Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snuggle Up and Read Day

     This Friday was my favorite day of teaching thus far! We had a half day of school plus it was Snuggle Up and Read Day plus it was Valentine's Day. Special days just seem to not go well with my class thus far. I've planned fun things to do on other days, and they either end up hating it or someone ends up in tears (usually more than one person, and yes I do have upper elementary kids; maybe I'll have time to go back and share these stories later; for now, I'm just glad to be blogging again). Anyways, Friday was perfect!

     Since it was Snuggle Up and Read (part of our two-week long Read-a-Thon), I focused most of our day on reading. I knew that some of my kids thought they were too old and cool to wear their pajamas to school, but I still wanted to make this day fun with lots of reading. So what did I do? Bring a tent to school! My roommate had a tent and graciously allowed me to borrow it so that my students could read inside of it.

     At the beginning of the day, I didn't have it set up. I wanted to be sure that we were clear on rules first. It was treated as a privilege that most of my boys didn't want to lose (this helped with the no tears part). Then, my class was sent to take their Bible verse quiz and a math quick check (might as well get the boring stuff over with) while I set the tent up with help from students who were called upon (everyone wanted to help or at least watch). Our tent was huge! Everyone who walked past our room commented on it. The rest of the day, we did our version of Daily 5 with Read to Self and Read to Someone in the tent, read with our little buddies (taking turns in the tent), had a small Valentine's celebration, and finished by fitting our whole class into the tent to read Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg (the author that we are studying for Read-a-thon).

Read to Self

Read to Someone
Reading with Little Buddies

Why did Friday go better than other days? (a little reflection)
-Having a tent to read in acted as positive reinforcement of behaviors. They didn't want to lose that privilege.
-It was still in routine, even though it was special. We still did our work; we just added a fun twist to it. This worked to keep my students focused  while having fun and enjoying the day.
-I was excited, but cautious. My students responded the same way. They weren't overloaded with excitement to make them crazy, but they were still excited enough to have more fun than a typical day.

What makes some days more fun than others for you? How do you balance fun with work and behavior boundaries?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Loving, Thoughtful Responses that Make My Heart Melt

     Today as I was grading, I found several papers that just made my heart melt. I thought I'd share them so that you can enjoy them and I can remember them. The first paper is a persuasive letter that is suppose to persuade the person to give you something specific for Christmas. I did an example as a letter to my class asking for chocolate for Christmas. Here is what one sweet boy asked for (after responding to my letter by bringing me some chocolate along with another Christmas present):

Dear Lord,
     For Christmas I would like you to make this the best Christmas ever, but not only for me but for everyone. I think everyone should know the real meaning of Christmas and have a happy Christmas this year. If this were to happen, people would maybe understand you and your love for us. Your love fills us up and you have the power to fill more lives up with your love. Lord your love lets me live, that's what I most desire for your beautiful Christmas creation.

Student's Name

     Isn't that awesome? The teacher asks for chocolate, and a student asks for everyone to know God's love. I was so amazed. Another thing I loved reading were their thanksgiving/praise journals. Back in November, I had students keep a journal as part of Bible class, saying one thing they were thankful for every day that we were in school. Some students had a hard time with this. Others couldn't stop writing! I just skimmed their responses, and here were some of my favorites:

-Thank you Lord for giving me self control when my friends hurt my feelings.
-I'm thankful that I got to paint my nails.
-Thank you for helping me come to school.
-Thank you for keeping my fish alive.
-Thank you Lord for giving me one true friend.
-Thank you for being with me when I was afraid.
-Thank you for healing me during the weekend.
-Thank you for makeing me move my clip up.

I love working at a Christian school!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Because of Mr. Terupt

     I spent this afternoon consumed in the book, Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea. I originally bought this book for my classroom, but as I read it I felt that it was worth it even if I end up being the only one to read it. I found this book when I was searching for others on Amazon. It kept coming up as one of the most sold ones. After reading the description (copied in italics below), I knew that I need to read it and some of my kids did too.
     It's the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There's Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who's having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffery, who hates school. Only Mr. Terupt, their new teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn't let them get away with much... until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything - and everyone.
     In my class, I have at least one student if not multiple students that could fit into each of the bolded names above. Reading this book and seeing how these kids' lives affected them in the classroom was like watching a scene play out from my classroom. I'm willing to bet that many teachers would also relate. After all, I only have 14 students and if they can fit into these 7 kids lives, wouldn't a class full of 20 or more students fit even more so?
     This book does an excellent job showing how kids' emotions, home lives, friendships, and pasts all intertwine to make up who they are. This background is so important and can't be overlooked by teachers, who are sometimes more concerned with test scores. Impacting a child's emotional side, including friendships and relationships with their parents, can leave a much greater impact than simply teaching what they need to learn to move on to the next grade. This book was a great reminder for me as I begin our third quarter on Tuesday; it definitely has made me stop and think.
     My students come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some have lived all over the world: Canada, China, Nigeria, South Korea, and the US, just to name a few. Many only live with one parent. Some get to see the other parent; others don't. I have had students cry in class about this. They don't feel understood by their peers, yet so many peers just fail to admit to them that they feel the same way. Other parents are in the midst of a divorce. Some students feel loved, but others don't feel that way at home. Some parents push their students too hard in school; others don't even seem to care. Each precious child comes from a different background, has different opinions, and needs to grow emotionally in different ways.
     The description for Jeffery says that he hates school, but it is so much more than that. He has a broken family with parents who are experiencing such grief that they can't get out of bed. There have been three points this fall when I had students saying that they hated school too. They refused to come. Thankfully, two of the parents didn't let their kids push them over and not come to school. All three of these children didn't want to come because of a deeper issue, either with friends, at home, or both.
     This book also talked about girl wars. I know girl wars all too well. This fall has been roughest emotionally on my girls. One of the group leaders from last year left, and two grades were combined into one class. This lead to a beginning of the year fight to see who will control the classroom dynamics. Like Alexia in Because of Mr. Terupt, one girl seemed most popular at the beginning and used this power to be friends with one girl one day and her enemy the next. By the end of December, all of the girls realized what she had been doing, and her world came crashing down. Some felt shunned by the other girls, which led to equally bad problems, which were made worse by things happening with other friends outside of school. I spent more days talking with girls about friendships and conflicts at recess than I can count. There are only 6 girls in my class, so they need to at least cooperate with each other and respect each other to survive the day.
     How do I handle this all as a teacher? Do students respect me even though I'm a first year teacher? Are there things I let slide that I shouldn't? Do I care for each child's emotional growth when dealing with them? Do I show them how much I care and love them?
     The last two days before Christmas break, the president got on the t.v. and announced that school was cancelled until January. I was heartbroken! How dare he cancel my two fun days that I had planned with my class?! They had worked so hard and earned so much. I had been looking forward to these days to show them how much I appreciated their hard work and loved them. Then the president cancelled them. What could I do? After sulking over the weekend, one of my roommates suggested getting together with them because that actually is a perfectly acceptable thing to do at my school. So, I invited them over for a Christmas cookie party. 9 of my 14 kids came. I gave them recipes for chocolate chip and sugar cookies. Then they ran off their energy outside and came back in to play Apples to Apples while we ate our cookies. After the party, one of the other teachers said to me, "Wow, you must love your kids a lot to have them all over." One of the students commented, "I bet the other teachers are really jealous that you get to have your class over for a party but they don't." Haha. I loved the difference of opinion. What's most important, though, was that my kids and I left for break knowing that we loved and cared for each other. Now, parties aren't the only way to show kids that I care (it's just the most recent). Earlier this fall, I made one child's month by asking him to do a video editing project for me.

     I highly recommend this book to teachers and students. Although with students, I would note that on the second page one of the boys talks about goofing off in the boys' bathroom and urinals, which I know some girls could be mortified to see a book talking about the boys' bathroom. This book also deals with special needs as becoming buddies with a self-contained class in their school changes several lives. There are lots of family situations represented. This is a great book for teachers to reflect on and students to learn about emotions, friendships, and family lives. Plus, there's a sequel, which I can't wait to read: Mr. Terupt Falls Again.