The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Archive for August, 2011

Benchmarks

Yesterday we had our first regular math test. I haven’t finished grading them yet, actually, but I expect to have them done either tonight or tomorrow. In the meantime, we have started moving forward with our math curriculum, working now on comparing numbers.

But yesterday’s math test wasn’t the end of our beginning-of-the-year mathematics assessment. My district uses AIMSweb to use some pretty awesome benchmarks to see where the students are at in the computational skills and their understanding of concepts and applications. The two benchmarks we use are called the M-COMP and the M-CAP. Most of the teachers did theirs last week, but, due to my absence on Monday, I missed the meeting about them. So I got them taken care of today.

The benchmark assessments are actually pretty straightforward: the students have 8 minutes to complete each, so it only takes about about 20 minutes to complete the entire assessment battery. I was able to get them graded and loaded into the AIMSweb database this afternoon, and now have a fairly decent baseline understanding of what my students know, what they should know, and where I need to go from here.

In the meantime, I should be having some America Reads tutors coming to the class soon, and I’ll be able to have them help out with some of the students who need extra support in class. Also, I have one parent who is going to be coming in once a week to help out as well. This is not only going to make my job easier, it is also going to help my students progress at a much faster rate than if I was working with them on my own.

Now that the major benchmark testing is done (we’ve already done the DIBELS testing on all of the students), we are ready for the next step: creating more differentiated lesson plans that meet the needs of each student. Some may claim that that is just a bunch of meaningless buzzword nonsense, but, really, it is what I am all about doing. It is pretty cool stuff, and I am glad to finally be a part of it!


Taking a Test

Sorry about the late blog post, folks! I had several other commitments this evening, and then my wife decided that we should eat dinner and we wanted to watch a movie, too.

Anyway, I wasn’t with my class this morning. My wife had a doctor’s appointment, and I decided to take the morning off so that I could go with her. (She is fine, by the way.) When I got back, the class was doing a phenomenal job working with their substitute teacher, who was going over a math review with them.

After lunch, I finished reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and then we had some free time in class before taking the test. (I had a couple of students out of the room, and I wanted to wait for everyone to be there before we started.) We reviewed the expectations we have during tests: no talking, no cheating, and no getting out of your seat without first asking. I reminded them that these expectations are in full force until everyone has finished the test. I also issued the usual warning that anyone who talks during the test will have to take it again the following day in the principal’s office.

I was very pleased that the class was respectful of one another throughout the time. Nobody was talking, nobody was getting out of their seats and, as far as I could tell, nobody was peeking at anyone else’s test. (They put up folders to block the view, anyway.) It took a little bit longer than I initially expected for everyone to finish but you know what? That was totally okay. Everyone got time to work on the test and give their best effort. Those who finished early got time to read, write, or draw.

At the end of the day, I gave the students the usual high five as they filed out the door. One student who has shunned the high five actually gave me one today. I still get the two girls who just give me one, and the couple of boys who prefer to smack their heads against my hand, but that’s okay. I like to end the day with a positive note, and I think it works well.

Tomorrow we begin week two of Dodgeball. I have to remember to select two random students to assist as referees during the games. Should be a good time!


Boot Camp

Today the students in my building were put through boot camp.

Well, that was what the PBIS team decided to call it, at least.

Really, it was just a brief 45-minute period during which the various grade levels were rotated through stations to learn about specific behavioural expectations throughout the building. The fourth grade went through around 1:15, starting with an assembly in the gym with the principal to discuss expectations when we have assemblies, then to a station in the hallway near the doors we use for recess to learn about playground expectations (notice a pattern here?), followed by a different section of the hallway for the hallway expectations and wrapping up with the restrooms for, yes, the expectations for the restrooms.

While most of the information presented had been taught and discussed over the past week in the classroom, it was good to have the students hear it again from a variety of teachers. Also, every student in the building who was present today heard the same message, so now everyone knows that everyone knows the expectations. In addition to be useful for student management in general, it is also a critical element of the PBIS model of having school-wide expectations.

My  students impressed each of our five presenters (we had two for the restrooms–one for the boys and one for the girls) with how well they were already modeling the expectations. I hope that this was not a fluke and that they will continue to show that they know how to behave appropriately in different situations. I am sure I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but I’m still going to say it now: I have an awesome class!

Yes, student of mine who is reading this, that even includes you! And yes, parents of the student of mine who are also reading this, that includes your child! I honestly enjoy having each and every single one of my twenty-six–soon to be twenty-seven–students in my class. It has been a good start to what is surely going to be a great week!


The Classroom Birthday Party

Kids like birthdays. Teenagers like birthdays. College students like birthdays. Adults claim to hate them. I’m not sure what happens after we graduate college, but it just seems that most adults loathe the idea of getting older. I am not one of those adults. I love celebrating my birthday, I love celebrating my wife’s birthday, and I love that our birthdays are so close together that we celebrate for nearly a week. (I believe in celebrating the day before, the day of, and the day after one’s birthday, which means we celebrate our birthdays from January 25 until January 29. It is pretty awesome.) I also enjoy celebrating the birthdays of friends and family.

So, of course, I am a huge fan of the classroom birthday party. Back when I was in grade school, this usually involved Mum baking two dozen (sometimes with a couple extra) cupcakes, frosting them, and putting them in an easily transportable container to be brought to the class, along with napkins, to announce to my peers that, yes, I was officially a year older. I think I was in fourth or fifth grade when fears of hepatitis first began to grow and baked goods were generally discouraged at school. This continued on for some time, with school-sanctioned PTA bake sales being put to an end and students being asked to provide pre-packaged treats for their birthdays. By the time I was in high school, though, my friends and I discovered the joys of getting together and baking cookies, so we would bring our own homemade goodies in for birthdays and other celebrations all the time. Birthdays, terminal points of the semester, teachers’ birthdays, and just-for-the-heck-of-it were all valid reasons for bringing in treats. And, of course, the cookies that our band director’s mother would make for us after concerts–my friend Rusty and I would regularly joke about getting the lucky silver hair in the chocolate chip cookie.

Good times, indeed.

Today was the first day of the year that someone in our class had a birthday. We actually have birthdays fairly well spread out over the year, so I am sure we will have more birthday parties with some regularity. The class sang to the student who was celebrating the beginning of his ninth year. It was… um… it was interesting. I didn’t sing along with them, but I let them serenade him, and they sang their hearts out. What they lacked in rhythm and tone they made up for with gusto. Good for them!

After singing, the treats (cookies, most of which were sugar-free) were passed out. Then we all turned and watched as the birthday boy took his cookie and took a bite. I did what I always do: announced it as a play-by-play:

Okay, let’s all turn and watch as [student] takes a bite of his cookie! He is making his way to his seat… he is picking up his choice… and, oh, there he goes, it is all gone! Happy birthday, [student]! You may all eat your treats now!

Some students drink in their attention and drag it out as long as they can, slowly biting into the treat and making everyone wait for that first bite to be finished. Others just chow down and stuff it all in their mouth at once. Today’s birthday boy was definitely in the latter category. Everyone enjoyed their cookies, then, after a quick drink break, they jumped into games, reading, writing, drawing, and puzzling–being Friday, it was time for Read, Write, Think! I brought in a few games for the class, and was very glad to see nearly everyone participating in something that had them actively using their minds.

All in all, today was a fairly good end to a fairly good week. I actually have to go into the room to do a bit more work tomorrow afternoon to finish preparing for the coming week, but I am going to be able to spend most of my weekend relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather. And the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival. My wife and I will be helping out in one of the booths selling festival t-shirts and hats. If you are in the area, I hope you’ll stop by; we’ll be there from about 5-8 pm.

Happy weekend!


Dodgeball!

When I was a kid in school, we never played dodgeball. At least, we never played a game that my phys. ed. teachers called dodgeball. As a matter of fact, we played two different forms of the game: bombardment (which is the fairly standard way of playing) and four-corner dodgeball (oh, the word was in there, but the emphasis was placed on the “four-corner” bit). Oddly enough, I never knew that the game we knew as “bombardment” was actually dodgeball. You see, there was a lengthy period of time during which it was considered improper for elementary students to play dodgeball. The game was unfair, unsafe, and unproductive.

By the time I made it to college, I had been thoroughly versed in the pedagogical theory of the evils of dodgeball. When I enrolled in my kinesiology class, we actually spent a considerable amount of time discussing why the game was so awful. I shared with my classmates the four-corner variety, which everyone agreed was more fun for all. (Perhaps I will outline the rules of this version another day.) I recently learned that there are an insanely large number of variations to this game, and the Wikipedia article on the subject does not even begin to give justice to them all. If you are interested, I suggesting finding a local kinesiologist, particularly one who has specialised in children’s kinesiology, and ask them to enlighten you.

Ironically, my first real exposure to a game called “dodgeball” was actually the Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller movie of the same name. After watching, I realised that the game we played in grade school was essentially the same game, just with larger teams. While there are some elements of the movie that are not appropriate for children, I still find it very funny. It is full of classic lines, such as, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!” Please note: I do not actually support this aggressive pedagogical style.

As a self-contained general education instructor at the elementary level in Urbana, I am responsible for teaching physical education to my class. On our first day, we simply did some basic aerobic exercises and got used to what we are supposed to do in the gym. Yesterday we began some more formal activities. Not knowing all of the resources I have available, and having been begged by my students to let them, I decided to have the class play dodgeball.

The first time we played, they wanted to have the teams be boys against girls. I’m not sure why either team thought this would be fun or fair. The boys in the class tend to be considerably more aggressive, and so they won the game quite quickly. So then I divided the girls at random and the boys at random and then divided them in teams of roughly half boys/half girls. This time, the game went much longer.

Today we continued our exploration of dodgeball. We reviewed the rules, discussed what was and was not acceptable, and I gave the class time to strategise before we started. I don’t know what any of the strategies were, though. The game went on for nearly 45 minutes before we had to wrap up. One of the rules that the students implemented was the way students would be released from being out after being hit or having a ball caught. The first way was if a member of their team caught a ball. The other was if someone on their team hit the basketball backboard on the opposite side of the gym. In both cases, every student on that team who was out would be able to rejoin the game. This was probably the most likely reason for the game carrying on as long as it did.

However, that was exactly my plan. The students were running, throwing, catching, and playing for a long period of time. Several were very sweaty as a result. Nobody tried to sit out or just stand around doing nothing. And everyone was involved in one way or another. I was very impressed with the encouragement offered to fellow team members. I’ve decided that we are going to spend two more days on dodgeball next week before moving on to a different activity. I am hoping to see an increase of sportsmanship, activity, and teamwork. If the past week has been any indicator, I have no doubt my class will rise to the occasion!


New Student

The first few weeks of school are always full of changes. Students and teachers are getting used to each other, the school is getting used to each class, teachers are getting acquainted (or reacquainted), and families move in and out of the district. Most classes have had changes along these last lines. Our class has been no exception.

One of the students assigned to our class had moved before school started, and it took a while before the information made it to us. Today we had a new student join our class. I was really impressed with how well everyone seemed to reach out and make him feel welcome and a part of our classroom community. I had to do very little in terms of explaining procedures and expectations because his classmates did it for me. This is just one more indication that we have already begun to establish ourselves as a community of learners. I am excited to see where we go from here!

On a related note, I found out today that there had been a glitch in our school’s mailing list and, as a result, I had not been receiving the daily emails with updates and the such. So, I didn’t know about the new student until I checked the online attendance posting and saw his name. Whoops! Fortunately, I am on the mailing list now, though, so all is well in our universe!


On Reading and Numbers

After several days of community building, expectation setting, and procedure developing, I realised that my class was ready for some formal curriculum. I had planned on starting it yesterday, but what with the emergency and running off and all, it mostly got bumped to today, although they did get started on the reading program yesterday.

We spent the morning on literacy, and actually spent about 30 minutes longer than initially planned doing it! I love how into the topic my class got! We were working on making a simple story map for the story Akiak, which is about the lead dog of an Alaskan sled team in the Iditarod getting removed from her team due to an injury then escaping and finding her team again. (Obviously, I am leaving a lot out, but that’s the general gist of it. If you are really interested, I highly recommend finding a copy at your local library or asking if you can borrow mine. Oh, yeah, I have my own copy of this book.) The students did a great job of identifying key parts of the story and also recognising that the graphic organiser we were using didn’t provide nearly enough spaces for the details they felt were important. There were even respectful disagreements about what was and was not essential to the book! If this is what all of our book talks are going to be like, I am anticipating some pretty awesome literature studies!

After lunch, I decided it was time to jump into the math curriculum. We did an inventory test yesterday to gauge how well they remembered the concepts they learned in 3rd grade. It turns out that there was a considerable amount of loss (sometimes called rescidivism, but that’s kind of an incorrect usage of the word) over the summer. I am giving the students time to work on making corrections, though. In the meantime, on to numbers! I started the lesson off with a deceptively simple question: What is a number?

The students started to give me a wide variety of answers as I wrote them on the board. We listed about six–one of my favourites being “a number is a maleficent force of evil that makes our lives miserable” or something along those lines… I am really wishing I had actually recorded the answer verbatim!–and then I pulled out “The Big Kahuna” (my massive Webster’s Universal Dictionary) to read the official definition. Did you know that there are at least 44 distinct definitions for this one simple word? I read the first seven before stopping, much to the relief of my students! This activity gave us a great segue into the first lesson of the year, on the four most common ways numbers are used: counting, measuring, labeling, and ordering. As with the literacy lesson, we ended up spending considerably more time than I expected on it, but I was very impressed with how well my students stayed on topic and how they worked as a class community to better understand the concepts.

The best part of the day, though? When I asked the students to give me a definition for “checkpoint” and after one student referenced the checkpoint flags in Super Mario Bros, another responded to checkpoints during a walkathon, which led another to talk about checkpoints during races and so on. I still think I spent too much time talking today, but the class is well on its way to becoming a community of learners who interact with and engage one another on a regular basis! I just hope that I can keep this up and see how it reflects in their success in reaching their goals!


Sudden Emergencies

For the past several years, I have grown accustomed to that fact that, as a substitute teacher, I would have to deal with sudden emergencies. These ranged from teachers having emergencies and having to run out of the classroom to students having complete meltdowns and me, as the teacher, having to respond appropriately to the emergency. There were also the frequent not-so-urgent emergencies of students needing band-aids, the class running out of tissues, and other such oddities.

This morning I went to work excited to jump into the curriculum this week. Our Title I specialists were going to be teaming up with our special education teachers to begin the DIBELS assessment (a literacy diagnostic tool) while I was administering a grade four inventory test for math, which is used to see what kind of math knowledge retention the students have maintained over the summer. This is incredibly useful in helping me know where my students are at and where I need to begin.

In the middle of the morning, I got an “urgent phone call” in the office, and had to leave my room in the hands of one of our many capable support staff members. The urgency of the call was sufficient that I found myself needing to leave for the remainder of the day to attend to the issue. My principal, who, in case I haven’t mentioned it before, is an amazingly wonderful individual, helped me arrange for a sub and even arrange for a ride home, since my wife had the car.

I had to quickly put together plans for the rest of the day (no detailed plans because I am still playing things by ear with my class as we figure out exactly what we need to be doing). I hope that the plans made sense. I let my students know that I had to leave, but that I would be back in the morning and was looking forward to a great report from the substitute.

I haven’t been back to the room yet, but I am going to be going there in a little bit and am hoping and praying that everything is still there. I fully expect the report on my students to be primarily positive and encouraging, but I also know the realities of being a substitute teacher called in to a class in the middle of the day. I’ll be sure to update after I’ve read the note!


Read, Write, Think!

If you Google the phrase “read write think,” you will almost certainly find yourself directed to a website with that same title. Read Write Think is a program that uses the guidelines of the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English to promote best practices in literacy instruction. I first found the organisation through StumbleUpon, but I have decided to steal this title for a different activity I came up with for my class.

All of that is a complicated way to tell anyone who has found this blog post by searching for “read write think” that it may not be what you were looking for; however, I am sure there are some ideas here that you might like to try in your class.

The idea is simple in implementation, and based on the current driving theory of educational psychology. The theoretical framework is that of metacognition: learning how we know and knowing how we learn. It is really all about stretching our minds by engaging in activities that make us think about what we are doing before, during, and after we do it. It is a lot of fun to just think about metacognition, and it is a lot of fun to learn about it. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want to learn about how we learn about how we learn? (Yes, I know I am a geek. Proud of it!)

There are some teachers who use Friday afternoon as a fun time to stop the formal curriculum and give the students a chance to take a break. But one of my five core expectations is that the class members have fun with a purpose. And thus, Read, Write, Think! was born. The students are given about 30-45 minutes to engage in any of the following activities alone, with partners, or in groups:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Drawing
  • Folding paper
  • Working on puzzles
  • Working on other work

The key is that they are allowed to chose what they do, with whom they do it, and how they will accomplish what they are doing. The options are not limitless, but they are open enough that the students can ask me if they can do something and, as long as they can justify how it is a reading, writing, or thinking activity, I will allow them to do it. They are also allowed to get comfortable in the room. Several choose to work in a group on the floor in one of our more open areas. Others choose to put their feet up on their desks and lean back. Another group worked at the back table. I was pleased that everyone was engaged in some cognitive task or another; nobody tried to sneak in a nap or just sit around doing nothing.

All in all, our first experiment with Read, Write, Think! went incredibly well! I am looking forward to repeating this each Friday, and I expect that students will continue to make good use of the time as they stretch their minds. Today I let them work with little interruption from me. Next week I will start going around and conferencing with the students to ask them what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what they are learning from it.

As I told my class today, my goal for the year is to help them learn how to learn on their own; to teach them how to think so that they can learn new skills and acquire knowledge without me showing them how. I realise that this was only the third day of school, but I think we are well on our way!


Rules of Procedure

When the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower were preparing to send a landing party to the coasts of North America and they realised that they needed to have something by which to govern themselves before they started their colony. The founding fathers of the United States of America drafted several different documents in their pursuit of creating a government by the people and of the people. Each state in our nation has a constitution to guide the direction of the state, and each city has a charter with laws and ordinances. Many private and public organisations have charters, mission statements, handbooks, guidebooks, and policies that provide a framework for acceptable actions.

So is it any surprise that a classroom needs to have the same?

Yesterday we spent a considerable amount of time getting to know each other and discussing our expectations for appropriate behaviour in our classroom community. Today we broke things down further and discussed a wide variety of procedures. I started the day by asking the students to come up with five endings to this statement:

“I want to know what I should do when I …”

With 24 of our 25 students present, I knew we were going to get a lot of answers, but I also knew we’d have a lot of similar questions. And so it was that we spent the morning discussing things like what to do when a student needs a pencil or a piece of paper; when someone need to go to the bathroom or would like to get a drink of water; what members of the class should do if they need help with their work or they come in late and are wondering what they should do or just have a question. There were many other such questions, covering things from what to do when feeling nauseous to what to do if you get attacked by a wild, frothing-at-the-mouth dog. I was impressed with the quality of questions, and even more so with the quality of suggestions.

We worked out basic solutions to each of the questions that I had recorded on the board (I think there were about two dozen total), and got it all done before lunch. We took a fifteen minute break in the middle, but the class worked on it from 9:30 until 11:30. I was sure to praise them for staying focused for such a long time, and pointed out that many large groups of adults I’ve been with have a hard time doing that. I also let them know that most days would not be spent sitting in our chairs doing what we did today. Most days will have lots of movement, small group work, breaks and pauses, and other such variety. But today was a day to establish procedures, and they did a great job.

The afternoon was spent mostly getting to know each other better. After doing a 30-minute read aloud (and still having groans because I stopped in the middle of a chapter), we used my random number generator (a mini soccer ball with the numbers 0-10 written on the white spaces) to answer questions about family, friends, books, movies, TV shows, board games, video games, bands/musicians, school subjects, and foods. (Zero was a student’s choice category.) Then we tossed the ball around the room and gave each student an opportunity to share something about him- or herself by responding to the category that corresponded to the number being touched by a thumb. It worked pretty well, although one girl accidentally poked another in the eye while trying to catch the ball. Fortunately there was no real injury!

After playing the game, I paired the students up and had them complete a Venn diagram comparing themselves with the categories of favourite food, colour, book, video game, and school subject (I think… the students selected these categories). I was really impressed at how well they did with them, and even more so when several pairings added categories to see if they could come up with more similarities! (Also, being able to compare and contrast is part of the skill set required for fourth grade, so they are already on their way to showing mastery at it!)

The afternoons are always going to be the part of the day that just flies by. We get back from lunch at 12:30, then have a 30-minute read aloud followed by 45 minutes of instructional time before the students go to fine arts. They return at 2:20 and we finish up the day by having our class meeting and, hopefully, by having an afternoon recess. I told the class that I hope we can get our work done early enough each day so that they can earn this recess, but, since recess is not a requirement of their education, it is a privilege that they will receive only when they finish the work that is planned for the day.

All in all, day two was quite excellent! We have covered most of the expectations and procedures for the classroom, and will begin to practice them over the next few days. Tomorrow is also going to see the introduction of a weekly afternoon activity I am calling “Read, Write, Think!” (I am stealing the name from a professional educational literacy organisation, but our implementation is going to be considerably different.) I’ll most likely be writing about this tomorrow, though, so I’ll leave it at that for now.


Day the First

First day. Day one. Day One. D-Day. The Day. The Big Day. T minus zero hours and counting. Whatever you want to call it, today was it.

The students arrived and I, along with the rest of the faculty and staff at Wiley, met them at the front of the building, where we congregated as teachers and students and then recited the Wiley Promise and Pledge of Allegiance. Then it was off to our rooms to start the day!

We spent the first part of the morning just getting to know each other. I asked the students to fill out a couple of questionnaires so that they could tell me about their hobbies, reading habits, favourite books, movies, television shows, etc. Then I took time to introduce myself more fully, sharing my background and how excited I am to be teaching at Wiley this year.

In the middle of my introduction, one of my students said that he has read my blog. I was surprised! Apparently several parents have Googled my name and found this. Welcome, welcome, parents and guardians of my charges! I told the students that I love to blog about my experiences teaching, but that I will never use a student’s name and I will never write anything bad. After all, I want to keep it positive! Who knows, maybe I’ll let the students contribute every now and then!

We then spent the remainder of our morning discussing the three core areas of our school’s positive behaviour expectations: Be responsible, be respectful, and be safe. I asked the students to work in groups of two or three and come up with a list of ways that they can show that they are being responsible, showing respect, and being safe. We are going to talk more about these things tomorrow and Friday, as well.

The afternoon was started off with a read-aloud (I am reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to the class to start the year off), and I was pleased to have a chorus of complaints when I stopped after just 15 minutes. I think I’ll shoot for 30 tomorrow. Then I gave the class time to work on the questionnaires more. Those who finished were given the options to read quietly at their seats, draw pictures, write, or work with the puzzles I have in the back of the room. I have three wooden block puzzles, and Rubik’s cube-type puzzle, and a weird sliding, turning thing that I found with my supplies when I moved in. This will hopefully become a regular practice for the class.

We are going to be going to art class each afternoon for the next six weeks (except on Tuesdays, when we have library in the morning), and then we wrapped up our day by having a class meeting about my core expectations:

  1. Don’t talk when someone else is talking and raise your hand when you have something to share.
  2. Respond appropriately when I say, “Give me five!”
  3. KYHFOOTY – Keep your hands, feet, and other objects to yourself.
  4. No fires and no defenestration.
  5. Have fun with a purpose!

I asked the students to put down their heads and close their eyes and then raise their hands if they were willing to commit to trying their best to meet these expectations. We will be spending more time tomorrow discussing these and drafting our class constitution, wording it in terms of responsibility, respect, and safety.

And then the day was done! I survived and they survived. A few parents popped in at the end of the day to say hello and to see how things went. I was very pleased to be able to give good reports to all who asked. Now to see if this is just a honeymoon period, or if we really are a class ready to change the world!


Orientation and Professional Development

As a new teacher to my district, I had the awesome experience of spending roughly 27 hours over the past several days in the same large room with a few dozen other new teachers, learning about the district and going through some of our district-wide professional development programs.

To some, I am sure that this sounds like something absolutely horrible. Between six and eight hours a day for four days. It was intense, but it was awesome. I went in having no clue what I was going to be doing. I left feeling great about my decision to work in this district. I also feel like I am much more prepared for the start of the year in just six days. So even though it was long, it was also very informative and very relevant.

The first day was spent meeting the district administrative staff, learning about the professionally negotiated agreement (i.e. our contract), and filling out paperwork for employment and benefits. There were many great parts of the day, but I was really struck by a few comments made by our superintendent and some of his assistants:

“If you have a question and your mentor can’t help you, your colleagues can’t help, and your principal can’t help, then I want you to give me a call, and I will come to your room, watch what you’re doing, and then help you come up with a plan. Seriously, give me a call. My phone number is…” This is a paraphrase of something that was said by my superintendent. And yes, he was serious.

“We have to redefine ourselves. We have to set the standards for our success.” That was the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in response to the trend to allow federal and state laws to define successful teaching.

“If you can’t tell me what you expect, how are you going to teach it?” This was said by the Illinois PBIS Technical Assistance Coordinator. I thought it was a pretty good way to explain why expectations are critical to lesson planning, delivery, and assessment.

Day two was mostly focused on OSHA training, like Bloodborne Pathogens Training (don’t touch blood, and don’t touch people who are bleeding, unless you are wearing protective gear). Then we were introduced to the various district personnel who work specifically with new teachers, and I met my mentor, one of the Title I teachers in my building who will be my go-to colleague for those days when I suddenly realise I have no idea what I am doing. (I don’t actually expect this to happen often, but I am still looking forward to being in the new teacher induction program.)

Yesterday and today were my first official professional development training. We were introduced to Project CRISS, which is a very awesome program Urbana uses to facilitate student-centered teaching and learning. There was a lot of information thrown at us over the past couple of days, but I learned a lot of great teaching strategies, new ways to implement old strategies, and the research-based framework that guides what we are doing. I took quite a few notes and stole a number of ideas from the trainers and my colleague that I am excited to implement this year. Some of them are going to be used on Day One!

A big focus of Project CRISS is metacognition which is, as one trainer explained it, knowing when we learning, learning what we know, and knowing when we aren’t learning. I also like to think of it as knowing what we are learning, why we are learning it, and how we are learning, all at once. With that in mind, I think this statement made by another trainer was really intriguing: “Content is merely a vehicle that assists us in becoming better learners” (paraphrased). It isn’t so important what we teach; it is what we (and our students) are learning as we teach it. As the example, we did a classification activity about woodchucks. Sure, we learned a lot about woodchucks. But more importantly, we learned how to organise information and classify it in a meaningful way. As an educator, the most important question I have to ask myself isn’t “what do I want my students to learn?” It is, “What do I want my students to learn by doing this?” It may be a subtle difference, but it is an important one.

Now that I am done with the training, I have a couple more days to spend in my room getting things organised, situated and, hopefully, meeting my counterpart! But for now, my brain is worn out, so it is time to sleep and to process!


Let the Adventures Begin!

Welcome to my new blogging home! If you are a first-time visitor, I hope you’ll take time to read my about pages to learn more about me and my journey in education. If you are someone who had been following my adventures in substituting and can’t get enough of my stories, I’m glad you can! And if you are somehow a repeat visitor to this site who hasn’t visited my other one… well, congratulations on finding my blog before I had announced it!

So, my adventures have already begun! They started as soon as I got a phone call last Tuesday extending the invitation to work at Wiley Elementary and have been going non-stop since. After spending the day telling people about my new job, I went to bed early, took my wife to work the next day, and spent a good part of Wednesday staring at my my new classroom, trying to figure out what to do first. By way of reference, this is what I found when I visited my room for the first time:

Doesn’t look too bad, right? Well, other than the fact that the desks are all in  group in the middle with no space around them, but that’s to be expected. Okay, let’s take a closer look at what I had waiting for me! Let’s start with the TV cart:

A nice large television, a combo VCR/DVD player, a large flatbed scanner, and some stuff on the bottom. All useful, although the scanner definitely belongs elsewhere!

Okay, so the scanner is old and uses a massive plug to connect. I’m happy to have it, though!

I gotta admit it: I have no idea what to do with this old-style filmstrip projector, or even how to use it. I’m guessing it will not be staying in my room… but then again, maybe it will. (Along with the portable screen there on the left.)

Then there are the boxes…

And more boxes…

Fortunately, I have lots of shelf space in my room, but I haven’t taken any good pictures to show just how many shelves I have.

Other things I discovered included a pitchfork…

… and a giant mirror, used once-upon-a-time for observations:

I have to figure out a way to cover up the mirror, though, since it is apparently quite the source of distraction for fourth graders. I am thinking of acquiring a large sheet of corkboard and turning it in a large bulletin board.

After spending a lot of time just staring at the room and trying to figure out what to do first, I decided to tackle the desks. I am planning for 30 students, so I initially tried an arrangement of six groups of five. However, after Gretchen arrived and looked it over, we decided that the desks were too crowded, and she helped me switch them to four long rows. I currently have an aisle in the middle, but I may close it up to give more space in the room for a reading center and a table. All of that took up most of my day, so I left the boxes for later.

I came back on Thursday and unpacked the boxes. They contained all of my classroom books. After pulling them all out and sorting them, the room looked like a very well-organised mess:

Friday was spent putting all of the books away and sorting through the various non-textbook books I had, such as teachers’ editions, supplements, binders of miscellaneous stuff, and old curriculum guides. Oh, in the foreground of the above picture you should be able to see a large stack of papers on top of the green thing. Those papers are an inventory of the Wiley classroom supplies from 1989! I showed it to my principal and she just laughed. Teachers keep the strangest things.

I had hoped to not go to the room over the weekend, but I still had more to do. After putting away all of the books that had come with the room, I started bringing over my boxes of teaching stuff that I’ve been collecting over the years. I also boxed up and carted over the 250 or so juvenile fiction books that I’ve had sitting in my living room for some time. Gretch and I still haven’t figured out what we are going to do with the additional space when half of my books are gone!

I still have a lot to do, but I am making progress. I am worried about how much I’ll be able to accomplish this week, though, since I have new teacher/new employee orientation most of the day from Monday through Thursday. I’ll be going over each evening, though, and I’m sure I’ll get it done before school starts on the 15th!


The End of a Journey

For the first time in a very long time, I find myself struggling with words. How do I start this? What do I say? How do I say it? I usually write in a kind of extemporaneous way, with a general idea fixed in my but nothing specifically planned. But all of my words seem to come out too cliche and unoriginal.

Many of you who come to read my blog are also friends on Facebook and/or followers on Twitter, or you may be one of my family members who actually reads this. So most of you know already. But I have a hunch that I have a few lurkers who are none of the above.

I guess I can take my advice from The Sound of Music and just start at the very beginning. Well, okay, not the very beginning, but close enough to the beginning for my purposes.

The past couple of weeks have been quite busy ones for me. I had several job interviews, I started a new job, then started another new job, quit the first, and kept preparing for interviews. I heard back from the first interview quite quickly and learned the position had been filled. I came out of the second interview feeling lackluster about it. I didn’t think I had presented myself very well. I was upset with myself because the latter job was very much the job I have been looking for. However, I have a policy of not writing off an interview until I hear back from the interviewer.

So imagine my surprise when I got a call on Monday morning asking if I would be willing to come in for a second interview the following day.

I thought about what I needed to do to prepare for a second interview and realised that I had no idea. You see, I’ve never had a second interview before. I’ve either been hired on the basis of a first interview or I’ve never been called back. I was told that the interview would be fairly informal, just the principal and myself and maybe another teacher. The principal made a point that I did not need to get “all dressed up” or wear a suit. So I donned my brown leather shoes, light brown slacks, blue dress shirt, and my awesome Utahraptor tie my baby sister got me for Christmas. It is one of my favourite ties, and I wanted to show the principal the kind of attire she could expect me to wear every day at work.

I arrived for the interview and was shown around the school, including the room would possibly be mine. We talked about classroom management, education philosophies, best practices, and other esoteric topics that fascinate me but probably bore those not deeply invested in the education profession. Then we returned to her office and continued our discussions. She told me about the goals of the school, including their efforts to become a fine arts and international studies building without becoming a fine arts or international studies program. I shared my experiences living in Australia and my networking with other teachers across the nation and in other countries. I also talked a little bit about my missionary work in California and how it related to my teaching.

After about an hour (during which the other teacher never arrived), the other candidate arrived, so we had to end our interview. And it was our interview. The principal wanted to know what I wanted from her and her school, since I was shopping for a school as much as she was shopping for a teacher. On my way out, I greeted the other candidate, who happened to be the student teacher I’d worked with at Stratton while subbing for the 4th grade (gifted) teacher. That was when I realised that I was one of only two candidates being considered for the job. I left feeling considerably better about how I presented myself and about the job in general.

It was at 11:13 am CDT that I got the phone call that has, in no uncertain terms, changed my life. After saying hello and exchanging the requisite “how are you” queries, I heard this words: “Alex, I would like to invite you to join our team here at Wiley, if you are interested.”

Holy freaking cow!

After well over 1,000 applications to posting in over 350 districts in the state of Illinois, not to mention the many applications sent across the nation last summer, I finally found my new home.

My new home isn’t even that far from my current home. Wiley Elementary School (home of the coyotes, as my oldest brother was so kind to find out and tell me) is located in Urbana, Illinois, which is home to one of the three districts to have utilised me as a substitute teacher last year. Admittedly, I was only in Urbana twice, and it wasn’t at Wiley, but it is still one of those districts to have had me on their lists. So in addition to the wonderful joy of having a full-time teaching position after three years of searching, I have a full-time teaching position in my own community of Champaign-Urbana!

While on the phone, I sent Gretch a message on Google Chat that said, and I quote: “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE,” to which she responded, ” you ok dear?”

To be fair, she was at work, and may not have been fully aware of the sequence of events of the day. So when I got off the phone I called her and told her. Then I got the response I had expected: she squealed, told her coworkers, and said, “Oh my God… Oh my God… Oh my God! Honey, that’s great!” Ah, understatements, how I love thee!

I made Gretch promise not to say anything online until I had finished calling parents, which didn’t take me long. I called my mum, who didn’t answer, then my dad, who didn’t answer, then repeated until I got through to one then the other. I called Gretch’s mum, who was instrumental in me getting an interview, and then I let Gretch know that she could announce it to the world. I had already posted it on Facebook and Twitter, and, I’ll be honest: I have been shocked by the response! I knew a lot of people were waiting for such good news, but I didn’t realise how many there were! I’m not even sure if a positive pregnancy announcement (whenever that happens) will generate as much response!

Several more phone calls and emails were exchanged with my new principal. I will be attending new teacher orientation on Monday and Tuesday, and then new employee orientation on Tuesday afternoon. I am heading over to my building to see my room (MY ROOM!) and start unpacking. Tomorrow morning I will be going in to get keys and work more on the room.

Oh, and school starts in two weeks. No pressure there, right?

So now I think I’ll start a new blog (Adventures in Fourth Grade, perhaps) in a couple of weeks, unless I feel compelled to write sooner, which will almost certainly happen, and just import all of these posts to make sure they have a home. Of course, all new blog entries will be posted on the various social networking sites, and I hope you’ll continue to come by and see what kind of crazy adventures I’m having! Thank you, one and all, for your love and support. Best of luck to my fellow substitute teachers, wherever you may be and whatever paths you choose to take! I’ll continue to keep up with your blogs!

In the meantime, I am off to explore my building and figure out what the heck I’m supposed to do next! My next blog post will be from whatever my new blog will be called.

Cheers!