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.


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.


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 🙂


Saying good-bye

Yesterday was a difficult day for everyone at our school. Our principal who has been so amazing, had her last day with us before she retires. On Monday we had a grade level assembly that my class organized and a few classes shared poems or stories celebrating how much she has done for us and how much we are going to miss her.

This is only my third year of teaching and starting tomorrow (because today is another storm day) I will start working with my fourth principal. I’ve been incredibly lucky thus far. I started off my teaching career, or at least my full time teaching career, with a principal who was very supportive. I only worked with her for just over six months before she retired and I moved on to another school. My second principal was also wonderful for me in a different way. He made a point of pointing out the good things that teachers were doing and thanking us for our hard work. I felt very respected and valued working with him.

When I heard he was moving on to a new school and we were getting a new principal, a woman I had never met but who I knew was close to retirement, I must admit, I was nervous. I knew that this year was going to be a challenge for me, after all, I had taught most of my students the year before so I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for. I knew I was going to need some extra support. I was afraid that our new principal would be hands off, just filling a position until she retired. Or worse, what if she was a dictator, someone who would criticize me for any mistake, who would blame me for the problems in my classroom.

Both of those fears were so far from the truth. Right from day one with the students, my principal has been my biggest supporter. She has seen me through my worst days and was even a shoulder to cry on when I felt very frustrated. She pushed to give me every support she could, have my SMART Board moved, had so much 1 on 1 time with some of my students who needed that extra support so desperately, and made it possible that I could have Mrs. W in the class with me.

Now we have a new principal coming in. I’ve met her before. She’s going to be the new principal at our new school when it opens up next winter so it makes sense that she would be our principal for the remainder of this year. She has other obligations with the new school and at the district office so she will be our part time principal and our VP will be VP full time. We’re also getting .4 more M&R support from a new staff member who will start tomorrow and we have a new phys.ed. teacher to free up our VP. In other words, they’re giving us three new staff people to replace the one we’ve lost.

I’m sure we’ll be fine. The new principal has a lot of experience. She’s been doing literacy up at district for a while so I’m anxious to pick her brain about CAFE and Daily 5 and Lucy Calkins and how to fit all of this into my literacy block. (I’m still in my pj’s today but I’ve spent all day delving into my literacy books trying to plan out my literacy block but that’s another blog post entirely.) I’m mostly worried about my students. After all, us adults are pretty resilient to change, but they don’t deal with change that well. There were more than a few tears yesterday. Even one of my biggest, toughest boys was in tears because she was leaving, asking why she had to retire and didn’t she want to work? It’s so hard to explain these things to them. And the timing wasn’t very good. We also started our French writing assessments yesterday and we’re about to go through the major change of switching from French to English so my students are dealing with a lot of change just now.  Having a storm day today did not help things, though it was a pretty bad snow storm all day so they were right in closing school, but it will mean more disruption, more hurrying to finish the assessments.

Luckily, this day also means more time for me to prepare for the change over, to do some stress relieving exercises and get some extra sleep.

Reflection on a day after a storm day

I’ll admit, I was pretty happy to see that there wasn’t going to be any school yesterday. It was a Tuesday, my day without a prep, I had supervision before school and at lunch, and I was meant to have what was most likely going to be a long meeting in the afternoon. Instead I got to stay home, get some house work done, help my husband, who just had some moles removed off of his back, had the meeting and moved this blog over.

But at the same time I knew that this was a double edged sword. Having a day off is nice… that day, but the next day tends to be not so nice. As of right now we have one week and two days left of Intensive French. Somehow in the next two days I have to make sure all of my students have completed a new piece of writing, prepare for our grade level assembly on Monday and get ready for the writing assessment which starts on Monday. I was hoping to get through our unit on clothing before we make the change over to English but I can see that this is not going to happen. We’ll continue the unit on clothing for a while longer when we have our two French classes a week. But the other things, the writing samples, the assessment coming up so fast and the grade level assembly are now, just because of one day off, so much closer.

Today I really wanted to keep things moving. I wanted to have the students working hard on their writing. I wanted them to feel the urgency that I’m feeling. I wanted to give them brain and body breaks to help keep things going. My plans didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. A day off of school meant a day away from their friends so they were quite chatty today. The general Wednesday calm that comes after two days of reinforcing expectations was mostly lost. There were more than a few nodding heads from staying up too late. It was more like a Monday and I didn’t feel like we had time for a Monday.

But we soldiered on through and got as much work done as we could. Before recess we focused on speaking, working on our question “Qu’est-ce que tu portes?” which we used and re-used until almost all of the students were able to say what they were wearing and what other students were wearing. We played a game where a student’s name was chosen on the name selector, they’re sent out to the hallway. Then another name is chosen and that person needs to tell us what the student in the hallway is wearing. They enjoyed this game, though it was hard to keep the others from shouting out the answers sometimes.

After recess we focused on writing. We wrote a story as a class, a difficult feat on the best days, then I had them spend the rest of the time writing “independently”. One of the things about writing that my class, and I would suspect most language learners, struggle with the most is that they don’t have the words to write their great ideas. They have the words in their first language but not in the language they’re asked to write in. So they end up trying to write stories about pirate ships and cannons when they don’t have the vocabulary to write about those things. I tried to impress upon them that they need to write using words and phrases that they already know because “Madame n’est pas la dictionnaire” especially during the assessment.

After a false start, we did manage a pretty good short story about a birthday. It still had some moments of silliness but it was done with words that they know. Here’s the story we wrote today with the names changed:

Le voyage

C’est la fête de Britney. C’est le 19 juin 2017.

Chad dit « Bonjour, comment ça va? »

Mme W. dit, « Ca va bien. »

Britney dit, « Je suis excitée parce que c’est ma fête. »

Ils sont allés à Alaska pour sa fête. Ils font de la natation parce qu’il fait chaud.

Ils nagent à Madagascar. Ils sont fatiguées alors ils dorment avec un tigre, un hippopotame et un crocodile. Ils sautent sur leur ami, l’hippopotame, et ils sont allés chez Nigel.

La fin

As I said, very silly but it was all in sentences that they could say. Now I did help a little with correcting grammar of course but for the most part, this is their work. It took 45 minutes to get this much. I’m hoping that tomorrow they will be a little more settled and we will be able to get everything done in time.

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.

Moving from carrot and stick motivation

Even before I became a full-time teacher, I struggled with the idea of how to motivate students. While in university we looked at various methods and discussed how students who are intrinsically motivated (motivated to do something because they know it will benefit them) work better and have a more meaningful education than those who are extrinsically motivated (those motivated by either fear of consequences or because they will get something else if they do well).

Extrinsic motivation is often called  using “Carrot and Stick” motivators. So you tell a student that if they do this thing you want them to do, they will get a candy (carrot) but if they don’t do it, they will get a detention (stick). In some way it is nearly impossible to get away from using carrots and sticks. After all, if a student does well they get a high mark, if they don’t do well, they fail. I suppose the amount of importance you give to those marks can change whether or not they become motivators. I myself as a student was highly motivated by marks and by praise.

In a previous post over the summer, I thought about Video game style motivation where I talked about using goals to help motivate my students. This is something I have started doing a little this past week, having the students express their learning goals in writing.

But I also spoke about my positive participation tickets. So far I have not resumed this practice and I would like to refrain from using it this year for several reasons. One is it’s a carrot. It motivates students to something I want because they will get something from it. I found it difficult last year to see the students become greedy about the prizes last year and it also took up a lot of time and money to get the prizes. The positive participation tickets came from a system developed for the intensive french program. Most intensive french teachers use them or a variation to motivate their students to speak French. I’m concerned that if I don’t use the system that when my teaching is observed, my choice to not use this system will be questioned and I’ll be told to start using it again.

My other concern is what to use instead. Last year I tried to go without my tickets with one of my grade 5 classes. After a few days of not getting any hands I started in with the tickets and suddenly the hands went up. I also randomly call on students using a random name selector. But so far this year I haven’t seen participation from a lot of my students. What motivators have you used in your classroom that work for you?