Team Building Time at the OK Corral

We’re three days into the new school year at the OK Corral.  We’re taking just-out-of-kindergarten-ers and turning them into lean, mean, running-with-the-big-dogs first graders.  The first week or so of any school year is spent teaching procedures and rules, outlining expectations, and creating a cohesive family for the next 180 days.  We’ve read many of the usual first-day-of-school read alouds like First Day Jitters, The Kissing Hand, and one of my personal favorites, It’s Time for School, Stinkyface.

wpid-20150819_094646.jpgToday, we read another great book, The Crayon Box That Talked.  In the story, a little girl overhears a box of crayons arguing about how they don’t like one another.  She buys the box, takes it home, and shows the crayons how they work together to create a beautiful picture.  Not unlike a rag tag bunch of former kindergartners, coming together to form a terrific first grade class.

After reading the story, we worked on creating our own crayon dudes with which to decorate the OK Corral.  Check it out.

Unbelievable

Administration sent out an email this week.  It stated that he would be coming around to check our reading running records to see that every student has an up to date Instructional reading level.

Now, they say that a lot.  Instructional reading level.  Very important.  Here’s the thing: I’ve spent my Guided Reading instructional block, since before the winter break, testing kids.  I know they need updated levels.  But if I had kids with new (and higher) Independent levels, I left it at that and continued with the next kid.  Because, after all, the Independent levels are where we’re aiming for, right?

So I came back on Friday, having been out sick for two days, to find that someone, probably a colleague, not administration (don’t even get me started on that), had gone through all my running records, haphazardly replaced them mixing up all my groups, and left a stack on a student desk with a sticky note: “These students don’t have Instructional levels.”  Before I could properly lose my mind over this turn of events, I was called over the PA system, by name, along with Miz O-Postrophe and New Mama, to come to his office.

Apparently First Grade hadn’t followed directions.  Oh, except for Spazzy Clueless.  Hers were all correct.  A point he used to make Miz O cry.  “Why don’t these students have Instructional levels?” he demanded.  We tried to explain our reasoning.  It seemed a waste of instructional time to continue to take these kids further at this time.  We needed to help them dig deeper into their new Independent levels, make sure they have mastery of that level’s benchmark skills rather than just gather meaningless data.  He remained unmoved.  “All your students need to have Instructional reading levels in ten days.”

I think what pissed me off the most was being treated as though we had been lazy and incompetent.  He completely disrespected our professionalism.  If several strong and successful teachers have it one way, and Spazzy Clueless, who’s had about five kids removed from her classroom this year due to parent requests, has it the other way, seems like that would be a hint and a half for your ass.

I admit it, I got a little smart ass.  “So I guess I’ll continue to throw out small group instruction so that I can test.”

“That sounds like a plan,” he said.

At this point I realized the situation was hopeless.  When administration tells you to skip instruction, you’ve lost the battle.  And so have the kids.

Oh Happy Day!

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In a previous post, I introduced you to Bob Marley, the copier so named for its enormous propensity for jamming. I walked into the copy room this morning to find Miz O-postrophe and another teacher bowing to Xerox, the god of duplication.

How is it possible for both machines to break down in stereo?! These ladies spent a good fifteen minutes just trying to get their copies finished. Here’s the thing–our degrees are in education, not engineering.

Instead of utilizing before school prep time designing effective and innovative instruction, we wasted time wrestling with these temperamental behemoths.

Your tax dollars at work. And, you’re welcome.

I’m not Miss Beadle.

All For One And One For All

appleStandardized testing.  We all love it, right?  Because who needs to be educated, thoughtful, creative, or literate?  What we need is the ability to take tests.  Proponents of high-stakes testing insist that it provides accountability.  How can you tell the bad teachers and bad schools from the good teachers and good schools?  By their test scores, of course.  If sarcasm was lethal, you’d all be dead now.

Unfortunately, it’s the reality we all have to live with, like it or not.  Schools and teachers are evaluated based on the results of their most recent tests.  Our Title I school has struggled to raise our scores.  Two years ago, based on a complex algorithm that takes into account gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, our students didn’t show enough growth and so our school received a grade of D.  We were placed on a list of the lowest performing schools in the district and were overrun with clipboard holders who visited regularly to hem and haw and cluck their tongues, coming up with all kinds of interventions.  “You know, if you move your rug from here to over there…”

With a great deal of hard work and an hour added to the instructional day, we were able to move from a D to a C at the end of that year.  Clipboard holders came to pour on the attaboys, but frankly, nobody was satisfied with a grade of C.  Who wants to work your ass off to be average?  We followed that up with second year of the added instructional hour of literacy and we were able to make the gains necessary to become a B rated school.  This year, as a B school, we no longer have the extra instructional hour.  They tried to tell us it’s because we did so well, but the truth is that they need that money to pay for an extra hour at some other school.

With raising the school grade comes bonus money for the staff.  And the staff votes for how the bonus money should be allocated.  In the eleven years I’ve been at my school, we’ve received the bonus three times.  Each time we’ve voted to split the money equally among all staff members, instructional and non-instructional.  So teachers receive the same cut as cafeteria workers, office clerks, and custodians.

This year some people had different ideas.  The notion was put forth that teachers in testing grades should receive 70% of the bonus while teachers of kindergarten, first, and second grades should receive 30%.  After all, they said, it was their students who raised the school grade.

You can imagine how that went over.  Because here’s the thing.  Forty percent of my annual evaluation is based on the ingenious invention called the VAM score.  The Value Added Model takes the results of administrative observations of my teaching and adds the test scores of the older students I did not have in my class, melding it all together to form the judgement of whether or not I’m an effective educator.  Obviously, it’s in my best interest to make sure that the first graders in my charge are ready for the upper grades.

All of that to say this: If the VAM score is good enough for my public-record evaluation, it’s good enough for my bonus.  Third graders don’t just walk in knowing how to read.  The fact that they can read is the direct result of years of blood, sweat, and tears in the lower grades.  And I’m prepared to bitch-slap anyone who says any different.

Needless to say, staff unity has taken a bit of a hit.  I’m sure we’ll get past the drama.  The aforementioned option did not appear on the final version of the ballot.  You know, it’s true.  Love of money is the root of all evil.

I’m not Miss Beadle.

Science Kid

I’ve written about several of my first graders in previous posts.  You’ve met Precious Precocious and Kid Danger.  Now allow me to introduce you to my friend, Science Kid.  He’s bright and very interested in science.  Earlier in the year we were discussing sequencing as an inquiry skill.  The illustration used in our science book was of the butterfly life cycle.  Science Kid pops out with, “That’s a chrysalis.”  Indeed.

Something else that you should know about Science Kid is that he has ADHD.  On the very first day of school, mom practically threw him in my door.  “He should be on meds and he isn’t today,” she informed me before fleeing the scene.  Nice!  And believe me, you can tell the difference between a day when he has his medication and a day when he doesn’t.

Still, I don’t like to have preconceived notions about kids.  I’d rather go along and see what happens.  And what I saw was a kid who, while constantly in motion, appeared to me to try hard to do the right thing, and who also was apparently listening even when it seemed that he was not.

It was interesting as our class moved throughout the school to lunch and Fine Arts classes.  I kept getting the same reaction.  “Oh!  You’ve got Science Kid.  Wow!”  But truthfully, he seemed okay to me.

I realize that I’m more patient that some.  While other teachers might be calling home every day, I get that he needs to move, and so as long as he’s paying attention, I’m alright with him digging through the supplies and fidgeting with the edge of the carpet.

On the other hand, I’m not patient with oppositional/defiant behavior.  Suddenly, this is what we seem to be getting.  And again, I get that there are certain traits I can expect from ADHD, difficulty with transitions for example.  Today, he absolutely refused to stop working on an ancillary project that he can finish tomorrow.  When I insisted that he stop and leave it for another time, he set about trying to break a pen from the supply basket.  That’s not okay with me.  My patience is beginning to wear thin.

I try to temper my response to his behavior with the understanding that as unpleasant as he can sometimes be on the outside, it’s probably much worse on the inside to be Science Kid.

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Don’t Be A Judgy Judgerson

I caved,  y’all. Gave in to the man. I have rolled out…(cue dramatic music)…Mountain Math.

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I’ve incorporated it as one of six Math Centers in our revamped Math block.
And it’s not horrible. I don’t hate it.

The kids seem to like it, too. Right now, though, it requires a lot of supervision as they learn how to use it. I have the time now with Enthusiastic Intern in the room.

My hope is that by the time EI leaves us in December, my friends will be ready to independently work Mountain Math.

See? I told you it would all work out.

Batting A Thousand

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Teaching, in my opinion, is more art than science. Don’t get me wrong. Obviously you have to know your content and be skilled in best practices.

But you also have to have game. You have to have almost a sixth sense, reading body language, understanding your kids’ currency.

Engineering a unique classroom culture is vital to team building, and to effective classroom management. To that end, there are quite a few traditions I’ve built into my bag of tricks. 

Friday always brings highly anticipated festivities. One of them is the celebration of the Table Points winners. The seating arrangement for my firsties is two eight-top tables and one row of six. Each table has a name that they chose. All week, tables compete for points by exhibiting good choices, being ready, treating each other kindly, etc. The table with the most points by a certain time on Friday wins. Rather than giving a treat or prize, I like to have a special activity which only that table gets to do.

Today, the Ariel table (aka Isolation Row) came out on top. For their reward, they did a little Halloween art project. It was a simple cut and paste bat, but you would have thought they won the lottery.

It’s good to hang out with little dudes. They remind you that often, less is more.