The Kindergarten Chronicles
It’s been a while. A long while. However, I come with excuses- and good ones. After graduating in May, I thought I was doomed to being a substitute teacher for years to come, as the tale has been told. However, I luckily got a contract for my very own Kindergarten class! With planning, teaching, (coffee runs) and decorating my classroom, I lost track of all things blog and podcast related. However, I also stopped reflecting, which is problematic. That’s why this cold, fall Sunday morning, I finally stopped to write this blog post.
Life Outside the Classroom - Does It Exist?
Ever since I started teaching, day and night, I think about my classroom. I think about the students, and ways to improve their learning. I think about my lessons; what’s working well and what I need to change. I think about every detail, down to the artwork positioning on the wall. I think about it, and I worry about it. I wake up in the middle of the night panicking about the song choice of the morning- is it the right one? Will they like it?
Is this healthy? Probably not. But I want the best for my students, and it’s been hard to balance my classroom, and my own life. My entire life has been lesson planning and worrying about the next day, which I know is normal for a first year teacher. However, despite the normalcy of the anxiety, I turned to twitter to ask for support. I posed the question to my PLN; “how do you balance school life with … well… everything else?”, and the responses were amazing. I realized that at any year of teaching, all teachers struggle with the same thing. The responses included that we need to force ourselves to have that me-time, and to step away from classroom duties once in a while. Life outside the classroom does exist, we just need to make time for it.
Stop Comparing Yourself.
One thing I have to consciously do is not compare myself to teachers who have been in the game for 5 years, 10 years, even 3 years. They have done it, trial and error, and are at a point where they have somewhat of a steady flow. Coming in as a first year teacher, I haven’t done that. I’m in the process of doing my trial and errors; seeing what works and what does not. I haven’t even had time to accumulate enough decorations for my class- I’m in the process of doing that. And for all I know, I could end up with a Grade 6 class next year. Something tells me they won’t need posters around the class on how to line up properly. The beginning years are tough, because you don’t have a consistent grade, and you don’t have all the material created. You’re taking it week by week. Luckily, I have not only an amazing staff support system, but a great circle of parents who are accommodating, understanding, empathetic and supportive. This makes it all the more easier.
Final Reflective Note
There have been good days, bad days, and worse days. However, as time goes on, I’ve been settling into my own routine and it’s been better day by day. As all the kindergarten teachers say, ‘Wait until October. It will all fall into place’. I have finally reached October, and I have to admit, it has gotten better. Not only have I gotten into a routine, but so have the students. They’re getting used to being in Kindergarten, and understanding the rules of the classroom and the routines of the day. I have to consciously tell myself that it’s my first at doing this, and it will only get easier as time goes on. Everyone has had a first.
I also have to consciously find time to do things that are not classroom related, for my own sanity and to clear my head from time to time. I can’t solely focus on my classroom; I need at least one day where I do other things I enjoy. Instead of spending 7 days a week focusing on my job, I can spend 6 days of that, and have 1 day (at least) for me.
It’s a start.
Keeping Up With Kindergarten
I have exciting news. Yours truly, is a Kinder teacher! I found myself wondering if I was going to have any sub work this month, to decorating a classroom; from feeling uncertain about teaching, to buying about 8 packs of sticky tac because let’s face it, we can never have enough sticky tac. The first two days were feelings of, “can I do this?” “Am I able to do this?” “Am I capable of being a teacher?” These thoughts especially run wild when surrounded by amazing teachers/colleagues that are PROS at being kinder teachers. However, I thought back to one of my professors from the University of Ottawa, and something she said that truly made sense.
“You can’t compare your chapter one, to someone’s chapter 15”.
I’m starting at Chapter 1- and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve been spending my time preparing for the themes, coming up with different activities that integrate learning through play, and creating a positive classroom environment. I’ve also been spending my time learning through the other kinder teachers not only at my school, but through my PLN. It’s important that Chapter 1 teachers understand that although we cannot compare ourselves to Chapter 15 teachers, we can learn from them. Take the time to connect in order to better prepare for your Chapter 1 year.
It’s normal to feel inadequate. I often caught myself saying, “Why didn’t I think of that”. But these are thoughts that, although normal, need to be pushed aside. Maybe I didn’t think of the same idea as my kinder colleague, but I come with my own ideas that I can hopefully share with others. I come with my own sense of creativity and teaching style. Chapter 1 teachers are not incapable, or inadequate; we come with our own ideas and styles.
Chapter 1 should be something to look forward to. We are finally walking down our teaching path, and doing the thing we couldn't wait to do. We can’t jump 20 steps forward, because each of those individual 20 steps are learning steps, and make us into the teacher we want to be. Maybe we aren’t at chapter 15 yet, or even chapter 3- but we’re going to make sure that we have a great Chapter 1.
Chapter 1’s are the introduction to the story; they tell us all about the characters, the thoughts they have, their likes and dislikes, and a preview to the adventure they will embark on. On our Chapter 1; we are telling the readers who we are; our current teaching style, our likes and dislikes. We are introducing what we’ve learned up to date, and being privy to what our adventure is going to look like. Let’s not rush to Chapter 15. Instead, let’s enjoy our Chapter 1, and be excited for what awaits us.
Just One More Chapter..
I recently started working at an educational camp this summer. I’m teaching the phonics/reading aspect of it. I work with students between the ages of six to eight. Getting to teach young students how to read is most definitely, my most favourite thing to do. When I was 4 years old, I was already reading Goosebump books. I used to lie to my cousin and tell him that I couldn’t read, so he would read it to me, because I really enjoyed listening to books. In grade 1, we had to read ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie’. We were given ginormous headphones (now they’re in style, actually) and listened to someone read it to us. After that, we had to try and read it ourselves. Naturally, I finished this quickly. My grade 1 teacher wasn’t really sure what to do with me, so she found all the books she possibly could, made a big pile in front of me, and I gladly spent the afternoon reading. I genuinely enjoy even spending my Saturday mornings at a tutoring centre, helping kids learn to read. My Sunday mornings are for myself, and my books.
Working at this Phonics reading camp is something I have always wanted to do. I get to read books, create themes of the day, have arts and crafts sessions based on the books we read; it’s literally my kids, and myself, getting excited about books. As I spend my mornings engulfed in the wonderful world of words, I reflect upon something that is somewhat of a tragedy. I have noticed that more and more, children are reading less, and swiping on their iPads more. They aren’t reading Harry Potter, but playing a Harry Potter app game- without having been truly immersed into Hogwarts. They choose to watch short, YouTube clips of less than 5 minutes, instead of picking up a novel and spending 5 weeks reading it. We live in a society where not only children, but adults as well want things now, fast, and quickly. We don’t want to wait anymore. We want the answers now; the movie gets us to the ending quicker, and the games require less thought process than reading the book behind it. Are books really going out of style? I refuse to believe it. Better yet, I refuse to let it happen.
Books, reading and writing need to have an importance placed upon them in and out of the classrooms. Novel studies are great, but there’s more to it than that. There’s more to reading than simple reading comprehension worksheets; question and answer. There’s poetry, art, comic books, short stories, jokes; there’s novels, fairy tales and more. One activity that I participated in during the Education program at the University of Ottawa involved taking an old picture book, and adding/changing the words and pictures to make a new story. Cut out new characters; include speech bubbles- this can create a new story using an old picture book. During the reading camp, one of the ‘themes of the day’ was Fairy Tales. Every student chose a fairy tale/ Disney character, wrote to that character, and on Monday, those characters wrote back! Not only was this fun for the students, especially hearing back from Ariel, or Superman, but it was so much fun for me. I loved getting into character, and writing in the voice of a Disney princess. Seriously, you are never too old for Disney. During our art activities, we listen to Disney music, and at least once a day, we’re all belting out Hakuna Matata, or Let It Go.
Books have the ability to take you on an adventure right from the comfort of your couch. You can travel to Hogwarts, Atlantis or even space. Reading should never be a thing of the past; it’s a trend that should, and will stay in style for centuries to come.
Get Me a Classroom... STAT!
Summer has been great. I’ve been filling up my days doing all of the things I couldn’t quite find time for during the year. I’m reading so many different books (and all at once, because I just can’t quite decide), writing books (see problem from before), working on online courses, and tutoring. This may seem like I lead a very busy summer, and while it does, I still find myself having this thing called ‘free time’. During this ‘free time’, I struggle with understanding what it is I’m supposed to do. I don’t have lessons to plan as I don’t know where I’ll be in August, nor do I have assignments to correct. In between all of my hobbies, I still feel like there is something I should be doing instead of using this ‘free time’. I am the type of person that is constantly on the go. I need to be doing 5 different things all at the same time. I want to continuously accomplish new things. That’s partially why being a teacher is so great; I am always busy finding new strategies for my students, building up my classroom and lesson planning. From the months of September to June, teachers are always doing 5 things at the same time - if not more. During practicum, I would teach all day, plan and correct, and then head over to my part-time tutoring job. Although this was tiring, I liked being up and about.
This is why I struggle with summer, as weird as that sounds. However, I do realize the importance of summer. Teachers need time to wind down, and relax not only physically, but mentally. We give 210% nine months out of the year, and we work more than the school day hours, every day. Those 2 months of summer are needed to take a break, mentally, from constantly giving 210%, to a classroom of what could be 30 students.
Today, during my free time, I will relax mind, body and soul...through cleaning.
Hey- I can relax. It just looks different than your idea of relaxing.
Road to Growing Mindsets: Test Scores
At a school where the average test score mark is an 87%, what happens when you are the one student who is at a 65%? At this specific school, the expectation was to instill a good work ethic, strive for good marks; and aside from academics, they instilled values of respect and inclusion. It is a truly wonderful school. However, what happens to the student whose grades are suffering; they aren’t understanding the math they’re doing, which in turn makes them severely frustrated and anxious, and all of this does not make them feel included. What happens in this case? I reflected upon it every time I knew I was going to be in that classroom. I was presented with the one big issue almost every teacher faces; how can I focus on one student, when I have 24 others? As a student teacher, this is possible. When you are two, sometimes three educators, this is absolutely possible. However, I was one teacher with 24 students, and realizing just how hard this really was. I was also realizing that being 3 adults in a room was not the norm.
I tried my best for the limited times I was in there. When they had a test, I made sure that he stayed by him and offered him not only support for the work he was doing, but support for his mind. I tried to instill a growth mindset not only in him, but in the entire classroom. I talked about why we should not be afraid to make mistakes; if it weren’t for our mistakes, what would we learn? I have to admit, it wasn’t enough for him to feel confident in himself. As I thought about it after school ended, I came to the conclusion that if I were ever to be a situation like this again, I would take time aside every week to dive into the growth mindset. I want to talk about it, have lessons and activities around it; understand it. Although, being the one that struggles in a class of 24 will make you feel sad no matter what, but I strongly believe that if we learn about growth mindset, it will ease those negative feelings.
Summer has now officially begun, and I have a few plans for the summer:
Since graduating, I have felt a loss; a loss of my student identity. I compensate by continuing to further my knowledge on my own. Although there is nothing wrong with this, I think every teacher needs to take a well deserved break and do things that are fun for you! That means..
4. Work on my new book and continue to find publishers for my last one
Time to get back to it.
The Road to Growing Mindsets
In the two year education program at the University of Ottawa, we learn about many different topics; inclusive classrooms, lesson planning, assessments and more. However something that is promoted more so than anything else is growth mindset. This is even promoted in the schools- every school and every teacher that I have come across in Ottawa is somehow promoting growth mindset in their classrooms. The other amazing part of this is that students have slowly begun to develop this mindset, and that is, as we all know, not easy. I’ve blogged about growth mindset before, but recently I’ve come across something alarming.
I moved back home, and noticed that many of the classes and students I have been working with do not know what growth mindset is. As there is only 16 days left of school, I have made it my personal mission to reach as many students as I can before the end of the year; I want to enforce growth mindset wherever I can.
Day 1: Grade 3’s and 4’s
As we corrected math homework, I could see the frustration in students when getting the wrong answer. I stopped the corrections and asked, ‘Who knows what growth mindset is’?
“What’s that?” One student asked from the back of the room.
I responded with a question. “Why is it a good thing to make a mistake?”
More blank stares.
“When we make a mistake, our brains are actually growing and lighting up like a Christmas tree. When we make a mistake, we are actually learning something new.
Suddenly, I could see smiles around the room.
“When we make a mistake, it’s not a bad thing. It’s just a way of showing us what we need to do next time. As long as you’re trying, and putting in your best work, you will succeed”.
Math didn’t seem so bad anymore.
Day 2: Grade 5
One student gave an answer aloud, which was not correct, and it was followed by laughter and annoyance.
I took this as a teachable moment, and was so excited to share growth mindset with them. Here is what I said:
‘When I was young, and when I gave a wrong answer, some students would laugh at me. Do you know what happened? I became so afraid to give a wrong answer, so I stopped trying. I think what [student] did right there was awesome. [Student] may not have gotten the right answer, but do you know what happened? [Student] tried their very best, and just learned something new, which means their brain is growing’.
When I asked who learned about GM, they all said they had not, therefore I took the time to explain what it was.
“Who here thinks they are bad at math?”
Hands shot up.
“The fact is, no one is. If i don’t see you all again until the end of the year, you have to promise me something. Tell yourself that you are not bad at math, or anything else. You just aren’t where you want to be...yet. But if you try hard enough, and you learn from your mistakes, I promise that you will get there”.
I hope that you will follow me along on my Growing Mindsets journey, and showing students that they can accomplish their dreams, as long as they are making mistakes along the way.
This Book Has No Touch Screen
In the age of touch screen, books are becoming less and less used by children. I find this sincerely heartbreaking since books were my entire childhood. They brought me to Hogwarts, to Junie B. Jones classroom, and all the way to Wayside school. I even travelled inside a giant peach! While technology, without a doubt, has its benefits, I strongly believe we should still push for the magic of books- especially in the classroom.
Reading will forever be part of a students’ life- whether it plays a small or a big role. Regardless of how much, we should be encouraging our students to read- and that doesn’t necessarily mean all students need to be reading the same thing. Encourage picture books, novels, even comic books. Motivate students to read something that captures their attention. Having a classroom library is so important.
It Motivates the Reluctant Readers: Being surrounded by books will instill a curiosity in these students, especially if they are surrounded by a variety of books.
Accommodates the Super Readers: For those students who just simply love to read, they will succeed in a classroom that places an importance on books.
Helps Develop Literacy Skills: Being integrated in a classroom that is filled with books encourages literacy development. Teachers can focus on literacy skills and strategies, and do so even if each student has their own book. We must teach them the skills to read, and give them the books to implement those skills into.
Picture Books Are Great for All Ages: Picture books aren’t just a primary tool- they can be used in the junior levels as well. They allow us to ask questions, use our imagination, and even analyze the choice of pictures and colours being used in the illustrations. We can make inferences and look at perspectives. They have the ability to truly capture the attention of the students.
Access is Important: Some students’ access to books may only be through the classroom. They may not have the opportunity to purchase books, or go to the local library. With libraries in schools getting smaller by the minute, we want to make sure that our students have access to books in our classrooms at the very least.
Since today is World Book Day, comment your favourite book of all time below. I also encourage you to take time for yourself tonight, and go on an adventure; whether it’s to Narnia, Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, or even a Secret Garden.
So Long, Farewell...
This is a bittersweet blog that I thought I would never come. Yesterday marked my last day of being a teacher candidate, a student teacher, and a university student (until my Masters..). Trying to reflect on these past 2 years is hard- it feels like a blur. I think back to my first day at practicum; I was wide-eyed, nervous and unsure about my place in the teaching world. I think about where I am now; feeling more confident and secure, and excited to take on so many new projects in the education field. There have been countless lesson plans, late night planning and many trial and errors. Despite the hardships, I’m happy with my accomplishments. As someone who is usually shy, I started a podcast called TC2, which is something I never thought I would do. Through it, I met some amazing educators and built up my confidence when speaking to people. I became part of the VoicEd family and it has allowed me to network and create friendships. I’ve started two websites that I am so proud of, and cannot wait to see them take off.
In these past two years, I’ve had two amazing Associate Teachers who truly helped me grow and become the teacher I am now. I think back to them, and the way they taught- they are a source of inspiration for my future teaching career. I thank them for letting me be in their classrooms, making mistakes and learning as I go. With them, I developed my grand teaching voice, style and assurance that I am where I am meant to be.
I took time to reflect on all the students I met inside and outside of the classroom. I hope that I have inspired them in some way. I hope that there was something I taught, said or did that they will think back to in years to come. I hope they think, “Wow, that Ms. Karaline was great because she did ________”. I hope my student from last year remembers reading Goosebump books with me in the reading corner, or the student who asked me to wear a certain colour of eyeshadow, and I always followed through. I hope the student who wrote in a letter that I made her Grade 3 year amazing still feels that way in three, or four years from now. Maybe my Grade 3’s will remember our jello activity, or the math break box!
I’ve also met some pretty awesome teacher candidates along the way who motivate me and inspire me, and I know that they will be phenomenal teachers.
There have been times where I questioned if I was on the right path. I’ve definitely asked myself, “Should I be doing something else?” With every doubt, however, came certainty in the form of a student, a friend, a teacher or a colleague. We will all question our path, but we must remember why we set off on the journey in the first place.
TC2 will definitely continue, however with a slight name change of course. Welcome to the new and improved ‘Teacher Candid Tuesday Chats’- because these are real, truthful and straightforward chats with teachers, teacher candidates and more.
“We will all question our path, but we must remember why we set off on the journey in the first place.”
Hey TC’s- we did it.
Autism Awareness Month
This month is Autism Awareness Month, and today we should all Light it up Blue in support. I recently wrote a blog post on TeachTales as to why this month is important for me, and you can now read it here:
"This month is also very special to me. I am constantly educating myself on the subject matter and finding new strategies to bring into my classroom and work. Over the past two years, I have been working with a student with autism at a tutoring centre. I speak about this student and the strategies I have used throughout the tutoring sessions on my personal website (www.mskaraline.weebly.com). This student is so special to me; he remembers everyone's name, the school they go to and how they get to the tutoring center. I love walking in every week hearing “There’s Karaline coming from the University of Ottawa taking the 7 bus”. To me, that is the most special welcome I could ever get. He also loves to use calculators and work on math equations. We work on other things as well, but I always make time for his calculations. He’s also an AMAZING hangman player. Sometimes there will only be 1 letter, and he manages to guess the word in seconds. He places such an importance on recycling and keeping things neat and tidy. He is my student, he is my friend, and he is part of the reason why I am such a big advocate for students with autism.
I will be leaving the centre at the end of the month, and it breaks my heart to think that I will not be working with him anymore. Not to fear readers, I plan to surprise him at some point with a visit! We’ve build up this great relationship for 2 years, and I can’t imagine never seeing him again. He has come so far not only academically, but socially as well.
I encourage you to send in any websites, blogs or resources you have about autism, and I will gladly share them on the website. You can even share these resources in the community section on this website, and start up a discussion. Let’s spread awareness this April. "
Visit www.teachtales.weebly.com to share your resources, strategies and tips.
Just Keep Swimming
As graduation approaches, and the last day of classes are near, Teacher Candidates from near and far are all feeling the end of semester blues; the end of the motivation, the end of the pursuit, just… the end. However, there are many reasons why we should ‘just keep swimming’. In the event that you are part of this group, I encourage you to keep on reading.
You Actually Need These Classes: How many times have you heard someone say “this class is useless”? Plenty, I’m sure. If I can help you find one thing that you do in fact need it for, it’s to actually graduate. If you’re looking for a more in depth reason, take this time to think back on that class that you felt was useless. Find one thing that you took away from it; was it a lesson idea? Was it one piece of advice? Whatever it may be, if you found one thing that you took away from that class, then it wasn’t actually useless at all.
Enjoy the (potentially) End of University: This may be the last time a few of us are in University, and while many of us are eager to leave and start new, there are definitely going to be things that we will miss. We’ll miss the student life and our flexible schedules; we’ll miss seeing our friends everyday, or being part the University community. Although we are not-so-patiently waiting to begin our journey as teachers, take the time to enjoy this last bit of student life- it’s been a part of us for so long.
End With a Bang: Why not finish Teachers College with assignments, lesson plans and units that you’re proud of, and will most likely use in the future? What are the reasons that are stopping you from finishing with the best possible work you can give? It can be hard to stay motivated when you’re feeling like you just want out, but find that motivation inside you, and finish this year with work that you are proud to call yours.
It’s Not That Bad: It really isn’t. How many new friends have you made? How many resources have you shared and gained? How many connections have you made? Probably a lot to all three of those categories and then some. When you think back to Teachers College, there are probably aspects of it you can find to complain about, but why not think back to all those moments that made you happy to be here. When you think of it that way, I can promise you, it won’t seem so bad.
So, soon to be teachers, let’s enjoy this last bit of University life we have before we step out in the big world. Let’s enjoy the last bit of time we have with our friends, finish strong with those assignments, and just keep swimming.