I have lots of responsibilities as a teacher, far more than “simply” teaching students. However, my number one responsibility is making sure my students are safe. I explain this to them on the first day of school and I repeat it often throughout the year. If my students are not safe, or do not feel safe, they are not going to care about what I am trying to teach them or what I expect them to learn. I take this responsibility very seriously and am often most nervous when we go to places where I cannot keep my eye on every single one of them, such as field trips and recesses. I spend most of my time in those situations scanning to watch out for everyone and listening for any signs of distress.
I was reminded of this responsibility this afternoon. Being a Wednesday, the students at Urbana Middle School were released early, and many of them walk to Wiley to pick up younger brothers and/or sisters. Parents also arrive at school shortly before our last bell in order to pick up their children. At the same time, our fourth graders are going outside for a recess toward the end of the day. (Our schedules being such that we are unable to do a recess earlier but we believe very strongly that the students should have as many opportunities to get outside and play as possible.)
Most parents gather around the big tree outside the front of the building to wait for their children. Others wait near their cars or on the sidewalk. A few of the middle school students, though, were coming onto the playground. I approached them and reminded them that the day was not yet over for our students and, in order for us to ensure the safety of our students, we asked them to wait by the tree or on the sidewalk. It isn’t that we don’t trust siblings or parents or expect anything untoward to happen. It is simply that we are responsible for our students until 3:00 pm and a caregiver picks them up, and having others on the playground with the students makes it more difficult for us to supervise.
I am grateful to the many parents and other caregivers who are respectful of me and my colleagues. We always welcome volunteers in our classrooms and elsewhere. We love when members of the community want to give of their time and talents to support our students. But we need to remember that the students’ safety comes first. Always. Which means we may have to sometimes ask someone to give us a little space and respect boundaries.
Basal readers get a lot of grief in education circles these days. Prepackaged curriculum that claim to meet all of the many complex requirements of teaching, with teacher’s editions that have all the answers and worksheets for everything, all meant to make teaching easier, more straightforward, and user-friendly.
Of course, anyone who has spent just one day in a classroom knows that the basal text rarely works that way. Students don’t respond the way the book says they should, their answers are so far off-base that the teacher finds himself wondering if they were even in the same room, let alone the same story, and the diverse needs of students are rarely met with the handful of worksheets that claim to be differentiated but, in reality, usually aren’t; at least, not well.
However, there is a balance to be found. There is a way that a basal reader can be used in the classroom as a way to establish baselines with students but not take over instruction. My first year teaching at Wiley, I relied on the basal heavily, mostly because I honestly didn’t know what else to do. (I still did guided reading, groups, too, but I definitely used the pre-packaged curriculum a lot.) Over the past few years, I’ve used it less and less. I don’t think I used it with my entire class once last year. This year I’ve decided to revisit this teaching tool.
My goal is to use the shorter selections as the foundation of my whole-class lessons in literacy before switching over to guided texts with smaller groups. I am also going to use the comprehension questions at the end of selections to give students more opportunities to put thinking into practice. In addition to the reading selections, I am going to use the spelling/vocabulary features with my students. I am not convinced that the spelling features are the greatest thing out there, but I am willing to try using them again in an effort to support my students’ ability to expand their vocabularies and apply understanding of parts of words and speech.
We are going to dive into our first story from the text next week. We started today with the spelling, looking at words with long a (such as gray and pain), long e (like sweet or chief), short a (like pass or scratch), and short e (such as send or smell). While this link provides far more words than the 25-word list found in the book series, it is a useful reference for seeing the kind of words that students may encounter. Unfortunately, the document is for every single selection in the basal reader, instead of being a separate document for each story.
I am hoping that I can find the right balance between using the basal reader provided by my district and using the other resources for guided literacy and specific supports for students as I get to know them better throughout the year.
Hello, friends, family, colleagues, parents, administrators, and random people of the Internet! It has been a while! School has now been in session for three days and my ambitious goal to start blogging each day has clearly already hit a roadblock. I have opened up WordPress each day and I have meant to write, but then one issue or another came up and before I knew it, I had to run off to get home in order to make it to one engagement or another.
Ah, the life of a teacher.
As it is, it is now after 6 pm on a Monday, I am still at school, but I am determined to start this week off right! We’ve had an exciting three days of establishing classroom expectations, getting used to routines, and jumping into some new curricular materials. (If you haven’t heard of Eureka Math yet, go check it out–it is going to be the main tool we use when teaching math now.)
So, it is a new year. What else is new? I only have 21 students (so far) which is definitely the smallest class I have had since I started working here at Wiley. I just acquired a bunch of new tabletop style games for my classroom (more on this at a later date) thanks to generous donors on DonorsChoose. And I have changed the format of my classroom to focus on a workshop model throughout the day. Instead of “social studies” or “science” I now have a daily “Inquiry Workshop.” Instead of “math” it is “Mathing Workshop” (because math is a verb; it is something we do.) I still have a Writing Workshop but literacy, which I used to call my “Daily CAFE” is now going to be a “Reading Workshop.” I am super excited to see how using the workshop model throughout the day will increase student engagement and ownership!
Oh, and, of course, we now have elementary physical education teachers in Urbana! I was a part of the exploratory committee that recommended adding them and was so thrilled when the Board of Education approved hiring PE teachers at all of our elementary schools! Not only will our students get better PE instruction from specialists in the area, but the classroom teachers will have time to meet together and collaborate throughout the week! Huzzah!
It is going to be a great year! And now that I am done with graduate school (yes, I am now Mr. Valencic, Master of Education), I should have more time to blog, to read, and to play tabletop games. (Have I mentioned that I am an avid tabletop gamer and I plan on integrating this passion into my classroom?) But don’t worry, techy friends; I am also passionate about educational technology and that will also be a key component of my classroom instruction. Remember, I am a geek of all things!
What are you most excited about for this school year?