Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sometimes, Teaching is a Game of Whack-a-Mole

"The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving of ways." -unknown

"Teaching is like trying to hold 35 corks underwater at once" -Mark Twain

Sometimes I feel like my classroom is a zoo, especially during the middle of the day when I have all 26 kinders on the rug. I have a little girl who I've caught stealing my things. I had a little boy running with scissors. I have kids who can't keep their hands to themselves, can't sit still for more than 15 seconds, and kids who can't not be making noises...unless I ask them to. I have very few kids who listen well, follow the rules, participate, complete their work, and clean up after themselves. I have some, so I know there's hope for the rest, but they are currently in the minority. It's pretty safe to say that somedays, my kids are driving me absolutely crazy. I love them, but they are little mysteries that I haven't fully solved.

Being both a first-year teacher and a first-year kindergarten teacher, I'm not sure what's normal for 5 year olds 50 days into the school year. I have a sense though, that some of what I'm seeing is normal, and some is decidedly not normal. I have started a clip up/down behavior chart, which occasionally seems like it is working. The problem is I'm still figuring out how to make it work for me, and my teaching style. I had a parent volunteer ask if I had an aide in my room. Umm, just for two half hour blocks during the day. She was surprised--and rightfully so. Extra adults are helpful at any level, but especially in lower grades, when there is so much individual attention needed, because for many of these kids, everything we do is for the first time. And because, well, they're 5.

Sometimes it's easy to figure out why a kid is misbehaving. I have a few little boys who speak little to no English. So it's not surprising that they stop paying attention on the rug. They don't fully comprehend what's going on, so they get distracted. It must be overwhelming to have someone speak to you in English all day, when you only know and speak Spanish at home. For other students, it's not so easy, especially when they won't respond to direct questions about their behavior, or even respond to you calling their name. I worry that my students are going to get hurt, because they refuse to respond to my direction, or respond when I call their name. It is ridiculous how defiant these kids--these 5 year olds!--can be. I know that developmentally speaking, empathy is difficult for them, as is sitting still for a while. But I also know that they can learn how to do this, because some of my kids demonstrate it beautifully. And these kids deserve more--and it's unfair that so much of my energy is spent on a handful of kids being disruptive.

That being said, I still get hugs from kids--even the ones who cultivate so much negative attention. One day I brought the kids out to their parents at the end of the day, and the mom handed me flowers (the picture above is of said flowers). Another day, I had to attend a meeting, and had a sub in my room for an hour--and when I came back, two kids ran up to me to give me a hug. And one of my students likes coming to school--wants to come on Saturdays! I must be doing something right, because my kids seem to like me. It's safe to say that I care about my students, but sometimes I'm not sure that's enough. I want to help them learn, and be ready for first grade. I want to teach them to be good people, to think about and question the world around them, and learn basic reading an math.

But right now, I worry that they're going to fall behind because transitions take so long. Because the kids I need to be paying attention the most are the ones hiding under their desks, or talking to their neighbor when we're learning our letters. Because I often don't feel like a teacher, but more of a babysitter. It's no wonder, as I put together progress reports, that very few of my kids know their letters. It's not because they aren't capable, it's because we all haven't figured out how to act in Kindergarten.

Totally made this arrangement up. Hope it works!
So after a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day (some days are like that), on Friday, I threw up my hands and decided to totally rearrange my room (see the pictures...and note that I have more stuff on the walls!). We'll see what happens on Monday. Maybe a change will be enough to start over with someone in my credential/masters program said today: "It's never too late for a fresh start." So I should probably plan on very little academic work for Monday, and really focus on getting our routines right. Make them do it over and over, until we get it right.

Rug time is so hard! We'll have to add assigned squares.
I am exhausted, all the time. I feel like part of the problem is simply that being a first year teacher is hard, and notoriously not the best, and it's okay that I don't have all my ducks in a row. It doesn't make it any easier on a day to day basis though, because I still have to make it through each day, and I still have 26 real, live, little human beings in my care.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Technology: The Final Frontier

"All adventures, especially those into new territory, are scary." -Sally Ride

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity." -Albert Einstein 

Teachers right now are dealing with new territory. It's something I'd been thinking about, and then I saw this Louis CK video being shared all over Facebook.
And he makes a really good point, about empathy in children, and what they are learning is okay behavior. I think this inability to just sit and do nothing is affecting our children's stamina to do things in the classroom, to take their time to complete work neatly, or to just listen and respond to a story. Furthermore, I think that the prevalence of technology makes it really easy for parents to let TV, or ipads or smartphones and the such raise their kids. And who can blame them, if they're holding down two jobs or using all their energy to just get their families basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter? It's also too easy for privileged parents to do this as well. It takes less energy, and we're living in a society of instant gratification and laziness. Sure, it may take less time to placate a child with a tablet, than actually turn it into a learning experience and teach a kid about feelings, and how to problem solve. But taking the easy way out is just going to lead to problems later on...problems that surface in school where students need to start interacting face to face with other students, and they don't have the stimulation of constant technology.

All this technology is new territory--we have never had a generation grow up only knowing the existence of the internet, cell phones, computers, and televisions. Technology is great--it allows for some really neat educational opportunities, and ways of communicating with others that were not previously possible. But there is a time and a place for technology, and we need to not let it take over our lives so much that little kids can't just sit respectfully. I'm going to go out on a limb and make a likely bogus and totally unsupported (to my knowledge) claim: technology is related to--and may be helping to cause-- the rise in ADHD as well as various other behavioral disorders.

We know that listening to a real human being helps young children learn language better than anything recorded in any way. I read somewhere-- not quite sure where-- that many TV shows these days that theoretically have good lessons imbedded in are in fact modeling the wrong behavior to kids. It has to do with screen time--too much time is spent on the conflict before being wrapped up quickly, that children are learning to behave by what they see more of, rather than learning how to actually solve issues. (Similarly, the saying that "all press is good press" is true--candidates whose campaign ads bash the opponent can actually help your opponent. You're giving him screen time, and that, in the long run, means more than the actual content of the ad.) So our students, instead of learning how to interact with others by interacting with others, are receiving non-authentic lessons from videos that model more undesirable behavior than desirable. They are also living in a world where they have constant stimulus--that's not always that valuable.

And we wonder why kids can't sit still, or lack empathy. My advice to parents: limit the TV watching and spend one-on-one time with your kids. Instead of TV, have them write, draw, do puzzles, play with blocks, look at books, and let them use their creativity and imagination. Read to them. Talk to them. Involve them. It doesn't have to take extra time out of your day--point things out when you're driving places. Talk to them in the grocery store. Ask them how their day was. Model kindness and empathy. Reward positive behavior, and provide consequences for poor choices. Have them take responsibility for themselves--cleaning up their own messes, and helping out around the house. Be around as much as you can, and talk about the importance of school. Don't get them a cell phone until it's a necessity, and don't get them a smartphone until much later.

Technology has it's place--but it drives me nuts when I put on a video, and all of a sudden students are quiet and paying attention. These kids are being raised with constant instant gratification and tons of stimuli--too much really. It's sad that they can pay better attention to a screen, then to a real, live human being. That being said, technology can be great, and a good teaching tool. The problem is, we're trying to prepare children for the 21st century using technology from the dark ages. Case in point: my computer on my desk in my classroom has a floppy disc drive. Yup.