Archive for June, 2010

Having fun

June 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Instead of P.E., the kids did “Rolling Bowling” this morning. A (short) portable bowling lane, complete with ball return and pin set up, was brought to the school parking lot. Although I had to stay with the class, two older men ran the activity. I thought I’d miss having my planning period, but I loved being able to spend time with the kids and not have to be the enforcer. The bowling guys set the rules and the kids were so excited they were happy to follow them – so I got to cheer for them, dance a little with them, and generally have fun with them, possibly for the first time since I’ve been in their class. I know it can’t always be like that, but I do think that having some fun can make it easier later on to enforce the rules. If nothing else, it helped me enjoy the kids more, and I think that’s totally worth the lost planning period.

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June 11, 2010 Leave a comment

One of my classmates draws a distinction between classroom management and student management. Classroom management, he suggests, is what teachers do to create an environment in which students can learn, and it includes the routines, class work, relationships, etc. of the classroom. Student management, on the other hand, is the attempt to control each moment of each child’s behavior.

In thinking about the last several days, I realize that I’m doing what I never wanted to do – instead of setting up an environment in which the kids behave well, I’m working within broken structures and am essentially playing whack-a-mole with the kids all day. Essentially, I’m practicing student management instead of classroom management. I spend the day – especially the afternoons – telling kids to stop talking, stop wandering, stop tapping…stop, stop, stop! I hate it, it’s not effective, and I want it to change. The challenge is to figure out how to do that.

To start, I need to get over my reluctance to change the kids’ routines. The reality is that I do things differently than their old teacher and I have a different relationship with the class, so we’ve already changed the day in big ways. Given that, changing the desks around (for instance) to separate the kids who are driving each other crazy just isn’t a big deal.

Another part of the problem is that the academic work we’re doing isn’t that interesting. For the most part, it’s either review or boring requirement. I don’t know how much I can change about that, but I can at least keep it in mind when I respond to the kids. Bored ten year olds are misbehaving ten year olds. I’ll try to figure out how to make the remaining lessons more interesting, try to cut the kids some slack, and try to move things around so that the classroom works better for me and the kids.

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Living under observation

June 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The principal walked into my classroom unannounced today and settled down at the back table. Luckily I’m still in student teacher mode and am used to everything I do being observed. Also luckily, the kids were excited about the lesson she walked in on – I had them prepping readers theatre performances, including making props and costumes.  The kids weren’t perfect, but they were very creative and generally on task, and the principal seemed to like what she saw.  Since I’m still technically a job applicant at the school, it’s a relief to have an observation go well.  I suspect that I’ll have a lot more drop-in visits throughout my teaching career.  Given that, it seems like a good idea to stay in student teacher mode even once I’m full-time – always expect to be observed, always be ready for someone to walk in.  Or as mom always told me when I worked in daycare, always act as though someone is watching.

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Notes for next year

June 5, 2010 Leave a comment

The classroom that I took over worked very well for the teacher who left, but only works for me. Many of the routines and organizational choices she used don’t line up as well with my classroom management style or preferences, but since I think it’d be easier for me to change for four weeks than to make the kids change what they’ve been doing since the fall, I’m learning to adapt. I’m making notes for next year though, to remember how I’d set things up in the room if I could start from scratch.

1. Pencils shared by the table, folders and notebooks stored on shelves.
I know this will come as a surprise to many people, but fifth graders aren’t very well organized.  They can start the day with 5 pencils in their desk and ask by mid-morning to borrow one.  The inside of their desks resembles a trash heap.  Their desks destroy papers and create black holes that entire folders disappear into.  If I start from the idea of setting them up for success, it seems like having a large pot of pencils, erasers, and pencil sharpeners shared by the table and dedicated shelf space for folders and notebooks would ensure they always had a pencil when it was time to work and that their papers would avoid desk death.

2.  Different activities mean different desk positions.
The desks in my current classroom are set up so that students can work in cooperative learning groups on some lessons.  During other lessons, however, they are all supposed to be working quietly and independently, or having a class-wide discussion, or working with partners rather than a group.  These other kinds of activities need other kinds of seating arrangements, but we force the table groups to work for everything we do.  In my own room, I’d like to borrow an idea from one of my professors and spend some time at the beginning of the year practicing moving the desks into 3-4 different arrangements.  It may take some time to set up, but once the kids are good at it, it would save so much time lost to behavior management issues.  Even “good” kids struggle to stay quiet when they’re looking directly at 3-4 friends.  With some initial practice we can make sure the classroom cues support the desired behavior during each lesson.

3.  Assigned spaces on the carpet.
When my first graders came to the carpet they all knew exactly where and how to sit.  When this group comes to the carpet we spend the first minute or so and then several interruptions during the lesson troubleshooting their choice of location, neighbor, and degree of sprawl.  It’s a waste of time.

In the end, most of these notes come out of seeing that there’s a recurring, class-wide problem and trying to figure out how to minimize or eliminate that problem.  I won’t be able to get rid of every issue, but if we can set things up so that every student has the materials she needs and a setting he can work well in, I think we’ll be a long way towards making the classroom a better place to be.

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June 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I had my first full day in an upper elementary school classroom today. Also, my first day in charge of an upper elementary school classroom. It was not awesome.

In fairness to everyone involved, this isn’t a fun time for the kids. It’s June, their real teacher just left, their room looks completely different, they’re totally over school, and they have a new teacher who doesn’t know any of the things that make them happy – just the rules that make them sad. So they’re not bringing their best.

And in some ways, I’m not bringing my best either, or at least I wasn’t today. Their teacher left me with a lot of “fun worksheets,” and while we did some of those today, the kids’ response made clear what I already knew – worksheets aren’t fun. I’m going to have to step it up and come up with some actually fun activities or risk battling the kids all day, every day, for the next four weeks.

In addition to the kids’ fairly reasonable reactions to change and boredom, there’s also a heaping dose of moodiness at play in the classroom. In fact, I’ve experienced this moodiness in every upper elementary classroom I’ve been in. If a six-year-old sits in stony silence it’s a sign that something’s wrong. If an 11-year-old does the same thing, it’s just Tuesday. All the upper elementary teachers I know say “be hard on them,” or “tough love is the only way to get through,” and while that’s all well and good, I find no joy in it. I prefer nurturing love for learning and enthusiasm for school, not trying to salvage it from the wreckage of hormones, social stress and academic insecurity. Good realizations to keep in mind as I continue interviewing for teaching jobs.

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