Thursday, July 31, 2008

Things I've Learned This Week

  • First graders are surprisingly transparent. They haven't learned to hide things or act certain ways for their friends.
  • Eighteen first graders can spread out over sixty feet as they walk down a hall in a line.
  • First graders can't sit still for a lesson, but will just stand around when given the chance to 'get their wiggles out'.
  • Everything is exciting to a first grader if phrased in the right way, even a math assessment.
  • Anything can be a game with first graders, counting, learning names, practicing routines, and more.
  • First graders can wear you out, even when you have lots of support and help!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Ten years ago my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Spain. He had to learn to drive a stick shift in order to drive the rental. He hated it. At one point he said to me, "I was a good driver and now I'm awful." That's how I'm feeling as a teacher right now. I've been doing this for ten years and I've worked hard at it. I've learned a lot and gotten better every year. I've earned a master's degree and gotten my National Board Certification. This year I feel like the weakest link. I've gone from feeling like I'm good at this to feeling like I stink. Fortunately, I know this will pass. As I get the swing of first grade (hopefully soon) I'll start feeling more comfortable. It will still be a challenge, probably for several years, but it won't feel so disconcerting and frustrating.

Day 3 - I Might Survive!

First of all, I wonder how on earth kindergarten and Head Start teachers do it everyday! They amaze me.

I have to say that today was a vast improvement over yesterday and Monday. It gives me hope. The students came in and, with minimal prompting, followed the same routine as the previous two days. I do have to remind them of things that I took for granted in the upper grades. I keep saying, "Put your name on it." I asked each child to check their backpack for their Tuesday folder (anything we send home goes in the Tuesday folder) and then I opened each one to see if there was anything I needed to read or turn in to the office. We actually practiced what we will do during a fire drill, something I've never done in the upper grades. I go through the lunch line with all of them to be sure they have everything they need, don't cause any problems, and get through the paying process okay. I actually count heads and wait for all of the kids to line up after recess. My big kids could just figure it out and find us (and then be in trouble for not lining up).

I'm also learning to celebrate the positives. My phenomenal co-teacher and I got the class started with independent reading today. I modeled what it should look like and she showed what it shouldn't look like. They shared what they had noticed us doing and then headed back to their tables to read for 5 minutes. Five minutes! We set a timer! Afterward we celebrated the fact that every student had stayed in their seats and had books in their hands the whole time. Other than that it was fairly chaotic. I took video of it so that I can compare it later in the year. I need to see tangible proof of their improvement.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trying to Keep My Head Above Water

Two days in first grade and I can't figure out how primary grade teachers do it. It's physically exhausting to an extent that surprises me. I expected that, but I underestimated it. I had one more student today which brought me up to a total of 18. I'm aware that it is a small class by many standards. However, it seemed like there were students everywhere all day. Lining up for recess I counted heads about six times. They can't stay still for anything. Getting them all through the lunch line is also a nightmare. I've been told this will all get easier. I don't know if it's true or if my colleagues are just trying to keep me sane. (Just in the interests of full disclosure I have to admit that I have co-teachers in my classroom for a large part of everyday. I'm not doing this on my own by any means and I'm still drowning.)

There was an opening for me in first grade this year because another teacher moved up to third. Right now, she's loving life. It's seeming so much easier to her because the students are so independent. I'm sure she'll feel the stress when standardized testing time rolls around, but for now, she's thrilled. I'm sure I'll feel more comfortable when we've got routines established and the kids can take care of more things on their own, but for now I'm just looking for a chance to sit down and possibly to eat my lunch.

(This is less coherent than I would like, but it's late. I looked at my plan book today with another teacher and realized that tomorrow is only Wednesday. How is that possible?)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Thoughts on Day 1

I survived day 1 in first grade (of course the kids went home at 12:20 so that doesn't say too much). I'm taking the opportunity to blog in order to process things.

I repeated myself numerous times today, but I don't think it was more often than I did with my 5th grade gifted class. I tried to think of all the things that needed to be explained in advance but I can only imagine how many things I missed. I'm eternally grateful to the various specialists who spent some time in my room helping me out and making life better for my kiddos.

My favorite comment from a student today came during a read aloud. The reading teacher I work with was reading First Day Jitters to the kids and said that the character slumped down in her seat. She showed them what slumped means. A student piped up, "It's like ice cream melting down."

Fun in First Grade

One of the big projects we did in the four hours we had together today was self-portraits. I'm fascinated by what the students chose to focus on in their pictures. Just looking at these pictures makes me smile.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Leap of Faith

I should be in bed asleep, but I can't figure out how to do it. Tomorrow is the first day of school at my school (we're on a 'modified calendar') and I'll be teaching first grade for the first time. I am feeling wholly unprepared and full of anxiety about helping these small people through their first day back. I'm wondering how to do things that have seemed so simple to me for years now; how should I post the schedule for our day, how can I prepare them for recess, how do I get them all through the lunch line, how do we learn all of each others' names, etc. I had all of this down in the upper grades. I have no clue for first grade.

To add to the fit of nerves, my older daughter is starting kindergarten tomorrow. She'll go to my school, which mostly makes the whole process easier for us both. However, it seems crazy that we're both jumping off a cliff together and hoping for the best.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Things That Surprise Me About First Grade...

(After 10 years of teaching 4th or 5th grades)
  • the tables are shockingly low
  • the rooms are much more student-centered in set-up and organization than most upper grade rooms
  • the stories of the kids are just as funny, if not funnier
  • the instructional debates and decisions are astoundingly difficult (do we use paper or journals for independent writing, should these books remain at school or should they take them home, can we model two or three ways to do that math problem or should we only show one, etc.) *
  • the bathroom (at least in my classroom) is huge and I can't come up with any sanitary way to use that space instructionally
  • there is significantly less planning time for some reason
  • I'm just as nervous as I was on my first day of teaching fourth grade
* I'm actually completely serious about the difficulty of these decisions. Everything seems critical at this young age and it seems so easy to mess them up for years to come.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

FBs - Who are they?

Scott McLeod had a recent post, NECC 2009 - Who wins? that prompted quite a bit of interesting discussion around the blogosphere. In this post he muses on the idea of FBs (famous bloggers) and their possible obligations to NYFBs (not yet famous bloggers) and LRs (loyal readers). The question is only of mild interest to me, but it got me thinking about the blogs I read and which are by FBs and which are by NYFBs.

I've tried to keep some balance between the two. I think that one of the reasons I feel a need for this balance is that most of the FBs I read are not currently in a classroom. They are consultants, technology specialists, or college professors (in a classroom, yes, but with completely different time demands). Full time classroom teachers have little time to devote to blogging. And yet they are voices I would like to hear a lot more. I have huge amounts of respect for a variety of classroom teachers who blog thoughtfully and make me think. Doug, Dan, Lisa, Clarence, Christian, and Stacey & Ruth all write blogs I think are fantastic. I'm not sure how they manage to do it.

My big question here, I guess, is does it really matter? Does the imbalance between widely read blogs by actual classroom teachers versus those by others in the educational field make a difference? Should we be concerned by who dominates the discussion? I'm honestly not sure how I feel about it.