Friday, January 26, 2018

Diary Of A First Year Kindergarten Teacher: 7th Entry

Thursday, September 4
Dear Diary,
I spent the entire morning in meetings. First we met as a staff and then we broke down into smaller groups to discuss best instruction practices for our age groups. Will I ever get a full day to do parent interviews?
After that, I got a prep and lunch, which is about an hour-and-a-half total. During that time, I conducted two interviews. I learned shortly after from Mrs. Staltz, that she disapproved of my meetings.

She doesn't want to do parent meetings on her lunch break. If I do them during this time slot and she doesn't, it sets a bad precedent. Parents will complain. Really?
I really miss Head Start. I could do interviews whenever I wanted. Of course there were other issues, but that is another story.
The afternoon was as exciting as the morning, more and more meetings. Mrs. Bernard took us on a tour of the school to discuss student traffic, during middle school class changes. I've never worked in a main school building with middle school kids. I hope they don't run over the kindergartners.
Mrs. Bernard also went over the standardized tests scores from last school year, and how we can improve as a school this year. There was a power point with flow charts, pie charts, and bar graphs explaining student achievement and the next steps to help students achieve higher.
I kept thinking about all the parents I could have been meeting with, and the lessons I could have been preparing for the first day of school. Flow charts are not going to help me get any of the done.
Tomorrow I'll have the entire day to conduct my parent meetings. I have ten parents scheduled. Let's hope all ten show up.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Interview With A Kindergarten Teacher

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a former teacher named, Anne. Anne has a Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education and a Master's Degree in Education.

She taught for 25 years. My conversation with Anne was informative and shed light on the experiences many teachers go through everyday.

Although only in her late forties, Anne has left the teaching profession for good. She currently works in a supermarket and is quite content to keep doing so.

1. Why did you become a teacher?

I've always enjoyed working with young children. It seemed natural for me to pursue a career, where I could use my talents to educate them.

Also, when I finally decided to go to school to become a teacher, my daughter was just a baby. I wanted a job where I could spend the most time with her. Since public school teachers get the summers off, I knew that was the best option for me.

2. What grade did you teach?

I taught Kindergarten.

3. What was your favorite thing about teaching?

When I first started, I loved the creativity Early Childhood Education allowed. It was so much fun designing lessons and watching the children learn from them.

4. You said, "When you first started". What changed after you started?

Everything. Play was taken out of the Kindergarten classroom and replaced with the more standard instruction you find in the upper grades. Naps were eliminated from the full-day program. Young children get tired and need to rest during the day. It helps them reorganize their brains and process what they've learned.
The amount of paperwork I was required to complete grew worse every year. I found some of the student expectations outrageous. Some Kindergartners just aren't ready to start reading and writing, especially if they've never been to school before.

Often, when these particular students don't accomplish these goals, the teacher is penalized. It doesn't matter that the students have made progress in accordance with their own development, or that there aren't enough resources to support them. If it's not measurable on a report card the district will hold the teacher accountable. 

5. What was your least favorite thing about teaching?

The lack of support I received when students in my classroom acted out.

6. Can you elaborate on the behaviors you mentioned?

Some of the children would get very violent, throwing chairs at other students or me. Sometimes they would run out of the classroom or leave the school building. One year my entire classroom had been remodeled.

Within six weeks of school starting, the classroom was ruined. Many of the students had written on the floors, walls, tables and chairs. They had poked holes in the library furniture, torn up a lot of the books, and stolen a fair amount of the math manipulatives I had on the shelves.

7. Why didn't you receive the support you needed?

Lack of funding. The monetary cuts made to the public schools have caused a lot of these behaviors to flourish. There just aren't enough personnel anymore to deal with the overcrowding in classrooms and the social/emotional needs of many students.

8. Can you think of any solutions to solve this problem?

Yes. Politicians need to let teachers teach. They also need to stop attacking teacher unions and value the teaching profession.

Did you know that teaching is one of the only professions, where furthering your education has little benefits? When I earned my Master's Degree I didn't get a raise like professionals in other careers do.
We also need to focus our resources on the mental health of our students. Many children have experienced horrible trauma that needs to be addressed. If we could pursue mental health in the schools with as much vigor as literacy and math we may be able to cut down on school violence.

9. That sounds like a daunting task. How would we even begin to accomplish such a goal?

Well it won't be easy, but if we all worked together, I really believe we could do it. I once suggested to my principal, that we should partner up with college students who were going to school to become psychotherapists.

There has to be a way to allow college students to complete their internships by working with school age children.

10. Do you have any you suggestions for new teachers just starting out?

Don't teach to the standardized test; teach to the students.
Be an advocate for your students.
Document everything. You never know when an incident may turn against you. If you have a paper trail, you have leverage and protection.

I would like to thank Anne for her time and insight. I hope this interview helps people understand the challenges public school teachers and their students face everyday. In order to change the state of public education in our country, we must listen to those people on the frontlines, the teachers.     

What are your thoughts on how to address mental health problems with students?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Diary Of A First Year Kindergarten Teacher: 6th Entry
Wednesday, September 3
Dear Diary,
I was exhausted the entire day. After all the nonsense yesterday, I had trouble settling down enough to sleep last night. When I finally did doze off, it was time to get up. Typical.
I spent part of the morning in my classroom scheduling parent conferences and the afternoon in meetings with the staff at Adams Elementary. Yes, I finally got my class list, but as per usual, there's a slight snag.
Only 18 out of 30 students were listed, which delays scheduling parents and labeling cubbies, journals, folders, etc. I hope that I'll have a full list by the end of the week. Mrs. Staltz said that's highly unlikely. We may have most of our students registered by then, but it may take a few weeks to get a full class.
After thinking about it I realized beginning with a partial class might actually be a good thing. A small class size is always best, especially with the little ones. I'll be able to teach this smaller group of students the class rules without an abundance of distractions, and they in turn can help me teach the new arrivals.
I also met one of my classroom aides this morning. Her name is Miss Mary, and she and another woman named Miss Betty, will alternate their time in my classroom on a bi-weekly basis, for an hour-and-a-half each day. 45 minutes in the morning during the phonics block and another 45 minutes in the afternoon. I hope to do the Learning Centers during their afternoon slot. It's much easier to monitor centers with two adults in the room.
Miss Mary is kind and open to new things. She has been a Kindergarten aide for fifteen years. That is awesome.
She thinks the Learning Centers are a great idea and never understood why they took play out of Kindergarten in the first place. She seems very knowledgeable about how a Kindergarten class should run.

I will definitely utilize her knowledge, especially since I don't think I'll be receiving much support from my grade partner. Mrs. Staltz told me to ask her for help whenever I needed it, but I get the feeling she doesn't want to be bothered.
When I asked her for a copy of the information I missed yesterday at the phonics training, she made me one without complaint, but I it seemed that she just wanted to be left alone. She kept saying she had a thousand things to do before our meetings started.
In spite of her protestations, I also asked her for the email address for the woman in charge of sending out emails to the Kindergarten teachers. She was nice enough to give me that, too.  
I spent the remainder of the day in meetings.
During the first session, Mrs. Bernard welcomed us to a new school year and spoke about the promise of a fresh start for our students. She explained her arrival and dismissal expectations for the year, as well as deadlines for lesson plans, lunch schedules and routines, and other general housekeeping information.
 The second session was about the needs of Second Language Learners and students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).We also spent time signing up for school committees and had our lunch break.
At the end of the day, I was given a few reams of copy paper with the promise of more to come. Apparently, the Phonics program requires a lot of worksheets to be completed by the students. I think that's ridiculous. Where's the fun in doing gobs of worksheets in Kindergarten? Quality over quantity, I say.
Mrs. Staltz got a larger amount of copy paper than I. I learned shortly after why this was so. As the grade group leader, she is in charge of deciding what homework the Kindergartners receive each week as well as making the appropriate copies.
I was also informed that we will alternate doing a math and literacy lesson plan each week, according to a format designed by her, and approved of by Mrs. Bernard; that I am responsible for purchasing sand and containers for the Phonics program; and that I must focus on journals for my Teacher Improvement Plan (TIP) this year.
I told Mrs. Staltz I thought that I could choose what I wanted to work on for my TIP. I was hoping to work on a behavior program I had learned about while I was in Head Start. It's supposed to be very beneficial in helping students make good decisions.
Mrs. Staltz said I could do whatever I wanted but Mrs. Bernard preferred that Kindergarten and First Grade focus on journals. Since everyone else has agreed to journals, I consented to do it also. I don't want to draw negative attention to myself my first year here.