Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Start of the Year

The start of the year is always a blur. I plan, organize, prepare, and still am left in awe. Twenty years in to this career, sixteen in my district, six in this grade level, and I am still learning. Maybe when I retire I will finally figure out how on earth to get everything done I need to get done, but for now I am simply along for the ride.

The first few weeks of school also coincide with football games and practices for my two boys. It is crazy. I think I am constantly driving someone somewhere, all the while thinking of what I need to do. It is the time of year where I come home from work, plop down in a chair in my kitchen, grab my laptop, and begin working again. Two hours later someone will wonder in and ask what's for dinner and I will be shocked to see that the time has passed. It is the time to remember that I will never be caught up and trying to get caught up will drive me to madness. 

Judging by the amount of emails, Facebook messages, Twitter messages, and Tweets I've had about the start of the year just this week, I think I am not alone in this struggle. I've had so many wonderful teachers reach out with questions, that I thought I'd address a lot of similar concerns here. Remember, we're all in this together. It gets easier. 

Things to remember...

1. Start Slow
I think this is especially important for those of us that taught the same grade last year. You remember those kids that just left. How they knew to bring a notebook to the carpet for mini-lessons. How transitions and the schedule flowed. You didn't need to tell them to put their homework in the third tray for their class. For me, those kids were almost ready for sixth grade. This new group? They just left fourth. They are light years from the children that just inhabited this classroom. I have to slow down, remember. These kids will get there soon, but you have to go back. Teach the routines. It takes time. 

2. Technology
I use a lot of technology in my language arts class. The main struggle I have at the start of the year is tech. My students that just left seamlessly transitioned from notebook to iPad to laptop, depending on what they were doing. They new the programs we used and how to be responsible online. A new group coming in has to be taught all of that. I struggle with the feeling of not "really" teaching until everything is up and running. I want to rush through, give a brief overview, and get the workshop started. That doesn't work. Over the past week and a half, I have taught my students:
  • Padlet
  • Twitter
  • Reminders on Google Drive
  • iPad overview
  • Booksource Classroom Organizer
  • How to do a Google search 
  • Audioboom
  • How to make a QR code
We've been in school for eight days. I think I could teach in more depth on many of these topics as our year goes on, but the students seem to have an overall grasp so far. Some were just brief lessons in passing, some were the mini-lesson for that day. We're getting there. 

3. The decorations don't make the room, the kids do
I've had this conversation with so many educator friends of late. I think I blame it all on Pinterest. It is there to make us feel inadequate if our rooms are not adorned in chevron stripes with beautiful colors all over our room. Nope. Not going there.

Years ago I had a professor at Roosevelt University named Barb Dress. She told us that if our rooms looked "finished" before school started, we were doing something wrong. She said a true classroom would have blank walls - they were waiting for student work. There would be a lack of "teacher made items" because that was pointless. There would be little to no anchor charts up because the purpose of an anchor chart was to be made with the students. I took that to heart. 

I'm eight days into the school year. Most of my bulletin boards are still blank. We're building our classroom together. The kids are there. Their photos are up. The room is filled with books and ugly old furniture from my house. It's a great place to be. 

4. Mistakes will happen
In the past eight days I have over planned - the first week's lessons alone could take me to September. I forgot kids names. Technology has failed. Students said mean things to each other. Someone tweeted the poop emoji. I gave many Mrs. S Life Lessons speeches. 

I've cried in front of the kids because I was moved by their actions. I've laughed. We've had great moments and some that could have been better. Each mistake and each success go together to tell our story of our year together. But that's the good stuff. 

I sat in the room on the side on Friday while another teacher was in the room giving a presentation. I realized that as crazy as everything is, as much as I still need to do, I felt at peace. One of my boys glanced up from his spot on the couch and grinned at me and gave me a half wave. I think we are on the right track. 

The start of the year might be crazy. It might give me more gray hair than I want, but it is the building time. The relationships are being formed, the backbone of our workshop is being created, and the year has begun. I think it will be my best one yet.