Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back-to-School Teaching Reflection

It's taken a week longer than I anticipated to get back into the blogging groove~ Dear Husband left for a year (he's a soldier with the United States Army), I've met my newest class of Super Stars and their families (several of whom are also experiencing their spouse's lengthy absence from home), and Dear Daughter and the Pre-Schooler have settled into their highly-anticipated and very busy school and activity schedules. I now have a "power hitter" in my house (DD's preferred volleyball position) and a young boy who has begun to eat me out of house and home: growth spurt time! Mother Nature decided less than a week after my husband left to send torrential rains our way, flooding a culvert behind our home which may eventually force flood waters up and into our garage. Not fun, but perfectly aligned with Murphy's Law, my buddy and pal each time Dear Husband is away.

Excessive sarcasm: one sign it's time for a run and/or a bag of peanut m-n-m's.

Professionally speaking, as I reflect upon the first two weeks of school, I've noticed:

* Since leaving Alaska, each school at which I've been employed seems to *~stress~* during the first few days back with students. I'm lucky to be at the same beautiful school as last year with almost all of the same colleagues and routines in place. But we have such a high turnover of students- many only attend our school for a year and then relocate completely- that the first day of school is filled with many, many, MANY wide eyes, lost and confused kiddos, and parents who are strangers to the school and anxious about their child's first day. As a result, teachers almost lose their voices as they constantly verbally redirect, steer, guide, and try to get their students into orderly and quiet lines, explain classroom routines, reiterate school rules, and answer questions.

Older students almost certainly have prior experience in schools, and will hopefully adopt the new rules and routines sooner rather than later. Those who don't might be considered defiant, though that shouldn't be the only assumption one hundred percent of the time. As for my just turned five-year-olds, let me gently remind the populace that perfection is an unreasonable expectation for children with limited or no school experience. My students are the ones that for the past three or four years have been running, climbing, jumping, rolling, galloping, and falling asleep in the middle of the floor in their own homes and daycares. Walking over the threshold of our kindergarten wing doesn't magically transform them into straight-line-walking no-talking-hands-to-themselves students. Those are behaviors that must be learned over time with lots of practice and kind and consistent reminders.

If the nature of kindergartners gets on your nerves (and yes, some people just aren't comfortable with young children-that's why *I'm* here, remember?) just solve the problem: turn around and walk the other way. Look away. Take a deep breath. Repeat in your head "It will all work out, they'll learn. It will all work out, they'll learn." Your expectations of secondary students should be VERY different from your expectations of five year olds. Don't worry: you're not letting my students "slide." You're not teaching older students that they should comply while younger kids don't have to, and you shouldn't feel obligated to burden yourself with interfering with how I do my job as their teacher- you're certainly busy enough as is. Bless you for teaching the grades *I* wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole- you amaze me!

Over at Inside Pre-K, J.M. Holland interviewed Peter Walsh, organizational guru-extraordinaire (who also holds a master's degree with a focus on educational psychology) who explains that organization for children: a learned skill like good manners or long division. From the earliest age, we need to demonstrate to our kids that we value organization. We need to show them it’s an important and integral part of the way we live our lives, and without organization, chaos develops. The words ‘organization’ and ‘organic’ come from the same root. Organic – whole, human, complete, one. This is the reason why we should commit time to organization and show our children that we value it – it’s the way to become the best we can be. By modeling the behavior we want, helping children take responsibility for their own time and spaces and by committing time to organization, we can show that we value organization and teach kids the skills they need.

Behavioral, social, and educational organization are learned skills and require time to develop, big bold emphasis MINE.

* Being the newest or newer teacher in a school has its advantages as colleagues tend to be helpful, teaching you how things run. Being a semi-newbie also has its disadvantages however, especially when it comes to colleagues trusting you to do your job, understanding and truly acknowledging you as a professional, and trusting your judgement, your expertise, and your loyalty to your school's common goals and standards: curricular standards, behavioral standards, and moral standards. This is my second year at this fine school, but it is my fourteenth teaching kindergarten. It is the fourth school district I've been hired to teach at, and I have stellar letters of recommendation, numerous collegial friendships and ties that have crossed state and international lines, and hey, to top it all off, I LIKE young children.

Trust me to do my job. Take a chance. And if you can't, at least follow the Golden Rule. We might not have five years together to grow our relationship- it's likely that we won't have ten years over which to get to know and professionally evaluate one another. I might never be considered "family." And that's okay. I don't have to know everything about your teaching career or your private lives in order to work with you, to support you, or to advocate for you. If the only professional or personal help I can provide is fresh-baked cookies each quarter/semester while staying out of your way, then I'm happy to bake and oblige. We'll disagree, and we'll agree. We'll be in the mood to share, and we'll be in the mood to hunker down on our own. I will respect and support the goals and expectations you have set for yourself and your students, even though I may not know what all of them might be.

Reciprocity is the key, I've found.

Interested in some thoughts on RTI (Response to Intervention)? Doug Noon always has some great teacher-speak blogging going on over at Borderland.

Paraphrasing: "Even though it sounds cornball, if you say (sing) it like you mean it, it works" (and oh yes, I *know* I'm dating myself here):


  1. That video was AWESOME!! Thank you so much for sharing it. I'm a big Fanilow ;-)

  2. LOVE the song, love the video, the fashion flashback is a hoot- but some friends of mine and I are trying to figure out if this was the inspiration "look" for Dustin Hoffman in the movie "Tootsie."


  3. Anonymous1:15 PM

    Hi Michaele! I have been a big fan of yours since last Fall! I teach kindergarten as well. This is my 26th year having a career that I adore! I wanted to let you know that I wish YOU were my "neighboring" teacher/colleague! I have the same philosphies and views about young children and learning! You are the BEST!! I also would choose you as my child's K teacher! Good luck and blessings this year! Kelly Turk

  4. Hugs and lots of positive-school-energy to you too Kelly! Thanks for checking in on me, and for the encouragement- imagine what we could do as teachers and colleagues if we all shared such mutual appreciation (or even just plain ol' tolerance) every year!

  5. You are a great teacher, at least from what I read in your blogs. I feel like I "know" you.
    I love your crazy videos. This one was great of Barry. I had never seen him working with these HS age students before. That in and of itself is a great thing to show on a blog for educators.
    Stay true to yourself and all will work out. Your classroom is your kingdom and your SuperStars are learning, growing, and loving school. Who can compete with that!


As always, thank you for your comments, tips, suggestions and questions!