Sunday, September 29, 2013

I Seem to Have Misplaced a Copy of My Brain

Those are actual words that came out of my mouth, and it was a true statement in multiple ways. In "Stepping Stones," which is what we call our reading block, we read a book called "My Brain." We send home copies of the books for kids to read for homework, and I was one short. However, on another level I really am losing my brain, as it were...I set stuff down and two seconds later can't find it again. And making it through the day--especially last Thursday and Friday--can be the biggest challenge.

"This business of training little humans for life is a mind-boggling process." -unknown

"The best part of teaching is that it matters. The hardest part of teaching is that every moment matters, every day." -Todd Whitaker

I feel like if I wrote a book, I could title it "Adventures of a First Year Kindergarten Teacher: Stress Eating Dove Chocolates, or How I Lost My Voice and My Mind."
Mind-boggling does not even begin to cover what it means to teach kindergarten. When you're new at a job, it's okay to make mistakes. Everyone does. When you're learning, you learn best when things don't go perfectly. The issue is that the mistakes I make, while they make me a better teacher, affect kids' lives. My mistakes impact someone's kindergarten year. I feel like I should be better prepared, given that I have 3 prior years of experience in schools. Yet here I am, wasting time getting kids to just sit and listen...and then running out of time to get any work done. I keep meaning to create new centers for early finishers, go back to my notes from classes last year and try new things. But I simply have zero extra hours in the day to do that.

I honestly feel a bit like I am failing, both at being an effective teacher, and failing my students. I'm working on progress reports, and I have so many students not on grade level. Some of this is because it's only been 30 days of school, and learning is not always a fast process! Some of this is due to behavior. Some of this is due to language. And some, perhaps most, is likely due to me. I'm still learning, and finding out new things about my school, my responsibilities, and what I need to have in my classroom. I can't look further than a day or two in advance, because I am barely hanging onto my day to day goings-ons.

I feel bad too, writing "N" for growth needed, when I feel like it's my fault. Or, for my ELL students, because it's a language issue, and it's going to be "N" all year. We really need to provide ELL students with bilingual education, because not only is it important that they don't lose their native language, but because literacy in a first language translates to better learning a second. And as for this year, well, it can take 2-3 years to master basic conversational ability in a second language, and 5-7 years to master academic language. So it's okay that my ELL students won't master English skills this year...but they still deserve access to the content, and I feel bad that I can't supplement that with their own language because I don't know Spanish. I worry though, that even though developmentally speaking, I shouldn't expect them to be proficient, because that's unrealistic, that seeing "N"s on all their progress reports will have some psychological effect. So I need to keep this in mind and discuss this with parents at parent-teacher conferences to assuage fears the parents may have.

Good thing I'm ever the optimist, because last week was full of me feeling like a miserable failure. On the bright side, I do know that some of my kids are picking up stuff. We have this alphabet with our curriculum that has a picture intertwined with each letter. We are supposed to go through the alphabet saying each picture name (which has the letter sound ie: apple, bat and ball, caterpillar, dinosaur).
When assessing my kids for progress reports, I asked them to name letters. A few kids could tell me the picture that goes with the letter-- tower, snake--but I got a blank stare when it came to letter names. They're learning what I'm teaching, I suppose. But now I'm practicing the alphabet with letter names and sounds, because otherwise their foundation for letters is going to be random nouns, and that's confusing.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Being An Optimist And Spending All My Money

"Teaching is the greatest act of optimism." -Colleen Wilcox

"We expect teachers to reach unattainable goals with inadequate resources. The miracle is this: they often do." -Haim Ginott

With the exception of being a morning person (I'm not), teaching fits me well. I love kids books, school supplies, and I'm a little bit of a hoarder. I believe in the power of education, I assume good intentions, and I think that every kid is capable of learning. It's not always easy to maintain these beliefs. Rather, it's rarely easy, yet every day I have a new chance to try again.

In related news, both Target and Amazon have benefited greatly from my becoming a teacher. While theoretically teachers shouldn't have to buy their own supplies, the reality is that teachers spend a great deal of money--their own money--on school supplies. I certainly have. It's more than just the basics. A lot of the basics are covered either by the school, or rather through parent donations (a result of budget cuts), but if you want to have a decent amount of options for activities or even just putting stuff on the walls, you've got to do a little extra. I have been slowly building up my room, spending money I didn't really have, until my first paycheck came along. It's also been very entertaining to watch my Amazon recommendations shift to kids books and school supplies.

Luckily I didn't have to spend a giant amount on a rug; the school got it for me. It was a very exciting day when it finally arrived. My room finally felt like a kindergarten room! I still have mixed feelings about my desks (I'd rather have tables, or just smaller desks), but hey, I have a sweet rug!

I've got to take pleasure in the little things, like a beautiful rug, and unexpectedly calm moments, because it's easy to get bogged down by everything that is going wrong. The rug didn't really solve behavior issues, because no matter how visual those carpet rectangles are, I have several students (okay, it feels like at least half the class) who cannot for the life of them just stay in one section for longer than 10 seconds. I couldn't have lasted a week in kindergarten if I wasn't optimistic. I have to stay positive, despite constantly feeling like I don't know what I'm doing, or I'm not doing enough for my students. 

So I continue to be as consistent as I can, stick to our routine, and follow through on consequences. Kindergarten is WAY more complicated than anyone, even me, could have expected. I continue to spend more money than I probably should on things for my classroom, from things to help me organize the million things I have to keep track of, to more things (puzzles, prizes, toys, art/school supplies) for my students. Teaching is a huge investment of time and emotion. My weekends are full of prep, and thinking about what I can do differently or what more I can do for my students. There is really no leaving your work at work as a teacher, because the job becomes so personal. 

Yet, I can't imagine doing anything else.