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Filed under hurdles, Life thoughts, Teaching

Other People’s Children

They are other people’s children, yet they feel so much like my own for I spend the better part of each day with these little ones, caring for them and about them, dedicated to their growth and development, in fact, we spend so much time together that we think of each other when, bringing each other small gifts of appreciation; pictures, pencils, books and cards upon return.  They are “my kids,” our days with lessons in the academics, life, world of arts and an education in manners and behavior top the list.  They are learning to say, “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, and “may I please”, to earn the prize of a fancy tea party, parents invited.  These children care about each other and are in this for a team win, everyone succeeding together because help is given freely and no one falls through the cracks in this room because there is always someone there to catch you.  We are all practiced catchers and we all take turns falling.

These children are wise beyond their years and their ears are fine-tuned to the nuances of the adult conversations they silently hear, taking everything in, not always know how to process it so it emerges during group discussions, at unexpected times, during a vocabulary lesson, example definitions.  I find out more than I sometimes want to know, about their worries, their fears, and their strong feelings.

Some of these little ones have power at home,  demanding  attention, voices loud, tantrums forthcoming, while others slink into the crevices of family, observing, while waiting for their turn.  Some are parents to their siblings while others live alone in adult worlds, taking on the responsibility of carrying part of the burdens housed in their family

Most of the children are happy, regardless of circumstances, because in this place, the place they live for six hours a day, five days a week, they are members of a bigger family and the communal aspect provides enough for all.  There are enough toys, enough crayons, enough pencils, enough friends and enough time, their pride growing daily as they become more accomplished and learn to take pride in their own work, their own creations and their own ideas.  “Our job is to come to school,” they say.

“Yes, so is mine.”


Filed under creative writing, Teaching

I Am the Skirball’s Featured Teacher!


Amy Weisberg, Topanga Elementary Charter School

Amy Weisberg, our featured teacher this month, is a hardworking, inspirational figure in early elementary education in Los Angeles. With a BA in Sociology from UCSB and a MA in Education with an emphasis on Organizational Leadership from CSUN, Mrs. Weisberg has been teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District for thirty years and in the Kindergarten program at Topanga Elementary Charter School for the past sixteen years. She shares, “I love working with the youngest students and watching them grow and change during the year.”

At Topanga Elementary, Mrs. Weisberg developed the “Developmental Kindergarten Program,” a transitional kindergarten program that is described as a sort of a “half-step” between the pre-school experience and traditional kindergarten classes. The program allows students “caught in the middle”—due to California’s late cut-off date—to advance more naturally to the next grade. For her development of this unique kindergarten program, Mrs. Weisberg received the Lori Petrick Educator Award, bestowed by the Palisades Charter School Foundation. The award honors excellence in education delivery and recognizes best practices utilized in K–12. To learn, more click here.

Mrs. Weisberg also conceptualized and oversees her schools “Garden Villa,” a working garden for the students that was jumpstarted with a grant awarded to the school from the California Instructional School Garden Program. To learn more, click here.

A few weeks ago the Skirball education department received a surprise—a whimsical and beautiful book featuring photographs of Mrs. Weisberg’s students with their own animal creations. The handcrafted animals—a bird, a zebra, a moose, a Very Hungry Caterpillar, and a polar bear, among others—were inspired by their visit to Noah’s Ark at the Skirball and made from recycled and repurposed materials that they brought from home, like pinecones, steamers, nails, and corks. “It was a very collaborative project,” Mrs. Weisberg explained, “which is pretty much the way I run my classroom—utilizing each parent’s strengths to enhance the kindergarten experience.”

Mrs. Weisberg has been married for twenty-seven years and has three daughters, ages 18, 20, and 25. All three daughters are highly involved in the arts: one graduating from UCLA with a theater degree, one at UCSC studying music, and the other beginning her college career as a dance major.


Filed under Family, Teaching