Saturday, November 23, 2013

Almost Thanksgiving - 5 Things I am Thankful For!

I am thankful for....

1. All 27 of my students...they are lively, have none-stop energy, all have different needs but as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, we are getting used to each other and really starting to produce strong reading, writing, and math work.

2. Those colleagues that have the same workshop mindset as I do. Sadly, I am not in a school where ALL teach RW and WW but a few friends in my building and others outside my building who I connect to through emails or phone calls on the way to work, keep me grounded in this important work. I do think life would be so much easier if I could find that school with more having my mindset but maybe that's just a pipe dream... maybe just an excuse that the grass is always greener...

3. Being a learner and a risk-taker, ready and willing to try new things. YES, the last 3 months have been SO hard. But it has also been the challenge that I need. YES, I wish I knew more about teaching using the workshop model but each day I get to practice and slowly am getting better. YES, I wish I had better classroom management, but once I do get their attention, I have them engaged and they are producing great work.

4. School Holidays... 4 for Thanksgiving and 16 for Winter break...and I am so looking forward to using some (not all but much of it) of this time to read ahead in the Units of Study books, time to plan out more for 3rd quarter, time to make guided reading plans and book club plans for my readers...I want to do a good job but there never seems to be enough time as I need to sleep some, too. Some may think I am crazy that I am looking forward to a break so I can do more school work! Maybe I am. But teaching is not just a hourly job thing to me. It is the profession I choose and as a professional, I value the time off as a way to further read and grow in my practice. I will have this gift of time in a few days and then in Dec! I might start to get a handle and be more than just one small step ahead of my students!

5. Saturday Reflection time - It is helping me to see both the pluses and minuses of the week and through writing, I feel I am treading watering and not drowning. I wonder if it will ever feel like smooth sailing ??!!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I survived the 14 hour fieldtrip to Jamestown!!

What a LONG week!!

Monday, we hosted 20 friends, most of them veterans or wives of veterans! We sang each of the Military songs to honor Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. We ate blueberry muffins and had our posters hanging! My students did such a GREAT job!! So proud of them!!

Then Tuesday I had to be out at a county training and my substitute kept the group busy but admitted to me on Wed that I have a challenging group. I'm just glad that she said she would come to sub again!

Wed was all the prep work for the fieldtrip.

Thursday I met the kids at 6:15 in the school cafeteria and we loaded 4 charter buses and headed south for a 3 hour drive to Jamestown, Va and back in time to 1607. We arrived at 10am and spent the ENTIRE day outside walking and touring and learning. It was fabulous, just a LONG time to be outside and so much walking! We left at 3pm and immediately got in traffic...returning at 7:30pm, instead of 6:30pm. tired...and I will admit, I mostly babysat today...we reflected on our trip and made a page to go in an ABC book about Jamestown but I was TOO tired to be on and teach.

And now, I am happily heading to Charlottesville to be a mom - Anne's in a play at UVA!! So glad to just forget about school for today...Sunday afternoon I'll have LOADS of homework, but who cares. I NEED a break!!

But looking back at the week, I wouldn't change a thing. Sure, the Veteran's Day celebration was extra work and another thing to plan, but I LOVED giving my students a chance to shine and honor others. The 13 hour fieldtrip was LONG but such an important way to learn! (But I'll admit, I'm glad it is over!!).

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Face-to-face Parent-Teacher-Student Conferences are the best!!

All day Monday and Tuesday, instead of teaching, I had the opportunity to have 20-minute conferences about the work each student did during the 1st quarter of 4th grade. Present at each conference was me, the student and a parent, sometimes both parents. The mothers of two families who speak another language at home, brought along an older sibling to help translate.

Last Friday, I had each student sit and practice with me so we would be ready for the conference. I made them a sheet to talk from where they circled from a set of choices and/or wrote in the one thing in each subject they are proud of. Then they also wrote an academic and behavioral area of strength and area for growth.

I let the student begin the conference and it was so fun listening. I placed the sentence stem: In ______, I am proud of ______. at the top of their sheet of notes. Their notes set them up to share so much with their parent(s). Then the parents shared. And then I shared. Then I had time to share where we are going next in 2nd quarter and I gave the parents a sheet listing suggestions for ways to help at home and a leveled book list.

Sitting face-to-face and taking time to talk is so valuable!! We live in the age of emails and tweets and texts. Yet, to sit and orally share is a gift! I was so proud of each child. Then, always meeting the parent(s) add to my picture of the child. This format allowed the parent to focus on the positives first. Years ago, I felt like a conference became a laundry list of a child's inadequacies. This format got all to share the positives. Then we still talked about areas for growth. I always asked the child: "What can I do to help you learn better?" and asked the parent(s): "What can I do to help you help your child at home?"

And as Kathleen Tolan taught me at TCRWP, when students do what we teach, this is OUR feedback (as well as when they don't do what we taught...probably means we need to teach it again!). Sitting, listening, and participating in these conferences became the feedback I needed to motivate me to keep working hard for another quarter! I had taught these students SO much in 9 weeks. Agreed, lots can be improved and lots still needs to be mastered. But I have taught each student and the workshop model allowed this to happen. It allows me to naturally differenciate. It helps me to meet each student at their level and grow them from there! Having the student share work that they are proud of put a smile on my face!

Then Wednesday came and I actually felt like the kids arrived at our classroom a little bit wiser. They were ready to start this new quarter. They had also completed a quarter of 4th grade. They now really understood the routines. They understand that I care and am here to do all I can to help them learn. They get that their parents want the best for them, too.

The only hard part was that it was only Wed....I got (had) to teach for 3 more full days now. I still had to get the report cards done. I still had to read the session 1 in the nonfiction reading units of study kit and the boxes and bullets session 1 for writing workshop. I still needed to collect one more check for the Jamestown trip. I still needed to fit in a science test, a math fraction markup test and then get the kids ready for our Veteran's Day celebration on Monday! I still had a Wed and Fri 7:45 conference for 2 families that traveled and couldn't come on Mon/Tue and one more this coming Tue. The To-Do List just keeps getting longer! This job is definitely keeping me busy and humble!!

But today I am happy that I was able to meet one-on-one with each family and that each student in my class had a moment to share orally with their parent(s) some positives related to reading, writing, and math workshop. Now onto quarter 2...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The First Quarter is OVER!!

So I did work ALL last weekend.  Then, Monday I got to school at 6:30 a.m. (so I could get to the copier before the line began) and stayed until 8 p.m.. Tuesday I taught a writing class to teachers until 7 p.m.and, though I had work to do, I just went home. Wednesday I stayed after school until 8 p.m. Thursday (Halloween) until 7:30 p.m., and Friday until 5 p.m. when I realized that due to indoor recess, I never ate any lunch and all I had eaten was a banana and a power bar at 6:30 a.m..

What was I doing?? Reading, grading, and hanging in the hallway the student's 2nd published personal narratives (after removing their 1st from the hallway). Grading DRA2 assessments. Reading, grading, and printing in color, onto card stock, the bookmarks they created to share their thinking about how and why the fiction character changed in their book. Searching one more time for the 3 books (out of 230 books - this isn't a typo - Arlington County Public Library has unlimited checkout and my school supplied me with a very limited classroom library) that are overdue from the public library. I have no complaints about any of these tasks. It comes with running a reading and writing workshop. But it does take time!

Now I am at Starbucks at 7:30am (I actually slept in until 7!!) ready to make my final preparations for the conferences I will hold all day Monday and Tuesday. After 3 more phone calls Friday, I have all 27 families scheduled. Friday afternoon, I gave my students an end of quarter free-time to read or write and I met with each student to practice what they will say at their conference. Using a worksheet, they picked the one thing they are most proud of doing in Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, Math Workshop, Science, Virginia Studies, and their Specials (PE, Music, Art, Strings, Library, and Spanish). They also picked their academic and behavior strength and the area for growth, both academically and behaviorally. I LOVED having this time. They could all name something they have done well and why! Hearing this was strong feedback to ME. Looking back, I sometimes remember the frustrations and these conversations helped me to be reminded of why I am a teacher. For 9 weeks, I helped 27 fourth grade students to grow as readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, artists. I am looking forward to the 20 minutes with each family where each child will get the chance to share. Sure, we all have room for improvement but I like that this conference format will highlight all the positive things done across the 1st quarter!

And why am I at Starbucks so early on a Saturday?
I still have a dozen DRA2s to score, I need to pick up hanging folders at Staples, I need to enter math grades into a google doc, as we flex group for Math and my partner needs my grades and comments ASAP, I need to do 27 report cards (something I haven't done for 10 year as a reading specialist - this better not take too long!).

Secretary tasks - uugh! I also still need to record who has paid $70 for the trip to Jamestown VA, who has signed some form needed by the art teacher to help us win a grant, who has paid their class fund check, who wants to order books from Scholastic, who is coming to our Veteran's Day celebration. At least Friday I took care of who still needs to sign-up for a conference!

Reflecting on my week, my quarter, I totally understand WHY our education system in the United States struggles. I am a teacher that knows the content, yet after 9 weeks back in the classroom, I am exhausted. There is not one week that I have not cried. My To Do list just grows and grows. I know many who have left teaching because life is too short and they would rather do another, less demanding job.

I care SO much about reaching all my students. Yet, it is hard, so hard. There is so much to do and not enough extra time to allow me to sleep, eat, and have any time to converse with my husband. And what if my daughters weren't 21 and 25 now? Looking back, there is no way I could have also been a mom of school age children this past quarter. I did do it when the girls were younger, so what's different? I think I know more now and am teaching the content much better than I used to. But that takes TIME, which is why I spent 8 hours last Sat, 8 hours last Sun, 4 hours on Monday, Wed, and Thur and 2 hours on Friday = 30 hours extra hours... And why I need to stop typing now and get back to work!

Glad I survived 1st quarter and am looking forward to 2nd quarter - nonfiction reading unit of study, essay writing, trip to Jamestown and Colonial Day, math computation of whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. And a Veteran's Day celebration based on what Tim Rasinski taught me at the Reunion Saturday at TCRWP. And a 16-day Winter Break (but who's counting!)