I live in a city full of doctors. My building is basically the dorm for the University of Maryland medical campus (down the street) and all my training, whether for TFA or my school, always ends up being on a Hopkins campus. Mom wants me to bring one home. I just want a pair of scrubs. Those things look pretty comfy.
I suck at transitions. Let’s just dive in… One of the biggest recent successes in my class actually came from an idea passed along by the veteran teacher next door (who I would not be making it without). She suggested that with every Scholastic catalog I send home, I pick a monthly “class book” and suggest that parents buy it. That way we can work on reading it and doing projects with it as a class, and over the year students build up their own small library. This is especially important in a low-income area where not all the kids have easy access to age-appropriate, quality literature. The great thing about Scholastic is that every month one of the books only costs $1. And, these are great books. I mean, next month’s is Ezra Jack Keats’ Snowy Day (Keats is an early childhood staple). So, last month I asked the students to buy Apple Trouble. The order finally came in, I labeled their books, and passed them out. And it was glorious. The kids all practiced with holding a book the right way, turning the pages in unison, and running their fingers underneath the text. They were all just stoked about having their own book, and paid more attention during this lesson than I’ve ever seen before. Every time I turned my copy and they turned to the right page as well, they would smile a huge smile and yell “Look Ms. F! I did it!” We’ve now read the book three times as a class and the kids are starting to memorize parts so they can “read along.” We’ve also done work sequencing the events of the story. They love it. I love it. I nearly cried, looking out at a sea of 17 books in 17 laps with 17 grins.
Now, for the things I wish I could do better. And there are a lot. So, there are basically three different types of meetings that I have on a regular basis for improvement. I am CONSTANTLY doing “professional development.” There’s Hopkins classes once a week, TFA content learning teams and management learning teams once a month each, and now TFA and the Baltimore City school district partnered to help out us first years with a bi-monthly meeting. The tone varies for each. Hopkins classes are usually divided between TFAers and just regular people taking classes. I love those nights. My first class I have with Jaren and the other Amanda, and an ’08 corps member who keeps me entertained with his “I barely care” side-comments. Actually, his advice is one of the best I’ve gotten this far. “Just survive. That’s all you have to worry about the first year.” My second class is my weekly dose of feel-good. A common complaint among corps members is that all we get are comments on what we’re doing wrong and what we could be doing more. My seminar teacher is the opposite. She is the first person so far that has said, “You’re doing good. You’re doing the best you can.” Each week she makes us remember the good things we’re doing, and reminds us that yes, first-year teaching is terrible, but it gets better. When she first said that to a room full of TFA early childhood teachers, I looked around and saw the faces of all my friends immediately change. Surprise, at being praised, was the most evident emotion. So, Hopkins, not so bad. The district training and I have a love-hate relationship. I love it because the trainer basically just asks us what we need for two hours and then gives us direct advice. And worksheets. Lots and lots of beautiful, pre-made worksheets. And grading rubrics and assessments and centers ideas and small group ideas. This is glorious because about 40% of the work I do (the work that’s keeping me up until midnight every night of the week) is making worksheets for the kids to do. She also shows us what the teachers at her school are doing. There are 6 pre-k teachers there. The whole place runs like a little, organized country. I leave feeling completely overwhelmed. But also with a million ideas for next year. So, that’s the new plan. Survive now, keep a list of what I’ll do differently next year, and go from there. So, here’s a small list of random things I want to do differently or want to start doing:
1. Have a “parent” board in the classroom where I keep a copy of all the bulletins I send home so parents can re-read them every time they drop off the kid in case they lost them.
2. Add “3 magazines” to the supply list in the beginning of the year. There have been a ton of Open Court lessons where students need to find and cut out specific things (find things that are blue, find a family, etc). It would be a huge investment for me to go buy those magazines now, so I’ll just have parents send them in. However, if you’re reading this and have some child-friendly magazines lying around (i.e. nothing like Cosmo or GQ) please save them for me!
3. Start a lending library. Right now I have one student who asks, on a regular basis, if he can take a book home. It’s interesting actually. He’s Mr. Cool in the class. So serious, never wants to have fun really, just does his thing and hangs out. The only things that get him revved are football and Spiderman. Asking to borrow a book was one of the first times I actually heard him reach out for something or even talk without being prompted.
4. Have a more personal tracking system, for individual goals, such as having a sticker chart for successful work that has a tier for good, better, best (blue star, green star, orange star)
5. Have better alignment between the diagnostic and yearly goals. Some things we aren’t learning until the end of the year, and some things we are learning aren’t represented. I just wanted to get the diagnostic out and administered as early as possible so that I could gauge what knowledge they were coming in with.
6. Small groups! The idea of small groups is a joke right now. First off, the students are not anywhere near being independent enough to work quietly on an assigned task on their own while I pull a small group. Besides, I don’t have small groups at this point yet. This week I’m planning on actually going back and looking at the scores from diagnostics and early work to start grouping students. So, next year, I need to have a more organized way of explaining the idea of small groups, working independently and not constantly running up to me while I’m working with a certain group, and what to do if they finish early by themselves. In that same vein, I need more centers activities that are “take to your seat” and actually have an end product that I can grade, since I will be pulling small groups during centers time.
7. Have a lesson (or 12) on different kinds of feelings. Have posters so that kids can better articulate and at least point to how they’re feeling before they know the word for.
Ok that’s good. These are too long, I know, for anyone to actually read. But at least at the end of the year I’ll have a journal for myself. I’m selfish!