Monday, February 16, 2009

Going somewhere?

Field trips are wonderful and provide great opportunities for students to learn outside of the classroom setting. In my previous post, I detailed the field trip the children's museum. Aside from what a great program the museum put on, another thing always sticks out for me when I organize a field trip. My students are overly excited to be going ANYWHERE.

We get on the bus and roll through local traffic, passing a McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts. My students squeal with delight and marvel at how the signs look from the inside of the school bus. A few minutes later, we approach the highway and again my students are staring out the windows with wide eyes and mouths agape. Traffic. I am groaning on the inside and anxious about arriving on time. They are nudging each other about all the different cars, trucks, and construction vehicles that are visible. We pass the harbor and their amazement reaches still another level. This particular stretch of the highway is a mere few miles, not much longer than a minute drive from where the majority of them live, but still they are awestruck.

Driving further, I point out signs and letters on those signs. Someone says he never knew there were letters on those signs. Exiting the highway, going over a bridge, mouths still wide open. Arriving in the vicinity of the museum, they are commenting about the large skyscraper buildings.

For many of my students, trips like these are the few occasions that they actually leave the small neighborhood in which they live. Yes, the whole city is there, sprawling before them and yet they don't regularly take advantage of or realize how many resources there are. In one way, it saddens me to see their amazement at something so common as traffic. When they are excited to just get on the highway, I wonder if we should just rent a bus for the day and drive around without actually going anywhere at all. In another way though it surprises and motivates me. I am surprised with how little exposure many of them have to life outside of their neighborhood and I am motivated to find opportunities for them to get out of the classroom and learn, to expand their horizons.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kudos to the Children's Musem

Yesterday was field trip day. And Ms. S' return. Oh what a joyful day it was.

Right before December vacation, the AP came into my classroom in a frenzy. There was a bus outside and the driver had my name listed as the contact person. We had not booked a trip. Turns out that I had applied for a program at the Children's Museum but didn't get in. They apparently had some cancellations and had space for all of us, but I never received any communication from them. My AP said that we legally could not go without permission slips. I felt terrible since this trip was completely paid for by the museum, but I understand where she is coming from as well. It does make me wonder about the idea of a "universal permission slip" that is good for the whole school year.

Later that same day, I wrote a letter to Caroline at the museum. I explained the situation and apologized for the miscommunication. She was very understanding and willing to work with us. So, the trip was rescheduled. Through several email exchanges, we managed to work out all of the details. I was so grateful for her willingness to work with us. The children always enjoy the trip to the children's museum and it is a lot less stressful when their parents are not responsible for paying anything.

So off we went. We arrived exactly on time, despite some nasty traffic on the highway. When we arrived, we found the group entrance locked and after ringing the bell several times, I started to feel a little nervous. Did I make a mistake about the date? Did I miss something in our directions? Anyway, my jitters were quickly cast aside when the doors were open and everyone was greeted by smiling staff faces. They quickly handled logistical things like where to put our coats and ushered the children to the rug. They quickly and thoroughly explained the rules then it was off to the gigantic climber.

What a great idea! The kids are so excited and have a lot of energy simply because of the trip. So what a great way to start, by giving the kids an opportunity to release some of their natural energy before moving on to more structured activities. Much to my surprise, the staff took initiative when it was time to get everyone out. Also, we had the opportunity to use the climber before the museum was open to the general public, which was also wonderful planning on their part. They divided us up by class and my group was off to boats and currents.

After a short presentation on what a current is, the children had a chance to move several things using the jets to direct the currents. The staff at the children's museum did a wonderful job of keeping track of time and the overall managerial stuff so that the teachers could focus on teaching, on supporting the students in their explorations. Before I even realized it, it was time to direct the kids went over to another oversized water table to do experiments around sinking and floating. Each activity was just long enough to include a short demonstration, an opportunity for the students to make predictions and explore and a quick review/ discussion. Time is important and knowing how to manage it is very valuable. Young children have short attention spans so cant stay with any one thing too long, but also need opportunities to practice and explore. The staff struck the balance perfectly!

Then we were off to the great bubble lab. The students were excited after the demonstration and eager to try to make the biggest bubble they could. I knew my students would not want to leave the lab, but the wonderful staff anticipated that too. When it was time for us to leave, they gathered the children and told them that they would learn a dance. The "dance" was an elaborate way to shake off and dry their hands, but it worked and everyone transitioned out of the lab successfully.

Finally, it was off to the musical "balancing act" which talked about living a healthy lifestyle by eating more fruits and veggies, more whole grains, getting more exercise and more sleep. The students had several opportunities to participate and wear awesome costumes on stage. Then it was back on the bus and back to school for lunch and a much needed rest.

The museum also gave each student a family pass so they can go back with their families for free. In addition to providing the teachers with a great resource book and the sound track from the musical. Amazing generosity. A wonderful learning experience for all of the students. Perfectly organized. A job well done!


Miss S., aka super para, is back! The kids and I are literally dancing with joy. Ms. S still does not want to share the reason for her absence and I have been respecting her privacy and not specifically asking. Though I am a bit curious, I am relieved and excited that she is back.

When you are used to working in a classroom that is designed for two adults, it is very difficult to work alone. It was difficult for me to keep it all together and meet their needs. I wrestled with this idea for several days. I knew that I was working as hard as I could and do the best of my abilities, but I went home during the first few days of Ms. S' absence feeling like I let the kids down, like I was responsible for decline in the quality of their education.

Then help finally arrived and that brought its own challenges. I was grateful that their was another person but it was confusing for my young students, especially those who thrive on routines. I was able to enjoy the basics like duty free lunch where I could sit and collect my thoughts with out a student needing help. I was grateful also for an extra pair of eyes and hands in the day to day business of creating a rich and engaging learning environment for young children.

But then there were some challenges. Some days we had help all day. Some days, we just had help for part of the day. Sometimes we had no help at all. Then when we did have help, it was a different person each day. The children wanted to show each new person all their "tricks". They were confused by all of the new people and many of them had difficulties last week with transitions and following the routine that we established way back in September.

When Ms. S walked in yesterday, I did everything I could not too leap up and hug her. As the kids trickled in and saw her, their faces lit up and many hugs were given. I observed her yesterday and today and can tell that she is as glad to see us as we all are to see her. Welcome back!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Vulnerability is not comfortable

One student finally wrote his name last week. It was on a small chalkboard and documented with the digital camera issued by the early childhood department. Another student who struggles with fine motor tasks built a tower with twelve cubes. Documented on the same camera. Sometime after documenting these significant milestones and the beginning of this week, the camera was stolen.

The camera is usually hidden inside of my desk. I was out sick Thursday and Friday last week. I went in on Monday and wanted to photograph a group of children working together on an art project. I went to reach for inside of the desk and it was gone. Odd, but no big deal, perhaps I just misplaced it. So after school yesterday I looked through everything in the entire classroom, double checked my work bag and my house when I got home and still no camera. So that means that someone stole it. My students are pretty good about not going near the desk unless they have permission so they are not responsible. Who knows who took it.

What I do know is that the camera was hidden out of sight and inside a desk. That means that someone specifically looked through my desk. They took the camera. Not the cord that connects it to the computer, not the photo printer, and not the case. Most importantly, the memory card that I had purchased, that held countless photographs documenting student progress, was in that camera. All of this has left me feeling quite vulnerable. Someone went through my desk. That makes me feel very vulnerable. I spend a lot of time at school, and want to feel safe when I am there.

I took my concerns to my principal and the early childhood couch. Both seemed relatively unfazed by the theft. They both shrugged their shoulders and concluded that "these things happen". I understand that they cant do anything about it because whats done is done. But is there anything that can be done to ensure my future safety and the safety of the few valuable things we have for resources?

I am also feeling vulnerable for my students. The camera with the memory stick is out there, somewhere. Not everyone has the best interests of my students in mind. I really hope that whoever took the camera returns this but I don't think this is likely. I hope whoever took it really needed it. I hope that person erases everything that's on the memory stick and that my students are in no way harmed by this incident.

Personally, all of this makes it difficult for me to want to get up and go to work. I tell my kids that school is a safe place. I want to be able to mean what I say.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Applause, please?

A few weeks ago when my the author of the Brainy and Beautiful Blog nominated me for the superior scribbler award, she commented that teachers need more recognition. Here is a link to her post about it. While I was honored to receive the award, it was her comment that got the wheels in my head spinning. Many teachers work extremely hard each day. But do we, as a profession need extra recognition for the work that we do?

Other people in other professions must work hard too. Whether they find their work harder or easier than teaching I couldn't say. I for one have never had another profession and many people who work in other fields have not taught.

I didn't go into teaching to be recognized. I went into teaching to make a difference in the lives of children. I went into teaching to make their lives better. Would a little positive recognition every once in a while from a certain headmaster hurt? Well, no probably not. A few teachers in my building joke around with me and with each other about being nominated for teacher of the year. We usually make this joke when someone is being particularly hard on themselves. It cracks a few smiles usually and even a few chuckles. The best "recognition" to speak of though comes when you least expect it. When a parent takes the time to write you a thank you note, thanking you for all of the work you have done with their child. When a student that was in your class several years ago comes back to visit. Simply seeing the students' faces light up when I talk to them. It really is the smallest things that matter the most.

The drive to teach is not about the desire to be decorated in awards and recognitions of various forms. It is the passion, the motivation to impact and educate a student, one single student.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Superior Scribbler

I am honored to receive this award from the one and only Brainy and Beautiful who received the reward from Sandra at Worlds End Farm This and That. You can read more about the author of the Brainy and Beautiful blog here. She is a wonderful friend of mine that I have known long before either of us ever even considered blogging to be a possibility.
There are some strings attached and they are as follows:
*Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass the Award on to 5 most-deserving Blog Friends.
*You must link to the author and name of the blog from where he/she has received the award.
*You must display the Award on your blog and link to THIS POST, which explains the Award.
*Each blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add your name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, they will be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives this prestigious honor.You must post these rules on your blog.
So without further ado, here are my nominees
Amanda at Cackleberry who continually amazes me with her vegan recipes and motivations
Beth at From the "road" simply because she is Beth
Cal Teacher whose education blog inspires me even in the toughest times
I need to stop at three nominees. In addition to Brainy and Beautiful, those are my three favorites. I will add a more in depth post later this week.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Feeling frazzled

My para, a.k.a Ms. S is out for another 7 more school days for some sort of personal/ life situation that came up. No fault of her own, life stuff happens and I get that. Even though she announced her absence on Monday and today is Thursday, I still don't have the coverage that I am supposed to have. Granted, I had some help for an hour or so on Tuesday and I had the speech therapist assist me at dismissal and that was wonderful. I am grateful for help. Yesterday we had no school.

That brings us to today. All of the students are here with seemingly more energy than usual. I have no assistant today. I needed to send a note to the office to get lunch coverage. A parent came in demanding that I fill out two sets of assessments that are due today. He wanted to pick them up at 11 and I explained that I was working by myself and that they would not possibly be ready. So he shows up at 11, wondering where they are.

Then I need to go to remind the assistant principal that I need help at dismissal. I cannot stand with both the walkers and the bus students since they go to different places at opposite ends of the school. Nor can I leave one group of students by themselves. She looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language.

I am honestly not trying to whine, even though it may sound that way. Teaching of and in itself is a hard enough job but then when there are all these other struggles, it is simply overwhelming. And then there is this nagging feeling that this is directly impacting the kids. I feel as if I am not giving them as good of an education.

My classroom is designed on the idea that there are two adults there. Without Ms. S, I am dragging and struggling. I hate that it affects the children. Hopefully, tomorrow and in the coming school days I will be better able to adjust to these temporary working conditions.

The kids and I all miss you, Ms. S. Resolve whatever issue has happened and try to hurry back.