Saturday, September 19, 2009

A dose of encouragement

Well, it has officially been 4 weeks since school started, and I really thought I (and my students) would be in more of a routine by now. That has surprised me. While some of our routines have developed (coming into class in the mornings, Morning Meeting, read aloud), there are SO many that I feel like I should not have to constantly remind them of, but I do (bathroom sign-out, bathroom breaks, silent reading time, end of the day). But, I remember thinking last year, as I worked with a fantastic teacher using The First 6 Weeks of School, it really does take 6 weeks to develop routines, with reminders as they are needed. Right now, I feel like I'll be lucky to have them learn the routines by the end of the year.

In my defense, I was learning the routines along with them. I sincerely hope it will be a mite easier next year when I start school with at least a small clue about what I want the routine to look like.

I am still struggling with my child who argues with me about everything. I feel like we have the same struggles every single day. I can't tell if he is still just pushing me or if it's going to be this way all year. He is SO smart but I can't seem to engage him in ANYTHING. He has actually told me that he hates school. I have tried so hard to find something he likes but the successes are few and far between. He is my special project.

As for the encouragement, I have been working closely with the special ed teacher at school. We have been doing some inclusion activities in my room and she has been such an encouragement to me. She was so excited to hear that I got to keep my position after trim allocations came out (she called me at home to see what had happened). She has also been coming in during Morning Meeting to observe/help with her kids. We have team-taught a few lessons and this week, she asked me about my main problem child and whether I thought he had some more serious behavior issues or possibly ADHD. It was nice to hear her actually listen to my opinion. Also complimenting me, she said she had never seen a teacher handle him so well (he has been at my school since pre-K). While I have no idea what is going well with him, that was a nice boost of confidence.

My second dose of encouragement came tonight, when I had dinner with my dear friend, Kayli, also a first year teacher in 5th grade outside of OK City. We had a chance to sit down and really talk for the first time about how things were going in our classrooms. It was really, really incredible how similar our stories and struggles are. It was actually kind of scary how similar how feelings were. I felt like I could be honest about how I really felt as a first year teacher: exhausted and scared of failing. We were full of the same questions about problem students and whether it would get easier to plan or if it would always be this difficult and overwhelming? What a relief to know that I am not failing in my quest to be a teacher! (At least if I am failing, we are doing it together!) It was truly a blessing to spend this time in complete honesty and understanding with a true friend. God gave me a blessing tonight, for sure.

Next big project--progress reports. They come out this week and, needless to say, I am far from completing those.

From the encouraged heart of,
Miss Davis

Saturday, September 12, 2009

2 parent phone calls later . . .

My week began quietly, with few behavior problems (except for the 2 boys who constantly challenge, disrupt, and question every class activity that we do), until Thursday. This week, we were required to give benchmark tests, just for my district. The endless multiple-choice, uber-boring pages of questions took up 3 days of our week. As a comprehensive pre-test, it will have been the longest of all of the benchmark tests we take (from here on out, we will take "unit" benchmarks every 4-5 weeks--yay.). Thursday morning, after one student finished (rather early I might add, because he didn't read/think about the questions) he was supposed to choose between reading, writing in his journal, or drawing, all in his seat. He made the choice to walk around the room, ask to go to the restroom, ask to go get a drink, kick his desk, tap his pencil, make noises with his mouth, etc, etc. After calmly asking him to stop a few times, I sent him next door to write a behavior plan, which he did. "Ok, handled that." I thought to myself. But when afternoon came, and the time for our confusing schedule of Creek language and computers, the student started in again. Disagreeing and arguing with me about where the class was supposed to be going at this time (really, he thought that I didn't know?) my other constantly-disruptive student joined him. The 2 boys rudely insisted that we were going to the wrong place as the rest of the class quietly lined up. I pulled them aside as the rest of the class went to Creek and computers and asked them if they thought that their behavior was appropriate. With sarcasm and eye-rolling, they both answered "no." I told them when we returned to the room I would need them to write another behavior plan. The first student (who wrote a plan already that day) wrote at the bottom of his "you can't tell me what to do." The other student calmly filled his out, and returned it with mom's signature the next day (yes!). Meanwhile, I knew I needed to call the first student's parents after school, after the complete lack of respect and blatant ignoring of my directions. I was SO nervous!

Just as I was getting ready to call, my classroom phone rang. It was yet another parent, calling to say that my problem child of the day had ripped and threw out the window her son's homework on the bus after school. I added it to my list of things to mention to Student 1's mother. I picked up the phone with trepidation, scrolling through the number of things that could come out of the parent's mouth and the number of things that could go wrong. I quickly dialed the number. When she picked up, I introduced myself and explained that I had some behavior issues at school today. Before I explained, I mentioned his full completion of homework, good participation during class discussions, and no academic problems with him (always start off with something good, right?). Then I explained what had happened. She was surprisingly (at least to me) very supportive and appreciative of the call, saying that she would "take care of things" at home. Whew! I took a huge breath of relief as I replaced the phone to its cradle.

I was feeling better until I got home and laid down to go to sleep, then the what-ifs began (always when you try to sleep, right?). What if I sounded like an experienced first-year teacher when I made that call today? What if she was just saying that to get me off the phone? What if there were more issues on the bus in the morning on the way to school? What if mom talks to him and he lashes out tomorrow and is even worse? What if she beats him and he shows up with bruises tomorrow? What if he is just so terrible that I can't control him? What do I do next? AHH! Needless to say, it took awhile for me to fall asleep.

Friday morning, however, brought a signed behavior plan from one child, a good bus report from another, and a calm, changed spirit of the first child. My sense of relief I observed this at the beginning of the day was absolute bliss.

Now, it's the weekend, and it's time to write lesson plans. Does it ever end?

From the feeling-a-teensy-bit-more-confident,
Miss Davis

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Back-to-School Night

Tonight was Back-to-School night, when all the parents could come with their kids to see the classroom, meet the teacher, go to a presentation about our school's "incentives" program, and get some free pizza. Of the 15 students in my class, 12 came with their parents, which was a great turnout! The students had created maps of their classroom, acrostic poems for the walls outside the room, and their illustrated "hopes and dreams" to adorn the inside walls of our classroom. I also set out a small light bulb, battery, and copper wire, which the students had just used yesterday for a science experiment. They were all so eager to show their parents how they could make the bulb light up! I loved seeing that. I also had another teacher walk over to my room and say, "Oh, so you're the teacher who did the light bulb thing. I heard some kids talking about that." Yeah! That's exciting. Hopefully that's a good thing. I'm taking it as a good thing that they were talking about it. :)

I also sent home my first "behavior plan" after a student kicked another student. While it was not a hard kick, and the kid probably deserved it, it was time to write a plan. What irritated me the most, though, was when I pulled the student aside to talk about what happened, and she refused to answer any of my questions. I was going to try and help her out but when she didn't talk--makes it difficult! I sent home the plan to be signed by a parent. I was a little nervous when I saw her walking down the hall at Back-to-School night--alongside her mother, father (a very large, scary man), grandmother, two older sisters, and younger brother. The seven of them made their way into my room as the mom began with "I saw that plan you sent home with __ today. I talked to her about it. We've taught her that it's ok to kick to defend herself [understandable in these neighborhoods] and take care of herself, but I don't think that was the case here [nope, it wasn't]. I know there's always 2 sides to a story, but I told her anyways that she did not need to kick anyone at school." At that point, I felt a bit like the mom thought I had taken up against her daughter's side. Determined not to be walked all over, I stated (with my heart pounding), "Well, I understand that. But when I pulled ____ aside to find out about what happened, she refused to answer any of my questions. I was trying to find out that other side but I need her to talk to me when I ask questions." Big breath out . . . I had no idea how she would respond. "Oh." She said, as she looked at her daughter. "We've had this problem before. You have to talk to your teachers, ___! They are trying to help you out." Yes! Mom understood what I was saying. I can't lie . . . I was proud of myself for speaking up when I was really nervous to do so. Small victory, yay!

I have never, ever in my life, been so ready for Labor Day weekend.

From the straightened-up-for-parent-night desk of,
Miss Davis

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray"

That quote perfectly describes my day today. I came to school with plans for a great, interactive reading group discussion, a fun social studies activity, and excitement for a really fun math activity. The actual scene that took place:
Reading--paired students unable to stay on task while I worked with some struggling readers (our ending discussion was quiet, to say the least).
Social Studies--My college football themed worksheet (seriously, it was AWESOME!) was followed by a mumbo-jumbo of confusing directions coming out of my mouth and into my students ears... there was definitely a disconnect in there somewhere today!
Math--Actually went fairly smoothly, except that I am finding more and more skills that my students lack than I expected. I feel like I have so much ground to cover and I keep finding more! I spent 3 hours after school today re-doing my lesson plans for the rest of the week after today's fiascos. Lesson learned--flexibility! Figure out what works, right?

I also had some discipline issues today, but managed to hold my ground (a constant worry of mine). One of my kiddos was in tears, but I talked to him calmly and we managed to make it (struggling) through the morning. This afternoon saw my first use of the "buddy room" in which I sent that same student across the hall to "chill out." By the end of the day, he seemed to be his cheery self, so I count that as a success.

I have been replaying my day over and over, trying to figure out whether it was me or the students that were off today, and I am deciding it was a little of both. Though I felt prepared for my lessons today, I was not prepared for the classroom management aspect of them. I believe I could have been much more clear with my directions, while my students could have put in a bit more effort and attention. I have noticed that clear direction-giving is something with which I really struggle. My directions seem to make sense to me, but do not come out as clear and concise with my students. I hope that is something I improve upon throughout this year.

Tomorrow, we will be doing our first science experiment. I was really looking forward to it, until today, when I struggled so much with keeping the kids on task. My goal for tomorrow is to clearly state my directions ALONG with my expectations for their behavior during this activity. I am praying that all goes well! :)

From the mixed-up files of,
Miss Allison D. Davis