I have a morning class with 17 kids. They're fairly well-behaved and a lot of fun. Two are special needs and I've noticed a third who may need extra assistance. But they're all pretty manageable. My afternoon class has 20 kids and is a bit of a handful. There are two hearing impaired kids (one with a hearing aid and the other with a cochlear implant). It sounds so different from the high school student teaching placements. I'm supposed to gradually pick up additional responsibilities until I'm leading everything for a solid two weeks. So I'm only just beginning to pick up responsibilities. I do a lot of assisting in the classrooms and the kids all know me as one of the teachers, but until Friday, I hadn't led any class activity. On Friday I was responsible for reading the shapes and colors for a bingo game the morning class played. That was okay. They were pretty good. A couple of times I had to ask whether everyone could hear because they got a bit noisy. What I noticed, though, was that I didn't have nearly as much time to think through what I was going to say as I'd anticipated. It's funny how you can sit there observing classrooms and thoroughly think through different approaches and how you'd like to do things, and then when you're actually up in front of the class, everything just whizzes by. I'm pretty excited, though, because I'll be leading reading on Wednesday. The entire activity should take about thirty minutes. And I'll be the teacher - eek! Being a teacher in these classrooms already feels very different from my experiences teaching this summer and during college.
Last night was "Back to School Night" at The Kid's Place. I found it quite interesting to have a teacher's view of the evening and witness their preparations, their anxieties, their interactions with the parents and their reactions afterwards. The teachers hadn't been looking forward to Back to School Night at all during the week leading up to last night. They were telling me that they get horribly nervous and truly hate Back to School Night more than any other part of their jobs. I have to say that it was reassuring to be a student teacher and be spared the responsibility of addressing an entire room of parents with their questions and judgments. Although, with all of the build up that the teachers gave the occasion, I thought it went rather well.
The night lasted from 7:30-8:40p.m. I started out in a classroom with the parents of our morning students. Having met a fair number of them during parent/teacher conferences before school began, I felt pretty comfortable and could tell that my cooperating teacher was more at ease. She actually mentioned to me that she usually panics beforehand and hides in the office. I honestly found it pretty amusing that the teachers were all bent out of shape about this. I had never thought of Back to School Night as such a big deal. But for the teachers, it's the worst night of the year!
So my two cooperating teachers have very different approaches in general and this was reflected in their Back to School Night presentations as well. They had a half hour with each group of parents and went through the curriculum and what a basic school day looks like for the kids. I was very impressed with both of their presentations. The classrooms looked wonderful because they'd both done plenty of activities with the kids during the week so that the walls were covered with lots of art and writing samples. It was fun watching the parents search the walls of the rooms for their own children's work. And I had taken pictures all week with a digital camera so we could put together an Iomovie for the afternoon class parents. The parents loved it &endash; and I thought it was incredible. The kids watched it today in class and got such a kick out of seeing themselves on the computer screen J
I really liked how the night went and thought the parents were given a good overview of what to expect during the year. It was also nice for me to have an opportunity to speak with some of the parents and hear their thoughts about having their kids in kindergarten. In particular, it was really neat hearing one mom talk a bit about her son. She was very nervous that he wasn't behaving well and was nervous because she didn't know any of the other parents. It was really sweet, actually. She remarked that for the first time, her son is hopping on a bus and disappearing for a good chunk of the day and she has no idea what he does during that time until he reappears in the afternoon. Apparently the kids aren't so good at telling their parents what they've been up to at school. They tend to say "it was good" and "it was fun" and it was great to see the parents' excitement about hearing what their kids have actually been doing. The parents also had an opportunity to write their kids little notes (which we then read to them today in class) and that was fun to see. I thought it was interesting to hear what the parents' concerns were and particularly, which parents had concerns. It sheds some light on their children's behaviors.
Another observation I had was the result of overhearing some conversations that parents were having with each other. Hehehe. Apparently one of the boys comes home every day and talks about a few of his classmates. He thinks one of the girls is very cute because her cheeks are always rosie and she smiles a lot. And another girl talks about one of her male classmates a lot when she comes home from school. So their parents were all joking about how there already seem to be some school crushes. What a funny conversation!
I think that the highlight of the night for me was chatting with the teachers after all of the parents had left. They were all so pleased that the night had ended and were joking about how the following day they would have to "tub it." They explained that they'd have to "rub and dub tub it" &endash; meaning that they'd put out a tub of manipulatives and let the kids work with them while they sat back and relaxed. They felt that after such a long night, they deserved a tubbing day. Ha! I thought that was pretty interesting. Apparently last year they all went out for drinks after Back to School Night and then sent the kids to their specials, tubbed it and read a story. I feel like I'm now part of the inside loop of kindergarten teacherdom. What a neat place to be.
I feel like I have so much I've been reflecting on and I haven't had enough time to get it all down on paper. Luckily, I've had plenty of opportunities to talk about a lot of the issues that have come up and to share my favorite anecdotes. I'm using tonight to catch up on as much as I can.
Insecurities in kindergarten
Academic- I never would've expected that five year olds would worry so much about their lack of ability drawing and writing and reading. I've noticed several instances in which children ask me to draw pictures for them because they are convinced that they can't do it well by themselves. In every instance, I assure them that they can do it and insist that they try it all on their own. But I've noticed a couple of kids in particular who consistently seek assistance when they need to draw something. These are also the kids who always say they've messed up once they've started a drawing and they ask for a fresh sheet of paper. One boy does this in the afternoon on a regular basis. I just thought it was interesting when academic insecurities came up in a seminar discussion the other night because I wouldn't have expected the discussion to apply to kindergartners and it is quite applicable. My five-year-olds are constantly surprising me.
Social- At the same time, I've noticed some social insecurities amongst my students which I was anticipating. The other day, I walked our class in a line down to the auditorium for bus pick-up (it was raining, so we didn't go straight outside as usual). We all filed into the auditorium and one boy sitting with the Bus 6 kids waved me over. He was quite concerned because he had nobody to sit with on the bus and another boy had decided that he didn't really want to sit with anyone on the bus that day. The first child looked like he was going to cry, and was very upset about the prospect of being lonely. He seemed even more upset by his assumption that his friend really wanted him to feel lonely on the bus. So I talked to the first child for a bit and we decided it would be a good idea to ask his friend whether he really intended to make him feel lonely or if he was actually just looking to have a little space in his own seat. Once it had been confirmed that he really didn't intend for his friend to be lonely, we talked to another boy who agreed to sit with the child and all was well. I checked in with the boy the next day and he said he'd had a good busride, so that was nice to hear.
Today was a really neat opportunity for me. The Kid's Place was conducting PALS assessments to test all of the kindergartners' reading and literacy skills, so my cooperating teachers needed to assist with testing all day. This meant that substitutes were hired to work as my assistants and I was given full responsibility of the morning and afternoon classes for the first time! Woo hoo! I had such a great time. It was interesting to notice, though, that the kids' normal routine was somewhat thrown off. Teachers pulled students out of class for testing and dropped them back in at random times so segments of class activities were missed by certain students. For the most part, the students handled this disruption rather well. One part of the day, in particular, was a unique experience. My morning class did very well until we came in from recess at the end of the day (with only fifteen minutes left before heading to the buses). I was preparing to read them a story before they went home. As we were all seated on the carpet, several arguments between students were brought to my attention. First I overheard a student taunt a child who had returned from an assessment, "Ahhh haaa, you missed recess!" Then H started yelling at N because he called him "stupid" and the M/K tag-team proceeded to argue with N about a recent playground dispute. When I realized that at least 5 of my 17 students were in the midst of fighting, I asked everyone to sit in a small circle on the carpet so we could all talk. Initially, I wasn't quite sure how they would all react, but I had a vague plan in the back of my mind to provide them with a safe and comfortable forum for talking about their feelings. I also wanted to model how we can communicate without making each other feel bad and I wanted some of the frustration to be put to rest. So... I told the class that I had noticed that a bunch of us were feeling sad or upset about something and I wanted everyone to have a chance to share how they were feeling. I said that we would go around the circle and when a person wanted to share, there was only one rule. We had to think about the thing we were going to share and then make sure it wasn't something that would make someone else feel bad. If it was, we had to think of a better way to say it. And if we didn't want to share at that time, we could pass. So... E was seated beside me and I said he could start. Now that I think about it, I probably should have started to model an appropriate contribution. But E chose to pass initially. Then H shared that N had called him stupid and made him feel bad. N's initial reaction was to get defensive and deny the claim but as he was calling out I emphasized that it was H's turn to share. I asked H if he had any ideas about things he could have said to N to let him know that he was upset. We talked about some options. Then we brainstormed some ways N could have responded that may have made H feel better. We talked about how sometimes people do things by mistake and if they make someone feel bad by accident, it's still good to let the person know. During the discussion, taking turns and listening while another person was speaking was one of the primary skills we were working on. This was rather challenging for M, but by the end of the talk, he had improved a bunch. Oh, and there were a few contributions that really made me smile. When it was A's turn to share, he said, "I really don't like it when we fight." I thought that was a good point and so we all talked about things we could do so that we don't fight. H suggested that, "We could forgive each other." Then S added that, "We can say we're sorry." I was really proud of how thoughtful they were all being. When M finally had his turn he said that he had something he wanted to say to N. I asked him if it was something that would make N feel better or something that would make him feel worse. He said he thought better. Then he said, "I'm very sorry N for making you feel bad." N said that made him feel better so I thanked M for sharing. At this point, it was really nearing the time to line up for buses, but I could tell some kids still wanted to share. I told them that we would go around the circle one more time and anyone who hadn't had a turn to share could share if they wanted. At this point, E said he was ready to share. He said that he had been thinking about it and he had something he was going to share before but now he wanted to say it a different way. He shared that N had knocked into him with his backpack, but that now he knows that it was a mistake so it doesn't make him feel bad anymore. This was so great! We proceeded around the circle and one kid shared, "I found a crayon on the floor. Can I put it away please?" and another shared, "I'm getting a new puppy." I should've expected a few comments that were completely irrelevant to the discussion. I had to try hard not to laugh. At this point I realized that the productive part of our discussion was over, so we all lined up at the door to go home and I wondered whether I'd been messing with their minds too much. It occurred to me that I felt really good about the talk and thought it had been helpful and productive and appropriate, but it wasn't really my class so I felt the need to fully debrief my cooperating teacher when she returned from testing. My assistant teacher joked with me that she could tell I'd studied psychology and she thought it was really great how I handled the situation. She even said that she has seen teachers who have been in the classroom for years who haven't been able to deal so well with similar problems. That made me feel really good. So I was proud and satisfied and really excited that I had that special opportunity to be the teacher.
I just completed my full two weeks of student teaching. I built up to being in charge of everything after picking up more responsibilities every week. Wow, I'm exhausted. Student teaching is far more tiring, draining and overwhelming than I'd anticipated. My first day of being fully "in charge" of my classes was Monday, November 5th. November 5th was a pretty good day. It was exhausting, but everything went fairly well. I have realized, though, that timing is a huge challenge. I'm not at all used to having a regimented schedule to follow and I need more experience to learn how to gauge how long a given activity may take with a group of children. I'm also realizing how frustrated I get with the hugely structured curriculum at The Kid's Place. With a half day kindergarten, teachers have two and a half hours each day with their students. It takes 15 minutes for them to come in from the buses and to unpack and then another 15 minutes to pack up and head out to the buses at the end of the day. 2 hours remain. Then Art, Music and Gym Specials are each a half hour once a week. Science Centers are also once a week for a half hour. Now 1.5 hours remain. Then Snack is another 15 to 20 minutes and transport time from Specials is another 10 minutes. Now 1 hour left. Literacy Centers are three times a week for 45 minutes. Then if you figure in 15 minutes for attendance, flag and calendar, that's your day! On days with Specials, Science or Literacy Centers, there's no time left for Recess or any additional activities. Okay, so what this boils down to are a few chunks of time each week that are quickly filled with Math, Clue Bags for Letter of the Week, and hopefully some reading or recess. No free play time, really. Very little choice apart from centers. Very little flexibility. So frustrating! It just feels like assessment and standards are driving curricuilum which then constrains so much of what the teacher can do in her classroom. I just needed to vent... I had so many ideas for my student teaching that I'd hoped to implement in my classrooms and I had virtually no time to do all of them. All of my choice for my two weeks evaporated with preparation for the Thanksgiving Feast that we had today. Uggh. But I don't think The Kid's Place is a bad kindergarten, by any means. I'm just learning A LOT - not only what I enjoy and am impressed with, but also what frustrates me and might be dealt with in other ways that I might prefer. The Kid's Place is an interesting little world.