Tuesday, 6 December 2011

They can READ!

Well...a little!

Monday was a pretty exciting day for me, as a few of the kids started to put together letters and associate their sounds into words. We have learned five letters so far: m, a, s, n and t. A strange order yes, but the program we are using introduces them in this way, plus, we can spell short words after learning very few letter sounds.

One little girl just turned 5 about a month ago, and she was the first to 'read' the word "mat" by sounding out the letter sounds. A few of the other kids caught on, and most of them were pretty excited to know and see what other words looked like. I wasn't expecting to see anything like this until closer to the spring- these parents must be working hard with their little ones!

Parent-teacher interviews went well, and I learned a bit more about the kids and their family dynamics with each conversation. Again and again I'm reminded at how important communication is between kids, parents, teachers, assistants and anyone else involved. I'm glad that I had enough communication with the parents that there were no surprises on the students report cards, and that parents didn't have big concerns but came anyways to talk about their child for 15 mins. (I was completely booked from 3:15-7:30!)

Today I hosted my first meetings with parents, social workers, coordinators, behaviour consultants, occupational therapists and speech and language pathologists to talk about certain kids in my class. They went well, thank goodness!

When I signed up for teaching I didn't realize that I would also have to become proficient in talking to, understanding and putting into place strategies from doctors, therapists, psychologists, lawyers and counsellors, never-mind being responsible for researching various medications, disorders and laws. I was reminded today that even having a 'communication book' between the classroom and home environments should remain mostly positive, as these documents can be sub-poena'd in a court of law.
As long as the child stays central to these suggestions, then that's what matters. Often it doesn't seem that way.

After my meetings today I got to sub in Grade 2 and do some art for the afternoon. What a good way to end the day!

Before I forget to mention, my evaluation by the superintendent went well (even though I had to change my lesson plan on the fly) and so did the 'induction' night put on by the region to welcome new teachers to the profession. I'm glad that it didn't include having to stand up and recite the oath from memory (as many seasoned teachers tried to make me believe the day before)! We did however, have to stand as a group and reply, "I will," to each statement. I couldn't help thinking about the story of Pat's Dad, who was a very loved teacher and principal, standing up in front of the administration and important people in his region to lead an induction ceremony, and starting to laugh so hard that they almost had to carry him out as he was picturing these new teachers as part of a mass wedding, complete with the trading of vows.

Next week is our last week before Christmas holidays, so we have been practicing our "Porcupine in a Pine Tree" song, and getting ready for our Christmas brunch for the parents and grandparents. On Monday we will be cooking for most of the day (thank goodness for parents who are so willing to give their time and ideas!) and then we will have our Christmas program on that night. Wednesday will be our Christmas brunch, and Friday we will join the rest of the elementary students on a trip to see a movie, then back to the school for pizza and a short assembly. I expect the kids (and me too) will be excited and bouncing off the walls all week!

A few funny stories to finish up:

Last Wednesday we had a massive snowstorm, and as 80% of our school population are bus students, no one came to school. This can be pretty confusing to Kindergarten kids, as we have school every second day as it is, and when our middle day (the kids know Wednesday as our 'sandwich' day, poor things) is taken away, it gets even harder to explain! One little guy came in on Friday, breathlessly saying, "um, I'm sorry I was late!"

We replied saying, "It's ok, you weren't actually late. The buses didn't come on Wednesday because of the snow storm, so there were no kids at the school, only adults!"

He recovered quite quickly from that surprise and asked, "Is it a new month?"

I was pretty excited that he would have figured this out, and said, "Yes it is! Do you know which month it is?"

"Is it December?"

"Yes! Good for you for remembering!"

At this point, his jaw literally dropped (just like the cartoons where it hits the floor with a *smack*), and he took his hand and manually lifted his jaw back up to close his mouth.
Some kids would make incredible cartoon characters.

- I got quite the shock during our morning playing of O'Canada on Friday, as one little boy (whose snow-pants were still half on at this point) who was standing in front of me, facing the flag, slowly turned around and very deliberately, winked at me. I almost had to leave the classroom I was laughing so hard- a great example for the new assistant who had started only 5 minutes before!

- One last lesson for me that I'm sure I'll learn over and over throughout the years: pre-screen everything! The kids were working well on an activity and I asked them if they would like some Christmas music. They indicated that they would love this, so I went to YouTube as I didn't have any Christmas cd's at that point. I found an 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' song, turned it on and went across the classroom to speak to one of the assistants. The kids continued to work, dancing and singing as they went. The song ended, but a good five seconds afterwards, I found out that another song was randomly tacked on to the end of a kids' Alvin and the Chipmunks song- the Black Eyed Peas, 'My Humps.'

Oops! I made it across the room as quickly as possible while trying to make it look like nothing was going on. One little girl told me, "Oh! That's a cool dude song!"
If that's the only trouble I caused then thank goodness!

I think that's the end of my ramblings for the week, thanks for reading!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Halloween, Remembrance Day and Christmas prep- (Oh! And report cards and IPPs...)

I was hoping that journalling/blogging would become a weekly habit for me (some people are so good at it!) and I think that writing is one of the greatest things to have as people get older- it's nice to look back on too!

Last time I wrote was the end of October, just before Halloween and our 'Literary Character Day.' At the last minute I had to come up with an activity to do with groups of kids K-5. Luckily the school has a few old gym mats, so my classroom assistants helped me haul them into the classroom and pad the floor. (I think this would be a brilliant classroom set-up by the way...what kid wouldn't love mats covering the entire floor of the room? The only downside would be mopping them down every day...

I decided to teach the kids 'ninja rolls' (they don't realize they're learning a useful skill- some of those playgrounds are really high up and kids often over-estimate how high they can go, whether they can hang on, and forget to think how they're going to get down- plus, everybody falls!) It was a lot of fun to teach the kids, and to see how that changed their play at recess for the next few days. I had kids jumping down in front of me and rolling during supervision, showing me their ninja skills... the other teachers weren't entirely thrilled with these new skills...

Remembrance Day didn't fall on a Kindergarten day this year, though many of the parents did bring their little ones along to the service. Since I was subbing in grade 6 in the afternoon, I was able to go too. The school does a really great job of Remembrance Day, with elementary and high-school choirs and the town mayor and community members joining. Remembrance Day always makes me think hard and I seem to get more emotional about it every year. Coming from a military family, I really appreciate what people have given up for our country, and continue to give. Remembrance Day seems to bring memories back of missing Dad when he was away during the Persian Gulf War, and then being very confused at crying because I was so happy to see him again. I can only imagine the memories of those who have actually been in service. Thank you to all!

Since Remembrance Day is now over and Christmas is fast-approaching (it's an early holiday start this year!) it's time to get on lesson plans and craft ideas. I wasn't aware that my kids would have to take part in our Christmas concert, so I've been scrambling to find a new idea that the little guys can handle. There's a great book called, "A Porcupine in a Pine Tree," by Helaine Becker that reads as a Canadian version of the 12 Days of Christmas (think caribou, puffins, squirrels curling, stanley cups and beaver-tails) that I'm going to try to make into a song/skit. Luckily for me, Kindergarten kids are cute whatever they're doing, so it can't turn out too badly!

I'm hoping to put together a few fun things for Christmas, so I've got a lot of planning to do...more on that later!

One of the biggest challenges so far this year (that has somehow made it to the end of my post) has been putting together report cards and preparing for the upcoming parent/teacher conferences. It was tough to find and put together meaningful assessments for Kindergarten kids, mostly because I'm still learning the tools and strategies to do a good job of it. Luckily my report cards have been approved (they have to go through administration first) and I've only got minor things to fix! 

Today we had a day of work with other Early Childhood teachers in the region, which was a huge benefit to me. Really, I need all the help I can get! We'll see if I can start implementing new strategies by next week- just in time for my evaluation by the superintendent...

Here are a few funny moments from the past week(s):

- One little guy in our class loves to laugh, and does so any chance he gets (and loudly!) He is also one of my ESL kids. One day he was laughing and 'encouraging' another child's actions which were...undesirable at that point. 

I explained to him that although we love to laugh and have fun in Kindergarten, it's not always a good idea to laugh at bad behaviour. At the end I said, "does that make sense?"

He replied with a very solemn face saying, "Yes! A whole lot of dollars!"

I couldn't stop laughing. What a clever thing to say, especially for a non-native English speaker. I'm quite sure he didn't see what was funny about his comment, but in some way, he must have made the connection between 'dollars' and 'cents.'

- Kindergarten kids have been notorious about putting on their mittens before other outerwear, and by the time they get everything on, it's time to come in from recess again! So we did an activity (using a very good-humoured little guy, who happens to be one of the worst offenders of our outerwear challenges) in which he was our 'model' for putting on pieces of clothing in the right order. We drew each piece on the white board, and crossed them out as the kids chose them and the little guy put them on one at a time. Well, the poor fella must have put his boots and mittens on and had to take them off again at least three times, but we eventually got it right! (A big curricular outcome for Kindergarten kids is 'sequencing' and the more often I can incorporate movement and actual examples into lessons, the better!)

I think it's time for me to sign off now, I'll be updating again soon!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Subbing and Halloween


It has been a busy few weeks, and since my kids come to school every second day, every day feels like Monday with them. 

You know that Monday feeling, where you don't want to get up, and everything seems harder than it should? That's what I'm trying to fight these days, though after a frustrating day, you can always pick out a few good points, and then remember that after all, these little guys are only 5. Or 4 (there are quite a few late birthdays in my class).

There have been some great moments in the last week or two, from starting a new literacy program with the kids that didn't totally bomb, to them asking every day when they can do centers. This one is big because I decided to try something a little different from most Kindergarten programs in that 'centers' don't mean 'free play' or that the kids always choose which one they'd like to go to. 

I have been creating centers that include all of the Kindergarten curriculum, and putting kids into groups of three to complete each one over a few weeks. So far they've made tangrams, been nature detectives (making patterns and sketching leaves, twigs, rocks, etc.), become architects, played Twister, Operation, fished for magnets in the rice table, made puppets and puppet shows, 'written' their own stories, shared books in the secret reading tent, bowled, used the balance board, balls and bounced up and down the hallway for our active movement centers. 

As for funny moments, there have been a few. 

- One of the teaching assistants leaves us at 2:00, and one little guy figured she was leaving to go to sleep, and told her very kindly to, "sleep tight now," as she left.

- The kids think that when they go out for recess, the adults have their own recess. (Not likely in Kindergarten- I don't think I've made it down to the staff room at all this week!) The great thing is though, that they think we have our own playground, and that we spend our recesses playing on swings and their all time favorite, the slides! I wish!

-There have been some moments that totally throw me off and I often find myself laughing at stories that, if coming from an adult, would make my actions totally inappropriate. Thank goodness for 5-year olds! 

At lunch yesterday, one of the boys was telling me a story that I wasn't quite catching, so I asked him to slow down, then swallow the half of a sandwich he somehow had crammed in his mouth, and tell me again. 
He started with, "Do you know Buhbal?"
I had no idea what he was saying, so asked him to repeat it again.

"Do you know Butterball? The dog?"

"Oh! Now I understand. No, I don't know Butterball." (What a great name for a dog! Of course by this time I'm starting to laugh, because he had a dog named Butterball).

He continues his story with a huge grin on his face that is somewhat covered by leftover sandwich. 

"Well, Butterball, he ate rat poisoning and now he ded."

(That's exactly how he said 'dead', and if you've ever read the comic 'Pearls Before Swine,' that might ring a bell- right Pauline?)

That shocked me a little bit, but he was just saying it as a matter-of-fact statement, and wasn't bothered by it in the least. Poor Butterball, and thank goodness for farm kids!

- This bunch is a very loud group, so if I ever manage to get them all quiet at the same time it's an achievement. The other day, one of these moments occurred, everyone was silent and ready for what was happening next- it was lovely! 

Then, from the middle of the silence one little guy says very clearly,
"Sorry Bugs Bunny!"

Nothing funny about that, but the magic had ended. First one kid started to laugh and repeat it, then another and another, until there were 23 kids laughing hysterically and saying, "Sorry Bugs Bunny! Sorry Bugs Bunny!"

THEN it was a little funny. Geez.

- Last week I was lucky enough to substitute in high school (Gr. 9-12 Bio, Physics, Science, Phys. Ed. and a video options class). Those kids are HUGE! And dirty. Thank goodness high school students seem to think that teachers are all half deaf and don't understand dirty jokes, because I narrowly avoided a few pretty awkward situations. I'm the youngest teacher in the school, and (some days) look it.

I ended up having extra kids in some of my classes (I don't know their names yet, and they would eventually get pulled out by their teacher, so no harm done...) 

Grade 9's are very funny. They're just at the point of being interested in the opposite sex, and spend their entire class annoying them if possible. On the other hand, they still have some kind of capacity to want to please you, so they sometimes seem sweet. In the video options class, students were to come up with a script for their videos, then share with the rest of the class. One boy was blushing the whole time, and kept very awkwardly mentioning parkour, and how parkour was going to be included in their story about Rapunzel. (Very random I know!) At this point I was wondering what was going on, because the poor kid was beet red and kept looking for a reaction from me. 

Side note: In Calgary I was lucky to work with and help train some of the people who ended up opening up the first parkour and alternative fitness gym in that area, and so couldn't figure out if this student had somehow found information on me in relation to that, or what...

At the end of class he came up to me again, and said, "Is it possible...that...at some point...maybe...sometime...you...knew...something about parkour? (It took him a good minute to get his question out, and it was a little too entertaining to help him out, poor kid.) 

It turns out that their teacher had mentioned that I used to do gymnastics and had offered to help teach any gymnastics/parkour/alternative parts of the Phys. Ed. curriculum if needed. Mystery solved! 

- I also subbed in a Grade 4 classroom last week and found it much more comfortable than high school, though I think I still prefer the little ones. It was fun to joke around a little more in Grade 4 though, and have kids understand sarcasm and facial clues to get their answer. That doesn't happen in Kindergarten yet!

Next week is Halloween, and this can be a celebrated event or not in elementary schools. I live in a fairly religious area, and many people don't celebrate Halloween, while many others do. To avoid trouble in the school, the Elementary end has a theme day. This year, our theme is 'Favorite Literary Character'. Kids are in mixed grade groups and visit all the different classrooms and do a short activity in each. I was planning on dressing as something easy to put together, like a cowgirl (so I don't have to buy anything) and having a cookie decorating activity. Unfortunately, another teacher told me yesterday that another teacher is going to be Mrs. Claus and is already planning a cookie decorating activity.

I guess my old gymnastics track suits will come out for another year! Now I'm trying to find a book that includes gymnasts in it, and track down enough mats to do a safe activity in my small room...

More on that later, thanks for reading!


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Life of a small town, first year Kindergarten teacher!


  My name is Katie, and I am a first year teacher living in a tiny town. I was one of the lucky few people from my grad class to have found a teaching job it seems, so I really do appreciate my half-time position. I am currently teaching (full day) Kindergarten and subbing on my days off, and am learning much more than the kids at this point I'm sure! 

  A few friends have told me that I should consider starting a blog, and I've heard more than one teacher say, "I should write all of these things down and write a book one day," so I figured I should try this out and see how I do throughout the year. Plus, I really need some practice writing, as I will never make it as a mathematician or scientist...

  My classroom is a busy (and unfortunately still a little too loud for my liking) place of 23 kids- including two three year olds who come in for half days. We have just finished our 15th day of class and quite honestly, a good part of those 15 days have been lessons in hand-washing, taking turns and bathroom runs! My bunch of monkeys includes a great mix of backgrounds, cultures and languages, and many funny stories have occurred as a result. 

Here are a few highlights of our year so far:

- The one little german boy (who must be growing) took a massive spill into the lockers one day, then stood up, tears streaming down, and in the voice of the little pigs from Shrek says, "that was a good one, ja?"

- Another little guy with an enormous amount of energy whose little face folds in half when he smiles (his dimples are that big) JUMPED out of the bathroom one day and says, "I have good news... and bad news!"
I ask him for the good news first...
"I WASHED my hands!"
"And the bad news?"

- This little guy does have an end to his energy, but no end to the volume in his voice. One day he had reached the end of his rope and as we were trying to get him ready for the bus, refused to put on his own shoes. 
  So I did what any kind, caring adult would do and left him in the boot room for a few minutes to see what he would do. As I peeked around the corner, I see him laying flat out across the walkway, one shoe in each hand yelling, "SHOOOOOOOOOEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSS!"
  Well then I was no good to help as I was laughing too hard. Poor thing! He did eventually get his shoes on, and didn't miss the bus (I'm not that mean!)

- One day I decided to let the whole class walk to the library by themselves to see how they would do. They were pretty quiet, didn't get lost and eventually made it all in one piece, so I thought I would get them to try it back to our classroom as well. The librarian had read a story about a turkey, so I told the kids that they could pretend to be very quiet turkeys walking back to our classroom. Well, if those 5-year olds didn't take off running down the hallway, arms flapping and squawking right past the office where the principal, vice principal and behavioural specialist were standing... oops!

One last one!

- On my first day, I inadvertently responded, "oh my gosh!" to a story one of the kids was telling me. A little girl quite seriously told me that I shouldn't say that- it was bad. Well what did I do but say it again three seconds later because I was so flustered by being told by a 5-year old!
 I did catch her later on that day calling a boy, "sexy pants," so now we understand each other a little better!

  So far there have been quite a few ups and downs, but it is true that the little things can save the day. There are a few students just learning English, and when they get excited to share their new words and sayings, it feels like they're learning something after all!

That's where I'll leave it for today. 
  I've got lots of prep work to do after spending the morning observing another Kindergarten room in a town nearby, and I'd like to get started on a bulletin board-story about Curious George and Clementine (our classroom sock monkeys- thanks Pat!) and possibly begin writing a story about a hero...

More on that another time,
Thanks for reading!