Not just treading water anymore

I haven’t had much chance to write lately. With report cards going out last week and parent teacher interviews and I got sick at the beginning of last week and NaNoWriMo going on and life in general just got away from me. I felt bogged down and to be very honest I was starting to lose hope about how well this year was going to go. I felt like I was just treading water and not getting anywhere. I always knew this year was going to be a challenge and I knew that I was up for it but of course I was worried at the same time.

Stress is an awful thing to deal with. And despite the absolutely amazing support I’ve been getting, from my principal, from my co-workers, and my husband, I was starting to feel the effects of being stressed. It’s not just school, there are other factors causing stress of course, life is like that. Even though things were getting better I was finding myself less able to cope. It would take me longer to wind down at home and it was affecting my digestive system.

Luckily, things are looking up. As I said, my principal is amazing. I’ve been lucky to work for a few great principals and they all have their different qualities that make them great. This year my principal is very hands on and involved. She’s in my classroom about once a day checking up on how things are going, taking kids out to talk about various things with them, she has been a wonderful resource and sounding board for me and I know that she wants these kids to succeed and she wants her teachers to be happy.

I’ve been reading quite a few blogs written by teachers in the States and it does make me realize how lucky we are in Canada that our Education system has not yet degraded that far. I know that my teaching situation this year is not unique and in comparison to some situations I’ve read about, it’s not that bad. My main struggle is that I have twenty-five grade five students in my class, a few with behaviour issues and possible undiagnosed learning challenges. I have three possibly soon to be four students on IBSP’s, four others who are on modified programs and I don’t have an EA with me, it’s just me. Again, I realize this is not a unique situation and lots of people get by teaching classes like this on their own and I could have done this on my own it was just very difficult.

And so my principal got me Mrs. W. She’s not an EA, she’s a teacher who didn’t get a position this year. She was back to supply teaching and was volunteering in another class. She’s been hired on to work with me every morning until at least March Break and I couldn’t be happier. This was her third week with me and the change in our classroom environment has been wonderful. It was slow to start of but my goodness, having another set of eyes, another voice in the classroom has been amazingly helpful. Now there are two of us reinforcing the classroom expectations. Now I can keep teaching while she pulls a child aside to remind them of what they need to be doing. Now we can separate the class into two groups to help focus on their needs when they’re trying to work independently. 

Luckily, her teaching style and her way of interacting with students is similar to mine. I think if we had very different styles this arrangement wouldn’t work so well but right now it’s working just great.

The other big change that happened, also because of my principal pushing to have things improve, is that my classroom has been completely re-arranged. As I showed in earlier posts, my classroom is a fairly small rectangular room and my SMART board was on one of the narrow walls. This made arranging the seating plan difficult because the students at the back of the room were very far away from me when I was up at the board. While I was teaching something that didn’t require the SMART Board I would circulate as much as possible, but I found the whole room felt crowded, even after taking out two big tables and my reading corner carpet. And I’m not sure why the font changed on this one paragraph when I added in pictures.

My principal looked into having my SMART board moved to one of the long walls and it happened the end of last week. Wednesday afternoon these two guys showed up and asked me where I wanted it moved to. I was not expecting it to happen so soon so I was caught off guard. I think I put it a little too far off to one side which also restricts my seating plan. And now I’m writing on a chalk board instead of a white board but that’s okay.

I find we have so much more room this way. It’s easier to get to the students who need help and I have fewer bruises on my hips from bumping into tables and desks all day.

I’m hoping that with these two big changes along with some other smaller changes, that we can create the supportive learning environment that my students need to help them learn as much as they can this year.

Oh, and on the French front, there was one comment that happened on Thursday that I have to share. We were having a serious discussion about why it’s important to be learning French, especially in New Brunswick. A few of my students were expressing a negative attitude towards French and so I knew it was an important discussion to have. I shared with them that my husband is looking for work right now and that he’s finding it hard because most jobs that he wants require French and he was only in Immersion for a few years so his French level isn’t high enough.
“He could come here and learn with us!” shouts out one of my girls.
They’re so sweet.
My husband thought that was hilarious.

Tables and Desks

Please excuse my absence from my blog. Life has been busy lately. I have another post coming explaining why in part but for now I have another post about today.

We had a meeting today about our new school. Our school and another in the area are going to be closed next year and our new school is currently being built. We will be combining the two school staffs and students and to ease this transition, we have meetings occasionally with both staffs to talk about what we would like to see at our new school and what we would like our culture to be like and to get to know each other.
I’m fortunate enough to have worked at both schools, though the other one I only worked there for about two months and then supply taught a bit after, but I know most of the teachers there.
One of the things we were asked to discuss today was what we would like to have in our classrooms. We came up with a list of things like having a tall stool, a small table near the SMART board for our laptops, having a guided reading table and a reading area with something on the floor. These were all things we easily agreed on in our grade level groups.
Then we started talking about desks versus tables for the students. I had never even thought about this idea before. I just assumed we would be getting standard desks and that would be that because that’s what every classroom has in the upper grades that I’ve seen. But the other Intensive French teacher said that she would like tables. She explained that she didn’t have her students put much in their desks anyway and they always end up being a mess. The students tend to play with things in their desks and they end up being more of a distraction than necessary.
I agreed with all of her points and felt that I too would prefer tables over desks. I’ve always had my students store most of their stuff in places other than their desks and I find that their desks end up just being cluttered and full of things that they don’t need. So why have desks? Wouldn’t it be easier to have the students store things elsewhere? And also, this could help them prepare for middle school where they will not have desks of their own. They will need to carry their stuff from room to room and won’t be able to keep supplies in their desks. For that matter, I question the necessity of having desks with storage space in middle and high school. What’s the point? All it does in encourage them to put things in there like notes for students in other classes and other distractions.
Together we thought of a system where we would have tables with different responsibilities for bringing over the table’s basket of supplies. Especially in Intensive French where we do so much oral and group work together, there isn’t a lot of need of supplies. We barely have any duotangs or scribblers and no text books. So what is the use of having a desk to store things? But the other grade 5 teacher, who teaches French Immersion was not convinced. She wants desks with storage space in them in her classroom. At first we thought this would be fine, that we could customize our spaces. 
But it turns out that they want our wings to be be uniform. And when I thought about it a little more I realized that although I’m setting up this classroom for me and for what I would like to have to teach, I also have to think of the teachers who will have my classroom after me. After all, it’s not likely that I will stay in the same classroom for the rest of my career. And even if I did, the new school is going to outlast my career. So I have to think about what the teachers after me would want to have in their classroom as well. And that’s a difficult thing to do. We’ve been told that we can’t change our minds once our furniture is ordered. We don’t have enough money for that. So if we decide now that we want tables and then we find out that it was a horrible mistake then we just have to live with it. Both of us are new teachers. We’ve never worked with tables before in older grades. We just have this idea that it would work better but we don’t know in practice. 
So I’m asking you, my more experienced PLN, what do you think would work better? If you could have any kind of furniture in your room, in your ideal classroom, what would it be, knowing that you have to get the whole wing to agree and that future teachers will be living with your choices? And other than student work spaces, what would your ideal classroom contain? Would you prefer a round table for conferencing or a ‘c’ shaped table? Would you prefer to have a water fountain in the room or in the hallway? If you could design your classroom to look however you wanted, where would you put the board? Your desk? Would you even have those things in there at all?