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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Getting ready for the first day of school

In about 11 hours I’ll be greeting my brand new class for my 5th first day of school as a teacher with my own class. Hard to believe this is my 5th year of teaching grade 5 already.

This past week I’ve been getting my classroom set up. I wrote here about some of the ideas I want to use this year from last year and posted a picture of what my classroom looked like at the start. I’m happy to say it looks much less bare now.

Table groups

Table groups

First of all, I’ve opted to do groups again this year rather than starting off in rows like it was when I got the room. I’ve also put up some of my favourite fabrics to cover the bulletin boards. Each table group has a pencil holder and an “art basket” where they will keep their coloured pencils, markers, rulers and things. So far I have 20 students so I have 5 groups of four students which is a nice number.

Unfortunately, my classroom doesn’t have a whole lot of shelf space, so I went out and bought these lovely wire shelves and some cool baskets to put my french books in. I’ve also put my responsibilities and some of my daily routine words on the white boards because my chalk boards are not magnetic, making them mostly useless.

Book shelves

Book shelves

I was pleased at how easy it was to put the shelves together. I have an old set that I got when I was in university that was a huge pain to put together. Then I came in one morning and found out why the set that was harder to put together is better. So I set them back up and spent a long time getting them set up properly. Hopefully they will stay together better this time.

Why it's not always good that it's easy to put together

Why it’s not always good that it’s easy to put together

This morning I decided I needed to go in to school for a few more hours to get things more ready. I wanted to get all my photocopying and everything done so that the hour that I normally spend before my class comes in won’t feel rushed. I’m really glad I went in because I’m feeling a lot more calm about tomorrow now.

There are a few things that I’m happy about in my organization this year. Last year when I decided to not keep supplies in the students’ desks, I didn’t have a good system for where to keep everything. This year it’s all organized and labeled.

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I’m also excited about these neat closets in my classroom. They’re all controlled by one door, the one with the door handle, and they all open and close at the same time. I’m planning to use the bulletin boards on them to display class work.

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This is my reading corner and classroom meeting corner. I’m happy to have a good easel this year. The chalk board is going to be my “sound” wall and up above is going to be my word (sentence) wall. Just above on the blue bulletin board is my group responsibilities board.

Reading corner

Reading corner

And these are cushions I bought for the students to sit on when we meet in the reading/meeting corner. I’m hoping that they’ll work well.

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Now to get ready for bed and hopefully sleep!

Back to school jitters

Tomorrow is our first day back for teachers. We have until next Wednesday before our students start which is a lovely long amount of time. I’ve very grateful to have this much time to prepare. I feel like I have a lot of work ahead of me. I’m starting at a new school. I’m happily staying with the same grade level so I have some idea of what I’m doing but new school means new culture, new routines, new expectations to learn.

There are many things I’m looking forward to about my new school. It’s a much larger school. Last year my school had 10 classes K-5. This one has 25 K-5! It will be my first time working with another Intensive French teacher at the same school. I’m looking forward to being able to collaborate with a colleague who’s teaching the same thing as me at the same school. Also, this school has French Immersion as well so I’m hoping that speaking French to other teachers will help my French. Plus it will be easier to create a French culture in my classroom where all the grade 5’s will be speaking French, not just my class.

I’m happy that I know several teachers and the Vice Principal used to be my Principal a few years ago. It’s not like when I went to my last school and didn’t know anyone at all on staff. I’m excited to get to know the other teachers as well. I hope that there is a good teacher culture. One of the things I loved most about my last school was how supportive and friendly the staff were. As a supply teacher I used to see staffs where there was some in-fighting and pettiness between teachers at some school. That didn’t happen at SD. We all supported each other. We all knew what we were up against.

I am a little nervous. Moving to a new school is difficult even while it’s exciting. There’s a steep learning curve involved in figuring out how things are done that are the same or different. But luckily I have almost a week and a half to learn as much as I can before I meet my new class.

What sorts of things do you do to help yourself get ready for the first days of school?

Where should I put my desk?

I’m moving in to my new classroom in my new school this week. I’ve been in to the school twice this week so far. The first time I just took a look at what furniture I had, brought in a few things to put in my desk and mostly just sat there trying to figure out what I was going to put where. I’m pleased with my classroom. It’s, I think, a bit smaller than the room I had the last two years, but it’s more square rather than rectangle which I think makes it easier to move desks around. There are only two small windows, but they look out into a little garden in the courtyard. The lights are almost recessed into the ceiling because of the way the ceiling comes down to create awesome acoustics and I have an FM system too for sound.

Yesterday I went and bought some school supplies and brought them into my room with the help of my husband.

My goal for today is to put the big furniture where I want it.  I’m struggling with where to put my desk. Of the four corners in the room, one is taken up with a door, one has a sink, one has a window and a small chalk board attached to the wall and the other is empty. I would like to put my reading corner at the back corner with the chalk board and window. I think it would be a nice place for meeting as a class and having the chalk board there would help if I want to explain a concept by drawing or writing something out. That leaves the empty corner for my desk. No brainer, right? Except the empty corner is at the front of the room by the SMART board and white board and I have this aversion to having my desk at the front of the room because I don’t want anyone to think that I teach from my desk. My desk should be, and normally is, the least important think in the classroom while I’m teaching. I use it before and after school. Sometimes at lunch.

But I think that anyone who watches me teach would get right away that my desk isn’t up there because that’s where I teach from. I’m putting it there because that corner is empty and the other corner is better for a reading corner. Right? Plus, there are so many, way more important things to think about than where I put my desk. I’ll post pictures soon!

Dressing like a teacher

It’s back to school tomorrow.

I have had a wonderful and well deserved vacation and I feel like I took advantage of every minute of it. I read a few books, went out to TWO movies (that never happens) spent time with my family and my friends, got lots of exercise and lots of sleep. I slept at least 8 hours every night that I was home. It was heaven. In fact, it felt like longer than two weeks which is amazing because normally the time passes so quickly that it seems like it’s over before it has begun.

So tonight I’m getting back into my routine of making sure everything is ready for the morning. My nightly routine involves making sure everything I need is in my school bag, my lunch is all packed in my lunch box (yes, I have a lunch box, in fact, I have four) and my clothes are all ready to go in the bathroom.

I’m not sure if I’m being quite accurate by saying I’m not a morning person. If absolutely necessary, I am capable of getting up and being in a decent mood and getting going at a decent pace. I don’t hit the snooze button. I get out of bed right when my alarm goes off, but I don’t like making decisions in the morning so I set my clothes, my lunch, my school bag all out and ready for the morning. And I eat pretty much the same breakfast, granola with frozen blueberries and almond milk, every morning.

As I was setting out my clothes tonight I was thinking about how it’s been nice wearing jeans for the past two weeks, but I’m looking forward to putting on my teacher clothes again. I would say that I dress relatively formally for an elementary teacher. I wear blazers or jackets almost every day, dress pants and blouses. Sometimes, when it’s warm, I like to wear skirts or dresses. I’ve always enjoyed getting dressed up nicely. I like how it makes me feel about myself. It’s like putting on a character. When I wear these clothes, I become a teacher, I put on my teacher costume and mask. I stop being Jeannie and start being Mme Chiasson.

I’m going to miss being able to lie around the house and read all day or staying in bed past 10 if I want to, but I’m looking forward to going back to school, seeing all my students and co-workers, hearing about their vacations and getting back into the swing of my routine. I, like my students, enjoy having that daily routine to fall back into. I’m hopeful that some of the routines that I’ve started on vacation, like exercising every day and taking time for myself, will continue with school as well.

What routines do you have to get yourself ready for the next day? Do you feel different in your teacher clothes than in your regular clothes? Are you back to school tomorrow to or already back?