Saturday, October 30, 2010

Getting settled

These first two months of school have flown by. I can't believe I am already preparing report cards and scheduling parent-teacher conferences. I am finally just starting to feel adjusted to my new environment and I think my colleagues and administrators have also adjusted to me. For the first month and a half, I felt like I was walking on eggshells, especially with administration. I was trying to get a feel for the culture of the school and to learn how they do things. Although the actual curriculum is very similar, structures and procedures are much different.

At my new school, I was given my schedule for the day by my principal, told when to teach what. I had never been given a schedule by anyone before, other than prep periods. It was one of the freedoms that I loved about being a teacher, deciding the flow of the day. After some grade level meetings with our AP, I asked him about changing the schedule, and he sort of dodged the subject saying that teachers really need to stick with the schedule so that if anyone comes in, they can anticipate what they will be seeing. He said maybe I could swap a couple of subjects, but I would need to give both administrators copies.

I also had to adjust to the idea of being supported by administration and working around competent people that I can rely on. I think the administrators were unsure about me for the first few weeks. They thought I was very serious and weren't really sure how I was with the children. The AP even gave me a book on classroom management, because he didn't like a technique he saw me using (during transitions between subjects while I'm pulling down charts or whatever, I have a child sit in my chair and say names of 2 classmates who are ready and then pass the baton to another child. It helps the kids get to know each other's names and gets them ready for me, but I can see how it's not for everyone... maybe kids feel singled out). Anyway, he didn't think it meshed with the philosophy of the school. Again, I felt insecure about this new place. I had always been praised beyond belief for my management at my old school, but then again, my old administrators didn't care about the emotional well-being of the children there, they just wanted to see that the kids were under control.

Another time, the Assistant Principal came in during reading workshop. I had finished the mini lesson on book handling (this was the 2nd week of school), and the children were reading at their tables from mixed bins. We hadn't established the reading partnerships yet as per the curriculum I was handed. While the students were reading, a school aide was supposed to be overseeing them while I did a DRA assessment on a child. Apparently, some children were off task which I didn't respond to because I had the aide and the AP in the room at the time and I was trying to do a DRA, which we have to get done. Anyway, the AP did not like that the students were not in partnerships and questioned whether or not I understood the structure of reading workshop. I explained that we were going to establish partnerships later that week, but I wanted to get a feel for the children's reading habits and teach the lessons on book handling that were in the curriculum to get the children used to the structure of the mini-lesson/independent reading. He wasn't convinced. All I could think was, "just wait, you'll see," but I realized that since he didn't know me, his concerns were valid based on what he saw.

A couple of weeks ago, my principal came in and did an informal observation. He came in during a reading mini-lesson. It wasn't my best lesson, but it wasn't my worst either. I was prepared to hear that I was doing it all wrong when he came back that afternoon with feedback. He said he was surprised and relieved that I was so animated with the kids and he thought the classroom environment looked great and that the kids were focused and respectful of each other and of me. After that observation, I think I won their trust. I don't feel so scrutinized anymore and I have even been complemented on the bulletin board I put up with my children's first writing publication.

I guess I'm feeling relieved and a little bit off the hook. I was feeling so overly scrutinized it was driving me a little bit crazy. I was afraid to deviate from the schedule or do different things with the students. Now things feel a little bit more relaxed. Even though I didn't have permission, I deviated from the schedule yesterday. The students did craft centers during literacy center time. They made pumpkin necklaces and leaf rubbings for our fall festival. We carved a pumpkin and raffled it off to a student. We had a great time with our "Five little pumpkins" shared reading poem. The kids are getting into it too... but that's for another post.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


These first few months of school have been great. I love my new school, I love my students, and I love my colleagues and administrators. At my new school, administrators regularly visit the classrooms and give teachers feedback on their practice. As much as I like to think I'm open to this, it was hard to adjust to administrators who actually care and actually know something about education and pedagogy. At first, I felt criticized by their feedback, but after awhile I realized that they weren't really criticizing me, they were trying to help me to improve and that's precisely why I switched schools, to continue growing and learning as an educator.

Another big adjustment for me has been the accountability and data collection. At my old school we talked about our "data" constantly and had to collect data in every subject area on every child, but we filed this data in a binder that went in our "data center" and was never reviewed by administration. At my new school teachers have to email their data spread sheets to administrators. At first, I though the administration was asking me to email it to them so they could scrutinize me, but then I got the letters generated by the administration to the parents with their children's scores and pointers for how they could help at home and I realized that it wasn't about criticizing the teacher, the data is actually used to help children. It doesn't disappear into "Data Center" oblivion, but actually gets used. What a concept!

Other than that, I have settled into my first grade zone once again. Different school, different kids, but it's basically the same. I'm fortunate the curriculum is similar (except for math), so it really hasn't been hard to adjust in that way. My students are connecting with each other and with me and we have a nice classroom atmosphere going where everyone in encouraged to learn. We went on a field trip to the zoo on Friday and had a great time together. I have so many photos of my students with their arms around each other smiling in front of sea lions and bears. We did our usual shared writing about the trip. The kids generated the best telling of the story in all my years of teaching. I was really surprised. Most of my students are ELLs once again, so I didn't expect such rich vocabulary to come out. They said things like "the path in the aviary was narrow." Whoa! This year, when I type it out, I will actually be able to project it onto the Smartboard for my students to edit and revise.

It makes me really happy that I am able to create this positive school world with my students as I did at my old school except this time it's not isolated to just my classroom, the whole school is in on it. It's encouraging to say the least.