Saturday, September 18, 2010

The ones that stayed behind and my new outlook

I went to happy hour with some my former colleagues from my old school. It was great to hear about the students and how everyone was doing. I realized as we were all reminiscing and sharing about the school that I am in a completely different world at my new school. I felt bad sharing when they asked me how things are because it's just not fair. They received the news shortly after school started that the principal was leaving. That makes 3 administrators in 4 years (not counting the string of APs who have come and gone). They weren't happy or sad about it because, while they were dissatisfied with the principal, we all were, they don't know what to expect. My new school is in a district where principals have historically retired from their positions after many years of service. One less thing to worry about.

My first grade colleagues at my old school shared with me that they are dealing with class sizes of 30+ with rosters still not finalized. My roster was finalized in early August and almost everyone showed up on the first day. I have not even had a child arrive late yet. They began sharing about the behavior of children, peeing on purpose all over the rug to spite the teacher, choking other students during recess, cursing out adults, etc. At my new school, I have the best behaved class of my entire career. I was setting up the play centers and realized we didn't have enough blocks for the 8 children who had chosen that center on Friday (I had planned to have 2 separate block areas). They all wanted to play together so I allowed them to just to see what would happen. They played so nicely together, sharing, talking, and interacting. They even cleaned up as a team. I also haven't received a single complaint from my VERY capable and loving school aide.

I have this feeling that this blog might take on a new tone this year. I have always wanted to do research in my classroom and have engaged mostly informally in conducting research over the years. This year, I feel like this huge weight has been lifted and I can actually focus on my instruction. My first goal is to assess my students for their language levels. Since I am teaching in a sheltered immersion ESL class this year I want to find out the levels of all my students, those classified as ELLs and those who have passed the LAB-R. From there, I want to make goals for them (both language and academic), and work on creating a model of intervention and enrichment in my class with a focus on language. I'm so excited!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

This changes everything

These past few weeks have been like a dream for me. I'm working at a school where children are at the center of all decisions, where administrators are more than just competent, they are talented, hard-working, and dedicated. This is the first year that I haven't had to buy supplies for my classroom (I still bought a few, but the point is I didn't have to). I didn't even know that New York City schools even had money for supplies, but apparently they do if your administration knows how or cares to properly allocate funds.

My classroom set-up went smoothly and I was ready when the children arrived yesterday. I had no last minute roster additions, no confusion, nothing. None of my students even arrived late. Everyone was on time and ready to be back at school. Some of the students were a bit spacey as is expected after a 2 month hiatus from school, but they knew the rules and routines. They all used the non-verbal cues for bathroom, water, and ideas they had learned in Kindergarten and understood the concept of a "thinking chair" (non-punitive time out). All transitions and procedures went smoothly. Dismissal was a dream with all parents smiling and shaking my hand. After day one I didn't feel any stress at all, just a sense of wanting to know the children more and wanting to reach the ones who struggle with academics.

It was a strange feeling coming from my last school where everything was an uphill battle and I felt courageous for being there and for protecting my students from the evils of "the system." I found myself missing the chaos of the rosters and the preps and the copy machine that never worked. I missed the smell of the dirty staircase that never even got cleaned over the summer, the heat and the sweat, the mean secretaries who scowled and registered children for the wrong grade and with their names misspelled. I missed the flustered administrators who alternated roaming the building putting out fires and locking themselves in their offices to escape their own incompetence. I missed the noise from the inside yard at lunch with decibel levels high enough to damage even an adult's ear drum. I missed the chaos of dismissal. I missed the grittiness of the whole experience.

This is what I wanted, a drastic change, but somehow it doesn't feel like my own yet. It feels like I'm working at a temporary cushy job or something, but I'm not. I'm still a New York City public school teacher with 27 first graders on my roster.

I called one of my former colleagues to talk about my old school and to ask about her day. When I told her I missed it, she said, "well you'll get over that really quickly when I tell you what happened today..." and she was right. The stuff she was telling me was what was killing me inside, ripping me apart, challenging my moral character. I do not even feel like I can divulge the things that are apparently still going on at that school but I can tell you it is criminal and disgusting and I just couldn't fight the battle anymore. She told me that the class I would have had was downright out of control, like running out of the classroom and screaming and playing around in the stairs. I think my administrators thought it was easy for me because I had things under control, but it was so hard. They thought I was expendable. Maybe I wasn't. It wasn't just me, there were a lot of people who dedicated their lives and themselves to those children, to that school, and 9 of us left not because we didn't care, but because we just couldn't do it anymore. I left some of the best teachers I will ever have the privilege to work with. I am so thankful for everything they taught me and for the children of that school. Maybe that's what I really miss.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Setting up the new classroom

Where to start? Well, this week I went to my new school to set up the classroom and I can say hands down that this was the best year ever for this process. I have made so many changes in my life simply by changing schools and there are so many reasons why I feel thankful every time I go to my new school.

First off, no more subway. I was schlepping bag after heavy bag on the subway for years. All of those materials I had bought at Staples during my big shop had to make their way to a different borough on 2 different trains. Now, I finally broke down and bought a used car. I had wanted one for awhile, but never thought it was practical since it would have been a 45 minute ride and $11 in tolls per day plus $10 for a lot if I couldn't find designated parking at my old school. My new school is only 15 minutes away from my home and involves no tolls!!!! While there is no designated parking, there is plenty of street parking and a $5/day lot just in case.

Secondly, no more stairs. My old school did not have an elevator or dumbwaiter of any sort so everything had to be carried up the stairs (the building was 5 stories). Even though my classroom was on the 2nd floor, it was added stress thinking about the stairs or making multiple trips for things.

Thirdly, no more sweat. I can remember setting up at my old school dripping sweat and needing water desperately (and there was no drinkable water in the building). It was just hot and dusty and sweaty and disgusting for the first month of school. My new school has central air. I actually needed a sweater the other day when I was setting up my classroom library.

I know the building and the commute shouldn't matter so much, but they really do! It is such a pleasure to drive to school, park, wheel my cart of stuff to the building, take the elevator up, and enter a cool, clean, classroom.

This year, I decided to go with earth tones for the bulletin boards. I had taken a class at Bank Street last year and admired how their classrooms were so simple. No clutter, not too flashy or bright. I papered my boards with plain brown butcher block paper this year with a green "fern" border. I brought in tons of plants, including a vine that has grown to almost 15 feet over the years. The room is simple, natural, and relaxing just how I like it.