So Much to Be Thankful For . . .It was only a 4-day week, but what a week it was! My students are absolutely wonderful. I tell them they are my class from heaven, and it's really true. We have practiced routines and procedures, and it's incredible to watch them enter the room, and do just exactly what they are supposed to do. My students come to the classroom at 8:20, but school doesn't actually start until 8:40.
Some of the things students do during those first 20 minutes are: *Write assignments in their agendas, and bring them to me to sign and check for parent signatures. *Sharpen pencils. *Take restroom/drink breaks. *Take their Safari Journals to their journal managers to get stamped. *Turn in their homework to their homework managers. Managers put papers in alphabetical order, paper clip them together, make a note of any missing work, and put the stacks on my desk. *AND finally be in their seats ready to learn by 8:40, so we can start math as soon as I post attendance.
Now, I think that's an amazing amount of work to accomplish in 20 minutes! When we first started practicing, it took us as long as 40 minutes to get everything done. We have now fine-tuned things so that we are finished and ready to start math almost on time!
Now, here's the So Much More part . . .
I said I have the class from heaven, and I meant it. However the personal lives of some of my students are far from heavenly. This is just my thirteenth year of teaching, so I really don't know what it was like 20-25 years ago. I just know I'm seeing kids who need way more than just the basic 3-R's and a little science and social studies thrown in for good measure. Here on my blog, I don't feel I can write in general enough terms to make sure I'm not crossing the lines of confidentiality, so I'll just reiterate that some of my students live in homes where day-to-day survival is the top priority. Forget signing agendas, doing homework, snuggling and reading together, performing basic hygiene procedures, sitting down together to have dinner and discuss the day's event, having a regular bedtime with a loving parent to say goodnight and give a hug and a kiss. Those kinds of things that most of us just do withouth giving them a second thought are often nonexistent in the lives of some of our students.
So then what happens when a child, who's barely survived the night at home, arrives at school? He or she is met at the door where a caring, well-meaning teacher, who is interested in the academic growth of the child asks, "Did you do your homework?" OR "Where is your agenda?" OR better yet, "Why didn't you get your parents to sign your agenda?" And the topper of all, "Okay, I guess you can just stay in a recess and get your late work caught up." I am ashamed when I see I am writing things I've said as I've greeted students in the morning. I hurts me when I think about it, but I can't go back and change any of those old behaviors. Right now, I can only decide what will happen from now on.
I'd like to blame the pressure I feel to drag students along, force them to keep up, push them beyond their tolerance levels on the all-mighty decree to INCREASE TEST SCORES. But, I have to take responsibility for my actions. I am the one who sets the tone for the day for everyone who enters into my classroom. I've already changed the way we start our days. My students and I meet and greet each other at the door every morning without mentioning homework (unless someone's excited about completing theirs!), agendas, journals, etc. Next week, I am starting an afternoon Homework Club for students who want to stay for an hour and get their homework completed with me before going home. I'm looking for more ways to impact the lives of my students.
I'm hoping I can do the "Readin', Writin', 'Rithmetic" part without neglecting the "So Much More" part. We will see.
Your students are so so lucky to have you. I really appreciate your reflection. I think that all of us sometimes feel this urge to hold everyone to the same standard (or as you said to drag them along), even though it's really extra TLC they need. It's a really really hard thing to find the middle ground. I think your Homework Club is a huge step towards finding it.
I think you are absolutely too kind. It was really difficult to type that blog because my brain kept trying to picture (even though I was trying not to picture) what some of these children experience when they get home every day.
Thanks for the encouragement about the Homework Club. I tutored 6 of my own students last year (to get them ready for TESTING!!) and was told we could not work on homework. The money that paid for the tutoring came with that stipulation. So actually, I was keeping those children, who already had trouble completing their assignments at home, an extra hour at school and thus shortening the time they'd have at home to do anything. Call me crazy, but that seems rather counter-productive!!!
Anyway, after testing, tutoring ended because there was no more money. However, my little group continued to meet. It made such a huge difference for them. Going home home-work free was big, but coming in the next day without late or missing assignments was even bigger!!!! Sometimes, we'd do a little preview of what would be coming up the next few days in math, and it was incredible to see those little guys' hands flying in the air when I'd ask for a volunteer. These were kids who never really had the confidence to volunteer for anything!! I know it works, I just don't know if the kids who really need to stay will be able to. Some people have no way to get their kids home unless they ride a bus. That's why I ended with an "we'll see," so again, we will see.
By the way, I'm looking for a really catchy name for our Homework Club. Any suggestions?
Hi J.Elaine! I know EXACTLY how you feel about the "So Much More" part of teaching! I've just completed my first week with children and I, too, feel very blessed with them! They are a great bunch of kids, and I believe it is going to be another wonderful year!
However, like your classroom.....I have a few children who have a lot of "extra baggage" that they carry with them from their home lives, too. Similarly, their first mission is simply survival!
Of course, these are the same children who are not prepared to function with the classroom routine. It is heart wrenching, but I just keep trying my best to help these children become more independent and responsible on their own, when they don't have somebody who is willing to guide them at home.
The one thing that really rang out amongst my students this first week was "concern" about our upcoming State level Standardized Test that will be given in October. I didn't even initiate a discussion about it, but my children have and more than once! I am already trying to lower their anxiety levels about it and build their confidence. (In fact, that's what the topic of my most recent blog is about.) Sure.....I can deliver lessons that will help them to learn test taking strategies....and I do.......but .....oh my goodness.......to be so anxious at such a young age...that just boggles my mind!
According to NCLB, in just a few more years, the ultimate goal is that 100% of the children will earn satisfactory scores....but just how realistic is that??? A Special Education teacher friend of mine compares that to the idea of telling a blind child that in a particular year, they MUST be able to see!
So.....one of my missions.........among a long, long list.....is to try to dimenish this test anxiety the best I can, while encouraging them to do their best. Any helpful ideas would be appreciated!
We get out of school at 3:20, but I have students who wait for their bus to be called with me until 3:40. The 3:40 Society could just work!!!! Thanks.
I am amazed right along with you that your 3rd-grade students are so concerned about testing.
I work hard to help my students get psyched up for testing. By the way, I looked psych up on dictionary.com and found this definition: to prepare psychologically to be in the right frame of mind or to give one's best.
My granddaughter told me that her school played "We Are the Champions" on the intercom as students entered the building the morning of the test. I'm thinking why not play it every morning for a week or so as testing approaches.
When we were allowed to have candy in the classroom, we gave our students peppermint candies just before testing. I did a google.com search about the peppermint candy thing and found this quote in an article written by By Dennis McCafferty (USA Weekend Magazine):
You're finding, as others discover, that these smells and tastes signal the beta waves in the brain to be more alert. It's like an alarm clock in the brain, but without the rebounding, "drag you down" effect of too much caffeine. Peppermint, I find, has the added olfactory benefit of recalling your childhood. You eat it and think back to a pleasant memory, perhaps eating candy canes on Christmas, and it adds vitality to your day in a subconscious way.
I tell my students that Ticonderoga pencils are way better than any other pencil made, so I give everyone a special, lucky Ticonderoga pencil to use during testing. I collect them each day at the end of testing, so I can hand them back each day of testing.
I totally believe in psyching kids up so they'll believe in themselves to do their best work.
We're technically not allowed to have candy in the room either, but I'm making an exception (without asking!) for testing. There's been lots and lots of studies that show that sucking on something during testing relieves anxiety and helps all people -- kids and adults --- concentrate.
Hey, BookMuncher! I've seen a similar study (or rather read about one) about chewing gum. I've never given any gum that wasn't sugar-free, but now our principal has nixed that, too. I understand not having gum in the gym, on the playground, or in the cafeteria. All of those areas have had trouble with gum being stuck around here and there. If the candy thing is all about fitness, then I wonder why my students can't have sugar-free gum in our classroom?
J.Elaine......Thanks for the GREAT IDEAS about psyching up the children in positive ways!
When I teach my children various "Test Taking Strategies", I will say things like......take a look at this.....sometimes it is unnoticed.....and that's how some kids are "tricked"....but that won't happen to any of you, because you KNOW what to look for....ummmmm.......for example, when given a pictograph, I have the children highlight the value of each graphic. I explain that sometimes children think each graphic is only worth ONE, when it often is worth MORE. They like the feeling of knowing some of these tricks.
One of my all time annoying Standardized Test questions read something like........
On a calculator, what would be displayed if you pressed: C (for clear) 5 + 3
Now, we have taught our children that 5 + 3 = 8 and they KNOW that, so of course, they select 8 as their answer. HOWEVER, since the = was not pressed, the number displayed on the calculator is 3 and that is the correct answer! GRRRRR....these kinds of questions irritate me so much!
As far as giving them something edible......I do this too! In fact, during my testing days, I have even had Parent Volunteers who send in something like muffins or bagels and juice, and I let the children eat a "continental" breakfast, before we even begin! Other years, our PTO provided snacks for the children during the testing window. My principal is supportive and says....."whatever works! "
Then, during the testing time, I have given them sugarfree gum or mints. My theory is that a hungry child cannot think as clearly as a child with food in his or her stomach......and I also agree that if they have something DURING the testing, it helps them concentrate.
Another thing I do.......is play soft instrumental music in the background. It helps drown out any type of minor distractive noises, such as dropping a pencil or turning a page.
BookMuncher.....you have to give Standardized Tests in first grade???? YIKES! In days gone by, our first and second graders took the IOWA achievement test, but it was eliminated a few years ago. Teachers, Parents, and even the Admin decided it was too much for our young learners! Now, they are assessed through MLPP and DRAs.
J.Elaine........tell you granddaughter....thank you for the idea of playing "We are the Champions!"......aha! ANOTHER song to stick in my head..............and now I am off to go shopping in eBay and find it on a CD......
Well... what we have is not really standardized because it measures kids against others in the school, but yes- it's a booklet like a standardized test, and it's ludicrous! The kids don't get nervous-- they think it's fun, but they are CLUELESS (of course) on how to:
1. turn the page
2. look at the right place when they finally turn the page
3. fill in a bubble
4. follow along as we progress though
5. stop in the right places
It's like a circus... I usually need at least one helper when I adminster them at the beginning of the year. They have to do both a reading and a math one. It's so sad, isn't it??
PS: THat calculator question you speak of is SCARY! I can't believe the way they try to trick them... that is NOT assessing whether they know how to use a calculator!!!
I'm glad you are finding time to visit ProTeacher. When you described all you were going to do -- taking classes, etc., I was afraid we'd hardly ever hear from you. I'd really miss you, and I know I would not be the only one!!!!!!!
Thanks, JElaine!! I'm glad you all have been visiting even with school starting up too! I thought I'd be too overloaded, but what I've found is even though I am overloaded, proteacher is an outlet and a relaxing thing to do. I was on a TON this weekend b/c I would do some school work, check proteacher, do some grad work, check proteacher. It was like my little reward to keep going!! Works out well for me!
Like you, many of my children come with a little extra baggage. We have to be so careful on how we address them in different situations, don't we? I always have some children coming in a little early because of parent work schedules and that gives me the opportunity to really get to know them. Because my kids are so young they don't stay after although many years I have had a little enrichment group. I have not started that as yet. I have really been lucky with my group this year. I just love them to death.......I always say that but this time I really mean it!
I just typed the note to send home with my students about the after-school homework group. I've decided to call itHomework/Study Club. However, if my students who attend want to change the name, we will. I'm excited about it, but you know what the big hang up is about scheduling the sessions? There are just way too many after school meetings that we all have to attend at my school. Do you have so many after-school meetings? It's crazy. I can barely meet the needs of my students because there are too many adult meetings!!!! I guess that's just a part of the "So Much More Part" -- right?