It's amazing how tired I am after just a couple of days "back at work". I'm not asking for any sympathy, after all, two weeks of Spring Break was such a refresher and I so enjoyed the leisurely days with my kids walking to the park or skiing the local mountains, doing a little spring cleaning around the house, or going out for ice cream together...and a little sleeping in didn't hurt either. It does point to, however, the intensity and daily demands that teachers face that we become accustomed to in our bodies, minds and spirits; and only with a brief retrieve is it so noticeable.
My first day back was filled with some usual routines. "How was your Spring Break?" was a hot topic of course. So I had my students write a journal entry "2 truths and a lie" which they really enjoyed. They shared these out loud and their classmates voted on which one did not really happen over the holiday. There was laughter, which is always a good start. At Recess I was on supervision duty, and then right back to teaching. At lunch I put together information for the school Run Club that I coach, and I managed to shove a sandwich down before the afternoon bell. In the afternoon I had my students continue with their banner projects, which we have undertaken with a local community member and are sending down to Brooklyn for students and families affected by Hurricane Sandy. There was paint everywhere of course - so fun! After school I had a Department Head meeting to review special events and pro-d planning for the upcoming month. We had a good discussion about what teachers need to be properly equipped to deal with the overwhelming needs of the students. This is particularly true at a "vulnerable" school such as ours, compounded with the fact that we face such "underfunding" in education these days.
Second day back I welcomed my new student who recently immigrated from Germany with very little English language. This happened before the morning bell of course, and I was busy greeting the family and finding a desk on the other end of the building. I set him up as best I could with a few activities such as making a name tag and trying to help him understand what was going on in class through gestures and visual prompts. I chatted with my regular "late" students and brought them up to speed on what they should be doing, and I made sure to give a few minutes of attention to a special needs student who is on a gradual re-entry schedule to the classroom due to physical aggression and ongoing undiagnosed social-emotional issues. He does have a temporary school district youth worker who supports him; nevertheless, he required a lot of my attention and "checking in" to stay on task and follow my simple, basic instructions.
While I was attending to these students, I also had 3 differentiated spelling programs running for all the various student levels in my room. Next came Math, and I introduced a new concept of "equivalent fractions". This required a simultaneous lesson to both grade groups with variations of the same concept and differentiation for my students with Learning Disabilities, all with distinct work outcomes...and questions (from the students).
Finally Recess came, but my time was filled with making trips down to the Library to gather book packs for my Literature Circle groups that I was going to implement after Recess. Why didn't I organize this before-hand? Perhaps you missed the timeline of events that preceded this. I also tweaked a handout and printed it off for my students to explain a little about what they would be doing in these Lit. Circles. (By the way, with groups of 3 or 4 students they aren't really "circles", so maybe I need to rename it?)
Anyways, prior to implementing this new routine, I had to conference with a student to check how she felt about being placed with some peers, as there have been a number of ongoing social conflicts. All went well and the students were very excited about these groups. I allowed them time to "voice" their past experiences with reading groups and how they felt about this. I organized the groups and then gave them control over book choices and assignment expectations. I think they were a bit shocked and excited by this. Actually they were so into the task that they didn't even want to break for Lunch. I had to shoo them out the door and told them we would continue after Lunch.
Speaking of lunch, I didn't eat until 15 minutes before the afternoon bell because I was so busy organizing information for the next day, catching up on some marking, and responding to the variety of e-mails from the morning from parents, other teachers in my school, and other educators that I network with in the district and university. After lunch we finished off our book choices and then it was back onto banners (and the clean up of brushes, paint containers, and the sink again!)
Following that I introduced yet another new group project, this time in Social Studies. I introduced this as a "tribe" project to learn about First Nations culture in Canada. I organized the groups and played a dice game to determine which "tribe" would research about which First Nations group. The students thought this was fun and there was a good energy and buzz in the room.
After school I went directly into my coaching for our school Run Club. We took the students over to the neighbouring middle school (which I had been e-mailing details about over the past 2 days) to run the 400m track, which we don't have. When I finally said good-bye to the last student, I had an impromptu meeting with my principal about the aforementioned student with special needs.
Now at home, I have finally just finished my marking and helping my son with his middle school math work.
As I reflect on my first couple of days back I realize that this - is teaching. In thinking back to the discussion (question) from the previous day, "What do teachers need to be properly equipped to deal with the overwhelming needs of the students?"; I see that keeping the students engaged in a variety of ways and groupings definitely helps. This obviously takes time and energy - two things that are a premium, especially when coming fresh off a long break and the body is adjusting back to the "routine"; but this is why I put so much effort into how I set up my teaching. There is no real additional support in the classroom, so I have to organize activities in such a way that will engage all my learners of various needs. I have not had to deal with any behaviour issues in these past few days because the students have been actively involved in thinking, working, and communicating with each other. These are the typical kinds of days we have and will continue to have, and it requires everything we have because the students deserve no less of us (teachers).
Soon enough we will settle in to the regular routine; tomorrow will be no different though. As I start the day, before school I have a meeting with a parent (who believes that I am not challenging her child enough), and after school I go immediately to a learning team meeting (network meeting) about the Learning in Depth project in conjunction with Simon Fraser University...and then there are all the lessons and learning that happen in-between.
Every day holds promise, potential, and unknown challenges. This - is teaching. This - is why I love teaching. This - is why...I am tired now as I have given all that I have. Good night:)