Skip to content

Olympic Hopeful?

She wears a pink skirt, pink Mary Jane shoes, and a shirt with pink flowers emblazoned from sleeve to sleeve.

“I’m taking gymnastics now!” She tells me with a huge smile from ear to ear. “Guess what I’m going to be when I grow up…”

When kids ask me to guess, I don’t want to spoil it, so I often postulate way off base. This allows them to smile and reveal their dreams with pride.

I look at her and think about her kind manner, sweet smile, and pink clothes and something flashes through my mind. Olympic Gold.

This past summer, the U.S. Women’s Gymnastic Team took the Olympic Gold Medal. A big deal considering this hasn’t happened since 1996. The team also won two individual Gold (one for the All-Around), one Silver, and one Bronze Medal. And if you missed any TV coverage, you can walk down the cereal aisle at your local grocery store and see their faces on what seems like almost every box (except those no-name generic toasty O’s…why is that?). And in one record breaking hot summer, a beacon of hope and possibility spreads to little girls all over the U.S. who dream of being gymnasts.

So as she begins to tell me, I anticipate her answer “Olympic Gymnast” or I’ll accept just “Gymnast.”
She slowly looks around, motions for me to lean close and whispers in my ear.
What I hear is “Spy.”
My smile freezes as my eyebrows furl a little… “A what?” I ask.
“I want to be a spy. Gymnastics will help me learn the moves I need to be a good spy.”

A spy, did she say she wants to be a spy? Part of me is shocked, part amazed, part overjoyed…but the biggest part ashamed. Come on, what was I thinking? Pink skirt, pink shoes, and a pink flowered shirt does not always a gymnast make.

I step back and take a new look at her. She’s sweet, sneaky, soon to be stealthy, and will make a great spy! I just hope she doesn’t tell too many people.

Posted in School Life.

Bad Hair Day

I recently got my hair cut. Exciting stuff, I know, but kids always notice when you get your hair cut. You may go the entire day and no adult notices or says anything, but every kid in the building, even those you only see once in a while, says “You got your hair cut!”

Sometimes you even get a “Your haircut looks good!” or “Your hair is pretty!” I try not to take these too seriously. Some kids are just sweet, and I don’t want or need a big head. (My luck the haircut would be more expensive.)

But with my new shorter, kinda messy style, I got a “What happened to your hair?” from Fernando.

What happened to my hair? I just came in from recess duty. And it’s windy outside today. And anyway, this from a Kindergartner who sports a mohawk, a shaved head with a thin strip of product spiked hair down the middle of the scalp. Oh the irony!

But I’ve learned one can’t be too thin skinned, so I smiled and told him I was having a bad hair day.

P.S. A few second grade girls were standing nearby, heard the whole conversation, and assured me my hair was beautiful. They were being very, very sweet.

Posted in School Life.

Help, please?

Zippers should be outlawed in elementary schools. The dress code should include: “No Coats, Jackets, or Sweaters with Zippers Allowed”. They constantly get stuck as they catch on that inner lining and refuse to move, either up or down. I help kids with zippers at least every other day. (I do admit it’s getting better now that the weather is warmer, fewer coats, fewer zipper problems.)

But it happened again last week. As the morning bell rang, he found me and asked if I could help him with his jacket zipper. He was a little sheepish about asking, but he clearly needed assistance. He had zipped it all the way up and it caught on that inner lining. He was trapped. It was awkward, his chin in the way, I didn’t want to slip and punch him in the jaw. I struggled for a minute, hoping I wouldn’t have to ask him to pull it up over his head as is so often the case.

I worked that zipper patiently until it finally let loose of the liner and unzipped. He was happy to be free, and I was happy to help.

“Thank you Ms. Brugmann,” he said.

“You’re welcome Mr. M,” I replied. “And don’t be embarrassed, we all need help sometimes…Just for the record though, you are the first teacher I’ve rescued from a jacket.”

He smiled and headed off to find his students.

Posted in School Life.

Button, button, who’s got the button?

I realize a lot of my posts about school life focus on Kindergartners, and to be honest, I’m not sure I could do the job of a Kindergarten teacher. But Kindergarten library time is probably my favorite. Reading great children’s literature and watching the kids eagerly find books they are excited about…their bright eyes, the smiles, the innocence, the hunger to learn. It all adds up to a very rewarding experience, with a touch of mayhem. And what kind of an experience would it be with 25 kindergartners and no mayhem?

Recently, as I read to a kindergarten class, I noticed one young fellow kept poking and holding his tummy. I asked him if he was OK, and I realized he was messing with his belly button. I encouraged him not to mess with it.

“But there’s dirt in there!” he announced.

Now, I am more than willing to tie shoes, zip zippers, button coats, secure scarves and mittens, clasp necklaces, and even help with earrings, but belly buttons are out of my comfort zone. Beyond my realm. I didn’t want to seem unsympathetic, which I wasn’t. I understand belly button issues can be frustrating…

I have a suggestion for him: “When you get home today tell your mom and she can help you clean it out.”
Problem solved, I thought.

“But,” he replies looking a bit worried, “it tickles when my mom cleans it!”

Posted in School Life.

Too Much to Ask

Thinking about what to do with one’s life is a hard thing. We ask kids all the time “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Some have lofty aspirations like “professional football player” or “pop singer.” Unfortunately, odds are against them even before they get started. Others are a little more down to earth and answer “library teacher.” (I smile…Ahh, Bless your little heart.)

Recently I overheard a very inquisitive, thoughtful first grader telling his friend, “I want to be a train driver who reads a lot. Is that too much to ask?” He paused, “Seriously…is it?”

This particular little boy loves trains, and he loves reading. But what struck me was his sense that he may be asking, wanting, and expecting too much from life. His perception of the way the world works makes him question if it’s reasonable to want the things he loves.

“Is that too much to ask?”

I think because of his natural inquisition, self-discipline, and math talents he may have better odds than those who desire Super Bowl rings or adoring fans. He may get close to his dream. He might not drive a train, but my guess is that he will design and engineer America’s first Super High Speed Bullet. While he reads, of course.

Posted in School Life.

High Ho, High Ho…

January is a very busy time in the library. Research, ordering, shelving, repairing, appraisal, check out, etc… I guess the counter behind my desk becomes a bit of a mess sometimes.

Last week a student pointed behind my desk and asked “What’s that?”
“A pile of books that need shelving,” I answered.
“What’s that?” she asked again, pointing to a different pile.
“A pile of books that need repairing,” I answered.
“And what’s that pile?” she asked, having learned how to use the word pile.
“Those are soundbooks (books and CD’s) that need bags,” I answered.
“And that?” she continued.
“Those are new books that need barcodes,” I answered.
“Ms. Brugmann,” she stated “you have a lot of work to do.”

So it’s off to work I go…

Posted in School Life.


Working in an elementary school building can be very stressful. In addition to teaching, keeping kids safe is a daily stress and a huge priority.

The building doors are locked all day, and yet I find myself keeping one eye on the kids and one eye out for strangers. When we are outside for recess and morning walks, I am especially aware of my surroundings.

I suspect that is why the sign posted on the preschool door caught my eye. The preschool classroom is in a “portable” building, with the classroom door leading directly to the outside, so they need to be especially diligent about strangers. The sign was in English and Spanish, so I knew it was important.

The sign was long, but the headline read:
ATTENTION: We are keeping our classroom safe from nuts.

Now I know we all have different names for strangers and intruders, but “nuts” was one I had never heard an educator use before. Usually teachers withhold those kinds of judgments. Oh wait…I giggled as I continued to read the notice. It suddenly struck me- they mean nuts not “nuts.”

From now on, I will keep my eyes out for both.

Posted in School Life.


October in Nebraska can be very windy (or very cold, or very snowy or very warm even). October is strange that way. But on this one particular day it was very windy. But a good windy. Recess duty was a joy. The sun was bright and the temperature mild. The wind was from the south at about 25 mph, a pretty typical wind speed for Nebraska. Second grader Alexia was by my side and we were walking and talking and discussing various joys in our lives.

That’s when things changed. The West Lincoln playground is exposed, out in the open, except for the doorway. The doorway is at a part of the building shaped like an “L,” and all trash and leaves within a mile seem to gather there. As we made our way closer to the door, the leaves swirled violently around and around in a sort of mini-tornado, whipping here and there, blinding me and causing me to cover my eyes for fear of injury. My pleasant walk with Alexia had become treacherous.

Alexia, however, didn’t see a tornado. In the beautiful sunshine, this second grader saw something quite different. “Look Ms. Brugmann,” she exclaimed “the leaves are dancing!”

Instantly I knew she was right, and my destructive tornado transformed into a graceful whirling dervish.

Posted in School Life.


I read the book The Rain Came Down by David Shannon to a first grade class today. It’s a fun book about a town that goes a little haywire because of rain. At one point in the story the traffic is blocked, cars are lined up, there is yelling and honking, and we are told “a woman squirmed in the back of a taxi.”

I asked the first graders what the word squirmed meant and they all demonstrated squirming. Good. “Yes, it’s like you have ants in your pants!” I said.

Then I asked why the woman might be squirming. Someone thought she might be mad. Now we were onto something! Inference…predicting…higher level thinking here we come!

“Mad about what?” I asked. I held my breath, waiting for the answer.

“Mad about the ants in her pants!” was the first grader’s reply.

Posted in School Life.

The Same

As he approached my desk to check out, I asked a Kindergartner, “Who are you?”
“I’m Oscar,” he said.
“Oscar M.?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied, “Oscar M.”
Then there was a slight pause.
“Ms. Brugmann,” he added, “I’m always Oscar M…. I’m the same guy every day.”

Posted in School Life.