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.

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?

First week with students

It seems like only yesterday I wrote about the night before the first day of school, and here it is, the end of the first week. It went by so very fast. There were some big challenges this week as well as some big wonderful moments. I’d love to list off all of the highlights but to be honest, there is just too much to talk about so I’ll give a few of the big ones.

First off, my classroom does seem crowded with 25 students in it. It’s amazing to think that there are classes with more students than that in other schools. In our school that’s a very large class. I have three students who are new to our school. All three are lovely and are starting to make connections with their classmates and with me. I’m so happy to see that they’re starting to put their hands up during discussion and letting their voices be heard.

We spent much of this week talking about and practicing our classroom and school expectations. I’ve had to remind the class a few times that, because there are so many of them, that the expectations for independent work and being mindful of others is much greater. I’m the only adult in the room and getting around to all 25 of them to help them just isn’t possible. I make an effort to get around as much as I can though. The discussions and practices of routines is helping. The first day was more of a struggle. After that, as we worked through what needed to be done, our days have improved greatly.

One of our big routines that the students love is read to self. I took the idea from The Daily 5. We build up our stamina for silent reading. So rather than saying we’re going to read for 20 minutes, I get everyone settled and then I start the timer. Once I see that they’re no longer focused, I stop the timer and we graph how we do throughout the month. I let them sit where they want. As you can see from this picture, there are a few in the closet, one at a desk and one lying on the desktops. A few chose to lie down on the desks the first day, then they discovered it was uncomfortable and so the novelty of that has worn off.

On the first day, we managed 5 seconds after three tries. I think they were just too excited about being back and were having trouble focusing on anything. But we worked on putting the books in the right places and being gentle with them and finding spots, what silent reading should look and sound like, all of those good routines that they were able to show again the rest of the week. On Wednesday they read for 3 minutes. Now keep in mind that these are students who do not have very strong reading skills in French yet. So even though they are in grade 5, their ability to read in French at this point is at about a Kindergarten or Pre-K level. This is more about having the experience of looking at the books, reading the pictures, making some connections between the words and the pictures and some of the “mots d’amis” the words that are almost identical or the same in French and English. So 3 minutes on the second day was wonderful.

The third day they got 11 minutes. I was so proud of them I nearly cried. You could have heard a pin drop in the classroom. They were focused. All I could hear was pages turning. Occasionally, someone would whisper quietly to a neighbour. Then I would hear the neighbour quietly ask the whisperer to be quiet. It was beautiful.  Today they were tired and having trouble focusing again, but we did get 9 solid minutes in. I’m so proud of their progress.

This weekend I will try to write more about my new endeavors to get away from the carrot and stick methods of teaching. It’s very challenging and deserves its own post.

This is off-topic for my blog, but I am so excited about it that I feel the need to share. My husband’s band is in a competition called the Galaxie Rising Star. It’s a showcase of artists from New Brunswick and takes place during our big music festival next week, the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival that happens each September. Former winners of this contest have gone on to do amazing things. My husband plays bass in the Jaclyn Reinhart Band and, even though I’m biased, I really do think they are amazing and talented. If you’re in Fredericton, they are playing on Friday, September 16th in the Barracks Tent. It’s a free show starting at 3pm and if they win they get to play on Saturday night.

But even if you’re not in Fredericton, if you could please vote for them in the on-line competition they would be so grateful. all you need to do is go to Galaxie Rising Star, sign up (they just need your e-mail to make sure you only vote once), check out the six bands and then vote for the Jaclyn Reinhart Band. They’re doing well in the competition but would love to get some more votes. Their website has a lot of videos that I’ve shot for them at different shows that they’ve done as well.

I hope everyone has a lovely and relaxing weekend.

Twas the night before the first day of school…

… and all through the town,
Not a teacher was idle,
Neither uptown nor down.

The supplies were all nestled
All snug in their places,
Awaiting new children
With bright smiling faces.

Bulletin boards were hung
In the hallways with care,
In hopes that some visitors
Soon would be there.

And I in my pj’s
My cat on my lap,
Spent a few more hours working
Before my brain could nap.

My challenge to you… finish this poem! I’d like to work more on it but I have a dozen more things on my to do list before I can try to go to bed.

Happy first day of school tomorrow!

Almost nearly ready

I’m nearly ready.

I’m almost nearly ready.

To be fair, I’m never going to be completely ready. But I can get as close as possible. I spent another full day at school yesterday. I finished a few little projects and did a lot of tidying. I hope that if I spend just another hour or two in there this weekend, plus I need to buy a few little things, then I’ll be finished in terms of my classroom. I also have some other things that I can do at home.

One of my big projects for Friday was my name-tags for the desks. I laminated my name-tags and stuck magnets on the back. This way, if I put the desks in groups I can move the name-tags around easily and there’s no messiness on the desks. I did the same thing with my responsibilities.

But unfortunately, the adhesive on the magnets didn’t work well. I came in my classroom in the morning to see most of the tags on the floor and the magnets still up on the wall. One of my colleagues suggested using a glue gun. I glue gunned them all on and then set up my seating chart.

That worked pretty well, but there were still some that let go so I ended up putting packing tape across the back of them. But I’m happy with the way they look now. It’s hard to see from the pictures, but the tags are mostly blue with some stars and a guitar. I use a lot of music in my classroom so I thought they were fitting.

My schedule’s all set up now and my responsibilities list is up though I won’t be using all of them on the first day. One thing I forgot is that I haven’t done their names to go next to their job. Rather than go through all the bother with the magnets and packing tape and glue guns etc. I’m hoping to go and get magnets that I can write on and just write their names or get them to write their names and decorate them if I can find what I’m thinking of. I don’t look forward to shopping this weekend but it has to be done.

 My other big project that I did yesterday was putting up words around my room. Last year we were given these nice big poster of classroom object words but I didn’t get around to using them. So this year I’ve put them up around the room, but not just to identify objects. They’re mounted on velcro. My plan is to leave them up for a few weeks, call attention to them, have students use them in games like I Spy, but then take them down and have the students try to put them back up in the correct spot.

This is the display outside my classroom. Same idea as what I did last year but with more students it’s a bigger arc. I just found out I have a new student though so I’m going to have to try to fit her in somewhere.

I like making rainbows, even when I’m just organizing my duotangs. I was looking at all kinds of beautiful classroom pictures where teachers have specific themes and I was a little jealous that I didn’t have a theme. Then I decided my unofficial theme is rainbows.

So when I set up my scribblers and duotangs and folders for the Intensive French block, this is how I set them up. I was also feeling very tired and a little silly when I did this.

Just a few more things to do and my classroom with be all ready. Three more days and then I’ll have my students.

Welcome back students – bienvenue mes élèves

Priorities

I spent quite a bit of time in my classroom this afternoon after buying my school supplies this morning. (Note: buying duotangs for a whole class is mind boggling!) But I did decide to go with duotangs over binders for this year. I’m expecting 24 students so with about 10 subjects each that works out to 250 duotangs! It was insanity. I went to buy some last night for 0.10 cents each. That was great but they didn’t have many colours, mostly just this odd navy blue/grey colour, and when I got to the check out (with about 150 of them) the poor girl had to count and scan them all!

I met up with a few other teachers from my school this morning. We bought our supplies (more duotang craziness), went out for lunch together and then headed back to school.

My classroom is… I’m not sure what to do about it. I worked for about two and a half hours this afternoon. First, I dumped all the supplies I bought. There are a few more bags than that off to the side as well.

Then I set up the desks. I have a small classroom, very small to fit 24 students comfortably. I decided on rows for the first little while. I’m not sure how many other groupings I’ll be able to fit in there. I also had to give up my beautiful big table at the back. There wasn’t enough room for it. I’m sad to see it go but it was that or have the kids way more crowded. So this is what my classroom looks like now.

My library is still a mess. After I got my desks sorted out, I talked to our new principal and asked if I could store my English books in the empty classroom next door. She agreed and so I spent a long while boxing up books and carting them next door. I still haven’t sorted them. They came from the other grade 5 classroom. Some of them are sorted already but there are a lot of books that are just random. There are still two bookshelves worth of English books in the classroom. Some I’ll store in my classroom and some I’ll store next door. Plus there are all the ones I have stored at home from my class the year before. February will be a very busy month.

When I got home and washed my hands, the soap suds were black. Classroom preparation is dirty work. I also started a new to-do list. I don’t want to be going in to school on the weekends and next week is full of meetings so I need to get as much as possible tomorrow. It’s a long list. It’s a daunting list. It’s a list I’m afraid I won’t be able to get done.

I’m trying to prioritize and tell myself that I’ll get to the important things and the rest will fall into place. But everything seems important and everything seems to take much longer than I think it should.

I’m excited about school starting up. I’m excited about trying new things and meeting my new students and guiding them and the satisfaction that comes when you know that you’ve made a difference. I’m excited about working with my wonderful colleagues and getting to know my new principal and new parents. I’m excited about sorting through the new supplies I bought and handing out new beautiful pencils and paper.

But I’m also scared and nervous. What if I’m not ready? What if everything isn’t perfect on that first day?

When I need some inspiration, I head on over to twitter and my PLN (professional learning network). I have connected with many educators on twitter and they always inspire me when I need it. Someone in my PLN is starting school tomorrow. He wrote this post To be a teacher about his first day of school. His post touched me and the video he posted brought me to tears. To be a teacher is a very heavy burden and also a great joy. This post put the important things into perspective. If my classroom isn’t perfectly organized but I still show my students that I care then I’m still doing my job correctly.