Wednesday, December 2, 2009

You're A Mean One, Ms. F

I made it to Thanksgiving!

I remember at Institute over the summer that Thanksgiving seemed like an eon away. It was something I didn’t even allow myself to think about because it was so far away. However, I did think about the fact that if I did make it to Thanksgiving, I would be golden. Thanksgiving came, it went, and I’m not any surer of myself than I was in the beginning of October. I mean, yes, I know that I can get through it. But it’s been tough, and I don’t want to have to think of it as “just getting through.” I don’t want to have to trudge on until May. I really hope that what they say is true… that the holiday break is just what you need, that you feel rejuvenated after, and that the kids actually start to truly get it once they get back from their hiatus.

Back in September I prided myself on not feeling as overwhelmed as all my fellow ECE corps members seemed to. Now, I get it. I’m so tired. Behavior is not anywhere near out of control (or the horror stories that I hear from some peers), but it’s drastically different. We have meltdown Monday and terrible Tuesday (as my Para very cleverly dubbed them). Wednesdays I tend to just give up. Also, I’m mean. I’m mean to four-year-olds! I feel myself being that grouchy teacher that you used to hate… and I hate it. But when 1:45 rolls around, the classroom is stifling, there are 4 different conversations going on on the carpet, the boy that sits on the Apple square has gone to the bathroom 7 times in the last ten minutes, and NOBODY seems to understand the concept of above and below (which we spent a whole week’s worth of math lessons on recently). At that moment I can’t be that sunny teacher you see in Matilda.

I think one of the hardest things is the unbelievable running list of “I wish I had done that differently.” From lessons to entire units, there’s so much I want to fix. My list of changes for next year is unending. Which makes me feel like crap about this year, and also very daunted by next year. It’s supposed to be easier your second year, but how can that be when in so many ways I’m going to be restarting, redoing, and fixing what I set in place this year? Behavior charts, the five senses unit, the order in which we learned patterns, the classroom layout. Next year seems scary, and like Year 1 Part II. And I can’t do Year 1 again. Ugh.

The only good thing I can think of… Thanksgiving. Although there’s all that controversy about the “real” first Thanksgiving (just like the hoopla about teaching that Christopher Columbus was simply a good-natured but curious explorer with a “first” for America), this is still a holiday that I can actually teach (unlike Christmas). So we made turkeys and read books on pilgrims with wild abandon. The fact that this is my favorite holiday had nothing to do with the three days worth of social studies and math lessons we spent on Thanksgiving…

Now, this has already become my place to list my fixes for next year. So, here are the newest additions (as always, based on a combination of failed lessons of my own coupled with the sheer genius and 35+ years of experienced advice from the Pre-K teacher next door):
1. fix the rules chart. Keep up the mandatory one from the school, but either make a new one of my own or skip it. With the whole Paths to Pax behavior program and the 3Rs from the school, there is a sense of rules overkill.
2. Put up a big numbers, colors and shapes poster
3. Do a hanging behavior chart rather than the circles on paper plates I have now. Those fall off all the time, and its especially anticlimactic when you go over to the chart, move Student B to “orange” in a huff, and then the whole orange circle clatters to the floor.
4. Post a new daily schedule that is color coded and simpler for students to understand and easier for me to actually make reference to. I get questions alllll the time about what’s happened next.
5. Implement better lit centers (see notes from PD evening at Digital Harbor on October).
6. Do more read-alouds during the day. We are not reading enough. I need more books!
7. Include more motor skills development. These kids don’t get recess. There needs to be more spread out during the day.
8. Staple their homework into their comp books or have some sort of checklist so parents can keep track of kids getting it done and doing it correctly
9. Fix OCR red band and blue band
10. In the beginning, when giving them pieces to paste, give each one an envelope with his or her pre-cut pieces so that they don’t get lost/cut in half by hands that don’t know how to use scissors yet (Yes, I have had to physically teach some kids how to use scissors to cut. That’s an interesting lesson).
11. Have folders within the student folders divided by the MMSR (Maryland Model For School Readiness) topics so that papers can be easily filed and then easily referenced later when I have to bubble in their scores.

MMSR. There’s a whoooooole other thorn in my side. So, yes, all the teachers of older grades have to feel the wrath of Stanford 10s and MSA. But, we little Pre-K’s are not to be left out of the standardized testing mania. We have the MMSR. And, since most of my students can barely hold a pencil, let alone read, I do the bubbling. All the bubbling. That’s 18 names, races, title 1 statuses, previous schoolings, birthdates, and student numbers. Then I rate them on dozens of skills, from social prowess (can empathize with others) to social studies (understands why we have rules), etc. Math, Language Arts, Science, Arts and Physical Education are in there too. What a process that was. We do it in the fall, winter and spring. So, I have two more times to look forward to.

Probably one of the happiest moments of my recent past was this last Sunday. I cried a lot on Sunday. Thanksgiving was good… too good. Sunday hit with too much reality: going back to school on Monday, my favorite holiday being over, a ridiculous project for Johns Hopkins, and a lot of financial worries suddenly coming to the surface. So, after hours of crying, complaining, stressing, I ended up sitting across from Jaren at our little dining room table for 2 at 2 in the afternoon. He had made me tea (bless his soul) when he heard all the crying. Then he swallowed the Polish pudding I had made and we just complained some more. But in a “Well, here we are. Let’s laugh because we’re out of tears” way. We even discussed how the dude flying the hospital helicopter (which lands a few buildings over) had it easy. Now, there’s a job that doesn’t require half the… energy? persistence?… that ours does. I ended up happy, just for a bit, and oddly content (resigned?).

I just want it to be Christmas.

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