Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Perhaps only other teachers will understand this.

I went back to my classroom today to finish the transition from December/Holidays to January/Snow, and I found myself pleased with:

1) how quickly I had changed all of the colors/decor/books/bulliten boards
2) how much I enjoyed making my decor and teaching "props" WORK in this, my third classroom.

My classroom in Fairbanks was long and rectangular, my classroom at White Sands was a DREAM in multi-layers/multi-purpose spaces, and my classroom here in Oz runs along the rectangular type with some fun cabinetry thrown in for good measure. Yet once again, the snowmen, snowflakes, silver stars, mittens and "Chubby Little Snowman" poem all fit perfectly.
I "transition" the room each month to help my students notice the changes that happen around them during the time that passes during the school year. Teachers with more than five or six years' teaching experience can guess which themes are explored and which materials are used (and yes, all of the required kindergarten skills are integrated, so don't panic if you don't see AB patterning, sequencing, D'Nelian penmanship, etc. on the list):

August- Welcome to School (I teach kindergarten, so it's not "back" to school), apples, autumn...

September- autumn, leaves, colors, shapes, numbers, letters, rhymes...

October- harvest, gardens, Halloween, fire safety, our bodies

November- family, Native Americans, Pilgrims, traditions/cultures, food, being thankful

December- family, sharing, winter holidays, weather, senses

January- the new year, weather, snow, seasonal changes, Martin Luther King Jr. (Kansas history this month?), numbers past 100

February- friendships, Valentines, rhyming words, mail and communication, Groundhog's Day (weather again!)

March, April- spring, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, animal families, plants, weather, eggs, calendar review

May- May Day, Cinco de Mayo, summer, Mother's Day, vacation/transportation, "practicing for first grade," and of course, our end-of-the-year celebration.

Each month has a binder with all of the activites, book lists, reproducible pages, mock-ups, stickers, notepads, etc. that correspond with that month's themes, seasons, or holidays. This week I just pulled January's binder off of the shelf, dug through it to my heart's content, pulled whatever looked appropriate and fun for my students, and planned the month. Okay, so I'm fibbing. I pulled the binder off of the shelf mid-DECEMBER. Insert whatever smiley you enjoy most *here*!

Differences between Alaska, New Mexico and Kansas of course require changes in the materials I use, so I'll have to find some way of sneaking in an Eskimo art project this month just for fun so I don't go through withdrawals! Multi-culturalism is "big" in Alaska and New Mexico, so I find it odd that it is barely addressed here in Oz. Could it be that our location, so central in the United States, limits us from as much exposure to such wonderous variety? I did enjoy turning my dramatic play area into a farmhouse in November after the kids enjoyed grossing their parents out in our "Creature Cafe" during October though. Pretending to live on a farm was fun for the students. And then they turned the chairs, piles of plastic food and sacks into "Santa's sleigh and bag of toys." Ah, imagination!

Transitioning the room month to month requires more than inspiration- it requires organization too! I have plastic tubs labeled by months for the props/decor, and all of my storybooks are sorted either by theme/season or author so that I can quickly grab a pile and put it into the book cases, shelves, and baskets for students to peruse. I try to start the year with dark blue paper for the bulliten boards, since the blue works well for each month (except October for some reason...BLACK just seems to do the trick), despite the FADE that inevitably occurs. The bulliten board borders are sorted, and other textural items are added to kill the two-dimensional-trap I despise so much. Raffia, glitter garland, mini-lights...are ALL good things. I have cut outs for hanging patterns above my students' desks that can be used year after year, and with my stash of sentence strip poetry and read-alongs, I can have my students reading new seasonal/theme words and text weekly. With the help of my kinder-colleague, our monthly fine motor skills activities are ordered in advance so that all I have to do is pull the next activity out of my file cabinet or paper-pile each day and voila! Necessary cutting, coloring, tracing, and writing can be done at the beginning of each morning, with very few questions asked while I fly through the required list of paperwork...attendance, lunch count, milk count, etc.

With each move from state to state that I've made, I've found inspiration in my students, the required curriculum, and my own stash of tricks and fun activities. After over a decade of teaching, I've organized my materials, books, and time to accomodate my students' needs, the requirements of the curriculum, and the various schedules of half-day, extended-day, and full-day kindergarten programs. My only "fixation" has been trying to learn each new school's...."culture." The social expectations, the professional requirements, locating the mine fields (and successfully navigating them), and building the relationships required to 1) teach students and 2) stay sane. Three very different states, three very different schools, three very different social scenes.

Satisfaction comes when I can leave my classroom knowing my plans are done, the room is ready, and whatever tidbits are left to do...will KEEP until the next morning. I'm a huge advocate of having a life outside of one's work. And I will never aspire to be a teacher who lives in her classroom, morning, noon, night, and on each day of every weekend of every month. What would I be teaching my students, their families, and my colleagues if I shortchanged my own life, my children, my marriage, my friendships, my hobbies, my SELF?

Satisfaction also comes when Uncle Sam moves us yet once again, and my tubs, binders, books and decor all find their way to their new "home," no matter the classroom layout.

Second semester is here. Let's get the party started!

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