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

Musings of a second-year teacher.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Great Debate

I realize that this will be my second entry in one night, but considering this may be a long post, I thought it warranted an entirely different entry.

Within my county and my school, there has been a lot of turn-over during the last year. We began this school year with a new principal and new assistant principal. Our new principal has begun to look over the way we currently have been doing things to see what can be improved. She has decided that our school reading program needs an "overhaul" and has taken to testing all of our students to determine their reading level. There are quite a few sceptics in the school who believe this is not the best route for our school. Being a new teacher, I still have loosely-formed opinions and I'm interested to see how this program will work out. I'm cautiously optimistic, but I'm also interested in what other people have to say. Our new "reading program" has a strong emphasis on students learning Dolch words. I've been told that educational philosophies change in the same way a pendulum moves. In this case, the "new" reading philosphy that encourages Dolch words was also popular (so I'm told) quite a while ago.

I don't doubt that learning Dolch words is important. Learning sight words is an integral part of the process of learning to read. However, I am slightly concerned about the volume of words our Kindergartners will now be expected to read. Until this point, our students were expected to know approximately 45 sight words at the end of the Kindergarten year. Now, our students will be expected to read Pre-Primer, Primer and First Grade words by the end of Kindergarten. According to my calculations (if my sources and calculations are correct), our students will now need to read 133 words at the end of Kindergarten. I am intrigued to see what our students will be able to do. I think some students will achieve this goal. However, I'm concerned for many others. If you've followed my blog, you may remember that I had quite a few students up for retention last year. These students could barely read ten sight words. What will happen to students like that? They were overwhelmed at the prospect of reading 45 words. What will they do when we try to tell them that they need to read twice as many?

I'm curious to hear about the reading programs that other schools use. The program my student-teaching school used was very different, however, I was never given a formal explanation of the program, so I'm not necessarily sure what it would be classified as. Any advice, thoughts, etc. on this reading program or on a reading program that has been implemented and worked well would be greatly appreciated!

No Snow and No School

It's our fourth week back to school since Winter Break and we've yet to go a whole week! I thought this would be the week where we would go five, full days, but I got a call at six this the morning telling me school was closed due to heavy rain. I have a secret to admit: I LOVE getting those phone calls! I love them even more when school is closed and it turns out to be a BEAUTIFUL day. I was able to run in the gorgeous sunshine (instead of in the dark, like a normal school day) and I was able to go out and do all my errands. Is it bad that I'm crossing my fingers for a delay tomorrow?

On a different note, it appears that I will soon have a high school "observer." The high school next to my elementary school has a program for students who are interested in becoming teachers. As part of this program, the students observe in a classroom and then eventually teach a few lessons. I was surprised when I received the email asking if I would like to be a mentor for a student. I would love to help out a high school student who is interested in becoming a teacher. However, I still feel like I'm learning a lot myself- am I really ready to help prepare someone else for the teaching profession? I wrote back to the coordinating teacher and explained that I would be more than happy to have a student observe in my room, but I lacked experience. She didn't seem concerned, so it appears soon I will not only be teaching Kindergartners, but I'll also be teaching someone else how to teach. I'm hoping that I know more than I realize, because I certainly don't feel as knowledgeable as the mentors I have had in the past...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Report Cards and Vomit: Oh, How I Dislike Thee...

Quick thoughts only tonight. In an attempt to present both sides, I'm going to find a positive to each of my complaints.

Complaint # 1: Report Cards
I dislike report cards for a few reasons. The first reason is that the report card is a very inaccurate measure of my students. Some students who struggle in class appear to be doing well on a report card. Sometimes a student may go from identifying 0/15 letters to 10/15 letters, but when calculated for a report card, both scores are "N" for "Needs Improvement." The second reason I dislike report cards is that they are overly time-consuming. They require quite a lot of unneccessary work. First, we test students and record what they can and can't do on a skill sheet. I then calculate whether the student receives a "S"- Successful, a "P"- Progressing, or a "N"- Needs Improvement. I record these grades on a paper copy of the report card. Finally, I record each score on an electronic report card. I find all these steps seem rather redundant.

On the bright side, almost all of my students mastered all of the skills they were supposed to learn this six weeks. It makes me very excited to be able to mark so many "S" 's !!

Complaint # 2: Vomit
Well, this really can't be helped. However, it is one aspect of teaching that I may always cringe to think about. A stomach bug must be going around right now, because I had one student get sick on our carpet today while we were singing a song. This is not the first time my carpet has been the unfortuante recipient of a poor, sick kindergartner. I wonder how many kids will get sick on my carpet before the school deems it too germy to endure another year? (With the current budget cuts, my guess is quite a few more kids...)

On the bright side, my student who got sick was in the front row. Which may not seem like a blessing, until you realize that the whole situation would have been MUCH worse if another student had been the unlucky recipient of the throw-up.

I promise next time, I will share happy stories about Kindergarten!

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Favorite Part of the Day

I've decided that I have two favorite parts of the day: the very beginning of the day and the very end of the day. I love these few moments each day where the classroom is still calm and I have just a few children in the room. This is the only part of the day where I really have time to talk and listen to the students and hear whatever story or tidbit they have to share. I feel as if I'm constantly having to tell my kids, "we're not talking about that right now" any time they want to share something off subject. I hate having to do that, but with my loquacious Kindergartners, we'd never get past calendar time if I let them share it all!

I particularly love the end of the day because I have the ability to silently observe my students. My school has two bus "loads." The majority of my students leave first and then I have about 5 students that stay in my room for another ten minutes or so until their buses are called. My "second load kids" have taken up "playing school" all on their own. It is incredibily amusing to watch them reinact what we've done all day. I struggle to get these kids to sit still all day, but as soon as they are "playing" school, they sit as still as can be! It was intriguing to watch them today because I never realized how much they absorb. They like to pretend they are teaching calendar time. My one student who had decided to be teacher was holding up sight words, just as I do in the morning. The words coming out of her mouth were the exact same words I say! She held up the card and asked one of the other children what it said. He wasn't sure, so she said, "Do you want to ask a friend for help?" When the friend didn't know the word, she said, "Let's sound the word out together" and she proceeded to help sound the word out.

I enjoy this afternoon routine for a few reasons. Number one being that it simply makes me smile to watch my students play school. Number two being that all this time I've thought they weren't paying attention! Little did I know, my Kindergarteners are very skilled at appearing way more interested in their hair, their neighbor, or their shoelaces, when in fact, they are actually listening!! Amazing...and one of those moments that makes me smile and reminds me why I love children and why I love teaching:)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Return to the Blogosphere!

Although I vowed to make a better effort to document my year on this blog, once again I've failed due to the fact that teaching requires a great deal of time and energy (and this blog is right around last on my priority list of things related to school that I need to complete). However, I recently received some comments on a blog post that reminded me a few people out there do read my blog and maybe I should update more than once every year!

For tonight, I just want to do a quick update on my year. There are quite a few issues I'd like to tackle in posts later down the road, but I figure I should minimize confusion and keep to one topic.

So, year one is down. Year two is halfway through. Thankfully, year two is somewhat easier. (I had hoped and prayed that it would be!) I did not realize it at the time, but I had two extremes in my class last year. Half my class was relatively high academically and the other half was extremely low. As a first year teacher, this was very difficult because half of my class was unable to master our skills each grading period. This year has proved significantly easier because my class is not so divided. The gap between my highest-achieving students and lowest-achieving students is much smaller. I'd like to think that the experience of the past year have also helped to make this year easier. Having a year of experience "under my belt" definitely gives me more confidence.

With the past year behind me, I think it would be a good time to share some things I learned/wish I had known at the beginning. Along the same lines, I'd love to hear from others who have been teaching more than two years (I know there are lots of you out there!) who can share things they wish they had known at the beginning of their career.

1. Before you start teaching, write down why you want to teach and why you love kids. Post it in a prominent place.
I look back at things I'd written before I started teaching and I was so optimistic! I truly do love children and I truly wanted a profession where I knew I would make a significant impact on others' lives. However, it is very easy to lose sight of that goal when day after day you are constantly reminding kids to be quiet, to listen, to stop touching their neighbors, to use the bathroom before it is an emergency and on and on and on. I have days sometimes where I think, "why, oh, why did I choose this job?" And then I think back to why and it definitely puts things in perspective. (That and remembering that I have summer and Winter Break and Spring Break and snow days....:))

2. SAVE everything you do
Hopefully this goes without saying, but save your lesson plans, your form notes to parents, etc. I thought I would remember everything, but when August of year two rolled around, I barely remembered what I had done the year before.

3. Come up with a good organization system
It was difficult for me to organize things at the beginning of last year because I didn't really know what I had, what I needed, or how I would be using things. At the end of last school year, I did some organizing and it makes a huge difference. I'm constantly working to become more organized, but the sooner you can do it, the better! I misplaced so many papers last year because I didn't have the specific place to put them. Finding an organization system that works for you is definitely key!

4. You don't need to save everything that someone gives you
Please read carefully because I realize this contradicts my advice in #2. Do save things electronically. Use careful judgement when saving material things. Teachers are incredibly generous. As a new teacher at my school, I was given tons and tons of supplies. Other teachers gave me posters and books and art supplies as they cleaned out their room. The only problem: my classroom isn't very big. I'm a big saver and I hate to waste things. But I'm already completely out of space in my classroom. I've realized that I might need to be a little more selective when accepting (or deciding to keep) items from generous donators. Think about how easy an item might be to replace. That stack of magazines I've been saving on top of my file cabinet? They're getting pretty dusty and I'd say there's a fantastic chance that if I recycled them all and decided I needed more, I could get a stack donated in a jiffy.

5. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT have students line up near your deak.
In fact, if you can blockade your desk from students with bookshelves and tables, go for it. My desk had the misfortune of receiving two vomit blasts last year. Not only is this disgusting, but it's a big problem if you keep anything important on your desk. I threw away everything on my desk after the second vomit-incident and there was no sorting through it to determine if it was important! I've rearranged my classroom this year to put a little more of a buffer between my desk and my kids. I love them, but I don't love throw-up.

6. Make sure you know how students are supposed to go home everyday...if you fail to send them home the right way, it can result in tears from the teacher/parent/student. Realize that parents frequently change the way their child should come home from school. Realize also that 5 year olds can barely remember their last name, much less a change in how they will go home. They definitely can not remember how they are supposed to go home unless you tell them 5 times as they walk out the door.

7. Student teaching is nothing like real teaching.
While student teaching is a fantastic experience, it really doesn't give you the whole picture of teaching. You have very little to remember as a student teacher. You also come into a room that has a pre-existing infrastructure. As a real teacher, you discover some of the biggest challenges are creating a schedule, arranging a classroom, creating a classroom management plan, remembering what time you have lunch, remembering how all 18 children go home, remembering who needs to be reminded to use the bathroom 3 times a day....and on and on and on.

8. Ask, ask, ask for help.
I hope someone has already told you along the way that coworkers are wonderful for sharing ideas. They have experience and advice that (hopefully) they just can't wait to share. They are a fantastic resource for any and every question you encounter. (I've been lucky to have coworkers that put up with every little question I have!)

9. Utilize parent volunteers.
I spent many hours doing "busy-work" instead of things like lesson planning or working with students when I should have been asking parents for help. Lots of parents would love to help out in the classroom doing things like bulletin boards, hanging art projects, listening to kids read, or filing folders. I'm still perfecting
my ability to plan far enough ahead to actually recruit parents for the help I need, but I've learned that they can be a valuable commodity.

10. Take time for yourself.
Some may disagree, but I think it is very important to remember that you do have a life outside of teaching. You must take time for yourself so that you don't burn out. I have been blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with the ability to leave things somewhat of a mess and somewhat unfinished. I would sleep at school if I needed to have a clean desk every night and have everything for the next week completely finished. Learn to prioritize. Get the things finished that you HAVE to finish and the rest of the things will fall into place. If your desk is a mess at the end of the day, the world will go on. You'll probably like your job more if you leave at 5:00 each day with a messy desk than if you leave at 7:00 with a clean desk.

With that, I end my advice! I'd love to hear words of wisdom from others!