Saturday, May 19, 2012

Know Thy Class

I have quite a crew of kids this year.  This is my first experience teaching fourth grade, and let's just say it's been a trial by fire.  My little darlings have a unique set of quirks and interests.  The poor secretary at my school had been hard pressed to find guest teachers willing to return after one day with them when I was out.  We finally found a retired principal I cajoled and begged to work with the kiddos.

Though my crew is tough, I adore the little buggers.  As I pleaded with them to behave for guest teachers and asked why they were so naughty they explained that guest teachers just aren't me.  My lesson plans are four pages long. Single spaced.  A guest teacher doesn't even get to HOW to start the day until he or she has read the proper care and feeding guide for individual students.  Then there are the instructions of "how we roll" in the room and explanations of how Beck bucks are given and taken.  I try to be as thorough as possible, yet it's just not "me" teaching the kids.

I know my class intimately.  When their little faces go vacant we stop midstream and sing "Mother Gooney Bird" or "Shark Attack."  Before a test we do breathing exercises.  No academics begin until the kids have stretched out with downward dog and child's pose.  I know who needs to run an "errand" for a movement break and who needs a few minutes to chill alone because of an altercation at recess.  These quick subtle adjustments to the day come as easily to me as singing the alphabet, but I can't just put that on paper, though I've tried.

One of the tenets of Responsive Classroom is "knowing the children you teach is as important as knowing what you teach."  After 160 days with this gang I know them well.  As I prepare this group to move onto middle school I want to tuck a note in each child's folder explaining the intricacies of him or her.  I want the future teachers to appreciate their beautiful strengths even in the face of some aggravating challenges.  These kids are mine, and as I've learned from my past 17 classes, they always will be.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Let's Take the "Home" Out of Homework

Let me start with a warning.  If you are easily threatened when the status quo is challenged, best you stop reading now.  Go check out the Everyday Math website for parent help with homework.  If you are a teacher who swears by homework, stop reading. Please.  I'm sure you are a wonderful teacher; we'll just need to agree to disagree.

Now, here's a shocking revelation.  I HATE homework.  I don't like assigning it, grading it or doing it with my bio-kids at home.  It hasn't always been this way.  When I started teaching second grade almost twenty years ago I assigned weekly spelling homework, because that's just what we did.  I tried to provide choice and make it "fun," but let's call a spade a spade, when you "assign" something, it's work. Plain and simple.

Parents would challenge me once in a while and I stood my ground, homework was assigned Monday and due Friday, they had ALL WEEK to do it.  I couldn't understand the fuss.  Then I had kids.

I now go to school, teach fourth grade all day.  Do all the e-mailing of parents and prep required for the next day and rush home to my own kids.  We eat a snack and then sit at the counter to do MORE fourth grade work.  Then we rush off to dance, or baseball, soccer, whatever happens to be on the docket (and trust me, I limit the docket). As I was helping my oldest son with his latest unclear homework assignment, that irritated feeling struck me again.  Who the heck are teachers to dictate how families spend their precious home time with their children?  

I know teaching is an exception, but how many hourly employees go to work all day and then come home to continue their hourly work?  We teachers bemoan how kids come to school without imagination, unable to think for themselves, their parents aren't having rich conversations with them.  Perhaps it's because these families are too busy completing worksheet after worksheet.

As a mom it's my job to love my kids, to teach them right from wrong, to nurture their interests and develop their little spirits.  As a teacher it's my job to teach my students how to read, write, compute, think, and present their ideas.  I'm not saying that these two jobs should never cross, but I am getting a little tired of the lines crossing too much.  

Great cognitive development happens through unstructured outside play.  As I sit inside on the first sunny day we've had all week working on this infernal famous person report I feel that both the teacher and I are doing a disservice to my son by denying him the opportunity to let home be home.  It is insulting to families to assume that without a teacher's directive they are incapable of raising their students.  What if the reverse were true?  What if I sent to the teacher the list of what my son should be doing at school?

If a parent would like suggestions of how to enhance the work of the school at home I am happy to provide direction.  In fact, next year I think my "homework" will consist of a monthly letter of "cool stuff to try with your kid at home." In other words, here's a list of things I don't have the money or time to do with all the kids, but it's pretty neat.  I will not collect homework, unless mandated to do so by administration (I sure hope they aren't reading this).  

It comes down to this:  I trust parents to do what they feel is best for their kids at home, and I hope to earn their trust that I do what I feel is best for their kids at school.  Now go play with your kid.    

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama !!!!!!!!!

If you have ever raised a toddler you've enjoyed the cacophony of your name, most likely high pitched and whiny, called without respite at the most inconvenient time.  Mama, mama, mommy, moooooo----oooooommmm! I've barely processed the fact my kid needs me from hearing my name the first time when my name is called a dozen more times. Aggravating?  Oh yes.  So after a particularly arduous road trip with two boys armed with my name and a million requests I decided it was time to introduce "wait time" to my kids.

Sitting in the driver's seat (literally only, though my greatest dream is to say that metaphorically) of my little Corolla I explained to the boys a very "grown up" idea.  They had to count to ten between saying my name the first time and repeating any version of my name.  We practiced trying it by counting out loud.  Then they used their fingers, then they needed to count in their heads.  It worked pretty well for the rest of the trip and  I smugly congratulated myself for a moment of parenting GENIUS.

Then I went to school.  I have some kids, let's call them all Tammy for convenience.  These Tammys were slow to respond to directives, either due to auditory processing delays or attitude complications.  I caught myself saying, within one breathe, "Tammy, come see me...I need you to come to my's time to come see me....we need to conference...Tammy I told you to come see me NOW!"  It dawned on me I was doing exactly what drove me crazy in the car.  

In an effort to be efficient with time and to make sure my questions are phrased so all kids will understand, I tend to talk.  A LOT.  Without stop.  My poor students.  My poor sons.  It's time to practice what I preach.  I ask a question.  I count to ten in my head.  Then I look for answers, this gives the thoughtful quiet kids a fighting chance again the chair hopping arm wavers.  I give a student a directive.  I count to ten.  If the student doesn't respond I reduce my words and rephrase the request. Once.  

What's the moral?  The less I talk, the more kids learn.  Enough said.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Versatile Blogger!

After a long day of four hours driving to a conference that was, well....underwhelming (and it was about writing too), I came home to hungry kids and a slew of unchecked e-mail.  Ignoring both I played a game of Monopoly with the kids as we ate.  When I sent their stinky little selves off to shower and check for ticks I checked e-mail.  What a lovely surprise to discover I'd been recognized by one of my former student's parents for the Beck Meets Bastet blog.  It was an honor to know she was reading and a kick in the pants to get back to writing.

So, next topic will be about waiting.  It seems like all I write about is patience....

Before I get to that please allow me to thank
mamcita spins the globe
If I were more savvy with this whole blogging thing I'd have made that a link.

The boys are emerging clean and tick free, off to finish our game....