"Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it, because action has magic, grace, and power in it." Goethe


Parents as Partners in the Classroom

“Is the start of school always like this?” one of my interns asked this week.
Short answer: no.

First week down…and what a week it was.
Classroom management has always been my one of my strong points, but times are changing in the schools these days.
I’m trying to hold the line, but
I am appalled at the lack of respect for adults as well as other children…from children as well as some parents.
This week, I have been cursed at (by a four year old!), received three rude notes because parents didn’t like the district approved school supply list, had a desk pushed at me, and witnessed a variety of responses including eye rolls, smacking, and muttering.
Am I mad? Yes. I’m mad because about half of my class acts beautifully. They come in, interact, are polite, and they should not have to witness this day after day. None of us should.
So. I decided to let go of some teaching time and get on the phone the minute an issue came up today.
My interns and I had a fair day–not great, but better. We accomplished a lot with our students. We even ended the day with poetry…a good way to say goodbye on a Friday afternoon.
However, we also stopped instruction several times to redirect children, to practice routines and procedures, to call parents.
This has become the “normal” of teaching for many of us. I don’t like it when my teaching is interrupted.
Luckily, most of the parents I talked to today agree. They don’t like it either. Some vowed to take care of issues this weekend. Others came to the school and took care of it then and there. We need more of that.
One parent informed me her child was not having an issue at all. Someone else was causing the problem. Funny how she could know that without hearing the story or being here.
Parent communication is critical in today’s teaching world. Teaching truly is a partnership.
As I often remind my interns and students, “I do not have time to make up lies about little children.”
I know this: I am a good teacher and I will have a great year with those children who choose to be respectful and follow the expectations of our class.
The others are welcome to find another place to go…and no teacher in my hall is a taker. We are united in fourth grade and we are calling our supportive parents to join us.
There is strength in numbers, and we are determined to help one another so that our children can learn in the best setting.
I dare anyone to get in my way.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

This week’s challenge really WAS a challenge… because I’m a country girl, but I remembered this shot from a couple of weeks ago. My daughter and I were downtown having lunch and I stopped to take this photo.
This old building holds many memories for me because there was a bakery in one section of it when I was a child. I remember sugar cookies on on doily lined plates, cases of birthday cakes, the smell of fresh bread.
On the top floor is where my grandfather was a tailor in the 1920s. I never knew him, but I have the desk that was in his shop. I need to research the history, but that day I just knew I needed to get the shot. Now I know why!


The Power to Change a Life

I was going to blog today about a writing lesson, but I’m saving it for one day next week. Tonight, I started teaching a Children’s Literature class at our local university, and a conversation there is on my mind.

One of the students, a Biology major,  asked me if my mother-in-law used to be a teacher. It turns out she was his fifth grade science teacher in 1993 or 1994. He credits her with changing his life. Changing his life. In fifth grade.

He went on to tell me about the experiments she did with the class, and he explained to me in great detail about one she helped them perform that had to do with Palmolive dishwashing liquid and paper, and how “she lit a match right in the room to show us what smoking would do to our lungs.”

I can’t wait to call her tomorrow and talk to her about this young man. He hopes she will remember him. He wants to know next week what she said.

I already know she will remember him. She’ll have a story to tell me about him, every bit as detailed as the one he told me.

Do you know the power a teacher has? The power to change a life. In fifth grade.

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Teaching Tip: Expect the Unexpected

“Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it ...

“Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.”Tom Barrett (Photo credit: katerha)

Wow. How in the world could I forget how the first days of school tend to be? Well, here I am on a path with 37 (yes, 37) new fourth graders. In a room that seats 22 comfortably. I was told today that I will probably get one more student, but absolutely no more than that. Hmmm.

This time last year, there were around thirty fourth graders in my room at any given time. I can definitely tell the difference.

My room has tables, and it is impossible to arrange the furniture so that all of the children are facing me. No matter the configuration, someone has his back to me when I have this many children — a big no-no, as every teacher realizes.

So, by the end of the day, custodians delivered six desks to accompany the six tables already in place. The technology teacher came by and removed two computers so I could use that table space for students. We moved the printer to my teacher desk.

I’m not sure where my team will sit for meetings. It looks like my interns will be monitoring instruction from a chair with a clipboard because every inch of space is dedicated, as it should be, for the kids. Still…it looked so nice and spacious a few days ago. I am mourning that loss of space.

What I have now is a mess. Truly. My classroom is now a maze of desks and tables and pathways so that I can maneuver in and out. I stayed late today to try to make sure every student will be facing me in the morning, to make sure that the larger students have room to spread out. I have a group of desks front and center. We all know who will be sitting there.

There is not one student I would choose to leave. I’m attached to them all after only two days. Oh, we will have quite the year, but my biggest disappointment today was not in having more students. It was in not having the room I needed.

I am accustomed to having six neat rectangular tables. Each table has three containers: one for books, one for supplies, one for folders and notebooks. Everything is color coordinated. I think my students thrive on that structure and neatness. I know I cope better when things are organized.

Now, I have desks and tables. I am going to have a hodgepodge of containers for the children’s materials. All the work and time preparing and labeling got turned upside down today, just the second day of the school year. Nothing matches any longer.

But as I pushed desks and tables around my room and lifted chairs over my head to navigate the newest path, I remembered part of a quotation I read this summer about creativity and positive change: “Great changes are preceded by chaos.” My room applies.

There is no telling what great changes are ahead, but I have the chaos part down pat.

The perfect little room with labeled tables and containers is gone. We are going to have to make the best of the new reality. The kids saw the extra furniture arriving as they were in an adjoining room this afternoon. Squeals of excitement filled the air.

“You are strong,” one child said as he saw me pass by with a chair over my head. It helped to hear that, and I am clinging to the double message.

Perfectionism has never worked for me anyway. Looks like unplanned eclectic is the new reality for 2012-13. Lord, help me.


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Monday Musings: First Day of School

Each campus definitely has its own learning culture.
I say this today, on the first day of a new school year.
I welcomed 33 new fourth graders to a classroom that I share with two student teacher interns today.
Most of the students attended this campus before, but oh, it was immediately apparent the ones who did not.
Arms stuck inside of shirts, limited eye contact, and slouching were just a few of the behaviors we witnessed this morning from newcomers.
They didn’t know we have a certain way we stand while waiting in halls, that “Sh!” is almost as bad as a curse word in my eyes ( it adds nothing but more noise to the environment!), and pencils are placed, not thrown, in containers.
Ahhh. First day fun.
Every year I forget lots of little things like this, things that tell me my school’s expectations are helping because most of our kids are respectful.
I also forget how much my feet can hurt at the end of the day, how I need to invest in a stool with a back, how one restroom break at noon isn’t quite enough for this teacher.
But I remember things, too:
How Marquell wrote a joyful butterfly story about me on the back of her math sheet, how Zachary showed me a blister on his hand and then followed me all over the room adding more details to his account as he thought of them, and how kids and their stories always make me smile.
How they crave and respond to praise. Genuine praise.
Did everything go perfectly today? Not by a long-shot. There were many interruptions, a few glitches with scheduling, a long (40+ minutes) dismissal duty.
But there were more things that went right. I heard children laugh today. I saw an expectation in their faces that this year might be different. I watched them try so hard to please.
My interns mention how fast things are going. I sense uncertainty in them. They can’t know yet how much things change, and how quickly, in the course of a year.
They’ll learn. We all will. And I thought about all of this as I drove away at 4:30. Not 4:00…but it’s a start.