September in February

 

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There’s a special and challenging time ahead for me starting next week as Intensive French comes to an end and I break out the “Compacted Curriculum”. We’re doing the switch over to English right now in grade 5 classrooms all over New Brunswick and it’s like we have a second September, but it’s February and I don’t have the same amount of energy I had at the beginning of the year.

Luckily, this is not my first kick at the can. I’ve been through this particular kind of turn-over, one where I get to keep the same students but switch subjects, three times in the past six years. The other three years I kept the same subjects but switched students. Both kinds of switches have their positives and negatives. Teaching just Intensive French is easier in terms of planning and marking but it’s hard changing students, whereas keeping students and changing subjects is a lot harder for planning and marking, but at least I have already an established relationship and routine with my students.

Things I’m looking forward to with this change:

The subjects: There’s so much in the grade 5 curriculum I enjoy teaching. I love doing literacy with my students and getting know them as readers and writers. I love sharing that part of my passion with them. And science! There are always a few students who struggle to get excited about other subjects but shine when we do science and I know this year is not going to be an exception. I’ve already noticed a few who rarely speak in class, especially during French, but who have confided a love of science to me. I also have the opportunity to pilot the new Health curriculum this year. I’m looking forward to that.

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Projects and independent learning: Yes, in intensive French we do little “projects” and sometimes in math as well, but it’s not the same. For first time language learners, they are so reliant on me and my knowledge of the language that it’s hard for them to work independently on projects and nearly impossible for them to do project work at home. We may officially be a bilingual province but the amount of parents I have who speak French is extremely low. I’m looking forward to doing a LOT less talking and a lot more listening over the next 5 months. I often feel like I’m a performer during the IF block. I have to speak slowly and clearly, with a lot of gestures and actions to convey meaning. I draw, I dance, I sing, I act like a fool to keep the energy and focus up in my room and it is exhausting. As much as I know I will need more time and energy for planning my lessons, I’m happy that it will take less energy to teach.

More variety: The great thing and the challenging thing about IF is the routine of it. Every day is pretty much the same. We have three hours of IF everyday plus one hour of math and sometimes a specialist subject like gym, music or art. Everyday we start our day the same way. We do a warm-up (which has been duolingo lately, more on that another day) then we do our “mini-prof” routine where a student asks other students questions about the date, the weather, preferences, mood, etc. and then we do our message of the day, we circle the sound we’re working on, we learn a new question and answer dialogue, we read a book, we listen to a song or play a game and we write a little bit. Everyday with only minor variations. I love routine and I know a lot of my students like to have things so structured and routine so they know what to expect next but, frankly, it gets a little boring especially after teaching the same thing for six years, sometimes twice in one year.

Things I’m not looking forward to:

Planning: Planning for IF right now is so easy! As I said, this is my eighth time teaching the same program and the program hasn’t changed since I started teaching it. I’ve changed up some of my methods, but the core hasn’t changed. It’s a very scripted program and I’ve moved away from the script of course but I’ve taught it so many times that I don’t even have to think about it. Planning mostly involves writing my morning message and finding new songs and games to play. Frankly, I’ve become a bit lazy when it comes to planning. Not so much for math, but that’s only one hour of my day. Now I’m going to actually have to plan for the whole day and go back to consulting curriculum guides more often.

New Curriculum: This is kind of related to the previous one, and is also a positive. Since I last taught the compacted curriculum, there’s a new curriculum for social studies, and as I said before, I’m part of the pilot trial run for the new health curriculum (which is written for a full year of teaching, not compacted yet for grade 5 so that’s going to be a challenge in and of itself). This is an interesting new challenge, especially in social studies, because I don’t have the resources and previous knowledge of what I’m going to be teaching yet. It’s exciting in a way, but also daunting. Plus, I miss the old social studies where I got to teach about ancient societies and medieval cultures. That was always so much fun! Instead I’m going to be teaching about how to use artifacts and aboriginal societies which will be interesting too and it’s important stuff, just not what I’m used to teaching.

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To top this all off, January has been a busy month and February is looking much the same. I started stage managing a new show with my community theatre group, we had a visit from another school to look at how we’re doing flexible math, I got my students ready for Drama Fest and we had our dress rehearsal / performance for the school on Friday. Looking forward to February, I’m helping out a friend by doing sound for his show all next week, I’m taking my students to Drama Fest on Monday, we finish up flexible math groups this week, and I have friends visiting from PEI and from Korea this month. All great stuff, but also stuff that’s making me feel a bit like I’m burning the candle at both ends.

On the whole though, I am looking forward to this change. I know that once I get going, a lot of my fears about more work will dissipate and I’ll enjoy the new challenges that are coming my way.

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When I can’t find a wheel that fits

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“Don’t re-invent the wheel. Look and see what other people are doing.

Yes, but what if the wheels I’m looking at don’t fit?

I’ve just spent two hours traipsing about the internet trying to find an idea of some good projects to do with my flexible math group. I’ve been given the most advanced group, the group that has a good grasp of number sense, and I want them to apply that information using technology to make projects. This shouldn’t be hard to find but it is. Too many of the links I’ve looked at are pointing at sites that no longer exist, don’t have enough information, aren’t targeted at the right age group or aren’t focused on the right outcomes.

Finally I decided I wanted them to do something real world, where they choose occupations, houses, cars, deal with bills and living expenses etc. We could do all kinds of math with that but I don’t want to leave it too open. I wanted guidelines and helpful websites to send them to for information.

I remembered that when my mother was teaching they did something called The Real Game that I thought was kind of what I was looking for. It comes close, closer than a lot of the stuff I looked at, but it’s also not quite right. It’s something that I would like to do with my whole class rather than just my flexible math group because it’s more interdisciplinary than just focused on math.

So I’m back at square one with this vague idea of having students somehow come up with an occupation, figure out their budget and start spending money, with each day (we have four days a week for four weeks) being about a month so they can see their budget change over time. I think this would be fun and interesting but I also need to work out the specifics rather than just saying – “Here, do this thing!” and seeing how it turns out.

Sticky situation

We’re getting ready for our second round of flexible math groups. Before the break we had the students write a test with outcomes ranging from grade 2 all the way to grade 6. All the students from grade 3-5 other than a few exceptions wrote it. We marked the test and as a grade 3-5 team we went over the results and grouped our students based on where they excelled and where they needed more support. We’re focusing on place value and basic number sense for this one.

When it came to writing up letters for students to bring home, showing them and their parents which group they will be in and what skills they’ll be focusing on, there was a bit of a disagreement about what to do. Some parents and some teachers wanted to know which grade level their child the skills their child is working on come from.

On one hand, I get where they’re coming from, kind of. I get that they want to understand whether their child is working at, below or above grade level before the report card comes out. And someone pointed out that we shouldn’t be sugar coating things for parents if their child is working below grade level. If I have a grade 5 student working at a grade 3 level, they should be aware before they see the mark.

On the other hand, I had a lot of emotions in my class when I gave them their letters telling them which class they were going to be in. Lots of questions about what teacher was teaching the “top group” and who was in what group and what grade level everyone was working at. I had a long discussion about how we all have skills that we need to work on and that it’s not a reflection of who they are as a person or even whether or not they are a hard worker or persistent, but that it just meant that on that one day when they took that one test we saw those particular skills needed some work.

I don’t know what would have worked better. I really don’t. Any ideas? We have one more flexible group coming up in a few months and I want to do this better next time.

Is it weird I’m excited to go back?

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Now I know that I’m not in a typical situation. I just got my permanent contract two days before the break, I have a great, though large, class this year with no serious behaviour issues and I’m still a (relatively) new-ish teacher at a great school. I get that I’m privileged. But at the same time, I can’t be the only one who’s looking forward to this week with more excitement than dread, right?

And I look at the memes with teachers hiding under beds, being coaxed out by husbands and giggle. And yes, I will miss getting up when I want (9am) and having a well made cup of tea while I read over my newsfeed before playing some video games and getting some things done around the house. I will absolutely not be happy getting to school before the sun comes up and leaving after it sets, but that will gradually get better soon. As much as I enjoy having so much free time, I am more productive generally when I’m busy and most of all, I miss my students.

I miss how excited they are to come to school. I’m sad that I didn’t get to experience my students who are new to Canada’s joy when we had those two big snowstorms. I miss their stories and their ideas and I’m excited to get back to learning and I’m excited to try out having a class pet and switching from Intensive French to the Compacted Curriculum and projects and Science and Writing and all those other subjects I haven’t taught in a while.

January is going to be a busy month, undoubtedly. I have to get ready for the change over and I have a group of students I’m taking to DramaFest in less than a month. I have auditions for our next community theatre show (Into The Woods! I’m so excited!) in two weeks. But it’s all good busy stuff that I enjoy.

So yes, tomorrow will be an early morning and I will be sad to not be able to roll over and go back to sleep when I see how dark it is outside, but I will be happy to have breakfast with my colleagues and get back to work.

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Class pet?

When I started teaching this class in October I made one of my goals to listen to what my students wanted for our classroom and what they wanted for their learning. One of the things they asked for was a class pet. My first instinct was to say, no, it’s too much work and has nothing to do with our curriculum blah blah blah, but instead of saying no, I said I would think about it and we could do some research.

Every once and a while over the last three months they would bring it up and we would discuss various options and then at the beginning of December I put out a challenge to them to do some research on cost and care of a few different options. It took a while for them to really step up to the plate but when I told them that if they didn’t do the work, we couldn’t get a pet, they started taking it a little more seriously.

One of my students suggested that it could be their after winter vacation present when they get back so on Wednesday I went in to a pet store to look at a few of the options we had talked about and talk to a person who knew more about this.

We had discussed that anything with fur wouldn’t be a great idea because we have students with allergies, and as fun as it would be to be able to handle a cute little guinea pig, having sneezing and red eyed students wouldn’t be great. Plus I wouldn’t be able to leave it over the weekend and I would worry about taking it home with our three cats.

One of the grade 4 teachers, one that most of my students had last year, has fish in his classroom so we wanted to do something other than fish. Birds are too loud. So we settled on getting a reptile of some kind.

Turtles were a pretty good favourite at first but there are issues with them carrying salmonella on their shells and I don’t have a sink in my classroom. I kind of wanted to get a snake but there were too many phobias. Which left getting a lizard or gecko of some kind.

My students did some research on what kind of lizard or gecko would be suitable and not too expensive. A lot of them liked the idea of getting a bearded dragon. They make good pets. They’re fairly sociable and can grow pretty big. They’re interesting to watch and, well, having the word dragon in their name is pretty cool.

A few students favoured the idea of getting a gecko. They’re also very cool and relatively social and most websites agreed that they make good pets. They’re a little easier to care for than bearded dragons and less expensive. They don’t grow quite as big which has it’s pros and cons. I like the idea of having a nice 2 foot lizard in my classroom that I can take out and have crawl around, but then again, that means a larger, more expensive living space and more food.

Armed with this research, I went into the pet store and found a guy with great snake tattoos over by the reptile area and told him about my class and the research they’d been doing and what we were thinking. It took him a while for him to warm up to the idea. I’m not sure if he thought I’d be squeamish about handling reptiles or had no idea what would be involved, but telling him I’d worked at a natural history museum and was used to handling reptiles helped, plus I told him my first choice was a snake but that I couldn’t get one because there were too many phobias in my class.

The bearded dragons were so cool. They have a lot of them at the store and they’re active and interesting but expensive. I got to hold one, luckily my hands were warm so he sat on my hands quite happily and I was so tempted to get one regardless of the cost.

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Baby bearded dragons, looking more like dinosaurs than dragons

But then he showed me the leopard gecko morphs and I fell in love! Not only are they cheaper to buy and house and feed, they are so beautiful! The ones they had there were a dazzling array of yellow, pink, purple, iridescent, some with spots and/or stripes.

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So many different colours! How do I choose just one?

They’re a bit less social and they don’t grow as big but I’m okay with that. I got to hold one for a while as well. He only tried to get away when we went to put him back in the terrarium. Having something smaller will mean if it gets out it’ll be harder to find but luckily this kind of gecko doesn’t climb walls unlike some others, so I won’t be finding it on the ceiling or anything.

My students come back to school on Tuesday. I go back on Monday so some time between now and Tuesday morning, I think I’m going to go buy us a class pet. So exciting 🙂