Thursday, September 20, 2007

Back to school short stories

1. I have had THE most quiet homeroom on the (middle school) planet. (I say "had" because today they finally figured out when they're allowed to talk, not by trial-and-error, but by asking me.) Maybe they're not even FROM this planet. Most notably, there's only 18 of them. For the past 4 years, I had packed homerooms, inclusion, average size 27.

2. My first memorable parent phone call of the year - about 15 students (out of 96) didn't hand in summer reading assignment. So fine, I'm savvy enough by now to know it pays to make those calls. I reach one father on the phone, who informs me that his son "does not do well with negative reinforcement. He just shuts down. He's much better with positive reinforcement."

3. Last week we worked on reading and writing territories, and they loved "marathon writing" - give them topic and time them for 2 minutes of nonstop journaling. Note to self - broad topics (such as "favorite food") elicit longer responses than direct questions (such as "what was your favorite part of the summer and why").

4. This week we read LOVE THAT DOG. It's my 3rd time teaching it, and I finally feel like I did it well. I tied it to our unit theme (read and write what you love), poetry elements (sound and appearance, plus figurative language). It was fun.

5. Now I'm ready for 3 days in the library next week - 1 day of book talks by librarian, 2 days of "Favorite Poem" project, to be followed by classroom test on poetry elements. This is part 2 of introduction to poetry. Then we do poetry booklet. I'll cite in another post the name of lesson book I use for the booklet. It has ready-made lessons, and students write really interesting poems.

6. Most dreaded parent phone call for no good reason - In response to my calls and messages home last Friday, a mom left message for me Friday late afternoon, which I discovered late Monday afternoon, right before I went to faculty meeting. I planned to leave building right after meeting, so I did, knowing I put off the return call to mom till Tuesday morning. I worried about the call Monday night, wondering if the mom will question the summer reading assignment, as a few students have claimed they received some erroneous directions last June. Tuesday morning, I called mom, and she was perfectly nice, just wanted to tell me the assignment had been done and was left at home, but she knew it was her daughter's fault, etc.

7. I have a good team, I think. I don't think many of them are strong in reading and writing, but right now I care more about their attitude and manners - do they greet me (back) when they enter my classroom or, gasp, when they are walking down the hall? Mostly, they do! That makes me super happy, and I can handle the rest.

8. I attended my daughter's 1st grade open house tonight. Seriously, I wish I was a first grader in her class - that's how much I love her teacher. Anyway, the teacher talked for about 30 minutes, and what I liked the best was this: every child can learn, and everyone will learn at their own good pace, in their own good time. I'm so sick of the NCLB driven reading/math mania, and I hope those words mean her teacher understands that there's more to first grade than reading and math. Now I have to figure out how to say that to the parents of my 7th graders, even though my state education department demands high levels of performance on high stakes assessments. The honest to goodness truth is, in my classroom, every kid can learn from whatever point they start, that's my stinkin' teaching philosophy.

9. Small world story -
you won't believe this - one student's father was my former law school professor who taught the clinic class in which my husband D and I met and were paired as partners on a project, that led to "study dates" and the rest is history. Also, for the first time, I have FIVE students who are siblings of former students.

10. Meeting tally - after 12 days of school, I've attended 1 team (teacher/guidance) meeting, 1 parent (inclusion) conference, 1 occupational therapy consultation, 1 faculty meeting, 1 "book group" meeting (for our summer reading) led by building principal, 6 meetings with my grade level/subject team (fortunately we really like each other). Hurray!


Jayme said...

Wow, sounds like you've been real busy. Did I read somewhere that you teach the students for 2 years? Is that why you can do summer reading assignments? If that's the case, do you get a new set of 7th graders every other year, or do you teach both 7th and 8th each year? Just the same students? Just wondering. Hope things keep going well.

roller coaster teacher said...

I have one team of students for 2 years, from 7th through 8th, so right now I'm starting a 2 year loop. So I just teach one grade level at a time. I'm very thankful for the one lesson prep, but the loop is tiring. I'm not a looping fan.

WendyB said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog. LOL re your kids realizing they can talk!

Tricia Grissom said...

You're afraid of the parents? I'm afraid to call a teacher right now.

My son is in a very basic math class, and I want them to consider moving him because his math scores on the map were so good - but I'm afraid to call.

It helps to know teachers get nervous about calls too.

Lynn said...

Hi RCB! Well done for choosing such an honorable profession! Hats off to teachers of the modern era, I know the pressure can be overwhelming. My son's a 1st grader, and I worry about him constantly not because he's not doing great in school, but the so called "rat race ace" culture parents nowadays tend to enforce on children. I think kids (and parents!) should relax a little and have fun! :-)

Anonymous said...

Weird, I remember commenting to your post but I can't find my comment. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post. I teach a few siblings of 'old' students too, and I find it striking to see the similarities in behaviour and attitude. I guess the parents' influence on the way their children behave in school is bigger than I thought.
My colleague has been teaching for 30 years and she is now teaching the children of former students. That must be SO weird.
I am also afraid to make phonecalls. I general. I don't know what's so frightening about the phone. It probably has something to do with the way you can't see the person you talk to and the way you can't predict what the conversation will be like. Strange, I know.

roller coaster teacher said...

1st - thanks for comments!

Re feeling nervous about calling parents:

In our school district *look over shoulder* - parents have tremendous power over what happens in the classroom, such as, challenging assignments and grades. That's why parent contact is a double-edged sword for me. I've had lots and lots of GREAT interactions with parents, by email, phone and in person. It takes one bad experience - really, it didn't happen to me, it happened to a colleague! - to mind our p's and q's.

I'm aware that, for parents, teacher communications about their child is very very personal. I do my best to be professional and compassionate AND direct.

The best advice a colleague/mentor gave me about parent contact was - do NOT characterize the student's behavior (i.e. "Joey was disruptive"); just describe the behavior (i.e. "Joey shouted out answers while I was teaching and refused to stop after I warned him." Then I might add, "I give consequence ABC according to my rules and procedures for disruptive behavior" - and use the adjective that way.)