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.

leopard-gecko

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 🙂

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The hard days

How do you get through the hard days?

Today was a hard day. Not in the way that days in September were hard, but it was hard on me emotionally. I try to keep the tone of this blog upbeat generally. I don’t like talking about the hard things in a public forum and I am very aware of trying to keep my public posts very professional as well but today I had to deal with a few things that I need to share because I know that many teachers deal with the same things.

Grade 5 is a very emotional year for many students. They are going to be leaving Elementary in half a year. For some, this is the first time they will be changing schools and they’re the oldest in the school. Also, their hormones are starting to ramp up as early puberty rears its head so I hear a lot of drama from my students. Sometimes the smallest slight can become a huge issue. I sometimes wish I took more courses on Psychology just so I could better navigate the twists and turns of pre-teen emotions.

And sometimes their dramas are not small. Sometimes what they are dealing with, either in school or outside of school is enough to bring me close to tears. Sometimes I need to take deep breaths, close my eyes, and be glad that I can offer them a space at school where they are safe, with a set routine and clear expectations. I can give them a listening ear and a hug. I can give them space to write what they need to say without pressure of evaluation or judgment.

My students are amazing, each and every one of them. I hope that I do enough to let them know how much I value having them in my class.

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?

School in Norway

A few days ago, someone posted a video on Facebook or Google+ about what Kindergarten in like in Norway. It’s a documentary done by BBC Scotland comparing how much outside time students get in Norway as well as some other differences in what children are expected to do. Here’s the video:

I was amazed at some of the things they show in the video. For example, that they spend one day a week outside. How wonderful is that? I love that they have a culture that is more interested in wearing clothing that is appropriate for the weather than “looking cool”. One of my favourite quotes from this video is

“There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”

It’s so true and I wish more people had that philosophy in Canada as well. Instead, we get students coming to school in shorts when it’s way too cold for shorts.

I also enjoyed hearing their laid-back attitude towards students getting hurt. I certainly don’t want my students to get hurt, but I also dislike the fear that if something happens to a child and they hurt themselves then we are totally at fault and there could be a lawsuit or whatever. I find that our obsession with keeping children safe also prohibits them from a great number of learning experiences. Imagine being able to take a Kindergarten class to a farm and interact that much with the animals! Or teaching little children how to safely use knives!

It’s a very different culture and one I wish we could see a little more of in Canada and North America.

First week back

We’re two days in to the school year. I’m feeling a little nervous, a little hurried, a little over-whelmed and a little grateful.

It’s so nice to be back with my colleagues. I’ve missed them over the summer and I’m happy to be able to see them again. Unfortunately, my next door neighbour moved one door down, leaving an empty class between us so I’m all alone on my part of the wing, a little isolated from everyone else, but it’s a short hallway so it’s not hard to go visit. There are only four teachers in our wing now.

We’ve spent a few hours the last two days in meetings and workshops on various topics. Yesterday was about common language and common practice for working in teams. Today it was reading records, beliefs and practices when it comes to discipline and some basic “how does our school work” discussion. Very useful and informative stuff. It’s hard to sit that long though. Another reminder that I need to get my students up and moving because they must find it hard to sit so long as well.

In our non-meeting time, I’ve continued my classroom preparation. It’s looking better. Yesterday I heard I had two new students. I was very concerned about fitting those two extra desks into my already crowded room. At the end of the day I took this picture:

I’ll admit, I didn’t go home in the best of moods. I’m not sure why those two extra desks made me feel so much more nervous but for some reason they did. 24 sounded like a lot; 26 sounded impossible. But today I was feeling much better about it. I know that with a large class, routine is crucial. I know that I need to give lots of responsibilities to my students to help the class run smoothly and I know that we can all write our class vision statement, values, rules, and make them meaningful so that 26, while a little crowded, is not chaotic and learning will still happen.
Today I found out I have one or two fewer students. But I feel like even if my numbers go back up, I’ll be okay. 
What made me feel even better today was we worked out our schedule for the 3-5 wing. Last year the schedule was a nightmare. We had to juggle me teaching my homeroom, and three other classes of French. We had to make it work around the gym and music schedule, we bargained, bartered and begged to switch other times around to somehow come up with a schedule where we were all getting approximately what we needed. It took us 7 hours of meetings and in the end, the result was so complex that even by the end of the year I was not always sure whose class was where. 
One of the other teachers, when I brought up doing our schedules, was not at all happy and I don’t blame him. I swore to him that it would be easier this year. It had to be. Nothing could be more complicated than last year’s. And it wasn’t. About an hour of easy talks and simple fixes, I have the most lovely schedule I could ask for. Whereas last year’s, my students’ schedule and my teacher schedule looked nothing alike, this year’s the difference is very minor, only that when they are in math with another teacher, I am teaching pre-intensive French to one of two classes. And when they have music or gym, I have a prep. I get to take them to library. My Intensive French block is unbroken and beautiful all morning.
It could still change, but for now, it is golden and perfect.
My classroom time I spent today on my French library. Almost all of the English books are out of my classroom now. I’m storing them next door until February. Last year I had a hard time keeping my French book boxes organized. I sorted them by category and labeled the boxes but the students didn’t always put the books back in the right boxes. You all know the drill. Then on Fridays when we cleaned the classroom I would assign a few students to organize the library. But they didn’t always know which books went in which box and in the end, I would do most of the organizing.
So this year, each book box has a number, and all the books in the box have the same number on the front cover. So for example, this is box number 14 – Robert Munsch books. I also have an ‘F’ in the corner for fiction and all the Robert Munsch books have a 14 on their cover.

 This book box has hockey books, both fiction and non-fiction, hence the F & NF in the corner.

This is the end result – at least so far. I finished 25 of the boxes today and I’ll hopefully finish the rest tomorrow or the next day. 
That’s how my first two days went. One week from today I will have had my first day back with students! So much to be done before then but I know I’ll get what I need to have done finished. How are your days back going? Are you focusing on one specific area you want to improve for this year? How do you get yourself organized and ready?

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.