Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Simple Things

I'm exhausted.

I don't know if it's the pre-Spring Break timeframe, or what- but our kids have been just crazy lately. I have generally been of the opinion that repeated behavior problems mean that you (the teacher) need to do something differently. We've been having repeated issues since at least December.

So- Mrs. M and I tried to start a classroom mini-economy, where students could earn coins for doing the right thing. Initially, we wanted to keep it all positive. Later, we added fines to the mix.

This seemed to motivate students for a couple of weeks at the most, although they still really enjoy shopping at the store. Later, a student stole from another's bank. I think at this point we are mostly keeping it going because it's a good continual review of counting money.

We were already doing "team points," where students could earn points for their team. At the end of the week, the team with the most points won some kind of small prize (candy, pop, or a snack we bought). The same teams tend to win repeatedly, and the same few who can't behave tend to spoil it (when together, alone, or separated into groups). Now, teams can't shop in the store on Fridays if they don't have at least ten points.

The school-wide system is to use tickets for good behavior. We haven't done well with these, but we started to give away a ticket for every student left on green at the end of the day. We included a money bonus for days on green.

Our last attempt of change has been to add "free recess" on Friday. This is partly for our own sanity, as we have a very active group. However, we put the letters to "free recess" on the board and they can have letters taken away or they can earn them back.

This week, we have started to time when we have to wait for students to be ready to learn, and we are taking that away from recess. (This has been a particularly rough couple of days. We really don't like taking away recess, usually.)

I think part of our problem is that we have so MANY things going on. For misbehavior, students can be asked to move their circle. (If they move down twice, they have to take home a Think Sheet to be filled out and signed.) They could also lose a team point, lose a letter towards recess, lose recess time, or be fined. For behaving well, students can gain team points, gain money, earn back a letter, earn back some lost recess time, or get a ticket.

It is a lot. Sometimes I think simplicity would be better. But it sticks out in my mind that we have focused on each of these single strategies for a week or two, and none of them have shown many results.

Consistency is key, and I realize that. I realize that the combination of individual, small group, and whole class consequences could lead to a lot of inconsistency. I'm just not sure how to fix it, other than to enforce our consequences. We are also starting two students on individualized behavior plans. I think if these two improve their behavior, many of the other students' will follow. I'm hopeful, but I'm still tired.

Today we had problems with students not falling out of their seats to make others laugh. We are so tired of having to enforce consequences for the simplest things, like sitting. We are so tired of having students repeat the rules to us, or having to ask them to show us the right way, having to practice procedures repeatedly, or needing to state our expectations repeatedly for routine tasks like lining up.

Any suggestions are more than welcome. I'm sick of coming home angry and frustrated (and my fiance probably is, too). If my lead teacher and I can't get this figured out together, I don't know how I'm eventually going to deal with this kind of thing as the sole teacher in my own room.

I just want a day where we can teach. And I'm not sure what I need to change to get us there.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Day in the Life...

Sometimes I feel like my days never end.

If you go here, you can read about a kindergarten teacher's day. Whew- makes me tired just looking at it. By second grade, I only rarely have to deal with "accidents," although we've had a few, and we haven't gotten to go to a planetarium (I wish!). We do have two teachers in the room, but it's still a long day, especially now that our school added an extra hour to the day!

7:55- Arrive at school. Check mailbox. Turn on computer. Write date on the board (4 ways- in cursive, manuscript, abbreviated, and in just numbers). Put out sticks for students to make their lunch choice. Sharpen pencils (after retrieving some from student desks). Check my e-mail. Record where students were on the behavior chart from the day before, and then move up the circles. The other teacher got morning work done, printed, copied, cut, put on desks, and put into a SmartBoard file as well as making sure that we had everything copied for the morning and plans done for the afternoon.

8:15- Kids come in. I pay them 10 cents each for having their homework and reading book. One girl's homework is wet because her sister set her backpack down outside. I leave it out to dry. I break up the circle crowded around someone with a handful of Bakugon cards and remind students to get to work as Mrs. M takes attendance, fills out the lunch count, and fields most of the random questions we get in the morning.

8:25- The bell rings and everyone should be in their seat, working. The announcements come on. It's Friday. Lifelong guidelines. School song. Ticket draw winners for each room. Pledge of Allegiance. Moment of silence. Be safe, Be responsible, Be respectful- and go!

8:35- Go over morning work. Do Calendar.

8:55- Read Aloud by an author we get to meet next month. Mrs. M reads as I check off homework and grade homework and morning work.

9:10- Review vocabulary words using picture cards. One of the words is "precious" and 3 boys won't stop talking like Gollum from LOTR.

9:15- Vocabulary Test. File folder "offices" up, no talking. Read the test aloud.

9:20- Students lead counting by 10's, 100's, 5's, and 2's, while jumping up and down or doing some kind of exercise.

9:25- Tightly scheduled Restroom Break. Wait for another class to finish by playing the Quiet Game. The next class has to wait on us. While we're gone, Mrs. M grades the vocab quizzes and puts them in the gradebook (with amazing speed).

9:30- Spelling Test. Same rules, except with more checking for cheaters with a list inside their desk. Come up with example sentences that are not interesting enough to prompt student talking (surprisingly difficult).

9:40- Reading Comprehension Test over our weekly story in the basal reader. Read aloud the writing questions and remind for the millionth time that their sentences must have a capital, a period, and make sense. Some still forget to do that, or to put their name, or to do every page of the test. Students, for once, read quietly after finishing. This is rare.

10:10- Prefix review and game on the SmartBoard. Recite meanings of pre, re, and un. Two students see a frog on the screen and start making frog noises. I warn them to stop or I take away a letter of our "extra recess" on the board. Everyone wants to come up and touch the SmartBoard to play the game. One girl cries because she doesn't get a chance to come up (a regular occurrence). The frog noises start again. I take away a letter. Other students glare at this student. He yells at them. I explain to him that they are not happy because he did not make a good choice. He continues to argue and yell. I ask him to move a circle and ask the rest of the class to look at the board. We try a third grade game, and they are excited to prove to me that they can do it even though they are in second grade. (And they rock.)

10:30- Introduce suffixes, which we are working on next week.

10:35- Call students to the rocking chair. Count down for them to get there. Announce they need to do a "self-check" so they are sitting criss-cross-applesauce, on their pockets, with their back to the yellow wall. Read aloud the reading story for next week, stopping to ask questions and stop the talking- which doesn't leave us enough time for centers this morning. Mrs. S grades the spelling and reading tests and puts them in the gradebook.

10:55- Students go back to their seats to preview the story in their reading books. (We talk about what "preview" means because of the prefix -pre.) Some forgot their book and have to share, which somehow breeds drama. A page is torn and I tape it.

11:00- STAR Reading. Kids are split up by ability throughout the grade level, so many students leave the room. 4 kids come to my table. I gather everything a girl will need to "be the teacher" today. This is "her" chapter of the book. She has prepared. She has written a quiz. She will sit in the teacher chair and decide who earns a piece of candy at the end, and she does wonderfully. I sit in a student chair and let her lead us through the lesson I modeled. The kids crack up at me, especially if I misbehave (usually in the same way the "teacher" does). She decides I was good enough to earn a piece of candy, though, and I give her an extra special treat for being such a good teacher today.

11:30- Mrs. S does a read-aloud from our chapter book at the rocking chair. I make a list of things we need to do this afternoon during prep.

11:37- Kids get their coats and line up. The line is straight and quiet. We add a letter on the board.

11:40- We leave for lunch. I stay with them for lunch duty while Mrs. S goes to eat. I help open ketchup packets, I stop students from breaking their styrofoam trays into pieces, I salvage a piece of pizza that had milk spilled on it, I give a hug, I talk to kids, and I help direct kids away from where another teacher cleans up a spill (while yet another teacher takes the kid to the office for dropping his lunch tray intentionally and squirting the milk out after he got mad that he supposedly didn't get the lunch choice he ordered). Later, as the kids line up, I give our students a countdown to line up correctly before I take away a letter. I take away 5 minutes of recess for a boy who hit someone else in the stomach.

11:55- Even before the kids are all lined up, I leave to walk to the other end of the school, pick up my rolling cart, and go teach kindergarten STAR. When we get down there, a substitute hasn't shown up yet for a teacher who left sick. (She shouldn't have been there in the morning, but she came in for half a day so she could write plans and get things ready for the afternoon.) The substitute's group is 12 kids, and they can't be left on their own, so we cancel STAR. One girl from my group really wants to work with me, and she could use the one-on-one help, so her teacher lets me pull her out anyway. We work in the hallway because she thinks it's exciting and we practice her letter names and sounds. I quiz her. She quizzes me. She's getting really good at her letters! I stop to talk to her teacher for a minute. Her teacher tells me the girl's grandmother would like her to stay an extra year in kindergarten, which would be great for her (she's finally making some progress!). She tells me the grandmother is taking care of the girl because the mom is dating someone of a different race who doesn't like her having a white daughter. As the grandmother said, "How can you say your daughter is too white for you?" But Grandma is taking care of her, and reading with her, and practicing her letters and math- thank goodness.

12:20- I go back to the room to see a sub looking around aimlessly. Mrs. M is collaborating with the other grade-level teachers this afternoon, but is at lunch and hasn't yet put out any plans. I put away my cart, grab my lunch, and go to find Mrs. M. (She was on her way back anyway.)

12:30- I'm finally in the teachers' lounge, but there are no seats open. Once I get a chair from the other room, I can sit and eat. Ahhh.

That's just the morning, and honestly the afternoon isn't terrible (double special day!), but I figure you get the idea. By the end of the day, I'm exhausted, and when I stop to think about it, it's no wonder- and that's with two teachers.

All of you out there who make it on your own classroom... hats off, and enjoy your weekend! You deserve it :)