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Posts Tagged ‘time management’

Six-year-olds can’t tell time

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Today I remembered that six-year-olds can’t tell time  and that I can totally use that against them.  Tired of asking the class to stand up, line up, or go to their tables and having them meander, divert or ignore, I decided to spend most of our morning meeting practicing standing up on cue, sitting down on cue, and going to our tables on cue.  The first time we practiced standing up they were simply awful at it.  Three kids remained sitting until I specifically called them by name, while one kid wandered away.  By the time they were all standing I was exasperated.  Hands on hips, I decided to make things up: “That took at least 37 seconds!” I exclaimed.  “We should be able to do it in 15 seconds.  I think we need to try again.  Do you think we can get down to 15 seconds this time?”  A chorus of six-year-old voices yelled “YES!”  So they sat down and we practiced standing up again.  “Hmm…a little better,” I said, “we got down to 22 seconds.  But I think you can do it faster, don’t you?”  And so we went, up and down, up and down, enthusiastically racing against the pretend clock.

At no point in this exchange did I actually time them.  Safe in the knowledge that they have no concept of time, I made up whatever numbers I thought would motivate them.  And it worked.  They stayed fully engaged, racing against the times I called out as they practiced moving around our room.

I know some teachers say they love upper elementary school students because you can do so much more with them, but I don’t think anything beats the cheerful, eager-to-please cluelessness of a six-year-old.

(Not) working 9-5

September 12, 2010 1 comment

Since leaving school on Friday afternoon I’ve spent at least 8 hours on school-related work and at least another 3 on freelance work.  Tomorrow I’ll be at school or a professional development seminar from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Tuesday I’ll be at school until 8 p.m. for Back to School Night.  Outside of the peak reading season in admissions or the peak editing season in admissions counseling, I’m not sure I’ve ever put in the kind of hours I have recently, and while I know I should expect to put in a more hours than usual as I learn the ropes, I’m a little worried that my schedule could look like this all year.

Why?  Well, for the other teachers on my team, planning for math means saying, “we can do the penny game Monday – that always works well”  For me it means asking “what’s the penny game?  How do you play it?  What do I need to prepare ahead of time?  How do I introduce it, manage it, and assess it?”  Now repeat that for 4-6 lessons per day, 5 days a week.  Then consider that even with reduced planning needs, the other teachers on my team work very hard, for long hours.  For me to get anywhere near their level of performance that means I’m going to have to work like crazy all year long.

I know my mom will read this and remind me that I’m not supposed to be performing at the same level as my teammates – they’re experienced teachers, this is my first year, and I can’t expect to be just like them right out of the gate.  While I do recognize this, I also know how much my kids need to learn from me this year. I think the challenge of my year – and possibly, my career – will be to figure out how to draw a line between work and life that allows me to give my students what they need and yet also live a sane, enjoyable life.

Small steps

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Yesterday my classroom-running goal was to send the lunch money to the cafeteria after attendance.  Today it was to remember to have the kids eat snack.  Tomorrow I’m going to try to turn the TV on in time for the morning announcements.  Maybe next week I’ll try to remember the (legally mandated) Pledge of Allegiance.

Or maybe next week I’ll try to remember that we go to art on Thursdays, not to music, and will take the kids the right classroom instead of force marching them back and forth across the school as they ask why we’re not going to music and why are we walking down this hallway and where are we going and are we there yet?

Small steps…

Time keeps on running, running

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

I spent the last two years working on my Masters degree and building my freelancing business.  As a result, I am currently paid to be a researcher, writer, admissions counselor, social media consultant…and full-time first grade teacher.

While I was in school I had more time than money, so I accepted every freelance job I was offered.  Thanks to a demanding teaching placement and a lot of student loans, I now have neither time nor money –  but I have more freelance work than ever.  This week I’ve been spending ten hour days at school then coming home and doing 2-3 hours of freelance work before crawling into bed.  It’s not a schedule I can keep up for very long, but I’ve run my monthly budget numbers about a million times and I’m afraid I can’t afford not to keep it up.  I’ve managed to do well in both my full-time and freelance jobs so far (though it’s only day 4), but as I need to do more planning in my classroom, college application deadlines approach, and I decide I need to make friends, I’m going to face some big choices about my budget, my priorities, and my goals for my freelancing business.

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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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Details, details

May 24, 2010 Leave a comment

When interviewing, it’s best to support grand statements of philosophy with concrete examples of implementation. It’s one thing to say you think differentiated instruction is swell and another thing to talk about how you’ve integrated it into your planning.

I know this, but sometimes I still forget to provide these examples – it’s one of the interviewing skills I simply haven’t mastered. I think part of the reason I forget to illustrate my points is because I find it difficult to come up with examples on the spot – like many people, I am far more likely to remember the perfect supporting story on the drive home than I am sitting across from an interviewer. And sometimes I leave out examples because my internal interviewer clock (honed through years of admissions work) warns me, “you’re taking too long. Wrap this answer up, NOW.” So I weigh the risk of being too vague against the risk of rambling and almost always choose vague as the lesser evil. Once I’m driving home, however, I care less about the timing of my responses and more about the substance of them, so I make a mental list of all of the stories I could have shared but didn’t and I wonder if the interviewer got a good sense of my abilities based on the limited information I provided.

I try not to obsess about this, though. No interview is long enough to cover all of the things that I – or any other candidate – believes or can do. In the end, we hire on first impressions, best guesses, and a leap of faith. My job is to share myself as honestly and fully as possible in the time allowed. Hopefully that will be enough for the interviewer, but if it’s not, I can take what I learned from that interview and try to do better – giving more examples, illustrating more ideas – in my next one.

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Trade offs in all things

May 4, 2010 Leave a comment

As noted earlier, I had my first meeting – ever – to discuss a project with a professor before I turn it in.  The good from the experience: she thinks I have a good project and we had a great conversation.  The bad: she made at least a half dozen suggestions for improvement “if [I] have time.”  Since I’ve scheduled the rest of my week already and I don’t have time, I’m not quite sure why I went in to talk with her.  Did I think she’d say it was perfect?  I think I went in because 1) I wanted an excuse to talk with her and 2) I started to get nervous holding onto the project but not turning it in yet.  I find it deeply unsettling to finish an assignment and still having it hanging around, unsubmitted, days later.  If I have more days to work, shouldn’t I keep working on it?  But taking that approach, why would one ever work ahead or try to get things done early?  It would just lead to a mad, unending, hamster wheel of work.

I need to avoid falling down the rabbit hole on this assignment, yet show that I didn’t completely waste her time or ignore her advice.  To strike this balance, my plan is to set aside two hours this weekend to make revisions – when time’s up, it gets turned in.  I use this rationed time approach frequently to manage my workload – projects get a certain amount of time, or a certain number of pages, or are limited in some other way that makes sense for that assignment.  I work within those boundaries, and when I reach them, I have to find a way to finish up.  It keeps my perfectionist tendencies in check, keeps my time commitments in line with my priorities, and ensures I have time for everything I need to get done.

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