Friday, March 2, 2012

Temporary (for now) Life Change

As I sat down to write this post, I reread my last post. I'm certain myself from then wouldn't have predicted myself now. Boy, I had some exciting ideas! I'm hoping Organized Chaos will carry that torch.

Because I've decided to take a leave of absence to stay home with my boys. Right now it's for one year but I'm not convinced I will return for the 2013-2014 school year. But I'm not convinced I won't either.

Having a second child is So. Completely. Different. than having one. When I was home with my first I became antsy and bored with each passing week of maternity leave.  I suffered through/enjoyed each moment like everyone else, but I knew I needed to get back to the classroom. I had a hard time trying to do everything when I returned to work, but I'm not sure I have considered staying home as an option, or even "if only" option. At the time, my husband made less money, and we needed my paycheck.

Fast forward a few years, my hubs is making more money, I am at home with a 3 month baby and a 3 year old and we are all happy as clams. The 3 year old goes to preschool part-time, spends time with his grandparents on a weekly basis, and I get time with him to explore parks and playgrounds. (Our weather has been A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!) The laundry gets done, the house stays relatively clean, there are less to-do piles and clutter, and the grocery shopping gets done. Can I just express to you how wonderful it is to grocery shop mid-week? NO ONE IS AT THE STORE. I can't give that up.

In all seriousness, a clean house and a peaceful grocery shop isn't enough to keep me home. It's the entire package. It's our quality of life.  We used to spend our weekends driving from errand to errand, then rushing home to make sure the boy got a good nap. We used to have a rule that we couldn't schedule more than one thing each weekend because it just became too much. We broke that rule all the time and spent many months just plain tired. Now we get to go do things as a family. We are enjoying our life.

I was thinking about all the teachers at our school the other day. I think we have around 30 - 35 classroom teachers give or take. I can count on one hand the number of classroom teachers that have more than one child. I think I can count 4, and one is out on maternity leave with twins and I know she'd rather stay home.

Why is that? We have many more two-kid-moms in non-classroom positions. Less stress? More flexibility? Is our school a typical snap-shot or are we different? Is being a classroom teacher not as family friendly as people assume?

Questions to chew on.

At any rate, this is my farewell post. Thanks for keeping up with the chaos that was my classroom. Best wishes to you all!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Putting on the brakes...

I've been watching so many kids - mostly boys - really struggle with being in kindergarten this year. They are overwhelmed, tired, and uncomfortable with the environment. They lash out in terrible ways.  I've been talking to classroom teachers, psychologists, special ed. teachers, and behavior specialists about it.  The common theme that runs through these conversations is, "I think they just need more time to play."

Tons of research has been done on the importance of play. Nothing new here. I just feel like we as a county and as a school have been speeding away from the concept. Test performance is taking over.

I also work for a county who is driven by data. The only way to get hard data is to test. The only way to test successfully is to prep. The only way to prep is to refocus free play on learning centers and tests with measurable outcomes.

I work for a school who looks at testing through a realistic lens: our kids struggle with tests.  We must learn how to teach them to be life long learners AND good test takers. It's just reality.  State tests start in 3rd grade so we cycle all the way back to kindergarten to begin the prep.

Kinders need to know how to read 25 high frequency words and a level 3 (DRA) text by the end of kindergarten. They need to know how to add and subtract numbers up to 10, count to 100, and identify fractions (0, 1/4, 1/2, 1). This is big deal stuff for kids who haven't ever been to school.

I was talking to one of our Head Start teachers and she mentioned that the gap between HS and K seems to widen every year.  Head Start is still focused on early childhood and school readiness, but then WHAMMO, welcome to kindergarten.

I'm beginning to babble...

I'm leaving in a few days to have my second baby.  I'll be home until the 2012-2013 school year and then I plan to come back with a fresh new idea on how to structure my day.

I want to take all of our required elements (Reading Workshop, Math Workshop, Writing Workshop, etc) and break them up into small chunks through the day. I want to make free play the bigger chunks in between. FREE play meaning children will be allowed to interact with each other and their environment free of specific instructions. During free play we will focus on dialog, friendships, working together, and problem solving. I also want to get back to my 1/2 hour of Quiet Story Time where I would read chapter books to my kids while they relaxed on the carpet. If a tired cherub fell asleep, so be it. It's a long day!

I will take data - because you can get great data by observation. I will use this data to hopefully convince others that it's okay... my kids are still learning, they're still meeting the academic benchmarks, but we are all happier. It will be less structured than I am used to (and honestly than I am comfortable with), but if we continue to speed away from the idea that 5 years olds are still just little kids who need to play, to explore, to be curious, then we are going to create a generation of angry maladjusted adults.

Oh, and let's hope I'm allowed to try this.

Friday, November 11, 2011

If you think you've had a bad day...

... think about a colleague of mine that slipped and fell in a pile of vomit. She fell so hard she thought she broke a bone and is bruised.  There might be pain meds involved.

Gah, can you imagine?


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

And here we go again...

It's parent conference time!  We've been here before, but this year, since I don't have a classroom, I have been given a different perspective. I've been working in our office for both parent conference days.

Unfortunately, my different perspective hasn't improved my thoughts on these days. It's worsened.

You see, as a kindergarten teacher, I understand that we are the front-line for many families.  We are often the first experience many families have with the school system. We are often the ones that try explain the importance of showing up for meetings and being on time. We are often the ones that have to convince parents we are here to help, but we need them to show up. SHOW UP.

Turns out, we don't make as big of an impact on our parents as I assumed.  Parents of first, second, third - all the way up to fifth, are just as bad as the K parents!  Here is a typical conversation I was involved with:

Me: "Hello, can I help you?"

Parent: blank stare.

Me: "Are you here for a parent conference?"

Parent: "Yes."

Me: "Do you know what time?"

Parent: "I don't know."

Me: "What's your child's teacher's name?"

Parent: "I don't know."

Me: "Okay, what grade is your child in?"

Parent: "I don't know."

Me (giant inner sigh): "Okay. What is your child's name?"

Parent gives name, I have to ask for clarification a few times, I finally write it down. I give name to someone with special computer access to look up child to find the teacher's name (remember, I'm just helping, I'm not "official.") Then I look for the teacher's schedule (we had about half) to see if the child's name is listed.  Then, when I can't find name, I call the teacher and we hope that stars are aligned that the parent actually showed up on time and the teacher and translator are waiting.

More likely, they never responded to the teacher's multiple requests and just showed up.  Then we scramble to find a translator for the last-minute conference.

Luckily, due to our amazing staff, 9 times out of 10, the parents gets connected with the teacher with a translator.

Also, I will admit, luckily, these parents are showing up. BUT LORD ALMIGHTY, why does it have to be so hard?!

I am looking forward to getting back into my own room and dealing with 20 parents, instead of hundreds.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tests are such great measurements of knowledge...

Raise your hand if you got even a hint of my sarcasm.

So one of the tasks on our big-deal fall assessment asks the kids to choose the word that rhymes with the initial picture. Turns out, if they simply choose the last choice every time, they make benchmark.

Sort of like answering "C" every time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Something to chew on

I was chatting with our school psychiatrist the other afternoon. We were having one of those, "what is going on with these kids?" moments. In multiple classrooms, we have multiple kids, whose needs seem to be above and beyond what we are capable of meeting. We have runners, we have screamers, we have biters. Thinking quickly, I can count 4 classrooms that have more than one child in each room that routinely needs to be restrained.

The school psychiatrist said it's not just us. Other schools she works in are experiencing the same thing.

"Shut up" I said. No one has it like us.

"Oh but yes, they do." she says.

My mind immediately starts thinking back to 5 years plus or minus 40 weeks ago. What world event was going on that caused people to shag, and then bring a child into a world where the environment was so stressful that might have caused this?

She immediately said, "it's the lack of play, don't you think?"

Hmmmmm. Yep, I can see that.

I've only been teaching kindergarten for 5 years. In those 5 years alone I have seen the elimination of nap time, a decrease in play within the classroom, a decrease in free play outside, and in turn an increase in structured time like Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, and Math Workshop. I am testing more this year than last. Last year I tested more than the previous. We talk about common assessment (TESTS), results (TESTS), and remediation for kids based on those assessments (PREP FOR FUTURE TESTS).

I like the structure of all the workshops because I am a structured person. That doesn't mean it's the best for 5 year olds. I do think our day lacks play, and while I do try to make centers in the workshops fun and hands-on, it's certainly not play.

Is this our fault? Are we creating these little runners, biters, and screamers?

But what does a classroom teacher do? Defy the rules and close the door?

Something to chew on, no?

Doing the math

We have parent conferences coming up. Many, actually most, of our students have Spanish speaking parents. In my classroom alone, over the past 5 years, I have had only 3 - 5 students whose parents speak English each year.

This is the message we received from our office staff: The school district is only providing us with two Spanish speaking translators for both parent conference days, and two more that will only be here for a half day. FOR THE WHOLE SCHOOL. We have around 900 students.

We have 9 kindergarten classes alone. Each conference is 20 minutes which is never enough. Each class has 20 - 22 kids.

We have three fabulous instructional assistants in kindergarten who speak Spanish. They have been asked to help the entire kindergarten. The math alone on that doesn't work, but it's a step in the right direction.

Everyone else has to request slots and we're already receiving emails from staff saying, "there are no more slots, can anyone help?" This is not the fault of our school, there simply is not enough support to go around. Two full day and two half day translators will not come close to meeting our needs. The math simply doesn't work.

When discussing parent-teacher communication, parent involvement, home-school connection, etc., keep in mind that if translation resources aren't made available, none of those things are possible.