Write Back Weekend "A Touch of Class"
This week's I felt really bad charging a lot to rent this space. This is because the renter would be staying at AOGB with a bunch of other guests. It just didn't feel right hosting someone and charging a lot while the host is away. Plus I didn't really want any crazy parties to go down while I was gone or anything like that. But because I made the bid dirt cheap, I got plenty of 'em. This actually served the opposite of my purpose of conserving time. After a long, hard deliberation I chose The Opiate of the Masses. I'd like to tell you more about Poppy, but right now her site isn't loading right on my computer so I'll have to come back and edit this later. Come to think of it, neither is mine so I don't know when you'll see this post. Leave me a message if you do, k?
Part of my somewhat blurry, back to school bulletin board
Going in to the upcoming school year, the only thing I knew to expect was the unexpected.
Your first year teaching you are nervous and overwhelmed. In hindsight, you often realize you have no idea what the hell you were doing. In fact, a lot of teachers say that they feel sorry for the students of a first year teacher because they aren't going to learn much that year. It's not their fault, it's just that first year teachers are for the most part, still learning how to teach. It isn't until your second year that you start to adjust what worked and didn't work in the first. You begin to gain more confidence and start to look forward to really getting it right your third year, also known as the year everything falls in to place.
Well here I am, embarking on my third year teaching third grade and I'm here to tell you that the jitters have not gone away, if anything they've intensified, but in a different way. This is because somewhere near the end of August it occurred to me- the third year is also known as the "no excuses" year. You have two years under your belt. The "I'm new, I didn't know any better" cuteness is beginning to wear off. There are new people coming in asking YOU how YOU do it. This is when the power begins to shift and you enter what I like to call the "oh s**t" phase of your teaching career.
Don't get me wrong. There are certain things I do now in the classroom that I feel I do very well. Having two classes from hell back to back has also made classroom management a survival skill well honed. But the personality type of many teachers is that they are perfectionists, if not overachievers. Because of this, "The Art of Getting By" doesn't bode well for someone like myself in a classroom setting. I feel the weight of these children's futures is resting on my shoulders and I watch their faces every year looking at me, ME expectantly--anticipating my wisdom and guidance will pull them through. These poor, poor misguided souls. Over the next ten months most of these students will come to see me as their teacher, others will even see me as their mother, some might even view me as a friend. They all have one thing in common though--they all blindly believe I know what I am doing.
You wanna talk about pressure.
If children of teachers only knew--their teachers, no matter how new or seasoned, are often more nervous than they are on the first day. The children are nervous because they have a new person to get to know, but they don't realize they have the advantage- often knowing each other. It's the teacher who is the outsider, the one who has to earn the trust and respect of twenty something students and establishing who the boss is early on is crucial.
This year though things are actually a little different because for this is the first time I have a full time asssistant in my room. Usually assistants, or paraprofessionals, are distributed based on need. Therefore the people with the largest classes get the most help. But in my school, that hasn't always been the case. A lot of times the help has been based on seniority. So for the first two years I've had next to no help while other teachers have had more than their fair share. It's a system that hasn't gone unnoticed to the staff, parents or even the students. You try explaining to the children why the teacher across the hall has half the students you have and two adults.
Having an assistant is both a blessing and a curse. Suddenly all of the things I had to juggle by myself no longer need juggling. Copying? Done. Administrative paperwork? Completed. Homework? Checked. But having a helper in the room also means you need to establish a working relationship with that person, too. For one thing, if you have another adult, this most often means you will have a larger class, because they can justify it. So going in to this year I was prepared to have my largest class ever- currently 25 students, a number which will no doubt, fluctuate over the next few weeks. For instance, 23 showed up the first few days and a new one was added on Friday. If the other two were on vacation and just show up late (which is very common) I will then have, all together now, 26. But having been a para for a year myself I understand the importance of this individual and treat them as such. I want them to feel like an equal in the room. It's also important you do this for the sake of the class. The children should see your assistant as another teacher to respect since they will also be working with her, walking with her and no doubt, fighting with her as well.
Every year I start the first few days the same. Some teachers choose to take name tags and tape them to child's desks, assigning them where to sit. I don't do this. Instead I use what I like to call "reverse psychology democracy". First, I take the names of the children and attach little pieces of magnets to the backs of their names. I do this instead of the tape because it's much easier to move a name on magnets around vs a name with tape. The tape is cumbersome to get off at the end of the year, while the magnet way, if still intact, can just be taken home with the child, something children, incidentally love to do. After all, I'm never going to use a worn name tag with the name "Manuela Rivera" again, right?
I place all of the names on a table in the back of the classroom. When the children come in, I tell them to find their name, take it and then sit whereever they want to. At this point, they think I am like, the coolest teacher ever. A teacher who is letting me sit next to my best friend who I always get in to trouble with? Awesome! But here's where the reverse psychology bit comes in. They sit down and I make a deal with them. Now I know where you want to sit. Don't give me any trouble, and you get sit there. Fool around and you can't. So when they fool around, and they almost always do, you can call them on it. You ruined it for yourself, not me. In turn you also get to know who is really allies with who. When you redo the seating by the end of the week, which has already been done, you easily know who can't sit next to each other without having to second guess.
Then we play a little icebreaker game. I put two pieces of each color construction paper, ripped up, in a can and have children choose a piece. The two children who choose red get together, blue and so. Then they interview each other. After a few minutes they introduce their partner to the group. It's a fun way of getting to know the students.
But before I get to know them, I ask them what they want to know about me. My first year the children knew I was new to the school, so the line of questioning was different. Last year though I noticed something that I hadn't really thought about- children really do talk about their teachers. A lot of kids asked me questions last year that proved they knew things about the room coming in. So that's when I tweaked it to be, What have you heard about me or third grade? This is how you find out what's important to them. A lot of kids reveal their priorities in this line of questioning. Whether they bring up the fact that they "heard" I give out candy every day, or that they want to learn how to multiply. Either way, it shows me how their minds work. This year the feedback was rather weak but I find children always want to learn about three things in third grade: multiplication, the planets and cursive handwriting.
From here, we work on the class rules. I take out chart paper, a staple of any elementary school teacher, and we brainstorm things that are important to a good classroom. This is where teaching a grade like third is so great. The kids are old enough to provide input, but young enough to still believe all of that input matters. So "together" we create a list of five class rules. They are coming up with the ideas, but I am heavily guiding them since I have already written the rules down on a paper that will go home with them to have their parents sign that night. Anything they can say can virtually be molded into the five rules anyhow. The five rules are as follows:
1. Follow directions at all times.
2. Raise your hand before asking a question or sharing a thought.
3. Treat others the way you want to be treated, with respect.
4. Keep hands, feet and all objects where they belong, to yourself.
5. Try to achieve my personal best each and every day.
Of course we also go over classroom procedures that I won't bore you with here. We go to lunch. We go to special. We do very little, actual work. Before you know it, it's the end of the day. This is when I go over all the papers that have to be brought back to school (and there are always a lot). The children copy down their own homework, a responsibility I feel is important to bestow upon them from the get go in third grade. Then they get their own mail, something they are eager to do because having your own mailbox makes you feel special. In their mailbox on the first day I give them Back To School Survival Kit goodie bags. Inside there is a poem that we read together and little items to symbolize what's in the bag.
Only three days in and I have to say so far I am impressed with the bunch I got this year. They are chatty, but they aren't downright disrespectful as my classes have been in the past. Basically, they come across as real kids. There's a fear of authority and getting in trouble and they still get excited about kid oriented activities. There isn't as much emotional baggage as there was last year either, it seems.
Of course I know it's early and I could be eating my words. But by the end of the week the anxiety started to dissipate a bit and in its place I started looking at year three as quite possibly being the charmed one.