Be all that you can be. Find your future--as a teacher.

Musings of a second-year teacher.

Monday, May 11, 2009

N's are bad, P's are good

Who knew that we started judging grades in Kindergarten? I sure didn't. Until now, my kids had been oblivious on report card day. Probably part of that was my fault, because I never really made a big deal of it when report cards were to be sent home. I didn't think I needed to, because it seems to me that most of my students were working up to their potential and the report card was important to let parents know about their child's progress. But today, I happened to mention report cards were going home in folders. The way my students reacted, you would have thought I had just said, "Oh, by the way, you'll find $5 in your daily folders tonight." They were so excited!

As they packed up to go home, I caught multiple students pulling out their report cards. I didn't really understand this because a) they can barely read and b) do they really even understand what all those slashes and marks mean? My heart sank a little when I heard one student say "N's are bad." I hate that my students already have that mentality. I don't feel as if "N's should be considered bad" because all my students who received N's were trying their hardest. An N doesn't mean that you are bad and didn't pay attention. It just means that, for some reason, your brain works a little slower than some other people's and it's taking longer for you to learn your letters. I don't want my students to ALREADY be categorizing themselves according to grades.

Along those same lines, I don't want my students to think that "P's are good" and "because I got P's I'm good." Everything we learn seems to click naturally with a few of my students, but I get so frustrated when they do the bare minimum and don't apply themselves at all. When I tell my students to "journal and write two sentences or more", my bright and capable students will write two sentences and that is it. I can not convince them to write more, even if they are able. It frustrates me at times that classroom achievement is boiled down to a letter. (Although, I see why this is necessary, because I already spend WAY too much time on report cards...this system does make it as simple as possible.) It just seems discouraging when I fill in a report card with all N's, but the student has made tremendous progress in the past 6 weeks- just not enough to warrent a P. And I hate putting down all P's knowing a parent will read that and think, "My child's doing just fine, I don't need to encourage them to do any more".

This is probably an age-old complaint and I understand the need for some kind of standard. I guess I was just shocked at how quickly students absorb the implications of grades. Let's hope they don't take them too seriously yet...they have plenty of time in the future to be worrying about grades!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I can see the finish line!

It's hard to believe that I am a month away from completing my first year of teaching. This time last year, I was in the midst of filling out applications and contacting principals, wondering where my first teaching job would take me. I was hoping to find a job in a new town, with new opportunities. However, my plans did not work out the way I had hoped. I ended up returning to my home town (where I had only applied at the last minute as a "back-up") and it has turned out to be a wonderful first year experience.

I can't say enough good things about the school that I have ended up at. I have an incredible principal, who has supported me as I find my way this year. I have found wonderful colleagues who have patiently answered every question I've pestered them with. And, for the most part, I have had a great class that has helped me decide what I should (and shouldn't!) prepare for next year.

I've learned quite a lot from my first year. I always thought that the education field was unique in that you got real-world experience before you actually had a "real job." I've found that student teaching does give you a glimpse of what real teaching is like, but it is no where near the same thing.

For one, student teaching NEVER shows how many mundane, time-consuming things teachers have to complete every single day. I guess my cooperating teacher was kind and didn't bother me with every single email/card/miscellaneous faculty memo that was passed around. I SWEAR I spend so much time dealing with things that are urgent, but in no way important. For example, there is ALWAYS filing to be done: filing all the tardy slips, filing notes from parents, filing homework. In case you don't know, filing is really time consuming. (I think I could present a relatively well-backed argument proving that teachers need secretaries.) I don't understand how teachers keep their desks clean during the day, because there are so many things handed to me during the day that I can't look at while I'm teaching and I have to just set on my desk. At the end of the day, my desk is always piled high with papers. I try cleaning at the end of each day and in the mornings, but it never fails to pile high with papers again each day.

Another thing I've discovered with Kindergarten is the inordinate amount of time you can spend putting pictures on the wall and taking pictures down. Last week I spent an hour and a half just to put pictures on my wall. I'm frequently putting pictures up on our hall walls since we do so many crafts in Kindergarten, but I was required to put these pictures up because of an art show. I love to display my students' art, but when my time is limited, it seems like I am wasting time when I have to spend hours putting art up when I could be working on lesson plans. I now know that next year I will need to utilize parent volunteers much more. Since I will know what events are coming up and what to expect from them, I will be able to enlist parent volunteers to help me out with things like putting pictures on the wall, so that I don't have to try to do it all.

Another thing that you never think about in student teaching is how difficult it is to set up a classroom from scratch. It is a challenge in itself to figure out how to arrange your room within the space you are given and using the furniture you have. It is difficult setting things up before you've ever taught in that classroom, because you can't predict exactly how you will come to use the room and how you will want things to be set up so that they work best for you and your class.

I also found it a challenge to create things like my schedule and my classroom procedures and routines. I did not realize how frustrating it would be to come up with a schedule when half your day is already dictated based on the school's scheduling of your lunch period, resource times and computer times. And that isn't even taking into consideration trying to plan around student pull-outs for ESL, speech, guidance, or PALS.

Then there's creating your routines and procedures. We talked about the importance of routines and procedures in many of my college classes. We practiced creating routines and procedures for an imaginary classroom. I read books this summer that stressed the importance of routines and procedures. I remembered learning that the first week of school should focus on teaching the students your routines and procedures. However, I now strongly believe that it doesn't really matter how many classes you take on classroom management and routines and procedures, because when it comes to your first year of teaching, it's very hard to know exactly what your routines and procedures should be. Sure, I sat down and thought about what I wanted the students to do. But, you don't really know what to expect before the year starts. Starting out the year, my bathroom philosophy was that students should be allowed to go whenever they needed to. We have a bathroom in the classroom, I have Kindergarteners...I wanted to prevent accidents if at all possible. Well... I didn't realize how loud students would be when washing their hands after using the bathroom. I didn't realize that students would turn the sink on full-force, which is super loud, then get water all over the counter. I didn't realize that other students would spend 15 minutes wiping up that water around the sink, instead of returning to the floor where I was attempting to teach. I didn't realize that students would go into the bathroom and sing (or sometimes just scream), which was still very audible in the rest of the classroom. I didn't realize that my students would find it impossible to enter or exit the bathroom without talking/laughing/giggling/touching the next person in line. All in all, I didn't predict how disruptive my "use the bathroom whenever you need to go" policy would be during the times when I am trying hard to instruct my students (and maintain the focus of minds that take very little persuasion to be distracted!) I somewhat changed my procedure for using the bathroom halfway through the year, but because it hadn't been drilled into my students from Day 1, they still have trouble remembering the new rules. So, that's one thing I'll be prepared for when year 2 rolls around.

So, I'm definitely looking foward to the end of my first year. It's been an exciting year, but definitely different from what I expected. I am definitely ready for summer, but I'm also looking foward to beginning my second year of teaching. I believe that a summer break really is necessary for teachers, because it gives you time to rejuvenate and replenish your patience. I'm looking foward to next year, because there are already so many things I've learned from this year that I want to try to change, to improve for next year and I'm hoping that my second year will go more smoothly because of all the things I've learned in my first-year. Overall, it's been a great first year, but it will be awfully nice to not have to tell parents anymore that it's my "first year!"