Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Appalled.

One of the basic purposes of public school is to create and foster good citizenship (oh, and that pesky trait called respect). In kindergarten we teach who the president is, what our flag looks like, and we learn the Pledge of Allegiance.

I'm appalled that we were given the message from the head honcho today that if you choose to show the president's address to students, you have to provide an alternate activity for students who wish not to view it.

Not okay.

Not okay!

I don't care what your political views are, when the president addresses the nation, YOU WATCH.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sometimes it is their fault.

Working with an economically disadvantaged population, mostly comprised of other language speakers, comes with many things a teacher needs to accept with the job. For example,
  • Regular parent-teacher communication is not a given. In fact, if it happens very rarely. Many of our parents don't speak English and therefore are unable to communicate, and aren't aware of the resources available to them.
  • Many of our parents are illiterate. They didn't receive an education in their home country or the one they did receive was poor at best. It doesn't matter how many languages you translate your field trip letter in, if they can't read, they can't read.
  • Living conditions in our community can be very very poor. If your rent is very low, you can bet that the living standards are too. Backpacks often come to school with cockroaches along for the ride. Many of our kids are riddled with bed bug bites. Lice happens, but if many children share small spaces, it's hard to get rid of it.
  • Many of our kids only eat here at school and they eat for free or at a reduced price. There is no reason to begin any instruction unless you have made sure everyone has had their breakfast.
  • There are many instances throughout the day that our children are simply not available for learning because of a variety of reasons (the police came to the building in the middle of the night, the baby sibling sleeps next to the 5 year old and cried all night long, mom or dad just went to jail for immigration status, etc, etc, etc...)
I don't think any of this is our parents' or students' faults. It's their reality and it's our reality. We work with it.

What has been bothering me are a few things that I believe are the parents responsibility, no matter their economic conditions, their living situation, their work schedules, or whatever other barrier they might face. Oh, and when these things are ignored, it makes teaching very very difficult. In short, these two things have been driving me BANANAS.
  • When a child hears his or her name, THEY MUST ACKNOWLEDGE IT. Trust me, I have a child of my own who at times ignores his name. But you know what? I let him know that it's unacceptable. I teach him that when an adult says his name, he turns and looks at that adult. (This should apply to his peers too, but right now, I'm focused on the teacher-respect thing). And yes, he is TWO. So what's the 5 year old's excuse? I can't tell you how many times a day, in all of our classrooms, teachers are having to say a child's name 4 to 5 times before the child acknowledges it. And then a lesson must be given to that student, or the whole group, on this "skill" that didn't come to school with the children.
  • Bad behavior is bad behavior. I can work with a child who exhibits poor behavior because of something else (emotional, physical, mental stress from home or school). I can put together individual behavior plans. I can spread so much positive love on the student that they don't know what hit them. I can start the referral process for kids who have greater needs than I can meet alone, but what I can't do, is day-after-day-after-day deal with a child who is disruptive because "that's how he is at home." If I spend hours working to help your child learn appropriate behavior and spend hours meeting with specialists to get advice and strategies -- and you don't see my problem, you don't see your problem, and you just keep picking him up and dropping him off like all is fine? Well, keep your kid at home. (Yes, I said it).
I understand and accept the barriers our parents face. But the barriers can not be an excuse.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My child already knows everything.

I am really enjoying being in my colleagues' classrooms. I've always wanted to see how everyone else works their magic, and how everyone is different and wonderful in their own way. Each teacher has a different approach, but there are always similar themes that run through the rooms, which makes coming in and out fairly easy.

One thing I have been encountering is that more that one of my colleagues is dealing with parents who think that their child is "too smart" for kindergarten, or "already knows everything." I have had a few of these in the past, so my eyes automatically roll when I hear about it.

I wish I could be very blunt with each of these parents, or have enough expendable income to do my own public service announcement. It would go something like this:

Dear parent of the smartest child in the world,

Just because your child can read every word in the dictionary, count to infinity and beyond, speak two or more languages fluently, and identify every color that ever existed like charmeuse and aquamarine, does not mean they are ready for first grade. I know these children. I love these children. But these children have a hard time telling me what day tomorrow is, or telling me about a book they just read, or sharing their toys with their classmates. These kids have lots of facts and information in their smart little heads but they have no idea how to use it. Please allow their kindergarten teacher to help them learn how to use their smart brains.

Love,
Me

Thursday, September 8, 2011

And I shall wear many hats...

You might be wondering where I am. I am still here, at my school, as a kindergarten teacher. But that's all that's the same. I've got another bun in the oven and I will be leaving on maternity leave at Thanksgiving break. Last spring when I got pregnant, I immediately began pondering if I wanted to take the normal leave or take more.

Thinking back to my experience after my first child was born, and looking realistically at our household finances, I decided I would take more.

As I told my fabulous boss, "I would rather not be here and want to be here, then be here and not want to be here." Make sense?

Now, as a side note, I am a terrible stay-at-home mom, so this isn't about me wanting to stay home with my baby. I had no problems putting my first in day care. The problem was trying to be engaged and happy for my class while utterly exhausted. Trying and trying to find a location to pump and finally resigning myself to pumping in my car (3 times a day). Wincing as I squat down to help a kiddo because I still had pain from giving birth (moms, you know what I mean here...)

I decided to take the remainder of the school year off and return full time next fall.

So once I made my decision, I was faced with this issue: does it make sense to have a kindergarten classroom for one quarter and then find a long-term substitute for the last three quarters?

No, it didn't make sense. After all, the first quarter in kindergarten is all about setting tone, establishing routines, learning rules, and community building. Teaching, in the traditional sense, does occur, but the nitty gritty begins 2nd quarter. Why would I establish a relationship with 20 five year olds and then abandon them?

So here I am. I am a kindergarten resource teacher. Our numbers have absolutely exploded this year so there is plenty to help with. With 9 kindergarten classes, someone always needs help. This first week has been a challenge as I tried to make sure each kinder went home the right way. Some of you might be a bit bug-eyed right now thinking, "that's a challenge?! Shouldn't that be EXPECTED?!" Well yes. It should be. But we have 200 kinders, most of whose parents don't speak English and seem not to understand the need to pass along important information. Trust me, boggles my mind each year. "You're looking for your daughter? Well she's on the bus because that's what you wrote on your form at Open House. You changed your mind? Oh, well, I didn't get that message..." Or the child that jumps bus lines for fun. You get the point.

After this week, I will be helping with small groups in our K classrooms, helping with testing, and just being available to help the classroom teachers where they need it.

It's weird. My colleagues are deep into the first week with their classrooms getting to know their kids and establishing routines, while I find myself crazy busy one minute and then aimlessly wandering the next. Sometimes it is good weird, and sometimes not.

But I know once I establish a schedule it will be better... and when I sit back and think about it, or when I am waddling down the hall, I think this will work out just fine.