Teachers have a lot going on in their lives. They come to work early each morning and/or stay late each evening, and all the time that they are spending in their classrooms is focused on students.
I get a 30-minute prep period each day and that time is used for preparation: printing worksheets, generating homework assignments, organising lessons, collaborating with other teachers, providing tech support (one of the many hats I wear in my building is an instructional technology specialist), responding to messages from parents, teachers, and/or administrators.
When I am finally done with work and leave my building, I am thinking about what I am doing the next day and the day after that while also preparing for my graduate classes (once a month on Monday and every week on Thursday) and working on the assignments, readings, and projects for those classes.
If I am not at work and I am not in class and I am not preparing for class, then I am either doing volunteer work with the Boy Scouts of America (I am a Cubmaster, a Unit Commissioner, a Merit Badge Counselor, and a District Committee member), or I am actually taking a break from everything so I can spend time with my infinitely patient wife who understands that the life of a teacher is just so. very. busy.
All of which is 223 words to explain why my desk looks the way it does right now.
I try to teach my students to keep their work areas clear and organised and all I can say in my own defense is that my primary work area (that is, the place where I sit down to work with students if I am not standing near my Promethean board or walking around the room) is my horseshoe table and at least that area is generally free of piles.
So if you walk into a teacher’s classroom and you see piles of papers and books all over the desk and you notice that things aren’t as neat and tidy as stock photography images lead you to believe, chance are it is because that teacher, too, is so. very. busy. and would probably love it if you offered to shelve books, file papers, hang up student work on a bulletin board, and make copies of those guided reading group graphic organisers that have been sitting out for the past week.
But if you can’t do any of those things, at least smile at the teacher and offer a heartfelt thank you for all that they do to inspire, engage, and educate young people.
I have done an inquiry unit for science for four years now. The first year I did it, the students all picked their own animal and worked in small groups to learn about the habitats, life cycle, food web, appearance, and adaptations of animals, which tied to our fourth grade Illinois learning standards for science. The second year was after I participated in the Lake Guardian workshop on Lake Ontario and I chose to focus on fish from the Great Lakes region because I had made a commitment with the workshop to integrate Great Lakes literacy into my curriculum. As Illinois has shifted to the Next Generation Science Standards, I have wrapped the inquiry unit around the standard that students would be able to “construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.” The other fourth grade teacher did an expo in her room last year on animals from Illinois, so we decided to merge our inquiry units and do a shared Illinois Animal Expo this year. (more…)