Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Small Victories

So... the short version is that today went better.

I decided to make a few changes to help the kids avoid the debacle that was last week:

1. Split up the tables. I had had two large tables of 8 students (a square with 2 on a side) and a table of 4. No more. 4 to a table - 1 on each short end, 2 on one long end. (That way, no one is across a short side from each other.) It seemed to help somewhat.

2. Build in a better, more individualized management system. I put 3 popsicle sticks on each student's desk at the beginning of math. When he/she was either talking out of turn or off-task, I simply walked by and silently picked up a stick. Students who had no sticks left at the end of math "continued to practice being on a level zero voice" during lunch.
(For comparison purposes: On Friday, only 6 kids DIDN'T get silent lunch. Today, only 2 DID get it.)
Also, it took away the anxiety and stress of having to say to the whole class repeatedly, "Get back to zero," etc. My very special child seemed so much less stressed today!

After lunch, everyone started over with 3 sticks. Students who lost all their chances during reading block were not able to participate in the Magic School Bus science movie that we watched at the end of the day. (They did another, less fun plants activity elsewhere.)

Anyway... it's not perfect, but the kids got a lot more work done!

I still feel like I was run over by a bus today, but at least it wasn't a totally insanely angry bus.

Last thought: I would like to amend my former post Domestic Enemies of the Elementary Teacher to add two other things that are the bane.of.my.existence: inside recess and tornado drills/warnings. Blech.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Triumphant Return (after a not-so-triumphant week)

So in my last post, I'm sure it seemed like I was totally handling everything. I was giving advice to the new teachers! I was helping them de-stress and relax! I was in my Zen place and totally on my game!

Then Friday happened.

I can't say that there was one particular reason Friday was worse than any other day. It's just that my students never.stop.talking... and by Friday I was over it. I had big plans during math: I was going to pull each child to the carpet to work with me on a few problems so I could get a "checklist assessment" on each of them. I love doing this, because I end up with the entire class' data on one sheet of paper. It's easy to pull the groups for reteaching, based on who missed which problem.

Well. Because of the talking and off-task behavior, I got through one child. ONE. I was so frazzled and sick of saying, "Please remember to be on zero!" and "No talking, please" and "Oh, I love the way ________ is remembering a zero volume!" and all that BS. By the time I dropped my kids off at Spanish, I was on the verge of tears.

Enter my principal, who asked me how everything was going. You know how, when you're kind of upset and someone asks you how you're doing, you end up melting down? Yeah, that was me. To my principal. In the hallway. Lovely, Katie. Great job. I expressed all of my frustrations to him - about my unmanageable kids, how little time we had to teach during the day, how so many of them were reading below where they needed to be, etc. All the stress I'd been shoving to the back of my mind and replacing with Billy Joel songs came flooding out.

And you know what? My principal was amazing. He expressed how much he admires what we do (having come from high school, he did not really grasp how much work it is to teach elementary). When I told him I was planning to go up to Charlottesville for the weekend to see my college friends at UVA, he told me not to bring any work and to enjoy myself as thoroughly as possible the whole time I was there. It helped.

Until later that day, when I cried in front of my kids. And then they didn't get to dance in dance class because they were so out of control. I couldn't get them out the door fast enough.

Here's the thing: I'm not really upset about their incessant talking and lack of ability to get anything done for my own sake. What upsets me is the look on the faces of the 6 or so kids who are alwaysalwaysalways doing what they're supposed to do. One of those kids is one of my special needs folks, who is on the autism spectrum. The poor baby thinks I'm yelling at him whenever I'm talking sternly (ok, yelling) to the class. I explained to him that it wasn't his fault, but he still has been crying and melting down at the end of the day because he just.can't.takeit.

It is not fair, and it made me cry. A lot. To my principal, my class, my colleagues, my husband, and my mom. Most of the 3 hour drive up to Charlottesville was spent in tears.

Needless to say, I was not exactly in the party mood when I arrived in Cville. However, not having been back to visit during the school year once since college, I couldn't help but be so freakin' excited to be back. I drove past the Rotunda and a big, huge smile broke out on my face. I arrived at my friend's apartment and promptly proceeded to pour myself the first of several glasses of wine.

The weekend was exactly what I needed. I spent time with a few of my closest college friends, watched UVA whip up on William & Mary, ate a long-overdue lunch at my favorite sandwich shop, and sat on the porch people-watching.

Lesson learned from the weekend: you have to have events to look forward to - as frequently as possible - or you will go crazy. The stress incurred by being constantly "on" during the school day has to be tempered by the other parts of your life. Fortunately, I have a lot coming up to look forward to, that will hopefully make these weeks go by much faster:
-My beloved Saints open the NFL season Thursday night. We are having people over to watch.
-Two of my fantastic college friends are visiting in two weeks for the UVA-UNC football game.
-I am headed up to NYC again for a weekend in October, to see the stage version of Newsies with friends from high school.
-I am headed home later in October for two different weddings in one weekend. My principal has already told me I can take Friday off so I can actually make it to the first one.

On top of that, Hubs' hours this rotation have not been nearly as bad as I anticipated, and I'm going to start taking dance classes soon.

Basically, what I'm saying is that even if I have a stressful job, and I feel sometimes like I am doing a terrible job, it's not the be-all and end-all of my life. I am more than my job.