June 27, 2017

Book Buddies

When I was in fourth grade, my class was "Book Buddies" with my brother's Kindergarten class. Reading with our Book Buddies was one my favorite activities!  I still remember how exciting it was to go down to the Kindergarten room, picture books in hand, and get to be the "big kid" reading to the "little kids."  My brother and one of his friends would sit on either side of me as I read to them.  I remember practicing how to remind them to sit quietly, listen, look at the pictures, point to sight words on the page... I guess I was a teacher even back then. 😂

Book Buddies is still one my favorite activities and now my fourth graders are the "big kids." Every other week, or so, we traipse down three flights of stairs to our little Book Buddies' classroom.  My wonderful colleague typically has her little guys spread out around the room so that it's easy for the buddies to find each other. Then the magic begins!

It's so fun to watch the kiddos bond over books; see the little kids look up to the bigger ones, and watch the big ones practice all their best reading and teaching skills. As the year progresses, we add other activities to our Book Buddy time, like reading outside, making crafts, Book Buddy Morning Meetings, picnics, and even field trips to the park.

Not every Book Buddy match is an ideal one, but it's been surprising how many of our Buddy pairs turn out to be perfect for each other -- patient, understanding, similarly quirky, and adorable. Taking advantage of these strong bonds, I frequently remind my fourth graders that the younger students are looking up to them and their choices.  When one of my kiddos is having a tough time, visiting their Book Buddy can be the best motivator. And for the younger set, they always have great cheerleaders in their Big Buddies -- whether they are sharing their newest drawing or showing off a new skill on the playground.

I'm so glad that my school encourages this type of cross-grade-level interaction. Through Book Buddies, I've seen some of my most reluctant readers gain confidence as they read to a younger student; and I know that even my most impulsive kiddos can show great empathy and tolerance when working with a struggling Pre-Ker. Year and year, I know that Book Buddies is one our kiddos' favorite activities. We may even have some future teachers in this group...

How cute are they?!

June 26, 2017

Catching Up

When I started this blog, I'd only been teaching for a few years and I wanted a way to capture the things that were working well for me and and reflect on the things that were not. I thought the blog would be a place I to keep my immediate thoughts on the day's events and record my classroom activities in nearly real-time.

That turned out to be harder than I'd thought.  After a rough day, I didn't always feel like writing down what had happened and reflecting about why.  Even after great days, I just wanted to bask in the glory of my own productivity, rather than write it all down. Of course, as one could have predicted, I now regret that I didn't keep more in-the-moment recollections of our daily goings-on.

Fortunately, though, I did take lots of pictures, lots and lots of pictures. So, since it's now summer and I have some extra time on my hands, I'm going back through my albums of photos to recall the best (and maybe some worst) moments over the past couple of months (okay, years).

More posts coming soon...

June 25, 2017

I Love Them All

I've taught in three different grades, over the past ten years, and I'm frequently asked which grade I like best.  While my standard response is that I love them all, of course, there are some things that I love more and less about each.

So what are my favorite things about each grade that I've taught? Here you go:

I started my teaching career as a Pre-K teacher.  I can always tell when someone is an educator (or the parent of a preschooler) by how they respond to this information -- if you say "aw, so cute!" then you're not a teacher. If you say, "woah, you must have endless patience," then you get it. 😁

Everything is new for preschoolers!  This means that anything can be educational and exciting... and exhausting.  I've taken field trips to the grocery story and the post office with Pre-Kers (activities that we grown-ups find tedious and mundane) and watched their little eyes light up with wonder... and endless questions. It doesn't take much to be a four-year-old's "favorite teacher" (this is great for ego building!) Despite the tears and tantrums (and accidents) that inevitably come with teaching Pre-K, there are days when I really miss the easy hugs and simple joys of playing in the water table.

I think 1st grade is where some of the most significant learning happens, maybe in all of elementary school. They come in just putting sounds together, and skipping the number 13 when they count, and a few months later they are reading picture books and subtracting back from 20.  First graders are just starting to learn what learning feels like -- for some, it's the first time they realize they are "learning" anything at all. And all that learning is not easy. Every kiddo needs every lesson at least 15 times, with manipulatives and visual cues and physical movements and sing-song steps. And lots and lots, and lots, of encouragement. As frustrating and tiring as all that can be, there is nothing like the first time a kiddo reads, like really reads. I don't think being part of that moment could ever get old.

Moving to fourth grade was an unexpected and challenging jump for me, and I wasn't sure what to expect.  When your kiddos start to approach your height and have their own opinions, it can be intimidating. Ten-year-olds don't love just anybody or anything, some of them are already a little jaded about school, and some just want to pretend they're tough, so getting them interested and engaged isn't always easy.  It takes a lot of energy to show you care about them and the subject matter. But once you're in, it matters that much more.  As foundational as early childhood and lower elementary are, this is the age when kiddos develop the beliefs and passions that will truly shape their lives.  They learn that girls can do math and boys can love history. They learn those skills -- like multiplication, essay writing, nonfiction note-taking -- that they really will use when they grown up. No pressure, right?

I don't actually know what I will be teaching next year, and that uncertainty has me a little frantic. How will I sufficiently reflect and plan and prep?  Now that I think about it, though, maybe it's not so much about what grade I will be teaching, or even what students I will be teaching, maybe it's really about what I will be teaching. In every grade, there is the opportunity to make something as mundane as the grocery store, or as foundational as reading, or as inspiring as the American Revolution into something that kids really care about, something that will shape the course of their life. I just need to find the patience, energy, and enthusiasm to teach it to them. No pressure -- I've got all summer.

June 23, 2017

Answering Their Questions

"What will happen if Donald Trump starts a war with the Mexicans?"

This question was left on a Post-it on my desk by two fourth graders back in October, following a discussion about the impending presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Although it was easy, among my liberal friends, to bemoan the fact that ten-year-olds were worrying about such a thing as a war with Mexico, I recognize now that this was an incredibly important question for them to be asking -- regardless of the specifics around this particularly polarizing election.

Being a citizen, we teach young people, means questioning our leaders, and considering the ramifications of policy decisions, and making choices. Yet too often, I think, we shut down exactly these types of questions from our students because they make us, the adults, uncomfortable. We don't want to upset parents or administrators; we don't want to get stuck in a political debate; we don't really know the answer ourselves.

Or we answer glibly or sarcastically, or with forced reassurance that everything will be okay. The danger of this is that our kiddos can't always tell the difference between sarcasm and honesty.  They learn that these questions have fast, firm answers --

"What will happen if...?"
"It can't really happen."
"We won't let it happen."
"Don't worry."

The truth is there are no simple answers to this type of deep question. The truth is, also, that it's not a simple question. When I answered this specific question, in a conversation with my class later, I tried to explain that there is a process for declaring war -- that our military would take action and other countries would respond, that it could be scary and dangerous and people would die. I also explained that while our country has been in wars in the past, it's hard to know how another war would go, which is why it is a big deal to suggest that any country take this route to solve the problems it has with other countries.

It is difficult to find answers to questions about public policy without layering on my own political views and values -- and admittedly, I'm not always successful -- but I try. I try because I think my students deserve to hear an answer, even if it's imperfect. I try because I want them to know that I'm thinking about these things too. I try because if they never get an answer, they may stop asking. And we need our kids to keep asking questions.

We need to raise children who want to know what will happen if -- if we start a war, or if we cut healthcare, or if we raise taxes. We also need to raise children who aren't quick to decide if war is right or wrong, or healthcare is all or nothing, or taxes are fair or unfair. We need to raise the next generation to ask difficult questions of themselves and of their leaders. Then we need them to be able to ponder and petition, to concede and to compromise, to conclude and resolve, and then to reconsider.

And it starts with answering their questions.