Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bringing Home into the Classroom

Privacy folders are something that I have used every year as an elementary school teacher. I don't know why it took me so long to figure out that individualizing the privacy folder would be a good idea. This year, I asked students to bring in photos from their lives - family photos, vacations, pets, hopes, dreams - anything really that they wanted that was appropriate for school. I have two file folders that I tape together, have the students "design" their own collage by glue-sticking their photos, laminate, then Voila...instant individualization! Now whenever they need privacy at their desks, students are "surrounded" by things that are meaningful to them. Hopefully this will relieve some of the anxiety that many students have when faced with a test. For everyone, it is bringing a part of their personal life to school with them...and they love it!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The First Day of School

Of all the experiences we have as teachers, the first day of school is one that is rare. After all, it is only once a year...so we only have as many of these as we have years of teaching experiences. For me, I've only had the first day of school experience 11 times.

As with all years, there is lots of preparation and stress for the actual day to arrive. This year, one of my Facebook friends posted the night before that her daughter was nervous and worried about the first day of school and therefore couldn't sleep. I think I surprised her by commenting to let her 5th grade daughter know that her teachers were also nervous and worried about the first day of school and they couldn't sleep either! Somehow, that exchange just made me feel better...knowing that there were hundreds, probably millions of kids and teachers out there that very night, all nervous and worried about meeting each other for the first time in the morning! Realizing this actually helped me fall asleep and soon the big day arrived!

One of the things I like about my first day of school is the fact that everything I do and say guides me and sets the tone for the rest of the year (thank you, Harry Wong!) At our school, we meet the students in the cafeteria and walk them up when the bell rings on the first morning. As each child comes in, I shake hands and get their name. I go through the first names of everyone present each time another student walks in the door. As a result, I've gone through the names about 20 times before the bell even rings...so I already know everyone by sight!

When we go upstairs, I line up my class in the hallway before we ever set foot in the classroom. I talk to them about the importance of starting the day off right. My morning routines include reading a book to help get the brain engaged and also to keep the room quiet for me...just in case I am still scrambling to get the day ready. During the summer, I always secure a book for each student in the class. I usually have enough points from Scholastic book orders to make this a free book. For the last two years, I have used the Black Lagoon series, which 3rd graders usually enjoy. I have this book, along with a pencil that says something like "3rd grade Rocks!" on their desk as a gift. Having these books on the desks and ready to go, allows me to give them some very important expectations while we are standing in the hallway anxiously awaiting the first time in the classroom. The expectation is (and always will be) enter the classroom quietly, unpack your things, and begin reading a book. This expectation has saved me lots of time and energy in the mornings over the years. The students enjoy starting their day off with a book...and it allows me to get any last minute details ready for the day as well as time to fix any problems that walked in the door (such as "I don't know how I'm getting home" and "So-and-so was mean to me on the bus this morning.")

I also have music playing in the classroom in the morning. I like Pandora - it allows me to play specific types of music without having to repeat any songs. (Gone are the days of my Enya CD on repeat!) I usually play Ambient New Age music - which has calming, spa-type music. I also like Kitaro and Gandalf for stations on Pandora as well. I believe the music keeps the kids (and me) calm and engaged.

The last thing I would like to mention about the first day of school (well, this has actually turned into a post about the first 20 minutes of school!) is that I like to do something very special early on during the day. Most of the students at my school know that I play the guitar...so many of them come in that first day wanting that to be the first activity. A couple of years ago, I decided that as soon as I established our quiet reading routine and posted my attendance, the first thing I would do for the kids on that first day (15 minutes into the day) would be play the guitar and sing. I don't consider myself a musician. I know the basic 12 chords and use those to play virtually any pop and country tunes, much as my dad did when I was growing up. As a result, I am very nervous about it each time and worried about not sounding good enough, or not having practiced enough. But the kids don't care. They see it as different and special...and that is what's important. The students really love it, and it "puts me out there" as a human being instead of just "the teacher." Now I know that you probably don't play the guitar...but think of something that you do, some unique talent you might have that you could share with your kids. Storytelling, whistling, playing a musical instrument (dust off that old flute from high school), juggling, telling jokes, pantomime...you have something that you could share! Put yourself out there...they will appreciate and remember it!

The rest of the day...well, that's another post for later!

(photo courtesy of phanlop88)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I'm Ready

I'm Ready

I'm ready to climb 
Determination and will
See me through
Fresh faces
New ideas
Do the same thing
But different
I'm ready to climb
Here we go!