Half the year is over, so it seems appropriate to reflect on what is working in my classroom, and what is not.
My students are as they should be: eager to learn ("What are we gonna learn today, teacher?"), inquisitive ("How come people keep asking me if I lost my tooth? I put it in my pocket until I got home and then Mom put it under the pillow and the Tooth Fairy got it and gave me money. It's not lost. SHE has it!"), expressive ("You know teacher, I'm learning how to not pick my nose no more 'cause Gramma says that's gross!"), tolerant ("Teacher, he's being a pest but I think he won't be so sassy at recess."), helpful ("I can help you write those "k's" 'cause they're hard.") entertaining ("Teacher, Mom is proud of me 'cause I learn-ded my money! I know quarters, nickels, pennies and DIAMONDS!") and kind ("She fell down at recess but I think her mouth hurts so can I take her to the nurse and talk for her?").
Managing the curriclum requirements is going well also. I've been able to align my lesson plans with the state's kindergarten standards and benchmarks, our curriculum materials for the most part are useful, or at the very least, "tweakable," and my students are making progress not only academically, but socially. DIBELS, Round Two is coming up, though I'm not too terribly concerned with how lost my students will look as they try to sound out nonsense words and name letters that they at this point, only use the sounds of for writing. My students recognize more and more sight words each day, enjoy writing and drawing, and have even picked up some science, social studies, art, and music concepts despite the best efforts of NCLB to obliterate those areas of "interest" from public schools. How many kindergartners do you know who will ask "Teacher, when do we get to listen to 'Night on Bald Mountain' again?"
Parents are involved and have continued to volunteer in our room, or drop in for visits and observation. I get email regularly from parents who just want to "touch base," or do some mutual sharing of kindergarten "funnies" that are observed at home or at school. Apparently a few homes get a replay of "me" each afternoon or evening after dinner as children play "school" in their rooms. All of my students' families attend parent teacher conferences. There's a good bond of teamwork going on this year.
My kindergarten-colleague is a joy and brings laughter and levity to those not-so-fun chores of paperwork, meetings, and... more paperwork! We enjoy our own Vulcan-Mind-Meld communication that other colleagues watch from a distance for entertainment, and we readily use our cell phones when necessary for "heads up" calls to help eachother navigate any surprise mine fields that periodically appear. We don't merely have polite professionalism between us, we have a fun friendship! You know what blessings those can be.
Having learned School #3's unique schedules, colleagues' names, district's strengths and shortcomings, and of course, neighborhood quirks during the first semester, the only hold-over issue appears to be PLANNING.
* I do lesson plans for the After School Program.
* My grade level partner and I plan for our T.A. Time (a prep supplied by a teacher's assistant who takes our students to another classroom and uses materials we've prepared and explained beforehand- yes, you've read that right, we "prep for a prep.") two or three times per week (usually we try to plan for a month's worth of T.A. lessons in advance).
* If it is indoor recess and I have duty, I have to plan activities and lead them for first grade students.
* I plan activities and prepare materials for the paras (aides/paraprofessionals) assigned to help my students with IEP's.
* I prepare materials and provide screening results for Speech, Academic Support, and E.L.L. staff members for when they work with my students.
* I help plan and prepare for professional development activities.
* My kinder-colleague and I planned and hosted this year's Secret Santa activity for the staff.
* I plan activities that our fourth grade buddies help us with two or three times a month.
* All teachers must meet with the district Art teacher because while she prepares the materials for projects and leads the process at the front of the room during each visit, she does not choose the lessons herself, or align them with grade level curriculum requirements. If we have "extra" information we'd like the students to know about a particular artist, or would like to tie in the art project's PRODUCT to whatever concepts we might be learning about at that time, we have to prepare additional lesson time or explanatory notes to glue to the back of each handprint flower or sponge-painted buffalo (hey, Kansas Day is coming up!). Any books or stories to accompany the project? Yep, we gather those too.
* And lately, due to illnesses and death in the family, I've had to prepare plans and materials for subs, which any teacher knows can be more labor intensive than regular teaching.
My kinder-colleague and I have been approached by the school librarian. She's feeling a bit left out because she only sees our students when they come to return their books and check out new ones. Library Science is not taught at our school, nor is "library time" a prep option, like Music, P.E., Computer Lab or T.A. times are at many other schools. Our "liberry-lady" would like to get together and spend some of our planning times...planning. Activities and lessons that she can co-teach with us in the library. And as dear a lady as she is, we have been unable, and yes, unwilling to give up more time to go and plan for yet one more person in one more corner of our building.
I can entertain the thought that perhaps I'm merely seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full. I am very appreciative that this district supports collaborative efforts in doing what's best for our students. I am even more pleased that so many colleagues at my school WANT to spend time with us. It means a lot that so many people enjoy my Super Stars the way I do, that so many look forward to their time in our classroom. I am pleased that my students have diverse learning opportunities available to them. But let me be blunt: there are too many spoons stirring the "pot" this year. Too much of a "good thing" isn't a good thing for five and six year olds. I'm used to providing a nice balance between a safe, predictable routine and exciting (yet still safely predictable) surprises or "extras" for my students. But the balance has been tipped grossly to one side, the side where my own time with my students is gobbled away just so we can say we are all collaborating and giving kids as many different learning opportunities as possible. And frankly, in most cases, it's not true collaboration. It's ME getting materials and lessons prepared for others to attempt to teach.
My students are still learning how to "be" at school. They're not seasoned fourth or fifth graders who know the drill and how to maneuver quickly through all of the resources, materials, personalities and expectations they encounter. My kids have just now noticed there are rectangular ceiling tiles in my room. They've noticed. They are commenting on them. They are distracted by them. Ceiling tiles. Because ceiling tiles are interesting. More interesting than the concepts of "putting together" and "taking apart" are at this point in time. Going to the library to have the librarian "help me" teach addition and subtraction this week is... I'm sorry... ridiculous. It won't happen. Because while I'll be able to get my kids back on track (and even use those ceiling tiles for math soon enough!), taking them to the library would just send them off in a completely different direction, for DAYS! Books! Stuffed animals! Computers! Steps! Round tables! Wagons! New cabinets! Maps! More stuffed animals! Shelves that present great potential for climbing! The hunt for a new bathroom! Card catalog drawers! Whoo hoo!
And yet I've been asked to plan... help plan... so that the librarian can feel involved. So that I can say I'm "doing my part" to provide another valuable learning experience for my students. As if I weren't doing my part already. And yes, attempts at tossing feelings of guilt upon my shoulders have been made.
Valuable Kindergarten/Life lesson #35: "Know when to say 'no,' and know that it's okay to say 'no' sometimes."