Friday, December 19, 2014

Why I'm Not Counting Down the Days Until Break

Ok, the name of this post isn't entirely true. I know there are only two school days left until our holiday break. It's hard to not know that. I have not been counting down the days though. In fact, this year, it feels like time is slipping through my fingers and I wish it would slow down. I haven't felt this way at the mid-point of the year since my second year of teaching and I'm so, so grateful this excitement and joy is back!

There are many, many reasons for this excitement and joy. I'll save you a super long post and give you just the most important reasons why I'm not counting down the days until break.

  1. The most important reason of all: my unbelievable group of amazing first graders! I feel like I say this a lot, but I have a fantastic group this year. They make me smile each day, and they are almost always the reason I can get myself out of bed at 5:00 in the morning. Is everyday perfect? Absolutely not. They don't always meet my expectations, and I know there are days I disappoint them as well. However, we have times like this afternoon where every student is focused and on task and becoming better versions of themselves. We have moments like this morning where we read the book Penny's Christmas Jar Miracle while I fought back tears and they excitedly shared predictions and commented on what was happening. I'm going to miss those moments during the almost two weeks I'll be away from my kiddos. I'll miss them. 
  2. My coworkers. I work with an amazing group of teachers, and I'm so grateful to have them in my hallway and school. I spent three years working in a preschool located inside a church. Until my last year there I was the sole teacher at the preschool, which meant I had very few contacts with education backgrounds. I had no idea what I was missing. Since my move to my current school, I have found "my people." We can bounce ideas around together and plan amazing things. When we have rough days, we support each other. We laugh about the fun things our students say, and we worry about our students together. We are truly a community, and I wouldn't trade it for anything! I'll miss their camaraderie and friendship.
  3. Play. I had no idea what role play would have in my teaching life until I took my first teaching job as a preschool teacher. I took so many classes that first year as I earned my early childhood endorsement and worked to get up to date on the state expectations for preschool. My whole philosophy of what school should be changed in that first year. The type of playing my first graders do is much different than the play my preschoolers did, but it is play none-the-less. We explore all kinds of new things each day. We explore books and writing. We explore math tools and play math games. We explore technology (my favorite!). It makes me smile from ear to ear as I see them playing with a new tool to create or learn about something new. I'll miss that excitement and newness.
  4. The challenge. As I've already mentioned, everyday is not perfect in our classroom. With that, comes the challenge. Dealing with everything from stealing to pushing and shoving to keeping our classroom clean and organized keeps me on my toes. I know my students are good, sweet, caring people. They are young though. Part of my job is to help teach them how to operate as good citizens in our world. This is harder than it sounds. On top of character education comes the challenge of good lesson planning and teaching methods. I do my best to go day by day and not be overwhelmed by everything I should be doing. At the same time, I try to make each day better than the last. This, too, is harder than it sounds. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't love every second of it, though. Teaching is my passion. Becoming an even better teacher than I was yesterday is my goal. This doesn't stop over Christmas break, but it is nice to have a break from the intensity of school. I still have Twitter, and I can still think about the second half of the year. I will just lose my sandbox - my safe place to play and explore. I'll miss that.
  5. Finally, the routine. As much as I don't enjoy dragging myself out of bed at 5 a.m., I do like knowing the basic schedule of each day. No day is identical to the day before, but I know all of the key components will be there. Who knows what's going to happen during the break? We don't even really have our family Christmases scheduled yet. The lack of schedule sometimes makes me more tired than school does. I will miss waking up with a fairly clear picture of what my day will look like. 
Don't get me wrong. I'm looking forward to sleeping in late, staying up late, and wearing jeans or comfy pants everyday. I'm looking forward to reading books for fun and writing about topics I choose, and I'm looking forward to spending some time with my family. I will miss school though, and I'm certain I will be excited to go back in January. (I'm such a nerd...)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I Am Enough

I wish someone would have told me how competitive teaching is. It most likely wouldn't have stopped me from following my dream, but I would have been prepared for it. The push to have the classroom with the best use of higher-order thinking skills or the best use of technology or the students who do the best academically is enough to drive me crazy. 

We had an afternoon of PD today, and, for me, it was a hard one to get through. We just went 1:1 in grades 2-12 this year, and each K-1 classroom has 8-10 iPads for student use. Our big focus is the implementation of this new technology. Today, we worked on going through our district's technology standards and creating a document of the different ways we have used technology to meet these standards in the past. This, in and of itself, is a valuable use of time. It allows our district to see what we have done and identify areas of weakness to focus on in future PDs. That's a great purpose, and something we definitely need to do. What bothers me (and this might just be me - I can only speak for myself) is that I felt an undercurrent of insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. I looked at the list of standards, which is very similar to the NETS standards which I'm familiar with, and felt incredibly defeated. There were very few things I could think of to go with these standards, and that realization crushed me. 

This afternoon is not the only instance of these feelings. It's hard to not feel jealous and inadequate when I read on Twitter about the super cool things other teachers are doing. Simply walking through the hallways of my school can elicit those feelings as well. I think, "Wow, that project is really cool. Why didn't I think of that?" or "Look at her kids' handwriting. It's beautiful. My kids aren't writing like that. What am I doing wrong?" There are days I want to just lock myself in my classroom with my class and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. It can be hard to find confidence in myself. As I sat at my table this afternoon with my PLC, which consists of teachers with many years of experience, I could feel how even they felt overwhelmed and lost by what these standards were asking of us. 

Why do I feel so much pressure to be Teacher of the Year? I don't know how this compares to other professions - I've only ever been a teacher. Does this pressure exist everywhere? If so, why do we do this to ourselves? I'm not sure where all of this competition comes from. I can only guess that it comes from the increased focus on teacher accountability and standardized test scores or from the transparency of our classrooms through social media. On thing I know for sure is it's easy to compare myself with those around me.

It takes all of us, though, to make the best schools. I might be good with one thing, but my teacher neighbor might be good with something completely different. I have to keep telling myself that I am enough. I do enough. I care enough. I can have dreams and aspirations - I should have those - but I need to remember I cannot do everything all the time. 

I am enough.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Highlights from Teaching Like a Pirate

After fully participating in my first #tlap chat on Monday, I decided to dedicate this week to making engaging and fun learning opportunities for my students. I constantly question myself, but I think it was successful. By today, I had many students begging me to do some of the opportunities over again.

First of all, one thing that made this week so exciting was wrapping up our science unit on balance and motion. We had studied balance and gotten through the second chapter on spinning. This week, we were working on rolling. We use FOSS kits for our science curriculum, and I'm a huge fan. Coming from the early childhood realm, I have a deep passion for inquiry, play, and exploration and these kits are based on those three concepts. With that being said, please know that I'm not taking credit for these lesson plans; they were planned out for me. They were so much fun, though, and this is exactly what I think science should be like for students.

We explored rolling with three different materials this week, First, we made wheels out of disks and shafts and played around with how they rolled down a ramp. We got them to roll straight, to turn corners, and to do a wobbly roll. On Thursday, we explored the way cups roll. After discovering that they curve as they roll, I challenged them to see if they could get their cup "car" to roll off the ramp and park itself underneath it. Many students found success with this, so we moved to the second challenge: roll the small cup so it falls off the edge of the ramp and lands on its opening. This was the hardest challenge of the day, but many of the students were successful by the time we finished. Friday, we explored rolling with spheres (marbles to be exact). This was my favorite day! The students took styrofoam runways and built all kinds of ramps to see how they could get their marbles to roll. They built tracks with hills so their marbles would go up and down and up again. They built tracks with loop-the-loops. They built long tracks and short tracks.

Science was a blast and a half this week, and I wanted to keep the momentum going. I knew I needed to do something with my math lessons. My kiddos and I have been exploring using Kahoot in our classroom, and we have been loving it! I even had a student ask me if they could do Kahoot during an indoor recess on Monday. (I'm currently brainstorming ways to see how I can flip this around and have the students create the quiz for each other.) After a request like that, I knew I needed to find a way to work a Kahoot quiz into our week. On Wednesday, we were learning about a trick to help us memorize addition facts called "making ten." Essentially the students manipulate the addends to make ten and count on to answer quickly. We used tens frames to help us with this trick. After learning the strategy, we put it to use. I had created a ten question Kahoot quiz with addition facts. The students worked in teams to solve the fact; one student made the first addend on their tens frame and the other student made the second and then they worked together to make ten and find the answer. Let me just say this - it is the coolest thing in the world to look around my classroom and see every one of my students actively engaged in solving a problem while working together! It made my teacher heart so stinkin' happy!

Thursday was the ultimate of days. I hooked my kiddos with a board message as they were coming in. It simply said, "Get ready for the best snowball fight of your life!" As they filtered in and read the board, the buzzing immediately started. I wasn't talking though, and the lack of details was killing them. We made it through our rolling exploration and the students headed out for recess. I immediately set to work transforming my classroom into the snowball fight battlefield. (I have pictures, but I forgot them at school. I'll add them when I get back.) I tipped all the tables on their sides to be the forts and organized them into a circle around the perimeter of the room. I taped a square into the middle of the circle of tables. Behind each fort, I placed a stack of "snowballs" (wadded up papers with math problems). As the students came in from recess, I greeted them in the coatroom and said, "The room doesn't look the same as before, please be careful." After only a few seconds, many of them figured out that it must be time for our snowball fight, and the excitement in the air was palpable. They came in and I explained the rules.

  1. Your tablemates are your teammates. You will be working together to solve math problems to earn points.
  2. One teammate will be in the square in the middle. When I say go, the other teammates will be in their forts (behind the tables) and will throw "snowballs" to the teammate in the middle who will try to catch one.
  3. When the middle teammate catches a snowball, S/he will bring the snowball into the fort and the team will work together to solve the problem. 
  4. When the problem is solved, the middle teammate will bring the snowball to me to be checked. The first team to get theirs correct will receive 5 points, the second team will receive 4 points, and so on. 
What ensued was an hour of the most fun test review I've ever had. The students worked together magically, and I had nearly 100% of the students focused the entire time. They have been begging me to do this with them again.

Needless to say, by today, I was exhausted. The extra effort I made this week was so worth it though! I plan to continue looking for ways to "teach like a pirate!" This will be more difficult now that we're done with science for a little while, but I refuse to put a limit on the possibilities that can occur in my classroom. Monday, I have a camping adventure planned for my kiddos who collectively have read 500 books this year. They're bringing flashlights and sleeping bags. I'm bringing the "campfire" and the tent. Can't wait for the fun to continue!