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.