Musings

I’m having a reflective evening. Here’s something I just wrote out on my balcony:

Here I am. I’m okay. I am a survivor. I go to work every day with a smile on my face and hope for the children I teach. Lord, it is HARD. Yes, I am in first grade now. Yes, I am the third teacher for these children. Yes, I’m coming in at the end of the school year–a.k.a crunch time. Yes, I find myself feeling stress bearing down on me often. But I am surviving. My alarm wakes me up at the crack of dawn each day. I stumble out of bed, make my tea, put on my teacher’s suit of armor and extra warm heart, and go to work ready to face another day. I’m not asking these children to love me with all their hearts. I know these transitions have been terribly hard on them. I know many of them do not trust me completely. That’s okay. I try my best every day to see the best in every child. And let me tell you, that’s not always easy in this class. There are tough kids. But I am persistant.

I am constantly reflecting on my practice, my behavior management routines, the tone I am setting in the classroom. I am always open to advice. I have actively sought out the guidance of my teaching assistant, the reading specialist, the special education teacher, and the other teachers on my grade level, just to name a few. Whenever I feel like I’m falling, a large soft hammock of support floats up to catch me. I am so lucky to be working in such a collaborative, accommodating, and caring environment.

Day in and day out, my goal is to make a child smile, feel good about her work, use kind words with a friend, feel inspired by a book he’s reading. I yearn for student engagement, for revelations, for excitement about learning. I try to foster a caring and empathetic classroom community. That is hard to do as the third teacher. The children feel jarred, rattled.

I can’t imagine if my own first grade teacher had left and I had been left to face not one, but two different teachers. First grade was a vulnerable year for me, one in which I was consumed by irrational fears. It was my first grade teacher’s keen sensitivity and empathy that led her to recommend a wonderful child psychologist to my parents who helped me tremendously. My first grade teacher looked and acted like my own real life fairy godmother.

Now I think of these students who I have under my careful watch now. I know some of them have rough home lives. I realize that school is often one of the only consistant things many kids can count on. And yet, it has not been that way for these children this year. I feel for them with all my heart.

I hope we can finish this year together feeling like we’ve all grown. I know I will. This job has been the best preparation for my official first year of teaching that I could ever ask for. But more importantly, I hope the kids get something out of this as well. Sure, they’ll finish the year an inch or two taller, and with fewer baby teeth. But they’ll also have been through the unique process of adapting to change–something that is difficult at any age but especially at the tender ages of six and seven.

I don’t expect these kids to remember my name in 10 years. But I hope they remember that they are special. That they have never been forgotten.

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Whirlwind

Well, I made it through my first week as a first grade teacher! It was quite overwhelming at first because the schedule is very different from what I was used to. And, of course, these kids are rambunctious 6 and 7 year-olds. But I have a long break in the afternoon which really helps me reset and organize my thoughts.

It’s interesting being in this position of longterm sub. I’ve adopted this class. It is mine now for the rest of the year. There are some things that the last teacher did that I thought were effective, and there are some things she did that I found ineffective and have since begun to change. It’s all about creating your own systems, methods and plans without throwing the kids out of whack. Children thrive on consistency, routine, structure and clear expectations. However, I found that in my first week (fist day, really) that the last teacher hadn’t done the best job keeping her behavioral expectations high (she was sick, who could blame her?) Still, I found it necessary to go back to the basics with the kids. Putting lots of marbles in the jar for the little things they did well. Setting my expectations for different situations explicitly. I still have lots of work to do on this front, but I feel like the students gained respect for me quickly and eased comfortably into my more structured learning environment. My assistant seemed impressed, and told me after the first day that it went much better than she had expected! I appreciated hearing that.

So after one hectic week of learning the crazy dance that is teaching first grade, I had a week off for Spring Break. Wow, that was just glorious! I got a lot of sleep, relaxed with friends and family and logged some hours of lesson planning. Heck, I even went into work for a few hours on Thursday despite it being gorgeous outside. Sometimes you just have to be in the classroom in order to wrap your head around all the things that need to get done.

To sum up, I’d like to leave you with a quick list of observations I’ve made about a few of my kids. Thanks for reading!

C.

–big brown eyes that hide dark memories and secrets

–needs to touch everything

–wraps her arms around my leg while I read a story on the carpet

–knows much more about pain than I could ever comprehend

T.

–has the biggest pouty lip/face I’ve ever seen

–gets angry with others quickly and easily but I’m learning ways to refocus/distract him

–loves being a helper

–skinny body, big heart

Big News

Well, much has changed in a short amount of time! I got a called from HR telling me that F. Elementary was in desperate need of a first grade teacher ASAP. The principal didn’t even ask to interview me; she was just going to hire me based on a good recommendation from HR.

Things started happening fast! I did my two observation days this week. This job is going to be more challenging than my first longterm sub job. First of all, I am the third teacher for these kids this year. Their original teacher left in November to have a baby and her sub is leaving due to illness. This revolving door of teachers is always difficult for children, but I think it’s especially hard for young children. However, I am stepping in with open arms, a warm heart, and plenty of compassion and patience. I will try my best to be CONSISTENT (buzzword in education it seems) with the procedures and rules that are already in place in the classroom. I got a chance to watch the sub in action (Ms. H, who is a wonderfully kind and patient teacher herself) and that was very helpful. What’s great is that our names both begin with H so I won’t have to change the classroom mascot (Ms. Henderson’s Hedgehogs…adorable, right?)

The class is full of sweet kids. There are some that will be difficult to control, of course. First grade looks VERY different from third grade. The kids wiggle around a lot more and they tend to be more touchy feely and needy. However, because it’s approaching the end of the year, the kids are beginning to look more like second graders. I look forward to recounting anecdotes about these kids in the future. Now, I don’t have a lot of time because I’m going into school (on a SATURDAY?!) to meet with another first grade teacher and plan for next week. Oh yeah, because my first day is MONDAY! Am I ready? Sort of. I’ll feel better after I get some planning done today. But it’s time, yet again, to dive head first into a brand new job. As my new TA said, it’s going to feel like I’m jumping onto a moving train. Here we go again!

Some emails from my sweet, darling students

From two of my 3rd grade students at M. Elementary:

Dear  MISS  HENDERSON ,

I hope you have a great day. CAN YOU COME TO MY HOUSE FOR MAKE YOUR OWN PIZZAS one day?

FROM J.

HI I MISS YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I wish you will come back soon!

I am going to tell you what we did so far. Is that ok?

first we taped our two fingers next to our thumb together so we could not move them and then we taped a popsicle stick to our thumbs on each hand. We immoblisd are fingers and thumbs . The point was to see how hard it would be with out our thumbs and our two fingers.

Well i hope i see you soon.

A.K.

Call of Duty

This week I’ve only made it in to sub today and yesterday. I skipped Monday because I stayed up late watching the Oscars on Sunday night. I got up early and awaited a call on Tuesday morning, but I didn’t accept any of the jobs. Why, you might ask? Well, they didn’t appeal to me. One was for a TA in an autistic classroom. Another was for a Pre-K TA. I talked to my mother on the phone, and of course, mothers are always right. She said, “Don’t turn down any jobs. Just GO. You will learn so much. This is your time to soak everything in.” So I will take her advice next week and accept as many different jobs as possible.

Both of my placements this week offered me a chance to see what it’s like in a few of the older schools in the district. In fact, today I was at C. Elementary, where I attended 4th and 5th grade! It was crazy to be back as a teacher. But more on that later. I’ll start with Wednesday. I did another half day at F. Elementary in 3rd grade, except this time I didn’t have to be there until 11 (how nice to sleep in). The teacher, Ms. L, was there–she had to be in a meeting next door for the whole afternoon. I liked Ms. L’s laid back style and attitude. She also had a slight midwestern twang when saying certain words. Anyway, this particular school is interesting because its campus is very spread out and there are a lot of outdoor walkways. It almost feels more like a high school. Many of my good friends attended this school, and I looked around the classroom thinking, “I wonder which of my friends sat in this same classroom 15 years ago?” There wasn’t anything in this classroom that blew me away. The kids were sweet and nothing too exciting happened. There was a kid named Camp. That is all.

Today I subbed in a 2nd grade dual language classroom (the kids are taught half the day in English and the other half in Spanish) at C. Elementary. O.M.G. What an experience! This program wasn’t around when I was in school, and I really wish it was. These kids enter into the dual language program in kindergarten and stay in it through 5th grade. They are essentially fluent Spanish speakers by the time they enter middle school. I was a bit intimidated going into this job and I wasn’t sure what to expect. There are two dual language teachers. One was there (she is American), but she had to be in a meeting all day (these meetings, I swear!) and the Spanish speaking teacher wasn’t there at all. Ms. B. was really sweet and young. I didn’t actually get to stay in her room–I spent the day in the Spanish teacher’s room. Ms. B’s room looked really awesome and I wish I could have looked around in there. Alas, I was in one of the most disorganized, ugliest rooms I’ve ever seen! Talk about learning what I DON’T want my room to look like. Here are some things to remember:

1. Organize your classroom library. Don’t just have random baskets of books all over the place, making it more difficult for students to pick something to read.

2. Have a place where students can put finished work.

3. PENCILS! EVER HEARD OF ‘EM?!

4. Put cute stuff on the walls! This classroom was basically bare aside from a few corny posters, the calendar, and a tiny math bulletin board. Fail.

OK, done ranting. Well, almost. I thought I would be teaching the class in English all day (given the fact that I don’t know Spanish), but during math Senora C, the TA, interrupted me and began teaching in Spanish. So I was kind of miffed at first, but I got over it. Senora C. was challenging to work with. She didn’t know English very well, so there was that barrier. We also just didn’t click very well (Ms. B. assured me that Senora C. is difficult to work with and it’s not just me). But by the end of the day, it was all right. We were able to smile and laugh about little things that had happened during the day.

Let me get to my point about the dual language program. It is AMAZING! It was pretty crazy being in there as a sub (two different groups of kids rotated through the classroom throughout the day, and the second group was definitely NUTS) but ultimately, these kids are amazing. There are many Latino students in the class. But there are also many white students, and one African American. I was blown AWAY by their level of Spanish proficiency. Senora C. would yammer away at them in Spanish and they could respond instantly. They read in Spanish. They wrote Spanish. They spoke Spanish beautifully. They are in 2nd grade. Wow. I felt so inferior! It was an eye-opening experience, and though it was overwhelming and frustrating at times, I’m really glad I got the chance to see what it’s like.

Tomorrow I won’t be subbing because I’m going to be the “mystery reader” in my old classroom at M.G. Elementary. I can’t wait to see my students! More next week.

Have a great weekend! 🙂

I’m on my way

I should start out by saying that I’m not an actual teacher yet. Since I graduated from college in December, the school year was already in full swing and my only options have been to sub until it’s time to job hunt this summer. That being sad, subbing is a GREAT way to gain experience and to see how different teachers and schools operate. During the remainder of this school year, I’ll be using this blog to tell about my adventures in different classrooms. This is also going to serve as my way to remember particular things that I liked about each classroom/teacher so that I can use them in my own future classroom.

I was lucky enough to get a longterm substitute teaching job at M.G. Elementary (for privacy reasons I will be abbreviating names). I took on the job as classroom teacher in a wonderful third grade class. The teacher was out on maternity leave for 8 weeks, so I had a lot of time to soak up everything and bond with my students and coworkers. I really love that school and would go back there to teach full-time in a heartbeat.

Things I liked in 3rd grade at M.G. Elementary

1. Having a Smartboard to use every day (such an engaging piece of technology!)

2. Mystery Reader: each Friday, a special reader (usually a student’s parent) came in to read to the kids. Clues were given throughout the week and the kids tried to guess who was coming in. They were always really excited about it.

3. The 3rd grade team was fabulous. They supported me and offered up many ideas and resources that helped me as I planned lessons.

4. Awesome principal.

5. Amazing assistant.

6. J. My favorite student. He has a malignant brain tumor, yet he is the sweetest child I have ever met and is always motivated to learn more about the world around him. Every day he said, “I hope you have a great afternoon, Ms. Henderson” and he meant it. I miss him.

I may add more about this particular job, but for now I am using this blog more as a summary and a place to gather my thoughts. Now that I am “going in blind” to sub jobs every day, I will be seeing many different classrooms in schools across the district. Today was my first day in a new school. I went to M.S. Elementary to sub for a half day in a first grade classroom. The teacher, Ms. N., was actually in the building, just at a meeting all morning, so I was able to meet her and have her explain things to me before she left. She is SO sweet and I loved her room! These classrooms are smaller and actually more inviting than the rooms at M.G. Her class is full of rambunctious kids. They sure do keep her busy! (15 boys and 8 girls always equals craziness).

Things I liked in 1st grade at M.S. Elementary

1. The classroom was warm, inviting and full of things to look at.

2. I liked her classroom management strategies. She would say “reset!” to get the kids focused. This proved to be much more effective than just shushing them. She also used levels for voice volume (0 = no talking, 1 = whisper and so on). She often simply held up her hand in the shape of a zero and this would remind kids that it was a no talking time. On her easel, she awarded points by flipping number cards over. Once they get to 50 (or 100 or 150…) she puts some jacks in their “jack jar.” When this fills up the class gets some kind of award. I love seeing how different teachers use a variety of positive reinforcement strategies to maintain order in the classroom.

3. Her reading area. O.M.G. It is so cool. Basically, she has a wooden bunkbed frame (with only the top bunk so there is room underneath). This nook underneath is where kids can go to read. There is a tiny loveseat and sitting area. There is a wooden sign on the front of the frame that says “Readers Only! Maximum Capacity: 4. She’s decorated it with hula skirt material around the edges and those cool hanging translucent globe lights. It looks like an island getaway…SO NEAT. I’d love to replicate that in my own classroom if I have the means.

4. She has a small bowl with cut out pictures and photographs from magazines. The kids use them as prompts for their writing. Just goes to show you can use prompts with kids as young as first grade!

5. She introduced many of the kids to me this morning. To one girl, she said, “While Ms. Henderson is here, be on your best behavior and help her when she needs it. Remember, warm heart.” She reached down and touched the girl’s chest, just over her heart. This made the student smile. What is more important than teaching students to live their lives with compassion and empathy?

That’s all for now. Except more updates next week, since I plan to try to sub every day. Whew! Thanks for reading 🙂