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Entry date: 5-25-2022 - Teacher Stuff vol. 4513 - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

Whew. I’m kind of glad to be finished with the army story. Since these are all first drafts, I’ve noticed how they jog the memory a bit as I read back through them. I wish I had pictures from that time.

As the school year ticks down, I keep thinking of things I would have done differently if I had it to do over. I’d love to read an anthology of teacher’s journals as they reflect on their first year in the classroom. I’m sure it would have been very helpful to have had something like that to read almost a year ago now.

I have a master’s degree, but I honestly don’t know how much it helped me prepare for this year. I should probably go back and read all the things I had to write back in the first semester to complete my degree. I’m guessing it might make me laugh. I feel like so much of this year has been smoke and mirrors.

I think the one thing I have learned the most on how to be an effective teacher in this first year is classroom management. With second graders, you have to sweat the small stuff. It is a must if you want to keep any semblance of sanity. They are definitely like little sponges at this age, but they sponge up each other’s bad habits more than anything else if you let them.

If I was able to do a reset, I would have started off with a firmer hand on behavior as I second guessed myself a lot on what the whole “Don’t let them see you smile until Christmas” mentality. I suppose it is human nature to want other humans to like you, especially tiny, cute human beings with smiles that melt your heart, but I think I wanted them to like me a bit more than I should have in the first couple of months.

I’m wondering about one student who was just angry and wanted to test me at every turn in the first month of the year. I wonder if I would have had a stronger yet more consistent hand with her if I could have turned it around. Her removal from the school was more due to her sister messing up continually, but she was doing her best to get removed from school on her own, too.

Her departure really changed the personality of my class, though, and for the better. I think there was a collective sigh of relief when she was gone. I had another boy who was super angry as well. He rarely came to school and eventually was moved to a new school, but he couldn’t handle any criticism or redirection at all. He would just sit there and be so mad over being told to be quiet or that he was not following directions. One wonders about these kids and what it is they are so mad at almost every day.

I’m not naïve. I know many of my students are coming from very terrible and sad situations. I have touched on this before in this blog. Reflection, though, tells me that even though I have a background in abuse and violence prevention and social emotional learning, I was not adequately prepared to create the safe learning environment my students needed. There was nothing of substance in my graduate program that helped me prepare for dealing with the numerous challenges of my students, however vicariously or trying to catch up from way behind.

If I were to do a doctorate, I would want to explore the delicate relationship of social and emotional learning in a classroom where there are students who have varying levels of trauma. I have a student who has already lost a parent to death, for example, and the surviving parent is working themselves to the bone to support three children. I would have loved to have been more prepared to support him this year.

Allocation of time to each student is an interesting thing to look at as well. My class has been right around 30 students all year. I started off with 34 on my roster, but I had three that never showed up from the beginning. One came the first day and never came back. That was an odd situation.

This poor kid came the first day of school and was obviously sick. We were all wearing masks at the time as it was still school policy, but at one point this poor kid sneezed so hard that he blew snot out of the sides of his mask. I sent him to the nurse as he was clearly in bad shape and never saw him again. Two weeks later he disappeared from my roster.

But back to how to configure yourself so that you are giving each student an equitable amount of attention. I have about six hours and 50 minutes with them in total before you take out lunch and specials. On Tuesdays, my students have (or had, depending on if you are reading this after June 10) two specials, so cut that down to five hours and five minutes before lunch with takes out another 45 minutes I don’t have them. How do I divide 4 hours and 20 minutes of instruction time between teaching four or five different lessons and working with individual students?

This is where I know I can get better. Being something of a rule follower (when it comes to work and when it suits me), I try to stick to the schedule that was approved by my principal at the beginning of the year. My first principal was a huge proponent of small group learning, so that was both a challenge and an effective way to get more pseudo-one-on-one time with the kids. I feel like the kids who really need the most SEL support benefitted from small group and individual work, so moving forward, I would work to figure out how to make the balance tilt a bit in their favor here.

Lots to ponder here.

See you tomorrow.

Thanks to our paraprofessional for taking this picture. My students are the best.

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