After three grueling weeks of school, we are enjoying our first break. Our county fair is the week of Labor Day and with so many students participating in 4-H, FFA, and other fair activities, local schools have had this week off for as long as I can remember. It’s actually a great week to go away on vacation, since so many other schools are in session crowds have died down. Last year we went to Chicago for some deep dish pizza and baseball.
I’m kidding about school being grueling so far, but it is nice to have this break, especially after beginning a new assignment. After teaching reading intervention for the last five years, this year I am teaching second grade. The week off gives me an opportunity to reflect on the first weeks of school, and the time to regroup and reorganize. I am also sorting through all of the books and other materials left in the room by previous occupants. It’s been great to inherit a room full of resources, but since all of the cupboards and filing cabinets are filled, it’s been hard to get a handle on what’s there as well as find room for my own materials.
After three weeks of teaching, this week I’ve rescheduled my day to something that feels really good…on paper at least. It’s actually pretty similar to the schedule I had been working, with the loose edges nailed down. I find it hard to create a concrete schedule until I’m in the middle of it, so this little break from school is especially helpful. For part of the day, while I meet with small reading groups, the rest of the class will be working independently at various literacy stations. For the first three weeks, I had been letting students choose their own stations (within certain guidelines), but the various personalities in my classroom made this a little too chaotic for my taste. Have you ever noticed that every teacher has his/her own level of tolerance for noise/chaos in the classroom? Mine is relatively high, as long as it’s a productive noise, but I have a few too many students who will take advantage of that. So between them and the girl who always asks “Can I just color?” (“No, honey, it’s reading time.”) and the boy who would play Boggle all day long (can’t really blame him, if I could play word games all day long, I probably would), I’ve decided to be a little more structured, at least for now. What all that means is that I had to schedule 21 students in 6 reading groups in 5 different types of centers over 5 days and up to 5 stations each day, taking into account the students who are pulled out for intervention or gifted programs. That works out to 105 different time slots to be filled. It took me about 6 hours over the course of two days. First I had to settle on the schedule, then fill in each group so that everyone had the same amount of time with each station. Then I created a weekly schedule for each group so that the students would know what to do when. They will have the schedule with them during station time so they can work independently while I meet with small groups (hopefully) uninterrupted by questions like “What do I do now?” My master schedule was so nearly perfect that only two groups were slightly unbalanced with their time at a couple of stations. But when I started to fix it, changing one thing meant changing something else, and something else, and something else, that I had to stop. I will live with it for now and change it for the next week, otherwise I would have a perfect schedule but no time for planning the actual lessons. And all this scheduling only accounts for about an hour and fifteen minutes of my school day.
I am loving second grade so far. By Wednesday of the first week I felt like I was hitting my groove. All the little classroom routines and things that needed to be in place were coming back to me. I have a great group of students; even the difficult ones are not unlikable, and lots of them have a great sense of humor, which is my most favorite trait in students. I am eagerly awaiting our first book order to arrive (remember those from elementary school? the little Scholastic flyers?). According to the tracking information, it should be delivered to school today, so I may have to go over later and check. This month, Charlotte’s Web was available for only $1.00, so I decided to invite students to join a Family Book Club. Families could buy the book and read it together at home over the same period of time. I will send home discussion guides and activities, all totally optional. I may even set up some kind of online discussion group on a class website so we can talk about the book together. I bought a few extra copies myself in case anyone decides to join in later and borrow the book. Eight students ordered the book and I am looking forward to this experiment. Each month Scholastic has a different book available for $1.00, so I hope there are a couple more really good ones this year to keep the book club going.
I’m ready to go back to school on Monday, see my students again, and put my new schedule into practice. Even though this week has flown by, I feel it’s been productive. I’m feeling refreshed and energized and ready to tackle the rest of the school year.