Teaching

VIP Students

I often find that the most useful and engaging activities in my classroom are also the most simple!

A few days ago, I saw a great idea on Instagram from Brittney Briggs aka Miss5th. She does an end of the year countdown with balloons. Each student’s name is inside a balloon, and the day that the balloon is popped, that student is the VIP. I absolutely LOVED this idea (as with all of her ideas!! – go check her out!), and I hinted at it last Thursday when talking to my students. Of course, as all my inspirations and fun ideas do, it got railroaded by the 75 other things I was trying to do. Then, Friday rolls around and I still don’t have balloons. No problem – I just tell my students we’re starting fresh on Monday with our VIP student countdown. Monday morning rolls around and…you guessed it, I frantically realize right before my students arrive that I STILL don’t have balloons! As much as I love doing fun ideas like this, it can also be overwhelming and lead to disappointment when it doesn’t turn out as beautifully as what I envisioned. But never fear – I am the queen of backup plans and making boring things seem fun. 🙂

I had an extra bag of about 10 Tootsie Pops and I had some white labels. Five minutes later, I had student names wrapped around the Tootsie Pop sticks. Of course, with only 10 pops, I had to write “Buy more lollipops!” on my shopping list and then I had to hide the list of names that weren’t on lollipops yet. (Don’t worry – I stopped after school today and got the rest of the lollipops!) Delicately dropping the Tootsie Pops into the beautifully created hand-woven basket that I made just for this occasion (okay fine, I dropped them unceremoniously into a brown paper lunch bag that I haphazardly wrote “Summer Countdown! on), I was ready for the kids to get back from specials and for the first VIP student to be drawn.

When they got back to the room, I excitedly shared what would be happening. Each day, a new VIP would be chosen. This VIP would get three privileges. 1. Sitting in my inflatable hammock for the day, 2. Sitting in the wheeled teacher chair, and 3. Deciding when we do RTS time that day. You should have heard the excitement in the room! They were SO excited about the fact that they could choose ANY time of day to be our “Read to Self” time. They asked, “Wait, can we really do it in the middle of math??” I explained that I have 15 minutes set aside each day for RTS anyway, so wherever they choose to have it, we can just adjust everything accordingly. There’s nothing I need to do to prepare for this at all, and the kids are loving it!

I almost feel like I’m tricking them when they share my excitement for small things like this, but then I remember that I’m really helping them have a happier future by learning to enjoy the little things. 🙂

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School, Teaching, Thoughts

One of Those Moments

Today,

I had one of those moments.

 

One of those moments I’ve had only a handful of times,

since the beginning of last year,

since the start of my career,

since becoming a teacher,

since fulfilling my childhood dream.

 

During math class, as my students took their Unit 3 Test, and I sat at my desk in the back grading one of the first papers to be handed in, someone tapped his pencil on a desk.

Tap, tap, tap.

Pause.

Tap, tap, tap.

Pause. I waited to see if the student would stop on his own and our “electric” silence would return to the room.

Pause.

Taptaptaptap.

From my desk in the back, in my quiet, amiable, magical teacher voice – “Whoever is tapping, make sure you’re working so that everyone can concentrate on their own test.” The absentminded tapping had stopped the second my voice entered the space. And as my words floated out into the room, that feeling came to me. The one that makes a smile break out over my face and fills my stomach with that fluttery realization.

These are my kids. This is my classroom. This is real life!

For so long, I dreamed, planned, and worked toward this result. It was never something unattainable and unreachable, never something that I had to be encouraged to not give up on, nothing that I thought might not come true. But how many times had I imagined my OWN classroom, written about my OWN classroom, talked about my OWN classroom.

I remember student teaching and the magic of being a student teacher. I am so lucky to have loved all of my mentor teachers and to have had such supportive placements. Even so, I was still a shy student teacher, who didn’t really have her place in these other classrooms. Even becoming as confident as I did in those rooms and in my roles there, they were never my classrooms.

Now, as I sit at my desk and plan lessons, walk around the room and listen to groups reading, get pulled suddenly into a hug as a student passes by, it sometimes hits me. This is mine! These are the little humans that I get to spend my days with. The people that I have the chance to shape, mold, teach, and learn from.

I stand at the front of the room each day, 22 smiling faces eager to hear what I have to say, eager to share in more experiences together, eager to have their minds opened to new ideas. Most days, it’s my job. It’s what I do, and I never lose sight of the fact that I love it.

But some days,

it’s more than just a sure feeling that I’m doing the right thing,

more than the realization that I am so lucky to be doing what I love,

more than the smiles on their faces.

 

Some days,

I have one of those moments.

 

 

 

Teaching

Teacher Stress!

I’m spending a few hours of my Sunday getting some lessons and materials together for the next few weeks. I’ve been really proud of my planning lately – having a big overview is helping me to more quickly and easily piece together the day-to-day lessons without letting it take over EVERY second of my life like it was for the first half of the school year! It’s not perfect yet, but it’s definitely better!

Now that I have a second to metaphorically step back in my brain and take stock of the year and what is to come – I’m getting really worried about end-of-year testing!! At this point, I KNOW I’m teaching great and important lessons, and I’m taking the time to work with individual students on skills that each one needs more practice with, but I know that when it comes down to it – it’s out of my control!

We took a beginning of the year benchmark test in September and then a mid-year benchmark test in December. While these scores don’t impact my students’ grades, and are technically for my own knowledge (which I do appreciate and have used so much!), I wanted the students to interact with them in some way. They spent a few periods taking these tests and they were really curious about their grades, anyway. If I hadn’t done my special education master’s degree, I might not have pursued this idea as much, but after all of my learning about data and the impact it can have on students, I knew I wanted my students to graph their own data at some point this year. This was the perfect opportunity. So, we spent a period graphing their scores and setting goals. They were very receptive to this and many were excited to see that by getting just a few more questions right, they would have achieved a passing score. They also commented how this lesson seemed more like math than reading, but I always love a good cross-curriculur merging so that was great with me. 🙂

Since then, we have been focusing on our nonfiction skills – as this was the area where almost everyone got their lowest scores. I feel like we are making great progress and being very productive each day. BUT, when it comes down to it – the test could have some new wording, a confusing question, confusing answer choices, or an application of a skill that students haven’t seen (and yes, it would be great if all students understood enough to apply the skill in any context, but this just isn’t going to be the case for everyone). A student could feel sick, have a headache, be distracted by noise in the room. Maybe they just aren’t feeling it that day and when they get to a question where the answer doesn’t immediately pop out at them – they just pick C and move on! As much teaching as I do (and learning that they do!!!) each day, there’s NO guarantee that this test, or any test, will show that.

In my classroom, I’m really trying to balance the line between encouraging them to try their absolute best on these tests, and not giving them crazy anxiety!! Most of my students take a LONG time to fully analyze and answer questions when they’re giving their full effort. I appreciate them trying so hard and wanting to improve and show their learning, but I start to feel bad when they’re on their third day straight of testing.

It is a great feeling to know that I’m doing everything I think I can be doing to encourage success and learning in my kids. I learn a lot every day and I’m sure I’ll keep adding new tips and tricks every day for as long as I teach – but I also know that I’m teaching to the absolute best of my ability right now and there’s definitely some relaxation to be found there. The teacher-anxiety comes when I think about my end-of-year meeting with my administration and my students receiving their 5th grade test scores. I wish I was confident that my students’ progress would actually be highlighted through their results.

I just wish there was a way to measure success more accurately! That’s the understatement of the century though, as many people have discussed this same thought in much more eloquent ways.

All I can do for now though, is to be content with everything I’m doing and believe in the difference I’m making. With that knowledge, I can be sure that my students will go forward in life having learned important skills that they will take with them always. Their test scores, and even my teacher rating, have nothing on that.