Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Fresh Start

Well, it is Thursday of Week 2 of Christmas Break, which means it's almost over! I have enjoyed every minute of sleeping in and not thinking about what I had to do for school the next day. I feel like I've had time to recooperate, regroup, and rethink some things that I would like to change.

When the year started, since I was starting at a new school, I was not familiar with school-wide procedures and therefore had a really hard time teaching them to my kids. My expectations for their line, hallway, lunch, and recess procedures were unclear because I didn't know them! Now that I am aware of all of them and how they work, we are going to spend a lot of time modeling and practicing on Monday and throughout the week (and the coming weeks, if we need!). For first year teachers, this is such a struggle because we are expected to teach procedures explicitly, but we don't even know what they are! Even if they are explained, it is hard to know exactly how to teach them before you've seen them.

Also, as a first year teacher, I was not quite sure at the beginning of the year how things would run inside the classroom. For example, morning routines that include breakfast, handing in homework, gathering pencils, etc, were a struggle for me to really figure out and decide on what routine would be best. Because I struggled with it, my kids also struggled with it. Very frustrating! I have now seen what works and what doesn't, so I will be going over specific steps for students to take to accomplish things within the classroom, and having them model the correct way. This is something else you just can't figure out until you've been in your classroom for awhile.

The last change I am going to make is to rearrange my schedule within the classroom. I haven't made the best use of my time in the classroom simply because I made my schedule at the beginning and haven't had a minute to examine it and make any major changes. After teaching for a semester, I can see where I can rearrange activities like read aloud and silent reading to make it fit better in the schedule and make better use of our time. Again, how could I understand this until I've seen it in the classroom?

I'm glad I've had this chance to seriously reflect upon the last semester and hopefully use what I've observed to make this next semester much smoother. I have struggled and struggled with classroom management, much due to my inexperience and also due to the unique issues my kids are bringing in. It is nice to see other teachers recognizing that I have an especially difficult group of students, but does not change the fact that they all still have to learn and succeed, no matter what issues they have! My fervent hope is that if I can be more explicit about what I expect for procedures, behaviors, and routines, they will have a much easier time following those procedures and therefore making the classroom day much smoother and less frustrating for them and for me. It's amazing to see that the year is half over, but also overwhelming to think about how many days I still have to plan for before the whole year is over!

And now, it's time to begin the task of lesson-planning for next week. I am especially nervous about our upcoming math unit, which is division! With students who are still struggling with multiplication, I am not feeling confident about my abilities to make them successful with division! I am going to start with lots of concrete models and hope that we can move on from there. We'll see!

Ready or not, here comes the next semester!

From the very hopeful,
Miss Davis

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas break!

It has arrived!

The blessed Christmas break is finally here. I am HALFWAY DONE with my first year of teaching! 3 cheers!

What a long week it has been as my kiddos and I were just ready to be done. We had benchmark tests this week which makes for a bit of a change in schedule on top of the Christmas programs and parties, so overall, it was just a crazy week. I kind of like the crazy weeks, though . . . is that bad? I like having a break in routine.

So, for once, my kids did well on their benchmark tests in math! Reading, not so much. But all of my kids but one passed the math, which is a major improvement! It was a nice feeling to see those scores come back. Now, if only I could get them going on reading. It's strange for me to see success for them in math, and not reading, because I always thought that I would be a much better reading teacher than math teacher. I realize now how much easier it is to teach math (at least for me) because it is so much more straight-forward than reading. While there might be more than one way to find an answer, there is still just one specific answer. There are specific steps that have to be taken and taught. Reading, on the other hand, is much more difficult because it just seems like every single child is at a different starting point and even in small groups I have a hard time meeting all of them where they need it. And how do you teach someone a skill like inferencing when they can't figure out how to sound out a word? Simply put, teaching reading is just . . . messy.

Actually, teaching in general is messy. Kids are messy, their home lives are messy, papers are messy, grading is messy, testing is messy. It's all just way more difficult than it appears. I am ready to start over and regroup. I am ready for new organization of papers and baskets and books. I am ready for a new seating arrangement. I am ready for new things on the walls. I am ready to rethink some procedures. I am ready for a fresh start, and I'm hoping I can get that in January. I would like to spend a day or two just reviewing/introducing procedures again, and hope for a smoother semester than the last one (I'm not counting on it, but we'll see).

The Christmas party on Friday was crazy, but I didn't mind. They have put up with me learning how to be a teacher with them, so I think they deserve a little reward. :) It was a surprise to receive sweet gifts, cards, and candy from a few of my students, because I wasn't expecting anything from these families that I know have very little. It's amazing how some people are so giving even when they don't have much themselves. I am pretty sure that I have learned more from these students than I have taught them.

And now, I'm signing off for a few weeks and enjoying sleeping in (that is, until 7 am, which is sleeping in when one gets up at 5:15 everyday), hanging out with my fiance, and Christmas shopping (which I have had time to do NONE of yet)!

Have a blessed Christmas! And remember why we are celebrating. God has given us the greatest gift and I love that we have time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at this time of the year.

From the candy-covered desk of,
Miss Davis

Monday, December 14, 2009


So, we finished last week on a really great note . . . most of my class even earned a little extra computer time for their good behavior! I was pretty excited. Also, the other 4th grade class earned a root beer float party for receiving 6 compliments on their procedures in just 3 days. When one of the students kindly brought me a root beer float to enjoy, the questions from my kids started . . . "Why do you get that?" "Why did they have a root beer float party?" I explained how they had asked their teacher if they earned a set number of compliments as a class, then they earned a small party ("anything to get them motivated!" he had said). Immediately, one of my kids piped up "We could so beat that!" followed by a chorus of "yeah!" and "easy!" They set a goal on their own of 10 compliments before Wednesday. I gladly agreed that we could have a small root beer float party if they earned the compliments. They were so pumped!

And then they came to school today and acted like they had no idea what it looked like to walk in the hallway, line up, or work with a partner.


Even after reminders about their challenge, they just didn't seem to care.

Ugh, I just wish I could really motivate them to behave. It's so hard! Yet, it's the little motivators that surprise me, if only they could work all the time. 2 things that help keep my kids calm: if they follow procedures after lunch, we do read-aloud with the lights off and the Christmas lights on. They love it. Also, if they show teamwork with partners, we listen to soft Christmas music during literacy work stations. Amazing how little things like that can make a difference sometimes . . . not all the time, for sure. But every once in awhile, they sure do surprise me.

On another note, the blessed Christmas break is only 4 days away. Hooray!

Listening to the sounds of Charlie Brown Christmas,
Miss Davis

Monday, December 7, 2009

Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story"

Now here's Paul Harvey with "the rest of the story" . . .

Ok, so it's still just me. :) I thought I should update about how things are going, since I am currently doing a terrible job of posting very often. :/ New goal: post once a week, at least.

When my kids came in that Wednesday morning, D-Day, they were shocked. I mean, jaws dropped when they walked in and saw new seating, followed new procedures, and were not allowed to talk to their friends. My mentor teacher walked in and said, "Wow, what's going on, wicked witch?" She knew exactly what had been happening and was supportive of the temporary changes. The special ed teacher also helped me out and we were mean together. Someone brought up something about the word "mean" that I used in the last post, with a very good point. Mean is probably the wrong word--I would never be degrading with my students. Very strict, very firm, and and very different expectations about behaviors--that's what's been going on. Not mean, just necessarily firm and strict. It was time for change.

Since then, some behaviors have improved . . . less extra talking and more attention given to procedures. Some behaviors improved for about a week . . . defiant behavior from a select few students is still going on some. I pulled a few of them from specials to practice procedures last week and had a discussion with them about their choices of behavior in my room. One of them actually admitted that he thought I was "the new teacher who was nice and wouldn't do anything mean." Really, exact words. I also had my first-year residency meeting with my principal, mentor teacher, and university supervisor today whose only suggestion was to make sure that I "put my foot down."

Translation . . . I am still not being as strict as I need to be with these students. I honestly feel like I am being mean sometimes, since I've made the changes in my room. But it was encouraging to hear that I still have room to add firmness to my tone of voice with them. Again, it has been so strange to move from my school in Stillwater where yelling was just not needed, to this school where I am expected not to yell, but as my principal puts it: "put an edge in your voice. They have to know you mean business." I worried that they would disapprove of how I have been handling my class (again, I feel like I've been mean!) but I now know that they understand the difficulty of these kids and the need for zero tolerance on disrespect and defiance must be put into place. Translation = Miss Swamp is here to stay for awhile. :)

On a sort of side note . . . I feel like this is sort of a first-year teacher's worst nightmare . . . I had a parent request to have his child removed from my class. Were my feelings hurt and was I embarrassed at this? Absolutely. But let me provide some background on this "innocent little girl" as her father sees her. She was a new student to the class, and was able to behave for about a month before her arguments with both her classmates and me escalated to office visits and parent phone calls. She could absolutely not get along with anyone and was more disrespectful to me than my other serious problem kids. When I tried to call parents, they didn't answer. But I heard about it when they directly called my principal (without talking to me first) to complain that I wasn't doing anything when his daughter was being "bullied" in class. Now, I had openly spoken about this girl with my other team teacher, my mentor teacher, the special ed teacher, and the principal about how best to handle her and her behavior in class, and took their suggestions. When the parent called to request to have her moved, my principal supported me, I think, for the most part. When I spoke with the other 4th grade teacher, he said not to worry about it and that he would have handled things the same way. I don't know if that's true, but I must say that life has been much easier since she left my class. Is it bad that I don't miss her? What a relief. My only worry was that my principal would see it as me not knowing how to handle my class and students, and also why I was a bit nervous about my residency meeting.

So, back to my residency meeting . . . I was pleasantly surprised, after how I feel like my advisors have seen some poor classroom behavior when they have come to observe, that they really had a lot of positive things to say! My principal commented about my ability to "reach all learners" and "use positive reinforcement so that all students in your class feel successful." At the end of the meeting, she even used the exact words that "she hasn't regretted for a minute that she hired me" and considers me "a great asset to the faculty." Might there be a bit of exaggeration in her words? Yes. But it was still an encouragement to hear.

So, there was a lot to tell about the last month! Someone asked me last week whether teaching was harder or easier than I thought it would be. Without hesitation, my answer was "harder," but I said it with a smile on my face as I've come to realize that this whole year, whether grades and tests show that I and my students have been successful, has been and will continue to be the greatest learning experience of my life. I can only rely on God to continue to teach me and bring me peace and wisdom as I try to keep my head above water for the rest of the year. :)

Ending on a positive note, Christmas break is 9 school days away . . . and then I'll be half done with my first year of teaching. Crazy!

Thanks for all of the advice and encouragement! I hope you are enjoying your Christmas season!

From the Christmas light-strung desk of,
Miss Davis