I love my class. I really do. Every student is so different and unique. I especially love Monday mornings because they walk in after not having seen them for a few days with huge smiles across their faces.
“Ms. Karaline! I couldn’t wait to tell you what I did this weekend!”
“Ms. Karaline! I missed you this weekend”.
It makes the Monday blues a little less blue. However, as much as I love each and every one of them, it creates a different problem that I didn’t know existed: wanting to ‘save’ every child.
Each child has a set of strengths; building, numbers, art, letters- whatever it may be. Along with strengths comes a set of weaknesses, as we all have. My problem with finding these weaknesses is that I want to offer all of my time to each kid to work on them. In a classroom setting, this just isn’t feasible, whether we like it or not.
In order to find a healthy balance, my aid and me started ‘One on One Fridays’. Each Friday, we work with a set of students on one on on different subjects. Last week and this weeks theme are letters of the alphabet. It allows me to get that one on one time that I need to give, and the student needs to receive. It allows me to have a better understanding of what they are struggling with and in which areas. I can then better prepare them as a whole and individually for grade 1.
I worried about each child’s Kindergarten experience. To me, it was the determining factor of their feelings towards education. I wanted their first year in school to be memorable, and for them to look back on it and think to themselves that they had a teacher who truly tried her best to give them a wonderful experience.
Unfortunately, we cannot ‘save’ every student we come across. I’ve had students in the past who I still think about and wonder if they’re okay.
All we can really do is try our best- and remember that that is enough.
I Need a Break.
One of the hardest things to admit, is that you need a break - especially as a teacher. We want to feel like we can do it all; whether we are sick or not. A cold? I got this. A fever? That’s okay. Body aches? It’s fine - really, it’s fine.
Except it’s not.
Being someone who cannot handle free time, one can imagine the hard time I had accepting that I need to take a week off from work because of being sick. Not being in charge of my class? Not overseeing what’s going on? Having to… stay home? In my mind, that was like accepting defeat. My ego might not have wanted it, but my body and my mind really, truly did. Why is it so hard for us to let go and take a minute to get better?
The culture in which we live in revolves around how much, and how hard we can work. The more we work, the stronger we are, when in fact, that is a very backwards way of seeing it. Although there is nothing wrong with having a good work ethic (it’s actually an excellent trait), there comes a time when we need to sometimes admit to ourselves that we need to take a step back, and perhaps, take a break.
I hadn’t always thought this way, and at times, I still forget to think this way. It wasn’t until a parent told me something that really turned on the lightbulb in my head.
“Please try to give yourself permission to fully recover. I’ve always found it to be the hardest thing to do in our culture.”
I re-read this sentence over and over because of how true this statement is. We do not give ourselves, whether you’re a teacher or not, permission to recover. We may take a day or two, but then we run back to work. Sometimes, we need a lot more than a day or two; whether that’s due to physical illness or mental health.
It can be exceptionally hard to admit you need a break due to mental health, and the truth is, you may not even realize it. Your work environment and those you work with may also not understand what a mental health break really means.
As hard as it may be, I encourage you to look within and decide for yourself if it’s time for you to take a step back, and take a break.
If you do, please give yourself permission to fully recover before getting back to the grind.
You deserve it.
Let's Be Friends
When students enter school from the ages of 5 and up (sometimes even 4), their world is surrounded by academics; numbers, letters, and words - oh my! However, Kindergarten is a lot more than just learning numbers from 1 to 100; it’s about socialization - and learning how to ‘be’ in school is essential at that age. We live in a word where Bachelor’s are no longer ‘impressive’ - if you really want that job, you better get your Ph.D. When did we stop living, and start diving head first into academics?
As a teacher, I can’t deny how important academics are. As a literacy advocate, I definitely can’t say that. What I can say, is that somewhere at some point, we all got a little tied up in the world of marks. As a teacher candidate at the University of Ottawa, myself and all of my classmates can genuinely say that a big part of getting into the field was socializing and making connections. Yes, there were papers to be written and projects to be glued together, but professors could not push enough the important of getting to know your peers, your veteran teachers and professionals.What’s interesting about this, however, is that socializing wasn’t important in my school life up until that moment. All I had ever known was study, study study and get good grades. The real world comes after- but does it really? As someone who is confident enough to speak to make those connections, what about the people who aren’t?
Fast forward to my Kindergarten class and the kinder curriculum. Nowhere does it say that kinders are expected to know the alphabet front and backwards inside out- nor does it place an emphasis on math. Although we do learn about those things in my class to better prepare them for grade 1, a huge portion of their learning is done through interactive play and socializing. We learn about topics like how to say please and thank you; how to make friends, how to be kind, how to be in school. If they don’t learn this now, when will they? Starting from grade 1, they need to learn letters and letter sounds, numbers and basic addition. My job is to get them to grade 1 being kind and considerate; being helpful, empathetic, confident students who will make this world a better place. If you thought teaching kids how to write was hard, try teaching empathy and respect.
“I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization” - Robert Ebert.
Or as Ernie puts it, “The key to lasting friendship is always respecting each other, listening to each other, and caring about what the other person thinks and feels”. - Sesame Street.
At some point I had written a blog post about differentiation, and the importance of it in our classrooms. It was written around the time where I was a student teacher and was seeing the effect of it in one of my placements. However, nothing is as it seems until you get your own classroom.
I currently teach Kindergarten, and my classroom has students with a variety of learning styles, needs and accommodations. I’ve been in classrooms before where a student or two has an IEP and needs certain accommodations, but what happens when it’s a lot more than one or two? You don’t know differentiation until you have to accommodate more than 5 students.
I’ve come up with a list of hopefully helpful strategies for new teachers, and how I deal with them.
2. Visuals are Key
I know this is something that is common and repeated often, but seeing how important it really is makes a huge difference.
3. Get to Know Your Students
You won’t know what your students need unless you get to know them. Just like students need visuals, so do you. Keep a chart of each student and a list of things that help them stay focused throughout the day. Talk to previous teachers and their parents for ideas; remember that you can’t do it on your own! I have made connections with my colleagues, staff members and parents in order to better understand my student and to learn strategies to use in the classroom. Differentiation is a lot of work. It means modifying and accommodating what could be half of your class. However, it’s absolutely needed not only for your students, but for the teacher as well. You’ll be able to more effectively teach your student and watch them learn and grow!
I want to lastly stress the importance teachers having a brain break too. A lot goes on in your day; from staff meetings to emails to lesson plans and differentiation- you also need to take a step back, and take a dance break.
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.