"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Counting down the days...3

Wednesday night...three days left.

Today I was thinking about my first year teaching. Some thoughts at random from 1976-77...

The building was old...hot water heat...no thermostat. The heat was either on, or off. In the winter, it was on, of course, and the room got sweltering. It was so hot in there that I had to open the windows to keep the temperature reasonable. Before I learned how to control the temperature we had a day where it was exceptionally hot in the room. The students were all hot and uncomfortable. One student got up too fast and fainted. I sent another to get the nurse (no phones in the rooms at that point) as I knelt beside the one who was down. He slowly woke up...face flushed...confused look. My messenger returned with a note from the nurse. "When he's ok, send him down." !!!

The third graders in my class (38 of them) were from a wide variety of homes. One of them, Steve, got himself and his first grade brother ready for school each day. His parents worked the night shift and both were sleeping when they got up -- so an 8 year old and a 6 year old got themselves off to school each day.

Paul and his brother, Don, were both in my class. Paul had been retained twice...Don once. Neither was able to handle the reading textbook. Even as a first year teacher I knew that keeping them in material which was too hard for them wouldn't help them at all...so I scrounged lower level readers from other teachers. I also learned about the effectiveness of retention. These two boys, probably learning disabled, gained nothing from being held back.

The teacher next door (first grade) came to my door one day and asked me to be the witness as she paddled a student. I was so surprised that I didn't refuse immediately and she proceeded to punish the student. I had no idea that I would be asked to watch as a teacher hit a student. At the end of the day I went to her and told her not to ask me to do that again.

Class management was never one of my strengths. I struggled with it as long as I taught. Correcting student behavior was difficult for me. One of the techniques I used my first year was to wait. Sometimes, with that many students, I had to wait a while. One day, when it was time to go home, I couldn't get them to settle down. I waited...and waited...and finally they got quiet and we got ready to leave. By that time, however, all the buses had left. As I realized what had happened I had this awful feeling that I would never be allowed back in the classroom. Luckily the principal was a patient man...and recognizing the "deer-in-the-headlights" look from the first year teacher, helped me solve the problem. We called all the parents...one at a time...and they picked up their children. Not one of them seemed the least bit upset. I'm not sure how the principal accomplished that, but I was very grateful!

The building housed students in grades K through 8. I had cafeteria duty and recess duty with 8th graders. That was when I learned that I neither understood nor appreciated middle school children. A couple of incidents caused me some considerable stress. One day I got hit by a milk carton while on cafeteria duty. I had no clue where it came from (behind me somewhere)...luckily it remained closed when it hit me in the back. Fights were a major problem at recess. One day two boys started fighting...I separated them and sent them to the office. After school the principal came to my room and told me that "boys will be boys" and as long as they were about the same size and not really hurting each other I should take care of situations like that on my own.

One of my students had hip surgery during the year. He came to school on crutches...and then used them to hit other students.

My birthday was in September. The students prepared a surprise for me. I knew they were doing something, but I didn't know what was going to happen. The day came...and I walked into the room, having left on some excuse to get out of there and give them the chance to get ready. The surprise turned out to be a wastebasket FULL of confetti dumped on my head as I walked into the room...

The art teacher, who eventually became a school board member and extremely antagonistic towards teachers, had a limited repertoire. The students drew...period. They used colored pencils, markers and crayons. No paint...no clay...nothing else but colored pencils, markers and crayons. I was fresh from the education school...and I knew the value to young children of using a variety of artistic media. So...I got tempera paints and set up an easel in my room. The kids painted every day. It was a mess, but they loved it. I don't think most of them had ever painted before...probably never again, either. It was worth cleaning up every day.

The number of students in the room changed as the year went on. Migrant workers came and went and their children attended school for a couple of months...then left. The highest number of students I had at one time was 38...and, for a while, it got as low as 32.

I started reading aloud to students the first day. I continued the practice nearly every day for the rest of the years I taught in a grade level classroom. No matter what grade...K through 6...I read every day. I also used sustained silent reading each day. All of us, would stop everything and read. At the beginning of the year in third grade we would read for 5 minutes. Some of the students couldn't maintain concentration longer than that. By the end of the year, the Sustained Silent Reading Time was lasting 30-35 minutes.

With that many students the paperwork load was astonishing. I spent at least 2 hours every evening trying to keep up. Eventually I learned how to review student work without having to grade everything. I also learned to teach without using so much paper.

Looking back on that year I realize that I did so many things wrong...wasted so much of my time on little things that didn't matter...and wasted the students' time requiring things that were not particularly educationally sound. At that time, there were no mentor teachers...I got to the school and I was on my own. Other teachers made suggestions, but I struggled alone. Somehow we all survived.

All in all, the experience of my first year was not as difficult as some others have had. It was not as hard for me as the year I taught 6th grade - after 18 years of experience. I've been really lucky to have taught in schools with students whose parents care about them...help them...appreciate their teachers...and consider themselves part of the team working to help their children learn. I've been lucky to teach with colleagues who were dedicated to helping their students grow. In all the years I've taught...at all the schools...with all the teachers...I have never met a teacher who was in it for any reason other than helping their students. I'm proud to have been associated with so many dedicated professionals.

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