My students are awesome

This is going to be another short blog post because I have a huge stack of report cards to proofread tonight (168 pages! 6 per student but luckily I only have to proofread 3 per student). But I wanted to write something about today.

Today started out really well. My students were almost all reading or writing in their journals (there were the few usual who were staring off into space) and it was quiet and they were (almost all) working. So I started off asking how their day went yesterday and I talked about how long I was at school writing report cards and marking tests but that I still wasn’t done. One of my kids piped up with the idea that I could work on them while they read silently. So sweet. Today is my day with no prep and then drama after school. We went down to the book fair during our usual silent reading time so this afternoon right after lunch I gave them about half an hour to read and I sat down and worked on report cards, something I almost never do.

I always feel like I need to be teaching. With Intensive French, I do need to be always teaching. There is no independent time for them to work where they don’t need me constantly during Intensive French. And during math, even if they’re working on text book work or problems or whatever, I’m constantly walking around, observing, helping, coaching, and reminding students to get focused on their work. Even during silent reading I generally read with students or help them find books, though sometimes I do “model” what silent reading should look like and I pick up a book for myself. But I don’t normally do paperwork other than attendance during class time. So it was a bit different, but nice, that my students understood that report card writing is not easy. They understand, because I told them, that it’s not my favourite thing to do but it’s part of my job so I do it (just like sometimes they have to do things as students that they don’t care for) and they got that it’s hard for me to find time to do these things and so they read very well independently today for a little longer than usual.

I also had put up on the white board a general list of things that they could do when finished their work during class time. A few of my students took it upon themselves to write it up as a poster and stapled it up on the wall. I have a very helpful group and I’m getting better at letting them help out in ways that I can sometimes be pretty control freakish about. Sometimes that doesn’t work out as well as I’d liked (giant piles of books all over the floor!) but I’m letting some students who want to stay in and do things like organize the art into the art folders, tidy the desks and the floors, organize the books, organize the art supplies, when normally I would shoo them out the door so I could have some time to myself. It’s working out well. I also asked them to move the desks and chairs for drama club after school. They did that, and then moved the desks and chairs back at the end of the day. There are some things about having a bigger class that are good I guess. Now to go proofread all these report cards!


What’s this “day off” you speak of?

In some provinces in Canada, Remembrance Day is a holiday from work, depending on where you work. For schools in New Brunswick it is a day off school so that we can remember our war veterans and show our respect for those who fought for our country.

Yesterday we had a ceremony at our school and, as much as I would have liked to go down to the ceremony today, I have report cards to write and decided that instead I would go to school and yesterday’s ceremony would have to be enough for my remembrance today. I went to school at 9 this morning, took a quick break around 1 to go get some food and left the school at 4 this afternoon. Yup, on my day off work I went in to school for 7 hours to work on report cards and try to get a few things done around my classroom and I only managed to check a few things off my to do list. My room still isn’t in the state I’d like it to be, my desk is piled high with stuff, I have unmarked projects, I need to do my behaviour comments for all my students and, worst of all, I’m not planned for tomorrow and tomorrow I don’t have a prep and have Drama after school. AHHHHHHHHHH

How is it that I spend this much of my time outside of school hours doing school work and I still feel this far behind? Are there any elementary teachers anywhere who are able to do all the things and still teach and have a life outside school? I don’t mean to complain. I love my job, I really REALLY do. I’m so grateful to be able to do what I love everyday. But how are we supposed to actually do all this stuff?

Anyway, I should go eat something and get back to work.

Technology fail!

I just wrote a big long post about how technology has failed me lately, and what happened? I somehow managed to delete the whole thing! I have to finish making up a test and then get to bed so I don’t have time to re-write it, but I wanted to share the irony with everyone and at least say that I wrote a blog post today, even if it all got erased.

Syrian refugees coming to Canada

I had a dream the other night that I was staying in a huge and beautiful hotel. It had several pools, massive rooms filled with antique furniture, many little alcoves in the very wind hallways for people to sit and talk, and just a general sense of opulence and space and comfort. I was enjoying myself with my husband and my friends and then I looked out the window and saw that it was night time and there were hundreds of Syrian refugees standing outside in the cold. They wanted to come in to the hotel but there were police barricades there and the hotel owners were refusing to let them in. I started shouting that they should let them in. There was plenty of space, empty rooms, they could even stay in the little alcoves, they just needed a space to come in from the cold and the dark. I woke up feeling very sad.

The other day I had a great conversation with my students. This is probably what sparked that dream the other night. It started off with me asking if any of them had watched the swearing in ceremony of Justin Trudeau, our new Prime Minister, and his new cabinet. Some had and they started talking about all the things that they had enjoyed about the ceremony, like the fact that there were equal men and women, the fact that, like our classroom, the cabinet is more multicultural and diverse than ever. They talked about having an astronaut as the transport minister (how cool is that!) and that there was a woman from Afghanistan.

Another student brought up that our new Prime Minister has pledged to bring 25 000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of this year. They thought this was great. A few of my students come from countries where war was a fairly constant part of their existence. They asked questions about why so many Syrians wanted to leave their country and I answered as best as I could, telling them about the famines and civil unrest. I told them that we had been told that we would probably get some refugee children in our school this year, but not in our class because it’s already full, but that I knew our class would be very helpful. They talked about all the ways they could help, teaching the new students where things were in the school, how we do things, how to bundle up when it’s cold out because they won’t be used to our icy temperatures. My new students from Iran were sad because they will have missed Halloween, something that they really enjoyed this year, but hoped that they would be here for Christmas because that sounds like fun. (my students are awesome)

I told them that these students probably won’t speak English so we’ll have to help them as much as possible. They asked what language they would speak and I said I didn’t know honestly. A few said they thought that Syrians speak Arabic and a few of my students also speak Arabic, though there are different dialects so it may not be the exact same but they would help as much as they could.

My students come from many different countries. Some were born in Canada and some were not. Some speak English at home and some do not. Some come from cultures and religions that have been at war with each other. I have Jewish and Muslim and Christian students in my class but that doesn’t matter in our classroom community. We accept that we’re all different and that we’re all learning and we all help each other. My classroom is like a little microcosm of what I think Canada as a whole should be; welcoming of anyone who wants to come and learn and help and be helped.

Sometimes my dreams don’t make any sense. They’re just a tangled mess of images and ideas and silliness. I think the symbolism in my dream from the other night is pretty clear. Canada is the big huge hotel with lots of space and comfort. We have plenty of room, more than enough for anyone who needs to come in from the cold. I know that it’s not that simple. We need safe places for them to stay, food, shelter, clothing, mental health services, health care. I know it won’t be easy, but I do feel that it’s necessary when we have so much, that we share with those who have none.

Running from zombies – but actually

Tomorrow I get to run from zombies, but not with my app. And no, I’m not talking about my students after lunch either. This is a 5k race through the woods at a park near my house where you run while being chased by people dressed up like zombies. It’s an annual fundraiser put on by the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre called The Running Dead Zombie Fun Run.  I’m running with a team called (vaguely) AHHHHHHH!!!!1!!1!!! or something of that nature. I haven’t been running much, other than running to the photocopier or running to pick up my kids from gym, it’s been two weeks since my last race and I have a cough, but luckily the zombies are shamblers so it won’t be too hard to out-pace them, but the stealth part of getting around them may be hard. The idea is that you start off with three flags and if the zombies get all three then you are “dead”.

I’m mostly looking forward to it. The weather is supposed to be unseasonably mild tomorrow, high of 12 degrees, so that’s great. I haven’t figured out a costume to wear. I still want to be able to actually run so I don’t want anything too bulky but it’s more fun to get into the spirit of the run. The problem is that the event starts at 10am and I thought that meant that the run was starting at 10 am so I bought a ticket to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at 12:55 thinking I’d have plenty of time. Turns out that registration starts at 10 but the race doesn’t start until 12 so I’m going to be a little hard pressed to get from one event to the other but I’ve paid for both and am excited about both. I just hope that rushing from one to the next won’t ruin my enjoyment of both events.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have a good blog post about how the events went, but now I should get some report card work done.

Scheduling with Doodle Poll

Scheduling for parent teacher interviews is not an easy task. I have 28 students, many with younger siblings, many whose parents have busy lives and I give three days at different times for them to meet with me; Wednesday afternoon, Thursday evening and Friday morning. Normally we just send home paper notices with times that parents can sign up for. As they come in, I try to slot parents in at their preferred time, or as close as I can get, and then eventually send home another slip telling them when they’re scheduled to meet with me.

It’s complicated and it takes a lot of work to coordinate with other teachers for siblings and work around other parents’ schedules and sometimes we have parents who want separate times. One of my coworkers suggested using a doodle poll. It seems to be designed more for scheduling times that multiple people are available but it works very well for this purpose. I’ve already had 11 parents sign up and I just sent the information home yesterday. One of the best things about it is that parents don’t have to sign up or even have an e-mail address to use it, they just click on the link I sent out and sign up for a time.

I also sent home paper copies for them to sign up and I got quite a few of them in today as well. Some are ones who had already signed up for times on the doodle poll but that’s fine. For those who just sent in the paper copy, I was at first not sure how to input their times into the poll so that no one else would sign up for that time. Someone suggested blocking off those times myself but I was signed in and could only click off one time so that didn’t work. Then I found out that if I log out and then click on the link, I can then put in a name and click off the times that the parents have asked for. And when they’ve all signed up, I can print it off and see quickly at a glance which parent I have when.

Next time I may specify how I’d like them to put their names in (Jane Doe, John’s Mom) instead of having a mix of first names, last names and student names, and also I’d like to specify to only send in the paper copy OR sign up on the poll, not to both, but that’s one of those learn by doing things.

Can I blame the sugar?

I had a kind of rough day teaching today. It wasn’t terrible and it was only a half day and to be honest, after recess was fine, it was just before recess that was frustrating. Teaching Intensive French this morning was like pulling teeth. My students had a really hard time focusing and I’d like to be able to blame it on the sugar, all the candy that they’re eating at home, or the time change that’s probably still affecting them, though they should be fine by now, or something. And it wasn’t just me who noticed something was off today. A lot of teachers were complaining today that their students were just off. Several of the more generally even keel teachers admitted to raising their voices.

I’m feeling frustrated with how my students are doing in French. I think I generally feel this way every year but I just feel like they aren’t where I’d like them to be. They’re still looking for translations of words rather than trying to figure out what I’m saying or asking them to do. They still aren’t really paying attention unless I switch to English and worst of all, they don’t seem to be enjoying it as much as I’d like and so I’m not enjoying it as much. But what can I do to make it more fun? We sing songs and play games and watch videos and they talk about themselves and we read books and look for sounds and do silly actions while we read the message of the day and I try to give them lots of body breaks. But many of the girls would rather colour or make fortune tellers and many of the boys would rather make airplanes or talk.

I have a core few students who always have their hands up and are super engaged. They want to answer all the questions and participate in every way possible. I have another group of students who are quiet but still watching and listening to everything. And then I have some that will participate when called upon but otherwise are just half present and then there are those who are actively avoiding work. And it’s not hard. It’s really really not.

I’ve been teaching the same grade and the same subject for six years now. I’ve seen classes who just love Intensive French, who get so excited at learning a new language, like it’s learning a secret code, and I’ve seen classes with many students who tell me their parents don’t want them learning French and that’s all there is to it and then teaching becomes a battle. This class is somewhere in between and I think the large size, the fact that there’s so much full class stuff is hard on them. And the extra sugar and perhaps less sleep isn’t helping either.