Monday, September 2, 2013

My New Classroom!

It's official...I'm making the move from first grade to kindergarten this year! I feel incredibly lucky to get to work in my new school. There will be adjustments as there are with any new job, but this past week was teacher work week and I think I ended up in the perfect place for me.  It's been a whirlwind the past two weeks, from interviewing, getting hired, going through the HR stuff and setting up a new classroom. I was even able to empty our mud room and unpack all the boxes, thanks to some awesome new teacher friends...and yes all of this was done VERY pregnant. It is possible : ) And I'm thankful for keeping busy because otherwise I'd be going crazy sitting around at home waiting for this baby to come.

My husband was happy to load these boxes into the car for me! 
So at 9 months pregnant I'm feeling pretty accomplished. The first day of school is tomorrow and as I'm writing this I'm still very pregnant with no signs of the little man making his move...looks like this teacher will make it to the first day of school.

Hanging in there at 39 weeks pregnant. Thanks to Mom who helped me in the classroom today!

A view of my room. It wasn't quite done at this point but you get the idea.

I'm looking forward to a great year with my kindergarten class, but will probably be taking a little blogging break once little man arrives. For now, I've updated my blog for my newest teaching adventure and I can't wait to share the exciting things that will happen in the year ahead. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Teacher Week '13: Organizing for Instruction

I'm so excited about today and tomorrow's topics for Teacher Week '13 because they are two areas that I feel are crucial for teachers to have under control, especially in the beginning of the year. I know "organizing" isn't everyone's idea of fun...but it just so happens to be mine!  My husband thinks I'm crazy but it actually relaxes me to organize things which must be why teaching is the profession for me because there is always more to do.

When it comes to planning instruction it can be overwhelming to think of each task that must be completed. I've spent hours researching and writing lesson plans and just when I think I'm done I realize now I have to go create this activity or organize this station. I admit sometimes my plans are quite lofty and I have to scale them back to reality. But with each year of teaching, I've had more units already planned and ready to use. It definitely helps when you have a few years under your belt and can rely on things you've already spent hours creating. I also find that there is always some new idea I want to try, so then I'm back to the drawing board. That's the fun in teaching anyways!

Last year I came up with a great system to help maximize my time before or after school and during planning. Each year I've been better and better about utilizing my time wisely so when I get home I can focus on family things and not be stressed about cutting out that roll of laminating film. I do better with a plan and realize this system may not work for everyone. I'm also a list person. Our plans were due on Friday last year so I would divide up the planning a little bit everyday so I didn't have to stay late Friday writing plans for the next week. It really helped me focus on each standard and gave me time to create or find things I may need for the next week. Starting on Monday with Grading & Filing, I've divided my major planning tasks into five days. Here's a little printable I made to keep myself on track. As I think of things I need to remember for each task, I'll write them down under the day.

Of course these are just guidelines and there is always more to do, especially those little tasks that pop up during the day and need to be taken care of. However, at least this way of thinking made sure that I didn't wait until Friday to start planning for the next week. It's all about staying ahead of the game. I like to Grade & File on Mondays because then I have all the assessments from the previous week and can use them to guide my instruction and small groups for the current week. And I'm not going to lie...a lot of time I end up grading on the weekends (in my comfy clothes) to get my differentiated groups straight for the week. I didn't designate a day to plan for small group reading and math instruction because I feel this is an ongoing task and I sort of do it daily. Once the kids go home for the day I look back at my small group notes from that day and quickly prepare for the next day. I find it difficult to plan out small groups too far in advance because they are always changing.

Another quick tip  when it comes to organizing instruction - and this doesn't sound like it has anything to do with instruction at all but...get the children to straighten up the room throughout the day and at the end. I can't tell you how much time I've wasted cleaning up after children when I could have been planning for instruction. Your time is already limited before school and during school, so why waste precious time after school doing something you can easily pass on to your students. Sounds simple, but makes such a big difference.

Those are my tips for planning instruction. Can't wait to share some behavior management ideas tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Teacher Week '13: Let's Talk About Me Monday

I'm linking up with one of my favorite blogs, Blog Hoppin' for their Teacher Week '13. Even though there is still a lot up in the air about where I will be teaching next year, I truly feel it will all work out for the best. So I'm pushing forward and keeping my head in the game by posting this little "Meet the Teacher."

Stay tuned for more Teacher Week '13 updates! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The end of an era...the beginning of something new

As you can see, I have had a hard time writing this post. It's been over a month since I packed up my innercity classroom for the last time and moved my 15 boxes of prized teaching possessions to our rental house about 2 hours away. The boxes are still sitting in a sort of holding pattern in our utility room and sometimes its hard to believe I actually packed up the last 4 years into those boxes. So yes, it has been a bittersweet experience leaving my old classroom behind. In the past weeks of quiet, summer vacation that teachers await all year long, I've done a lot of reflecting and there are a few points I've learned from Room 102 and hope I never forget.

1.  A good teacher can make magic happen in any type of setting.

It's no secret that for the past four years I might not have always had the newest equipment or nicest rooms. Sometimes the furniture was mismatched and falling apart, but the minute I got in the classroom every August and started putting my own touch in the room, the space came to life. It doesn't look like much when it is all packed up, but I spent so much time in that room and when it really came down to it, details of the space didn't matter. The time spent on that carpet exploring books or doing a science experiment were far more memorable then the space around us. We just got used to it and moved on. I hope I remember that if you are flexible and keep a positive outlook, it doesn't matter what the four walls around you look like. Teaching can happen anywhere.

2. My colleagues were my saving grace.

Without the support of my team, I would not be the teacher I am today. My greatest accomplishment over the past four years was being named my district's Teacher of the Year. I wish they could name a grade level of the year, because no teacher can succeed on their own. It truly is a team effort and whether I needed to vent (which happened a lot) or celebrate a breakthrough during reading group, my team was always there. Even though our school was working through some issues, I honestly believe I worked with some of the best teachers in this country. Any child would be lucky to have them. We lifted each other up and supported one another in ways that I've never experienced before and for that I will always be grateful. 

3. You may not think you are making progress or a difference, but teaching is a magical thing.

I experienced some of my most frustrating days in Room 102. These walls forced me to grow up and learn some tough life lessons. I learned to be patient...really patient. I also learned how to speak up for myself in a professional and productive way. Over the past four years my positive outlook saved me, whether it was in listening to and helping fellow teachers work through a situation or talking with a parent during parent teacher conferences. I loved that just about any teacher in the building felt comfortable stopping by my room in the mornings or after school just to chat about their day. I loved the "high" I felt after an exhausting day of parent teacher conferences. But what I will remember most are the notes, phone calls and conversations with parents thanking me for my work with their child. Sometimes they felt few and far between, but when they did pop up, the passion from my parents was so strong it could bring you to tears. I grew to love these families and even when I thought we had hit a dead end, I was always amazed at the end of they year with the progress my kids made and the outpouring of support from these particular families. Their energy and dedication despite whatever was going on at home, propelled me through the tough days. 

The platform of this blog was meant to document and support urban teachers. I may never work in the same setting as I've had for the past four years, but I know without a doubt the lessons I've learned in that city have set me up for a successful career in education. I'm proud to say I worked in an urban setting and had the opportunity to experience the passion of so many wonderfully dedicated teachers. And even with all of the challenges I faced, I already miss it terribly. But stay tuned...a new chapter and purpose for this blog is on the horizon and I can't wait to start the next chapter of my life as a teacher.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What it's all about...

I had one of those moments this afternoon...teachers know what I mean. One of those times where we get a glimpse into the effect we are having on little people and their family's lives everyday. One of my former first graders came back to see me with his mom. They had heard I was leaving at the end of this year and wanted to come by and say thank you. It was this mother's genuine expression of thanks, even a year after I had her son, that reminded during this last week of school of the impact I've had over the past four years. It was refreshing and I hope to have more moments like this in my new school. To all my former students and their families, yes it is true I have been teaching you, but in all honestly you have taught me more about myself and this world in the past four years then you will ever know. Thank you GPMS family!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The final stretch...

The countdown is on! It's that time of year that all teacher's look forward to. This year I have mixed emotions because at the end of school I will be packing up my first grade classroom and making a big move. Our family is moving closer to family, which we are so excited about. Everything is about to change, but I've had quite the ride at my current school and learned so much about myself as an educator. I know these past four years have served me well and I'm excited about my next teaching adventure!

So how have we been filling the last month of school? Well, our testing is over (horaay!) and we are in the review phase for most standards. Currently we are reviewing our 4th quarter SOLs in science and social studies work stations. The kids LOVE it! They are already so good at station procedures, so this was an easy thing to introduce at the end of the year. We have 6 stations and spend about 15 minutes in each. This also allows me to pull guided reading groups for a second dip of instruction or administer end of the year assessments. 

Poster Making Station: Here we were actually reviewing the social studies standard about our community. Students draw a black and white outline of different places in their community and then use water colors to create a poster. Many students also took it upon themselves to add labels : )

Reading Station # 1& 2: Our school is lucky enough to have an amazing leveled book room. This year we got leveled science and social studies texts that the students LOVE. The photographs are beautiful and very high interest. After I work on the books in reading groups, I add them to one of the science/social studies reading stations.

Teacher Table: Here we may work on a content guided reading book or another skill that students need to review from our science/social studies unit.

Sorting Station: We love to sort! Students are working on a President's Day/Columbus Day/Independence Day sort. After modeling the sort in whole group, I move the sort into this station. Students practice it and then write/draw the sort in their Science/Social Studies notebooks.

Discovery Education: Depending on what we are reviewing students watch and write about a video clip from Discovery Education. On this day we had to improvise because 3 of the 4 computers were on the "blink" so students had to cozy up to one computer. They did a great job and I actually liked it better because they would stop and have conversations with each other about what they were watching. They then record their learning in their Science/Social Studies notebook.

I also have an Observation Station, which I forgot to take a picture of. This is a station where I bring in various items to observe. I really want my first graders to understand what it means to observe and use your five senses to record what you really see, not what you think you see. It's harder to teach then you think! I put out magnifying glasses and colored pencils and let them have at it in their notebooks. Observations Station and Poster Station are the favorites! I like this time of year because there are more opportunities to allow students a creative outlet. There is so much you can do to tap into their creative sides within science and social studies. Students who struggled with certain concepts are able to explore and express their ideas in a different medium and it seems to be making a difference!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Spring Is In the Air....Isn't It?

This year, more then most, I am very much ready for spring. The winter seems to have dragged on and on and I'm ready for some warm recess days!

So this post comes at a perfect time because we just embarked on our annual corn crop unit. Every year the first grade, with the help of our awesome instructional assistant, grows corn from seeds in our school garden. We start the seeds in peat pots inside and nurture them until they are strong enough to be transplanted in the garden. I enjoy this unit every year because each class puts their own spin on it. It is such a high interest activity and a great way to allow the students to have control of their learning.

This year we had a particularly rich discussion that covered science and math topics. First we explained to the students how corn grows from these seeds. The students were amazed that such a large plant would grow from a small seed. They also made a lot of connections to other places they had seen a kernel of corn. One students said, "This looks like the stuff at the bottom of the popcorn bag!" So then we talked about all different things that come from corn.

Each child got a seed and planted it in the peat pot. It's amazing what hands-on, high interest activities do for classroom management! They squealed at the feeling of the cold, damp peat and the squishy sounds it made as they pressed their seed into its new home.

After planting the seeds, we made a graph showing how long we thought it would take for the seeds to sprout. Although this seemed like a simple task, it turned into a very rich conversation about fractions. Who knew! The students had to decide if they thought the seeds would sprout in 4 days, 6 days, 9 days or 11 days (we even squeezed in that calendar SOL). I will have to snap a picture of our graph and upload it so you can see our results. Most students thought it would take about 9 days for the seeds to sprout, however, there was one brave soul who thought it would only take 4 days. While creating the graph the topic came up if we would be waiting for just one seed to sprout or all the seeds. Here is our intense fraction conversation...what if half of the seeds sprouted? Would that be enough to determine that the seeds had sprouted for the purpose of our graph? How do we show half of 18 peat pots? They knew a half meant 1 out of 2, but weren't sure how to translate that to a group of 18 (understandably). So I showed them how to make 2 equal groups out of 18 and that meant 9 in each group. So as a class we decided we would say the seeds had sprouted when 9 or more plants had sprouts. How about that for a first grade math conversation!

Remember that one lonely soul that thought it would only take 4 days for our seeds to sprout? He was right! And unfortunately absent on the day we checked our plants but I was proud of him because we all know how tough it is for first graders to take a class vote and be the only one to vote for one of the choices. More then half of our plants sprouted in 4 days and they are now getting nice and tall on a bright sunny window sill. More to come when we transplant them outside!