Thursday after school, I was visited by a set of parents with a gift for me. Just a token of their appreciation, they said. I hope they know how much that meant. Then 5 minutes later one of the Dads came in saying thanks for supporting their son in making his First Eucharist. He made a point of showing his family's appreciation of the teachers coming to the mass Saturday night and being there for the kids. I went home that night feeling great, supported in my work and appreciated. I get a lot of intrinsic satisfaction from my job, and the kids always give you plenty of extrinsic. It's really great to know the parents think I'm doing an alright job too. I guess everybody needs feedback....
Over 25+ years of teaching, you come to a lot of realizations in education. The knowledge that educational fads come in cycles, the understanding no matter how much you do, there’s always more to do, the painful truth that you can’t ‘make’ a child learn. The one that comes first and pretty fast is how EVERYTHING revolves around the kids in front of you. They’re your number one priority. What you don’t realize straight away is how much you have to fight for that to remain your priority.
I don’t think it’s sinister or anything but often ‘education’ works against teachers putting their kids first. How many of us have come out of a ‘data unpacking’ meeting utterly deflated and ready to compromise all and everything we believe about teaching just so our wretched bar graphs and ratings look better? (And it never works!) How many of us have come back from an exciting professional development day ready to take on a new program that’s been presented to us as the magical ‘IT”? We jump in and get so wound up, that we forget the basics. Time to fit in this wonderful new program has eaten into everything good we were already doing and though we try to keep it all, that never works either and before you know it, it’s weeks before you’ve sat in front of your kids and read them a story.
The CLaSS (Children’s Literacy Success Strategy) program of the late ‘90s, early ‘00s was a prime example and probably the worst example because it was mandated – if you were a CLaSS school you did CLaSS and you did it to the letter. When CLaSS came in, it was two hours of prescribed literacy activities and NOTHING else. The formula was set and thou shalt not deviate. Every minute was scheduled, accounted for and 10 minute timers became a ‘thing’. The day was to start with a whole class focus and woe betides the class that ‘wasted’ time with a class gathering, sang happy birthday, welcomed a visitor or shared news.
Most good teachers did what they ought to – paid lip service to the program, used its benefits (and it did have benefits, but it was just sooo disempowering) and sneakily went on doing the things they knew were good for the kids in front of them. And ‘sneakily’ is the key word here. How wrong is it that teachers have to ‘sneak’ good teaching into their programs?
I’ve always seen it as a flaw in my teaching that I was never able to do all the programs that were expected of me, as they were expected of me. I always had to adapt, to make them my own, and to secretly feel bad when we talked as a staff about what we’re doing, ‘cause I was never doing it the way the purists did.
Now in my old age(!) I realize what I always thought of as a weakness is indeed a strength. I’m a wholistic teacher. I see the whole child, the whole class. I’m all about balance in the classroom and if that means certain ‘things’ get compromised I am absolutely fine with that. At the ripe old age of 50 I’m going to celebrate my sneaky rebellion and say the purists have it wrong – they’re out of balance.
No I don’t teach maths exactly the way the school mandates. I’m still going to include number fact drill and basic knowledge in with all these ‘investigations’. No I don’t use the Literacy Pro program exactly as it’s meant to be used, but my word, the kids are enjoying the way we use it, are chewing up books like wildfire. No I am not going to jump into focussed reading groups before I am ready and before I’ve set up proper procedures in the classroom so that the kids will continue to work while I am taking small groups.
Yes I am going to continue to take the kids out first thing for a game, a run. I’m going to keep inviting them to bring their pets in to show us, to play guitar for us, dance for us, even though we probably should’ve begun Literacy earlier than this!
I’m going to spend 3 days of my holidays fighting with this ‘Word Journeys’ book (that the school’s decided we should be using) to make it mine, to make the program work in my classroom with my kids.
No my assessment procedures are not perfect and neither is my collection of data. But I never have trouble knowing what each kid needs to learn next; I can always tell each one what they’re doing right and where to next. I never have a problem informing parents where their child is at.
And yes, yes, yes, I’m going to remember to read to these kids every day, even though it’s often the first thing that goes when time gets tight.
We all have to make our way each day. To get to the end – usually exhausted – but with a sense of satisfaction and purpose. That not only may kids in my grade have learnt a thing or two, they enjoyed being here. They felt themselves valued and they felt part of a group that values learning, sees both failure and success as a means to make the most of that learning, and values relationships where they both give and receive.
Thanks to all the New Zealanders who've visited the site over the last two days. I've watched the stats counter go up and up with disbelief! Appreciate those who sent a message via the survey form. Hope you all find a little something useful!
We have a great art teacher who only words a few hours a week, but wow, she does some great stuff. Had to show some photos
A wonderful friend and I gave her grade 3/4 room a much needed cleanout. It took us about 5 hours together and worth every minute for seeing the end result. We began by emptying all the cupboards and working out what could stay and what could go. This gave us more cupboard space for other stuff just laying around the room that wasn’t currently being used by the kids. Her classroom library was a higgledy piggledy (don’t use that term much!) collection of containers, so I went to Kmart and got a whole heap of very cheap white baskets. Some of her students had done a great job of alphabetizing all the books by title. Not my favourite way to sort books (I prefer genre) but this was how they wanted to organize them so we’ve got them all set up in baskets and I put alphabet stickers on the shelfs in front of each basket. All the books face forward in their baskets so it’s easy for kids to browse and flick through. The top shelf of the library was cleared and now has some very cute soft toys (previously stored in a wooden trunk). The stuffed Cookie Monster toy wouldn’t stand up by itself so he’s now displaying a book which in turn is holding him up! There’s now room on the shelves for a nice little prayer centre – just a bible, cross and candles on a white tray (we’re a Catholic school). We cleared all the walls, all ‘finished with’ display, cleaned all the benches and set up the tables and chairs in the new configuration Fran wanted to try. We cleared away things that had been in the classroom a while that related to previous integrated units. Lots and lots of glass jars were put into the cupboard. A campfire and a pirate’s treasure chest got stored high in the cupboards, a large wooden trunk is now storing equipment in the sports shed. Fran decided a lot of her art equipment could probably be stored in the art room which is very close to her room. Old Christmas decorations, old unused storage drawers and a palm tree umbrella were tossed out along with copious amounts of ‘stuff’ that you find in classrooms. The room has so much more space now, it’s amazing. This teacher doesn’t have a desk, but uses one of the student tables, so we’ve set her up with a shelf behind her for all the teacher reference, stationery and all the rest teachers collect on their tables. A vertical file is set up ready to collect all the paperwork, and a few empty tubs for the collection of student work etc. Fran has told me she feels like a weight’s been lifted and she’s excited to begin the new term. We had the music blaring while we worked and had lots of talk about the writing program she’s been working on and is hoping to introduce. Lots of trivia and gossip too! It was a great day for both of us and the sense of satisfaction was immense.
This is not really going to be a blog; more a way to add random things, and to make questions and comments easier.
- Important to Know...
- Integrated Studies
- Classroom Set Up