Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Today I got a new student.  She was a quiet and shy little girl, and she was not only new to the school, but new to the country.  Her family was from Hungary.  She spoke no English.

I tried very hard to make her feel comfortable in my classroom.  There were some tears when her parents dropped her off at my room.  I tried to reassure the parents that she was going to be okay.  Fortunately, she had an older brother who was in the same building.

The first thing I did was try to get her some “buddies” that could help her with materials.  There were many hands that went up when I asked for volunteers.  The buddies also played with her at recess and ate lunch with her.  My students are really sweet.

I spent some time trying to find out how much she really knew.  She seemed to be comfortable with math and computation.  I encouraged her to use manipulatives (unifix cubes) when she was stuck.  When I had to continue with my regularly scheduled plans, I felt bad for her.  She was very attentive, but I knew concepts were just going over her head.  She really tried her best.

At the end of the day, my classroom phone rang.  It was the secretary.  She informed me that my new student would not be returning tomorrow.  Instead, she would be attending another school in her attendance area.  Apparently the other school made an error.  They informed the parents that there were no openings in any 5th grade classrooms (Her older brother was in 5th grade.).  The parents did not want to separate the kids, so the other school suggested they come to our school.  The other school realized there was a spot in 5th grade.  Another student had moved and the office forgot to drop them from their roster.  In the end, the parents decided to go to their home school.  So, my new student was literally here today and will be gone tomorrow!

I am a little bummed since my students started bonding with her.  The thing I was most happy about was how open and willing my other students were to help her out today.  Now, she will have to start all over again at her new school.  Darn, I was looking forward to learning Hungarian!  🙂

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Back To School Night

Tonight was Back To School Night for my youngest daughter who is in middle school.  I get to take the teacher hat off and be a mom on this evening.  I was amazed by the energy and enthusiasm of my child’s teachers.  Every single one of them talked about how they wanted their students to succeed.  I feel like my daughter is very lucky to have such wonderful teachers for her first year in middle school.

My own Back To School Night is tomorrow night.  I hope to bring that same energy and enthusiasm to the parents of my classroom.  This is going to be an exciting year of learning, and I hope I can show that to parents.  I want to encourage my parents to let their child take more responsibility for their learning, and I want them to know that their children are capable of doing things independently.  I realize that it is hard to let go and trust that your child will figure things out.  But, they do.  I want my parents to understand that I have high expectations, and I believe all my students can reach them.

Tomorrow will be my twenty-sixth Back To School Night.  I can’t believe it.  You would think that after twenty-five years Back To School Night would be easy.  The truth is I still get nervous.  My heart beats fast.  My palms get clammy.  I break into a sweat.  I have to do a lot of self-talk before the event.  I know what I am doing, and I know what I am talking about.  Nevertheless, I will be happy when tomorrow night is finally over!

What I Know About Reading

Today I asked my students to write about what they knew about reading. I got this idea when I read Aimee Buckner’s book Notebook Connections: Strategies for the Reader’s Notebook.

At first I was skeptical as to what 2nd graders could come up with.  I was impressed by some of the ideas that were shared.  One student said she knew that reading helped her learn.  Another student said that when she read she learned new facts.  Still another student said if she could read, she knew she could write.  BINGO!  I am so glad someone in the class made that reading-writing connection.

While the students were writing their thoughts, I took a moment to respond to the prompt in my own journal.  I won’t write everything I said here.  I did write down that as a child, I was not a huge reading fan.  In fact, I would always choose to play outside over reading a book.  However, as an adult, I have come to realize how much I depend on reading in my everyday life.  Not a day goes by when I don’t read something.  My list included reading street signs, student work, teacher resources, emails, blogs, recipes, newspapers, and magazines.  I cannot imagine my life without reading.  Now I love to read.

Of course I shared my thoughts with my students.  I have a feeling there might be one or two students who feel now the way I felt back then about reading.  I hope I am able to ignite that love of reading before they leave my classroom.  If not, I hope I have planted the seeds that will bloom later on in their lives.

Marvelous Monday

Today was a pretty good day for a Monday.  I woke up with every intention to go for a swim before work.  However, the weather did not cooperate.  Right when I was about to leave for the pool, it started raining.  I probably could have gone swimming anyway, but the thought of swimming in the rain was not appealing to me.

School went well.  My students worked really hard.  I was excited about my writing lesson.  It felt like everything in the universe aligned.  My students had fun, and I had fun, too.  I took my students out for P.E. today for the first time.  It was very hot and humid here today, so the grass was fairly dry from the early morning rain.  I tried to incorporate some CrossFit strategies and had a Workout of the Day (W.O.D.).  Students had to do 2 rounds of the W.O.D.  The W.O.D. was to run one lap around the field.  Twenty revolutions with the hula hoop.  Ten “inchworms” to a plank and back up.  I timed the students and then they recorded their time in a little journal.  I am going to have to come up with some different workouts.

When I got home from work, my daughter offered to cook dinner.  Now, that is a treat!  Yes, today was a pretty good day for a Monday.

Happy Friday!

As one of my co-workers said, “Only 177 more days to go!”  🙂  Ha!  Is that all?  The first three days of school are done, and I am exhausted!  I keep thinking that it wasn’t even a full week of teaching.  The students just arrived on Wednesday.  Next week will be a whole different story.  Five straight days of teaching, but then we will have a three-day weekend due to Labor Day.

I have to say that I am enjoying my kiddos thus far.  They are very sweet and listen well.  But, it is only day 3.  I have to share one incident that happened today.  I called my students to the carpet area to read them a story.  It was a book by Julia Cook called, The Worst Day of My Life Ever!   It’s a story about listening and following directions.

Anyway, the kids were all seated on the carpet waiting, and I could not locate the book.  I had it in my hands and placed it somewhere so I would remember where it was.  But, I could not remember where I placed it!  I began walking around the room looking in all the spots where I might have put it down.  In the mean time, my students sat on the carpet quietly, watching me walk around the room, patiently waiting until I found the book.  WHAT???  That happens very rarely.  Most of the time, students will take the opportunity to talk to their neighbors.  My class just sat there and waited.  It was pretty amazing, and I told them so.

I hope that was a sign which points to a fabulous school year.  I have to be honest and say that I miss my students from last year.  Many of them came back to my class to say hello and give me a hug this week.  One of the fourth grade teachers told me a cute story about the students I gave to him this year.  They were doing some kind of human graph where they had to go to a certain spot when the name of their last teacher was called.  When my old students got in a group, one of the boys said, “Okay Kozak Kids, we have to stick together!”  That made me smile.  I spend a lot of time trying to build community in my classroom.  These kids had been with me for two years.  It felt like we were a family.  It made me feel wonderful that they still considered themselves a part of my class.  Sigh.  I am hoping to get that feeling again with this group of kids.  I am going to work hard to make that happen.

Love What You Do

Yesterday, at the grocery store, I overheard the tail end of a conversation between a customer in front of me and the cashier.  The customer was telling the cashier how much he really loved his job.  The cashier responded that she loved her job as well.  I am not sure what this man did, but I wish I knew what kind of job he held.

I got to thinking how much I really love my job as an elementary school teacher.  I feel great that I can make that statement knowing there are a lot of people out there who are working a job they dislike.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be to do a job that you don’t enjoy.  I would imagine you would burn out very quickly.

At the end of the last school year, I had the opportunity to read a book entitled The Radical Leap Re-Energized, by Steve Farber.  The book is about how to be an effective leader.   It was written with the business person in mind.  However, its advice can also be used by someone like me who is in the business of education.

Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.

This statement addresses exactly what I do on a day to day basis during the school year.  I am definitely doing what I love.  I enjoy working with my students.  I learn something from them every day.  My students, parents, and school community are the people I serve.  Each year I have to remind myself that we are all in this together.  We all have to support each other if we want to have a successful year.  Finally, I can’t just expect love to come to me automatically.  I must remember to give my students and parents a reason to love me, too.  It’s best to deal with parents and students in a respectful way.  I have to keep my attitude in check.

Sure, there are some days when I question why I got into the teaching profession.  It is a hard job and can be very stressful.  It bothers me when people tell me that being a teacher is a cushy job.  They say things like, “You get the weekends and summers off.”  But, what people don’t realize is I don’t get paid for the months I don’t work.  And, I continue to work over the summer by attending workshops and inservices.  I also read many professional books over the summer to help me improve my teaching skills.  I don’t have much time to do this during the school year.

Recently, I read an article in which Sir Ken Robinson, educationalist, author, and speaker, was being interviewed (Your Start Up Life:  Fail To Succeed).  He was asked to give advice to people who were trying to find their passion while trying to earn a paycheck.

Don’t give up. Being in your element is where your talents meet your passions. The two are important. To be in your element it’s not enough to do something you’re good at. I know plenty of people who are good at things they don’t care for. To be in your element you have to love it. ‘It’ can be anything; teaching, carpentry, law, nursing, graphic design, pathology, working with animals, snow-boarding. You name it. Human culture is as rich as it is because our talents and passions are so various. Some people can make a living from being in their element, others can’t or don’t want to. They just do it for the love of it. Whatever your circumstances, you need to find time to be in your element – to do what gives you energy rather than what takes it from you.

It is interesting Sir Robinson talks about loving what you do.  This kind of passion will give you energy to keep going instead of draining it from you.  I will definitely keep this thought in the back of my mind as I enter this new school year.  Whenever I feel like the energy is being zapped out of me, I need to think about all the reasons I love teaching.  That will be a very long list.

Establishing Routines

It’s the week before school starts, and I’ve been thinking a lot about routines.  I have been thinking that I need to start getting back into the “routine” of school.  Part of this routine means I have to start getting up early to exercise.  On a school day, I usually get up between 4:00 A.M. and 5:00 A.M. to workout.  Depending on the day, I will go for a run, swim, or do CrossFit.  The exercise I do dictates what time I get up.  I have to be honest and say that since it is summer, and I am on vacation, I have enjoyed sleeping in.  Those extra few minutes of precious sleep have been a treat.

In any case, I like working out in the morning because it wakes me up and gets me ready for the day.  After a long day of teaching, I come home and get busy being a wife and mother.  I am usually too tired to exercise.  Once I sit myself down on the couch, I am not motivated to get up again to go to the gym.  This is why I exercise in the morning.  Today was a CrossFit morning.  I got up at 4:15 A.M. to get to the 5:00 class.  Now I am ready to start my day.

I have also been thinking about routines of my classroom.  It is important that I establish these routines right away with my students.  For the last two years I have taught a combination 2/3 grade class.  The best part about teaching a combo class is that the veteran students in the class become the models for the new students.  They know how to operate in the classroom and it makes my job so much easier.  I don’t have that this year.  I am fortunate to be able to teach a straight grade level this year.  But, that means I do not have my built-in role models in class.  I will have a new group of 2nd graders so I will have to show them how to do everything from where to line up after lunch to where to get a new pencil if their pencil breaks.  I spend a lot of time going over expectations.  It is worth it to spend most of my time going over routines in the first few weeks of school.  That way, the students know my expectations.

Of course, I want to establish new routines this year, especially where curriculum is concerned.  I have so much new information in my brain that I want to try out with my students.  My brain literally feels like it is going to explode with all the new ideas I learned over the summer.  I already know how I am going to change up the way I teach reading and writing.  Do I know if these things will work?  I don’t know yet.  But, I am giving myself permission to change whatever doesn’t work.  Eventually these new routines will become automatic.  When that happens it will probably be time to change them again.  But, that’s okay.  A change in routine can be a good thing.