Monday, April 26, 2010

Hidden talents

Kiri at Elbows, Knees Dreams asked me to participate in a meme about my "hidden teacher talents" -- you know, those astonishing feats of superteachery we can all perform that don't exactly line up as bullets on a resume. Here are mine:

  • I can distinguish between a child doing the "pee dance" who actually has to use the bathroom and a child doing the "pee dance" who's just trying to convince me he has to go to the bathroom.
  • When a child slams his book/folder shut and triumphantly exults, "I'm done!", I can tell whether or not he is, in fact, actually done.
  • I can, on the spot, come up with about 30 more things for children who are "done" to do.
  • Out of the 28 children on line behind me, I can tell which one is squeaking his hand on the banister, which one just jumped down the last two steps and which one is surreptitiously whispering to the girl in front of her.
  • I do an impeccable Toad voice in my read aloud of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books.
  • I can instantly feign shock and awe in response to a child who believes he is imparting new information, even if what she is actually saying is, "Miss Brave, did you know that birds have wings?!"
  • I have mastered the "I was just checking to make sure you were paying attention" response to students pointing out my mistakes.
  • I can make chores seem like such a special, precious task that children are practically begging me to let them organize things.
  • I know where in the room my naughty kids are at all times and can instantly sense when they are up to no good.
  • I can get an auditorium full of hundreds of children to quiet instantly just by clapping my hands.

April showers bring May changes

Oh, it's been a rough couple of weeks. Through some combination of spring fever and general boredom, it felt like my class was starting to come apart at the seams, tattered by frayed nerves and overworn patience. All of a sudden we were sniping and tattling and whining, problems we never experienced earlier in the year. Apparently one of my male students exposed himself (yes, that kind of exposed) to another student in the cafeteria, to which the other student responded by calling him "gay." And if I dried one more set of "she said she's not my friend anymore" tears, I was going to lose it.

On the morning of a recent field trip, I decided to give everyone a fresh start by changing everyone's seats, which had zero effect. On the field trip, we visited a restaurant where I was appalled and embarrassed by my class's behavior: bouncing up and down on the booths, crawling underneath the tables, flicking straw wrappers. I thought back to our very first field trip, to the farm, and how my excited, wriggly new second graders were able to contain themselves as they stood in two straight lines and waited to pet the animals.

When we got back from the field trip, I knew we needed a bigger change. When I asked the class if they felt like it had been hard to learn lately, they nodded vigorously and hands flew up around the room, eager to explain why. "Sometimes people are talking a lot and it makes it really hard to concentrate." "I keep looking out the windows and thinking about how nice it is outside and how I want to be outside playing instead of in school." (Honesty is the best policy, right?)

I came up with a points system in which I conspicuously walk around with a clipboard, adding or subtracting points from each individual student. Ten points gets you a trip to the small prize bin, twenty points the larger prize bin, and so on to more coveted rewards like fifteen minutes of free time or computer time. I'm fairly pleased with the results so far, if only because it justly rewards the kids who always do the right thing and always have to listen to my lectures to the whole class even though they always follow directions...and it does seem to have inspired those kids who are "on the fence," behavior-wise, to shape up. But there's still three or four kids (Julio among them, of course) who gain and lose the same one point over the course of the day and have yet to inch above three points even while my superstars have already collected their first rewards.

So today we took another field trip, and my class was overall much more well-behaved than they were on the last one. After we returned to school to eat our lunches, finish the last few satisfying chapters of James and the Giant Peach and pack up, I rewarded them with perhaps the most valuable prize of all: free time. And I was amazed: Whereas in the course of independent reading or writing or math time I usually have to ask them to quiet down multiple times, during free time I didn't have to say it once. Some kids were playing Hangman or Tic Tac Toe on their slate boards, some were drawing at the carpet (and managing not to squabble over the crayons and colored pencils), some were reading together at their seats, but no one was yelling or shouting or screaming.

Obviously, it wasn't complete silence -- the kind of silence I expect during independent reading or writing or math work -- but it was also quieter than it is during math game day or science groupwork. One of my devoted helpers took it upon herself to rearrange the schedule for tomorrow and then helped me post up the teaching points, while another begged me to help organize the classroom library. Several kids drew "you're the best teacher" cards. A number of boys chose books from the math bin, which we almost never get to read from because we're too busy trying to squeeze in all the components of Everyday Math. Others chose old favorites we read aloud at the beginning of the year, like Wemberly Worried and How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids. Some of them used our class stuffed animals to act out Mo Willems' The Pigeon Wants a Puppy.

It was -- dare I say it? -- peaceful. And it got me thinking about how I can better incorporate free time or "choice time" into our overworked, overstressed, overstimulated days.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Goodbye vacation

As usual, it's here too soon: the last day of vacation. The upside to my vacation is that I hardly dreamt about school at all (which I'm horrifically guilty of doing on vacation) and barely talked about school (also guilty). The downside is that I consequently did very little work for school, either. Just before the vacation, I received my teaching points for our new reading and math units (which are written for us by our literacy coach). The reading teaching points made me cringe so much that I couldn't even look at the writing ones until the next day, at which point my jaw dropped: They are literally the exact same teaching points we used for our unit in September. Two words have been changed in each one, to replace the theme of September's unit with the theme of this unit, but other than that, they are exactly the same.

(1) Did anyone in adminstration actually approve this? If so, how and why?
(2) What exactly does our literacy coach do all day, if she's just copying and pasting stuff from old units and passing them off as new units?
(3) Why must I always teach what my literacy coach and administration order me to instead of what I want to?

Although administration must feel differently, I am not stupid, and my students are not stupid, and we all know this means we are actually teaching the same unit over again, which is ridiculous on about eighteen different levels and I refuse to do it. And yet, over the vacation, all my badass plans to rewrite the unit evaporated,'s April and I'm already burned out? I wanted to have a life outside of teaching? I am lazy and incompetent and don't care about what's best for my students? You be the judge.

Maybe it's because I've come down with a cold just in time to go back to school, or maybe it's because next year's preference sheet is already out and I'm pondering what I'll be doomed to teach next, but I really, really don't want to go back to school tomorrow.