Sunday, 17 August 2014

First Week Back Reflections

This past Wednesday was the first day of school for students. As always, there was a sleepless night of excitement gearing up to that first moment in the classroom. The unsure feeling of what will happen, the curiosity of what my class will be like, the nerves that I will forget something important or that I will totally flop in my new role as a coordinator. But once the whistle blows and the students line up, the mind goes blank and a sigh of relief comes over me and so begins another year.

While it might be a big statement to say, this was the best first day of school I've had to date. Rather best first week of school with my students. I love my new little class full of characters. There is a range of abilities, nationalities, experiences, and perspectives and somehow they just all seem to mesh as we transfer our way to the classroom. It's amazing how quickly you can develop culture and routine but yet still have a sense of excitement the permeates throughout the room.

For the first time, I felt like I channeled the teacher I always wanted to be on the first day of school. Perhaps it was because for the first time as I teacher I wasn't battle nerves of my own at a new school - the benefit of returning to the same school and year group for a second round.

In they came, bags away, task ready to go on the board, on with the music and off we went. The day just went seamlessly. The cheesy get to know you games I usually dislike provided a time to just laugh and talk - really just appreciate the students and learn about them. It has been about building a community built on mutual respect, collaboration and honesty.

I've started reading a book to my students entitled 'Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing' by Judy Blume. My students already won't let me put it down. Peter and Fudge have captured their hearts. Though I did love my students' faces when I said I had sketchbooks for them so they could draw as I read and there were pillows to help make them more comfortable. They first looked at me like I was crazy that I was going to let them actually draw and then disbelief when I told them to get comfy and relax.  It is was interesting to peer out and see the different things that the students had chosen to draw. When given the option to choose whatever they wanted to draw, many of them still drew about what was happening in the story. I saw a few story maps and some symbols to represent the events, I saw character sketches and settings being drawn. It sometimes amazes me that when given the choice, students really do want to learn academic things, just in non-traditional ways.

Something I didn't always do the best last year was utilise timing to my benefit. I always felt like I was cramming in a bit too much into my lessons instead of just letting them be as they were without rushing. This year, I'm trying to channel the 'less can be more meaningful' mentality. But what I've loved more is what I do with those extra 2-3 minutes here or there now. I have a box of brain teasers, math problems, comparisons and word puzzles. I love stumping the little minds until one of them gets the eureka moment and explains it to the rest of them. We've been doing a few math warm-up type activities for just a minute or two to get their brains thinking and answering each others inquiry questions from our parking lot. Maybe I'm just feeling more relaxed and comfortable in my role as a teacher, maybe it's a different class but I am loving the physical and mental calmness I have when I am teaching now that I've just 'am' the teacher rather trying to 'be' the teacher.

One of my favourite things I did was a simple digital scavenger hunt. I gave students a list of clues they had to interpret and a list of people to identify, an iPod, a pencil and off they went. Some might say it was risky to let an entire class run wild (though we did all agree to a walking rule) around the school on only the third day in with technology in hand. But the students were so respectful, they came up with their rules of agreement for the activity and were open to the few extras I had to add in. And they loved it! The best was having them come back with the smiles on their faces feeling accomplished. Then came the challenge of part two - continue to take pictures based on a day in the life of a Year 5 student until the rest of the teams came back. I almost think this part was more successful than the first part. The kids had so much fun being silly creating freeze frames of what they thought Year 5 was to be ( an interesting perspective in and of itself.)

Once the students were back, we had an interesting discussion about how people perceived the clues in different ways and that we all have a different perspective on how things are or should be. The slideshow of the pictures made the students giggle and have become the perfect addition to my new class site.

An unexpected twist to my day was when a few of my students became curious of my smaller than normal door that led outside at the opposite end of the room. When I asked what they thought was out there, we got a range of answers but a little man seemed to be the one I decided to go with. And so, there I sat creating this elaborate background story about how I had met the little man once and only once before. My students decided to write him a letter asking the many questions they had. It was even better when they found his 'note' the following day after a few minutes of being in class. This is how Master Charles was born. I'm thinking Master Charles' letters might come in an ongoing manner. He has a lot of potential. Though I really didn't think they'd latch on to the idea of the story from the start. Now I just have to make this continue in a real way for them.

We've made this class ours - from the essential agreements, to adding our faces to the walls, building our positive post, attitude slogan posters and much more. No longer is it a room I was preparing for the students but a play we will now call home for the next 37 weeks of school. 

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