Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Breaking through

Bethany: "[My sister] Kiana said she's going to see you tomorrow."
Miss Brave: "Yes, I have Kiana's class tomorrow."
Bethany: "And she said, 'Oooh, I'm so excited!'"

Sure, I know teaching isn't about whether the kids like you...but it still gives me the warm fuzzies.

* * *

Besides three of my kindergarten classes (two of them special ed) and one of my first grade classes, I only see my classes once a week, so it can be tough to tell from week to week whether anything is getting through. During the "Connection" part of my mini lesson, when I say things like, "Last time I was here, we talked about how we need to use exclamation points at the end of our exciting sentences!", I'm often met with blank stares. Dear Miss Brave: Uh, have we met? Love, your first graders.

But lately I've noticed some small, encouraging signs. I've been telling my classes that the dot at the bottom of the exclamation point is just like a period in that it reminds us that we need to stop at the end of the sentence, but it's so excited about making the sentence into an exclamation that it's jumping up above the period because it can't sit still! (...much like the majority of my classes; today I actually uttered the phrase, "Second graders, a few of you are acting too much like exclamation points right now, jumping around, and I need you to act more like periods, who sit still and stop.") And in one of my first grades, as I modeled adding an exclamation point to the end of an exciting sentence, sweet spacey Eduardo called out, "It's jumping up because it's excited!"

In another first grade -- the ESL class of green day fame -- I worked on a story I wrote about going to see the runners at the New York City Marathon, in which I shouted, "Go, runners, go!" It's been two weeks (!) since I last saw this class, and yesterday Andy announced, "I remember the story you told us. Go, runners, go!"

And then there's Marco, a first grader who technically belongs in a 12:1:1 special ed classroom (meaning no more than twelve students with one teacher and one paraprofessional) but who, due to some !@#$-up with paperwork, is languishing in a general ed class. I say "languishing" because Marco is not unintelligent, but he is the kind of kid who appears to have a magnet on the top of his head that is attracted to another magnet hidden somewhere beneath the floorboards; he is just that incapable of sitting still in his chair without doing a face plant/body check onto the floor. In short: Marco needs a para.

I played the Noun Eater song for Marco's class on October 19. And every week since then, Marco asks, "Are we going to listen to that song? About the noun monster who eats people and places and things?"

This week I created giant wearable punctuation marks. I picked the quiet, well-behaved kids to wear the periods; the wriggly, excitable kids to wear the exclamation points (Kyle was among them, and it went blessedly well); and the curious, questioning kids to wear the question marks. (I have some extremely awesome photos of this activity that I'm not posting due to privacy concerns.) Then we practiced deciding who should stand at the end of Sentences Miss Brave Often Hears In This Class ("I need a drink of water"; "Can I have a drink of water"; "It's an emergency") and reading the sentences with the right tone in our voices. I was hoping the association would benefit them: "Remember, just like Kyle makes our class exciting, Kyle is going to make this sentence exciting!"

I guess that in the coming weeks, I'll see what's broken through.


Jessica said...

I just stumbled on your blog and spent the last 2-3 hours reading the whole thing. (Yes, I'm a slow reader.) Thank you so much.

I taught a few years in self-contained elementary classrooms, and thoroughly burnt myself out. After several years away, I'm taking a small dip back in, job-sharing a technology teacher position. I can definitely relate to your first year teaching issues, as well as your struggles with being a "cluster" teacher.

I love reading and finding someone with the same struggles I have--loving the one-on-one, the "text-to-self"-style thinking, but feeling like teaching rarely amounts to more than crowd control. I'm so happy to have found your blog, even though it frequently makes me so sad.

Does it have to be so hard? Is the system flawed, or am I just not cut out for this? And if not, what then?

Oof. I'll be reading....

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your comment! It's always nice to know that there are people out there reading who can identify with what I have to say.