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Crazy 8s

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Over the course of my last year of mentoring, another of my former students slowly wormed her way into our sessions. She started by lobbying – hard – for one, just one, meeting in December. I talked with her teacher and with my original student and finally agreed. Every week after that she’d see me in the lobby and ask “can I come with you today?” until I finally agreed to a second session, then a third…and before I knew it she was joining us every other week. It worked out better than I expected. She’s gregarious and highly social, but she’s never seemed to mind much how “off” my other student is. She lets him be him while still (mostly) politely standing her ground if he’s truly out of bounds socially.

Last week, my first week back this school year, she started on the lobbying again as soon as she saw me. I said that since her teacher had no idea I was even there, we’d have to wait until this week, at least, so I could see if it was okay.

This week, having gotten permission from both her teacher and my other student, I was looking forward to telling her that she could join us. Spying me in the lobby she made a beeline for me: “Can I come with you today?” Then, without even waiting for my response, she continued, “But you said you’d talk to my teacher! You said–”

I held up my hand to cut her off. “Whoa! Want to let me talk? I was about to say that I talked to your teacher and you can come with us today.”

She had the good grace to smile sheepishly.

We spent a lot of the time together playing Crazy 8s with the $1 deck I got at Target. She was awesome at it – beat me multiple times, using actual strategy. She kept protesting that I wasn’t supposed to look at the other student’s cards though, and I had to keep shushing her because there’s no way he could play the game without the support I can give him from peeking. I like that having her with us means that he’s willing to try the game – when he played just with me last year he threw the cards down in frustration and said the game was stupid, but if she and I are playing, he wants to give it a try.

So I’ll be taking her every other week this year. I give her credit – she’s relentless, sure, but it gets her what she wants and needs, and it’s been a positive thing for all of us in the end.

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Categories: Relationships, Teaching Tags: , ,

Oh. Of course.

March 13, 2012 1 comment

On top of my dramatic kids in crisis this year, I also have a sweet, incredibly bright boy who, although he lacks a diagnosis, is essentially a selective mute.  He is cripplingly anxious about anything that would draw attention to himself, especially attention from adults.  Despite this, he is in many ways incredibly well-adjusted.  When he does talk, it’s usually laughing and playing with peers, or excitedly whispering his ideas “to the universe.” (The phrase I’ve come up with to describe his habit of sharing his ideas out loud in a small group setting, yet freezing if it becomes clear I’m actually listening.)

So, at the beginning of the year this boy was one of my two kids who took on our school’s running program with a business-like focus.  He ran everyday, for all of recess.  But then, suddenly, he stopped.  I’ve encouraged him to run, asked him (and his best friend) why he doesn’t want to run anymore, but he’s steadfastly refused to start again.

Then today I was sorting out a tangled heap of the class’s motivation charm necklaces for the running program.  I saw that he had 4 charms and had already run 10 of the 13 laps he needed for the special 5th charm, the one that the P.E. teachers celebrate by taking your picture and posting it on a wall of fame in the hallway.

And…oh.  Of course.

He would HATE having his picture taken and posted in the hallway.  The entire experience of going down and interacting with the teacher for the picture would be miserable, and then kids would see his picture in the hallway every single day.  He’s a bright kid.  He knows what he doesn’t want, and even though he liked running, he NEEDS to go unnoticed.  Playing this hunch, I mentioned to him at dismissal that getting your picture taken is totally optional – you can decide if you want it, or if you want to skip it and just keep running.  While he didn’t say anything (of course), he did smile, which is WAY more feedback than I usually get from him.

As I am constantly realizing this year, the academics are such a small part of what I really do.  Knowing the kids and their emotions is the key to everything good that happens in the classroom.

I prefer drama

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

We decorated gingerbread men cookies in class on Wednesday.  I made 19 cookies for 16 kids, but 2 cracked in transit and a 3rd broke as I handed it out, leaving exactly the number I needed intact.  One cookie, however, was much thinner than the others, and when the boy decorating it tried to transfer it into a baggie to bring home, it cracked under the weight of the candy.

About half of my students would have shrugged it off.  Hey, it might be broken, but it’s still a cookie with lots of candy on it!

About half of my students would have dramatically melted down.  The cookie BROKE.  It is the end of the WORLD.

Both these reactions would be easy to manage – the first obviously so, but even the dramatic group is pretty easy to respond to.  You sternly stop the crying, focus on the fun of the experience and the intactness of the candy, and send them on their way.

But this one boy, the only one whose cookie broke, isn’t part of either of these groups.  He’s not go with the flow, and he’s definitely not dramatic.  So when his cookie broke I didn’t even realize there was a problem until I saw him standing, silently, holding the broken pieces, little tears quietly dripping down his cheeks.  No words, no tantrum, just a silent mourning that I was powerless to help with.  I tried to help, of course, but in the end all I was able to do was gently take the cookie pieces from his hand and finish packing them up.

Is there anything harder than not being able to comfort a sad child?  Sometimes I think I’d be okay with more drama in my classroom if it meant being able to help the kids when they’re sad.

Teaching 2.0

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s a new school year and I’m happy to say it’s off to a great start.  I have 16 kids on my roster (although I’ve had two days so far with just 13), and they could not be more different in personality or tone from last year’s group.

The kids are so remarkably well-behaved that I’m getting almost-shocked feedback from other teachers and administrators, complimenting me on what a good job I’m doing with my class.  Many have implied that it’s the difference between being a first year teacher and a “veteran” second year teacher.  I’m sure that’s part of it, but really, I have very different kids this year.  They are highly verbal kids from stable families and they all have basic reading skills – and some are already reading at end-of-first-grade levels.  When I asked them to turn and talk to someone on the carpet about the question I posed, they all turned to someone of their own choosing, with many looking around to check that everyone had a partner, and took turns whispering quietly with their partner, then turned back to me as soon as I called for attention.

Here’s that same scene in last year’s class.  I tell them they’re going to turn and talk with a partner about the question.  I assign partners, trying to keep the aggressive kids away from each other and the limited-English proficiency kids paired with a (supportive) higher-level speaker.  I can’t do all of these things, so I partner with 3 of the kids no one else will work with (or who won’t work with anyone else).  I tell them which partner will talk first, and give them a sentence frame to help structure their talking.  While I try to coax something out of the kids I’m working with, I hear a child behind me yell “he won’t talk!” and another yell “she said YOU go first!”  When I’ve dealt with this and try to call them back together, they keep talking, even louder than before, but not about the question.

I know I’m doing a lot of things better – shockingly, it does help to know what one’s doing – but I can’t take full credit for an awesome class.  They’ve come in to me ready to learn, and it is astounding how much easier it feels to teach when that’s the case.

A day of firsts

June 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Waking up today I knew it would be a day of firsts: my first meeting to discuss a child’s IEP (individual education plan) was this morning and my first child study meeting (to discuss how to intervene with a child who’s struggling) was this afternoon.  What I didn’t know is that in between these meetings one of my students would provide an opportunity for another first: my first ride in an ambulance.

The student, AK, was last in line as we started to walk to music.  I was puzzled when I saw him run back into the classroom, but sent the class on, figuring he’d just forgotten something and would be right out.  He did come back out quickly, but he was crying and clearly panicky.  “I swallowed, I swallowed,” he kept repeating.  “You swallowed what,” I asked.  He finally gasped: “a quarter!”

“You swallowed a QUARTER?!”  I replied dumbly.

Luckily another teacher on my team heard me and said, “I’ve got your class, do what you need to do.”  So AK and I rushed down the hallway towards the clinic, with me asking him to keep talking while we walked so that I could make sure he could still breath.  About 3/4 of the way there he started throwing up, and another teacher immediately swooped in with a trash can to catch it.  We got to the clinic, explained what was wrong, and within about 10 seconds had the principal on the phone with 911, the assistant principal on the phone to the student’s mom, and a copy of his emergency care information ready for the EMTs.  The principal kept him distracted with long, crazy stories about other kids she’s known who swallowed coins and the clinic aide and I kept him cleaned up.  While I was at the hospital with him, one of the reading teachers picked my kids up from music, and another was ready to get them from lunch and dismiss them if I wasn’t back in time.

Despite some scary minutes of having the quarter stuck in his throat my student should be fine, and we left him at the ER in the capable hands of the doctors and his mother.

My takeaway from the day is an overwhelming appreciation for the other staff members at my school.  At every turn I had instantaneous, unquestioning help.  The only thing that mattered was taking care of my student, which included allowing me to be there to take care of him.  I know it might sound like the obvious or the right thing to do, and it is, but I’ve also worked in enough environments to know that this kind of matter of fact extension on behalf of another staff member or someone else’s kid isn’t always the norm.  I’m very grateful I ended up somewhere where it is.

Cataloging the aches and pains

May 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to a series of uncoordinated choices, I ended up taking 3 trapeze classes in 4 days this week.  It probably would have worked out if I’d done it earlier in my progression, or if I’d stalled on the pullover shoot.  Instead, I’ve spent 2 of the 3 days doing the most physically and mentally intensive work yet, and my body is feeling the effects.

Starting at toes and going up:

  • My shin hurts if it touches something or if I walk quickly.
  • The abrasion on my shin hasn’t started to scab, which is starting to worry me.
  • My quads flinch when I walk.
  • The abrasion on my hip is healing, but hurts if I bend or twist.
  • My back is a single knot of tension and pain.
  • My shoulders and upper arms are sore in a “I might not be able to move them in the morning” kind of way.
  • My hands are so covered in fast-developing blisters that I can only grip with my fingertips.
And yet I still can’t wait to go back on Monday.

They don’t tell you about this in grad school

May 17, 2011 2 comments

After 8 straight days of having to call the office to request a custodian with a plunger, plus several discussions about our class’s over-use of toilet paper, today I had to set aside my science lesson on plants and talk about…poop.  Our class had a somber conversation about new rules for flushing to make sure that our toilet doesn’t break, then I used the instructional strategy of having students list details across their fingers to have them repeat and remember the new rules.  They may not have taught us how to handle broken toilets in grad school, but it’s good to know the pedagogical strategies I learned work across topics!

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