Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

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On School #36 Kids Speak Out on First Grade

KIDS COMMENT in 2004-2005

(Reposted from Donna’s Website)

(Names are changed to protect the infamous.)

Kids Raised Hands th

Well, another school year has ended. (2004-2005) This year I had a total of 27 children. That’s a BIG class by any standards, but especially since our sister school across town, no more than a mile away, had ONLY 13 children per class. The way I look at it . . . I had double the fun…or maybe it was double the trouble. I’ll let you decide. Here’s what some of my KIDDLES said about their 1st grade experience.

When I started 1st Grade I was not good at math, but I got better. First grade is the best.

I have been in 1st Grade for a year. Can you believe that???

1st Grade was all fun! We had to do a lot of work to get things done.

For GROUP DAILY NEWS we wrote about animals, healthy snacks, snow, people, flowers, butterflies, rainbows, horses, our prize bucket, and hospitals.

When I first met Mrs. Figurski, I was shy, but then I got used to her. Mrs. Figurski has fun activities. People learn things in first grade.

First grade is a lot of fun. I am going to miss first grade.

When I started school, I was very nervous.

On the first day of first grade, I was shy and scared. When I sat down I met Ivan and Gale. They became my first friends in 1st grade. Now I love first grade. It is the best!

When I first started school, I cried because I wanted my dad. Then I met new friends and my teacher, Mrs. Figurski, did lots of stuff, like, Word Wall Quiz and Group Daily News.

KIDS COMMENT in 2007-2008

Mrs. Figurski’s class is the best class in the whole wide world. My favorite game is Race for a Flat.Variety of Kids th

My teacher is a nice teacher. You can have fun in 1st grade.

First grade can be difficult. My teacher is fun. My teacher makes projects. My teacher likes me. She is the best teacher. My teacher can do anything.

I like first grade because we write a lot. I like projects. I like when Mrs. Figurski reads Meish Goldish.

First grade is fun. I play games. I made a book, too. Mrs. Figurski is a nice teacher. Mrs. Figurski made first grade fun.

It was fun in first grade, but it’s time for an end. Mrs. Figurski made a lot of fun things like Alpha Dice and Alpha Patterns. Mrs. Figurski likes frogs. Mrs. Figurski is the best teacher in the whole wide world.

I love first grade. First grade is not like kindergarten. Our favorite teacher is Mrs. Figurski.

I like my teacher. My teacher is cool. My teacher teaches. My teacher likes kids.

In first grade you learn how to read.

You need a backpack in first grade.

First grade is fun. You do projects. You play games. You do stuff and you don’t know that you are learning. If you are in Mrs. Figurski’s class, you are in the right class. When you are done with first grade, you go to second grade.

Love First Graders th

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(Clip Art compliments of Bing. )

September 3, 2013 Posted by | On School | , , , | 1 Comment

On School #35 Bathroom Opera

msc1barThe day began normally…at least as normal as any day in a first grade classroom. Children emptied backpacks. Jackets and sweaters were hung in the coatroom. A low buzz filled the room as the children set about writing in their journals. Attendance was nearly complete when suddenly a muffled voice was heard…a single note, “La.”

Several children raised their heads from their journals and quickly looked around, but soon lost interest. “La” and a slightly higher “La, La!” followed. I looked up. More children noticed and stared at me awaiting my reaction. I pretended not to hear. They glanced at each other and snickered, but quickly returned to their tasks. I glanced around the room. One seat was empty.

“La, La, La, La, La, Laaaaa” rose to the highest range of the scale and then quickly decended to a very low and heavy “LAAAAAA.” Every child burst into giggles. The sound escaped from behind the bathroom door. The voice suddenly rang out as if in encore, which put us all in stitches. We doubled over and grasped our sides. Our laughter mingled together and we were drowned out by the bathroom opera singer.

Silently, I motioned for the children to be still. Once quieted, I whispered Kids at Desks ththat if we kept silent we would be entertained with more arias. Our opera singer didn’t disappoint us. Our silence made him more energetic and he began to experiment with a variety of sounds. It took every bit of control to be quiet and we giggled with our hands clasped over our mouths to trap our sounds within. Titters could be heard throughout the room as sounds escaped from between fingers. Suddenly the toilet flushed, the tap water rushed, the light switch flicked and the bathroom door opened to the astonished face of Alex.

Singer thAs he greeted his waiting audience the children burst into uncontrollable laughter and hooted and howled their pleasure. Alex stood in the doorway looking rather chagrined at first. His face was scrunched up with a mixture of surprise, a bit of shyness, and a whole lot of pride as he realized the applause and attention was solely for him. His sheepish grin and gleaming eyes met mine and I nodded to the front of the room. I suggested an encore and Alex gladly accepted.

He moved center-stage and ran through his repertoire of notes as we all once more grabbed for our sides. When finally we regained control, I suggested that we all get busy with our day.

I silently wondered what would be next. That afternoon, Alex, my lanky, shy, Alex whispered to me that he knew all along that we were listening to him when he was in the bathroom and that was why he was doing it. Earlier I thought I was nurturing a future opera star right there in our bathroom. Now I think a comedienne was born that morning.

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(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

August 10, 2013 Posted by | On School | Leave a comment

On School #34 Parent as Teacher

My daughter, Kiersten, posted a great article on Facebook. It pushed my “teacher” buttons – all the right ones.

The article, How About Better Parents? published in the New York Times and written by Op-Ed Columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, raises the question about where education really needs to start. Of course, ideally, schools should be filled with only the best, the most qualified teachers. For the most part they are. I know some of you will argue and point fingers at the teachers who have failed – the teachers you’ve read about in the papers and on the web, heard about on television and radio who have engaged in a variety of unsavory acts. There are those teachers, too, who put in their time and collect their dime. I won’t deny your allegations. No doubt these less than admirable persons exist in the teaching profession, as they unfortunately do in nearly all professions. Thankfully the number is small.

Most teachers are dedicated professionals who care deeply about the children they teach. Perhaps folks should focus on the strengths of teachers, raise the esteem of the profession instead of disparaging it. Look at Jaime Escalante, a teacher who taught in East Los Angeles, California. The 1988 film, “Stand and Deliver,” portrays how Mr, Escalante changed the lives of his students. He not only taught math, he challenged his students, he raised their bar for academic excellence. He showed his students that he passionately cared about teaching, about them, and their learning success. They showed him they could meet his expectations and achieve higher. Funny thing – children will rise to your high expectations. Believe in them and they will believe in you.

Then there’s Torey Hayden, a child psychologist and special education teacher from Montana. You only need to read her books to understand her passion for teaching and her love for the special children she taught. I fell in love with her students. too, and I marveled at Torey Hayden’s inate ability to reach them. She truly makes a difference. I have read and loved all of Ms. Hayden’s books, but I think my favorite is One Child.

Mary MacCracken, another inspirational teacher and author, is dedicated to working with special needs children. She has written many books based on her teaching. Lovey: A Very Special Child and A Circle of Children are excellent depictions of a teacher and her very special children. The moment I finished A Circle of Children, I paged through the phone book. Mary MacCracken lived only a few miles from me. I dialed her number. I needed to tell her how inspired I was after reading her book. I was passionate. Her line was busy … and I lost my nerve. I never did redial, but I never lost the passion that her words left with me.

After devouring all of both Torey Hayden and Mary MacCracken’s books, I was tempted to change my teaching direction. I wanted to walk in their shoes, but I knew I could never fill them. So I did what I was most qualified to do. I taught in general education classrooms, specifically first and third grades.

So, yes, we all want good teachers – excellent role models in the classroom. Our children deserve that! But to address the question Mr. Friedman posed about where education really needs to start. It’s not the classroom.

Children usually do not have their first formal classroom experience until they are five- or six-years-old. Much too late for “education” to begin. Education begins at home as soon as a child demonstrates understanding. When a child learns to say “mama” or “dada,” we clap and smile and hug that child. That’s education! We cuddle with our child and point to pictures and they parrot as we read the words, “I do not like Green Eggs and Ham. I do not like them, Sam, I am.” We marvel when they memorize those same words and read them back to us – the little geniuses. That’s education! When a child understands “NO” as he or she reaches for an electrical outlet. That’s education! When we guide our little ones to put away their clothes, make their beds, brush their teeth, set the table, or any number of household or personal chores – Education. All education! We are all educators. We are all teachers. BUT …  parents are the first teachers.

I have touted this philosophy my entire teaching career. It is not mind-boggling. It is simply common sense. So it saddens me when parents tells me they have no time to read with their child. I am disheartened when parents tell me that teaching is not their job. I especially hate when parents lay out the excuse for why their child is not doing well in math, in reading, or any subject by stating, “I was never good in ___ either.” (fill in the blank) All the more reason, I say to make sure that Johnny  or Mary gets extra help either with the teacher after school or at home. We all need reinforcement when learning a new subject. “Practice makes perfect,” – so they say. We all need to practice what we have learned. As adults,  as teachers,  or as parents, it is our duty to guide and nourish the new generation. For children are our planet’s greatest natural resource. Parents who fall into any of the above categories are setting up their child for failure. They are sending a loud and clear message that school is not important … or more seriously, that their child is not important enough to warrant their help and attention to school needs.

It is common sense, at least it is to me, that children who read at home, who have educational input from their parents, children whose parents hold education in high esteem and pass that ethic onto their children will far outshine those who do not. It’s simple!

In all my classes, both first grade or third grade, I required children to read each night – at least ten to twenty minutes. I know some children only fulfilled the requirement, but I also know that many children read on and on and on. Their parents told me so … and, yes, more than one, claimed the flashlight under the covers. I remember I used to do that, too, as a child. I still love to read in bed. I like to read anywhere.

Parents are their child’s first teachers. They are their child’s most important teachers.

As a teacher, I take great joy and pride in opening a child’s mind, perhaps by something I said or something I did, or taught, but it is the parent who is the child’s lifelong teacher.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

November 30, 2011 Posted by | On School | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On School #33 You Can’t Put a Price on Teaching

Nicholas Stratigopoulos, a fellow blogger and a new teacher to the profession, posted an article, Appreciation for Educators, on his site educationisphysical. I’d heard various versions of this concept many times throughout my career. Here is my version, which is pertinent to my area of the country.

A Teacher’s REAL Worth

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like, if I chosen to be a babysitter … instead of a teacher. Babysitting is a much, more lucrative job.

If the school board agreed to pay me a babysitter’s salary, I promise I would throw in reading, math, science, social studies, art, music, physical education, and handwriting … for FREE. I’d even do morning, lunch, and recess duty; and I’d be sure to hang out in the school yard for an extra ten minutes after school each day to be sure that all of my students are safely delivered to the loving arms of their guardians. I’d offer extra help after school too and come in early in the morning to tutor students who are struggling. I’d pat kids on the back and wipe their sniveling noses when they scrape a knee or elbow, and I’d put on a Flintstone or a caterpillar or super hero bandaid … or maybe just a heart-one, to make them feel better. I’d crawl on the floor or plow through the half-eaten apples in the lunch-time trash cans to help them look for their lost teeth before sending them to the nurse for their fancy certificate. I’d be a referee when Johnny takes Timmy’s new toy truck at recess and won’t give it back. I’d lend my shoulder to cry on when Susie tells Mary she has a new best friend. I’d correct papers and design lessons way after the dismissal bell rings and into the wee hours of the morning at home just to be ready for the next day’s fun and games. I’d sit through hours of faculty meetings each week and come back at night for Back-To-School-Night and Literacy Night and Games Night and Science Fairs and Art Shows and PTA parties and … parent/teacher conferences to tell the parents how wonderful their children are – because they Really are. If they would pay me a babysitter salary, I would do all of that … for FREE. I promise!

Babysitter fees in my NYC area are between $10.00 and $15.00 an hour per child. I could have probably worked just a few years, retired by age thirty-five, and been a multi-millionaire.

Too bad babysitting was not my life’s chosen profession. I just love teaching too much.

The way I figure it for my New York City area:

$10.00 Babysitter Fee:

25 children/class (Salary can be adjusted. Just give or take five children either way.)
6.5 hours/day
184 school calendar days

25 children x $10.00/hour/child = $250.00/hour for 25 children
$250.00/hour for 25 children x 6.5 hours per day = $1,625.00/day
$1,625.00/day x 184 school calendar days = $299,000.00/year

I’ll sign! Where’s the dotted line?

I’m worth it!

$15.00 Babysitter Fee:

25 children/class (Salary can be adjusted. Just give or take five children either way.)
6.5 hours/day
184 school calendar days

25 children x $15.00/hour/child = $375.00/hour for 25 children
$375.00/hour for 25 children x 6.5 hours per day = $2,437.50/day
$2,437.50/day x 184 school calendar days = $448,500.00/year

I’ll sign! Where’s the dotted line?

I’m worth it!

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

October 29, 2011 Posted by | On School | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

On School #32 Remembering Greg

I am reposting this from my website, donnaodonnellfigurski, in memory of a former first grade student, Greg, who left us too early ten years ago.

Greg was a good student and a happy child for most of his 1st grade year with me. His mother, Val, was my dynamic class mom. She could handle anything!

Then one day she told me she was worried. She was about to give Greg a brother, and he was upset about her going into the hospital. He was afraid she would not return. I told Val not to worry. I told Greg not to worry, too.

His mother was going into the hospital for a happy event. Greg was reassured and our whole class set out to write a book to welcome Greg’s new baby. (When all else fails – WRITE!) Greg also wrote his own book to welcome his new brother, David. (As David grew up, he landed on my classroom doorstep, twice – both in 1st grade and 3rd grade.)

About ten years after Greg was in my class, Val gave me some sad news. She told me that Greg was in the hospital. This time I couldn’t tell her not to worry, as I had done so many years ago. I could not tell Greg that either.

Greg was diagnosed with cancer. He was only 16. My memory of him stops there. But I remember him always. I remember his smile. I remember his fun-loving ways. I remember him six years old and in my 1st grade class. And, I miss him.

(Photo compliments of Me and Val.)

PS. Happy 20th birthday to David, Greg’s little brother who he was so worried about.

October 28, 2011 Posted by | On School | , , , , | 17 Comments

On School #31 It’s Not Working Overtime

I love this horoscope my sister, San, sent to me. It is so apropos.

“Working overtime again? If you weren’t asked to and it’s not absolutely necessary, why not call it a day early — which for you means leaving on time. Give yourself a break. You’re due.”

If you are a teacher who loves her job, it’s not really working overtime when you work until 5:00 or 6:00 P.M. at school preparing lessons, making learning games, or sharing ideas with fellow workaholic, I mean dedicated, teachers. It’s not really working overtime when you work at home snuggled up on the couch until 10:00 or 11:00 or 12:00 A.M correcting papers or surfing the computer for new, fun ways to present learning phonics or dreaming up new lessons to make learning addition and subtraction facts easier.

If you are a teacher who loves her job, you might be like me and forget to take your class to specials like art, music, library, or to the gym for physical education. You might be so wrapped up in your science or social studies lesson that the time just slips by. You and your class might be so engulfed in reading and discussing Charlotte’s Web or singing Chika Chika Boom Boom or I’m a Little Teapot, or writing a friendly letter to the principal to tell of all the wonderful activities you do in first or third grade. You might be so focused on entering a new page of poems on the Wiki … and you have to get it done so the kids can read them to their parents at home that night after dinner. But, if you are a teacher who loves her job, one thing you do NOT do is leave at 3:30 – because that would seem like half a day.

When you love teaching, as I do/did … no, still do – even though I am freshly retired, then leaving early at 3:30 … is just not going to happen. I’m not working overtime. I am following a dream … following my passion … making kids happy.

(Clip Art compliments of

October 20, 2011 Posted by | On School | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

On School #30 My Little Engine

“I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!” said my little engine, Nicole. And I knew she could. And she did!

Nicole was a perky six-year-old. With dark brown hair, big eyes, and a ready smile, She was a pleasure to have in my first grade class. She was very cooperative, had lots of friends, and seemed to enjoy school. Nicole was bright and did very well academically … but, sadly she didn’t think so.

She worried if she missed a spelling word on a quiz or got a math problem wrong. She was nervous when called on, even when she knew she knew the answer. Her anxiety was not apparent in the classroom. She hid it well. But when she went home, she fretted over her work and school. She felt as if she were not good enough. Of course her mom was worried. Her dad, too. And so was I, once they alerted me.

I was surprised that this seemingly very capable child was suffering from lack of self-esteem, from feelings of inadequacy. One afternoon I sat down with Nicole and her mother for a serious heart-to-heart talk. It took a lot of convincing to turn Nicole’s thinking around. I told her the story of The Little Engine That Could. You know the one. The little engine had to pull a trainload of toys over the mountain in time for Christmas morning, but it was a daunting, nearly impossible task for such a small engine.

But Little Engine did not want to disappoint all of the little boys and girls who were expecting a new toy for Christmas. The little engine pulled. She puffed. She tugged and hauled and repeated the refrain over and over, “I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!” unto she finally crested the hill and chugged the rest of the way down the mountain and into town.

I saw the glimmer in Nicole’s eyes as I neared the end of the story. She got it! “Do you know what you are?” I asked. With a slight nod and a smile, she answered, “the engine.”

Nicole remains my engine after all these years. When she graduated 8th grade, I sent her a congratulatory card. It had a picture of an engine cresting a hill. It read, “I knew you could.”

Before Nicole graduated high school, she nominated me for Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. Some years later Nicole’s mother gave the recommendation letter that Nicole wrote to me. I treasure it. Perhaps in a later post I will share it with you.

(Clip Art compliments of

(PS Actually, I was nominated a total of three times for Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. Unfortunately I never learned which of my students nominated me for the additional two books.)

October 11, 2011 Posted by | On School | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On School #29 One Happy Teacher

Welcome to the Wonderful World of First Grade!

Welcome to the Wonderful World

This is me!
This is me.
I love my class.
Can’t you see?


Yep! That’s one happy teacher. THAT’S ME!

Sometimes I really look like that. Oh, don’t worry. It’s a good thing. I practically stand on my head for my kids. But then . . . they just about stand on their heads for me, too.

I think kids are just about the smartest people around. Don’t let their size trick you. Sometimes they try to hide what they really know, but if you dust away the cobwebs, it’s all there . . . just waiting to be discovered.


There are so many of them. There are David and Sara and Nick and Samantha and Thomas and Nichole and Kieth and Courtney. Well, the list could go on and on. I have taught more than 500 children since I began teaching a long, long time ago. I’ve taught kids with common names like Greg and John and some with not so common names like, Olivia and Demi. But, I’ve never taught a Mathilda or a Henry or a Stella or a Wendell or an Elvira or a Hubert . . . or even a Donna . . . but maybe I will . . . someday.

Well, since I retired in June of 2011, I guess I’ll never meet Mathilda, Henry, Stella, Wendell, Elvira, Hubert . . . or even Donna. Not in my very own classroom, but who knows, maybe if I substitute or tutor, I will.


(Clip Art compliments of

October 9, 2011 Posted by | On School | , , , , | Leave a comment

Musings by Donna #33 School Started Without Me

School started without me. I slept right through the 5:45 alarm, which I didn’t set. The kids with their shiny, smiley faces, their brand new outfits, their knapsacks laden with fancy pencils, erasers, sharpeners, crayons, clipboards, white boards,  journals, and any number of other supplies their teachers requested, waited on-line outside the school entrance, but I was not with them. I was not with them as they stood in the drizzle laughing and chattering to mask their nervousness of beginning a new school year. I was not the one to throw open the doors when the 8:30 bell rang and welcome each child back. I was not with them as they hugged their moms or dads goodbye, then marched through the door with a final wave. I was not with them as they explored their new classroom, as they found their desks, or as they hung their jackets on their coat room hooks.  No, I was not there, not in their classroom, but I was with them … in my head and in my heart.

I saw them fingering their new textbooks – blues and yellows and purples. I saw the awe in their eyes as they picked them up and felt the heaviness of those books. I saw them peek inside … eager to know what was in store for them in their new third grade. I saw their eyes grow bigger as they carefully opened their handwriting workbooks. It was cursive – no more baby printing. Third graders love cursive writing, at least in the beginning of the year. It’s so new – it’s magical. No, I was not there, not in their classroom, but I was with them … in my head and in my heart.

I heard them whispering as they gathered on the floor ready for their first math lesson. I heard them wiggling as they stole peeks at the clock as the minutes drew nearer to lunch time. I heard the 11:30 lunch bell. I heard their laughter and their chatter as they straddled the benches in the  lunchroom chomping on sandwiches, trading cookies, spilling milk or juice. I heard their voices calling to each other on the play yard as they played tag or shared their fears about this new third grade – so much work. No, I was not there, not in their classroom, but I was with them … in my head and in my heart.

At the end of the day, I felt happy and satisfied and wistful and tired, too. The day had gone well. Sadness crept in as my new charges prepared to leave at 3:00, but with giggles they promised to return in the morning. I smiled as I heard, “She’s so funny. She’s the best teacher I ever had. (Knowing they said those same words for their 2nd, 1st, and Kindergarten teachers, too.) No, I was not really with them on that first-day-of-school when they began third grade this year. I was not really in their classroom, but I was with them … in my head and in my heart.

(Clip Art compliments of

(Clip Art compliments of Discovery Education.)

(Clip Art compliments of A Kids Heart.)

September 9, 2011 Posted by | Musings by Donna, On School | , , , , | 10 Comments

On School #28 Lily – A Blooming Fower

Lily was one of my first blooming flowers. I’ve had many flowers since my teaching career began in the early 1980s, but Lily was my first. She didn’t bloom right away, and I admit I was worried about her.

I was lucky to teach Lily in both 1st and 3rd grades. She had a quiet way about herself, and her studies did not come easily to her. But what I loved most about Lily was that she never stopped trying. She never gave up. Each day she would sit at her desk and focus on her work. She worked hard, even though it didn’t seem as if she were getting very far. Lily moved into 2nd grade; and I kept a wary eye on her, until she landed in my 3rd grade class.

Her work pattern continued. She plugged away at math and reading, science and social studies, English …, and a handful of other classes. It wasn’t until near the end of 3rd grade that she began to bloom. And bloom she did! In April!

As a little bud opens slowly to form a beautiful flower, so did Lily.For years, until she left for high school, Lily proudly shared her report card with me each term. “Look! Another ‘A’!” she’d say.

I’m so proud of you, Lily.

(Clipart compliments of

July 14, 2011 Posted by | On School | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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