Saturday, January 2, 2010

Back to school

I have heard stories about teachers who miss their students over break and look forward to getting back to school, but alas, I am not one of them. I was touched to receive several more thoughtful gifts from my students (some of them appealingly edible!), including a surprisingly fashionable earrings-and-necklace set from Arianna (who had also happened to stay up half the night hand-writing cards for the other students in the class), who presented them to me like this:

Arianna: "Miss Brave, I got you a gift. Guess what it is."
Miss Brave, looking around at the frantic hustle and bustle of morning unpacking: "Um, I don't know, sweetie, that could kind of take all day. Is it...a block of cheese?"
Arianna: "No. I'll give you a hint. It's for your ears, and your neck."
Miss Brave: "Ooooh, is it a pair of shoes?"

Heh, heh, I crack myself up.

The last day of school before vacation was our best day in school yet. My two most irritating troublemakers were absent (a gift in itself!), along with several other students, and it also happened to be Pajama Day and Bring a Stuffed Animal to School Day. I wore my snowflake pajama bottoms and my panda bear slippers, which were received with fantastic shouts of glee by my class. While they were at gym, I played Santa, setting out gift bags filled with small treats: a pair of gloves (two pairs for $1 -- thank you, Target), candy canes, pencils and a miniature tub of Play-Doh. After gym, we lined up outside the door and I very seriously gave instructions about packing up. As I sent them inside to discover their little gifts, I felt like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes -- they were swooning with joy, hugging their pencils to their chests (I believe I literally heard someone utter the words, "A lead pencil, just what I've always wanted!"), swearing they weren't taking their gloves off until bedtime, and thanking me spontaneously. It was pretty fabulous -- well worth the loooong afternoon I spent at Target loading up my cart with 27 of each item (several people mistook me for a Target employee shelving items) and the small fortune I spent on all the trinkets.

Naturally, I managed to dream about school several times during the vacation; as always, I dreamt that I was late to school (school starts at 8 am. I arrive before 7 every morning. I am never, ever even close to being late for school). Other than that, though, I spent less time than I had planned getting organized and doing work. My assistant principal is collecting our writing and math binders in the next few weeks (major eye roll), and I had wanted to double-check everything in my binders to make sure it was all copacetic, but of course I lugged my gigantic binders home and left a lot of the individual student papers I need to file inside them at school. Our current reading and writing units end next week, and as I haven't received my checklists for the next one, there's not much I can do to prepare. One of the most frustrating things about my school is that my teaching points for each reading and writing are literally placed in my mailbox (usually approximately one day before the first day of the unit); I have zero input into the shape of the unit itself or any of the individual teaching points we use.

I did spend a long and puzzling Tuesday morning trying to get my math stuff up to speed. In my first year as a teacher, I taught writing, and in my second year as a teacher, I taught reading. Math (a subject I've never liked) is still my weakest area as a teacher, and it doesn't help that my school no longer has a math coach.

We use the Everyday Mathematics curriculum, and while I appreciate its methodology, it can be a little overwhelming to follow. It's like some mad mathematician outlined every single thing that second graders need to know in math and dumped it all together in no discernable order whatsoever. Like, one day we'll do temperature, and the next day, estimating costs. And nine times out of ten, the assessment for a particular lesson or unit doesn't align with what was being taught. Like, I'll teach a lesson on telling time, but the "secure goal" I'm assessing that day is whether students can correctly record tally marks. Or, I'll teach a unit on all these various concepts, and then the post-test will assess their ability to count by 5s, a skill that wasn't really addressed in the unit.

The philosophy is of a "spiraling curriculum," which I understand makes sense in the real world because everything in the real world is mathematical and it's not like mathematical concepts come in a vacuum, blah blah blah. But all the jumping around is still confusing. And my school's new push for strategy lessons is to give each student a goal that is addressed "over three days, three different ways." So it can be hard to come up with three different ways of teaching a particular mathematical goal that doesn't just end up confusing everyone, especially when some of the things that Everyday Math asks students to do is just, in my opinion, unnecessarily complicated. So I spent some time outlining strategy lessons for our next unit.

I do have to say that, even though I remain dissatisfied with my job, when I think about where I am mentally compared to last year at this same time, this feels better. I don't know if it's because I no longer have to deal with the frustration of endless coverages and schedule changes, or if I'm just doing a better job mentally "checking out" of all the bullshit of work when I leave.

I'm not ready to go back...but go back I must. And I will.


Miss W said...

I agree with you on Everyday Math. It's so confusing for my 1st grade kiddos. They don't get a chance to master something before we move on to the next topic. One of my fabulous co-workers and I took the next two units and broke them up into what secure goals the kiddos are supposed to master and have been teaching from that instead of the book.

miss brave said...

That's great, Miss W. My school is so rigid that I don't think my administration would ever allow us to deviate from the book.

NYC mom said...

Miss Brave,

I was thrilled when I came across your blog, for when I read it, I gain a little more insight into what is going on in my child's 2nd grade classroom. My child is in a district G&T, and as far as I can tell, the teacher does not really teach the Math formally on a regular basis, and I end up explaining a lot of the material and teaching it after I check the homework, when I see my child gets some of the math questions wrong. The same for Grammar -- apparently Grammar is taught by the kids self-teaching themselves by reading the information on the Grammar worksheet and then doing the homework.