Diary of a Second Year Teacher
by Jan Zeiger
For this month's article, I've decided to share some highlights from my teaching diary. I had planned to do something like this my first year, but then I kept forgetting to write! This year, I started an online diary during the summer and continued with it up until the end. I didn't write every night. I just wrote when I had something to share or when I realized I hadn't written in a long time. I hope sharing this helps someone in some way. NOTE: This writing is very informal. It has not been edited for content.
Date: Fri Jul 7, 2000 12:07 am
Subject: School will start soon!
I am really excited about the fact that school will be starting soon. Pre-planning starts on July 31, and the children will start school on August 7. I will be on vacation during the week before pre-planning, so I won't be able to go to work early. (I am actually glad about this because I am trying hard not to put in the hours I put in last year. Last year, I averaged 80 hours a week, and this year, I vow to have a "life" outside of school.)
I am so lucky to be teaching the same grade at the same school. I worked really hard last year to teach using a literature-based approach, and I am glad that I will be able to refine the units that I taught last year. I am also in the same classroom, so I am especially lucky.
I teach in a school that is considered a "D" school in our state. Our governor has come up with this ridiculous system of grading schools and making our kids and teachers feel like failures. Last year, only three of the kids in my class were from families that didn't constantly struggle financially. My students didn't have computers at home. Some of them didn't even have books. I hate the fact that teachers avoid schools like mine because of a "grade" based on standardized test scores. If you ask me, our school deserves an "A" on our report card. My kids are wonderful!
My school is a technology magnet school. We are part of a small cluster of schools from which students in our area may choose. The goal is to draw more middle class students to our school. We have only been a magnet school for three years, so many teachers are still getting used to the magnet curriculum. Last year, only three of my students had computers at home, but we had five computers in our classroom. It is great to see my students getting access to the resources that other kids take for granted.
I can't wait to get my class list. We don't get them until a couple of days before school starts. Right now, I am working on my "To Do" and "To Get" lists for the first week of school. I am going to order some supplies from ClassroomDirect.com tonight. I have to get nametags, "Welcome to Third Grade" pencils, and a few other things.
I am so glad that my first year is over! It was a great year, but I hated not knowing how things were done. I was always trying to figure out what form had to go where and how to write those pesky report card comments! Although, I am nervous about starting this year, I am nowhere near as nervous as I was last year at this time. Now I have a better idea of what to expect. Now I am more confident. This is why I am finally making time for a journal.
I want this to be a place where I share my joys and frustrations as they happen. I will be writing about what is going on in my classroom. This will include information about the units I am teaching, problems that I am having, and anything else that pertains to my life as a teacher.
I expect to only write 2 or 3 times a week. I may write more often during times of frustration because writing is therapeutic for me. Other weeks, I may only write once.
Date: Thu Jul 13, 2000 2:08 am
Subject: Going in on Friday!
I am really excited about the kids coming back on August 7. I start back on Friday, July 28. I have to go to a training for our new electronic gradebook program that day. On July 31 and August 1, I will be attending a training for our reading program. On August 2, I will report to school for pre-planning. Last year, we had a LOT of meetings. I hope we have more time this year to work in our rooms during pre-planning. Last year, I felt so rushed, but it was probably because it was my first year. I was totally overwhelmed, but this year, I feel much more confident.
I am going in this Friday to get a head start on my room. My friend is also going in, so we are going to have lunch together. I want to get my word wall up--but I am waiting for all of the words to get here. I ordered them from Classroom Direct. I hope they get here by Friday. I also want to get my posters up. I need to get some new carpets and pillows for my library, but I have to wait until I start getting paid to buy those. Not getting a paycheck all summer has made buying supplies for my classroom almost impossible.
I still don't have my class list. Last year, I didn't get my list until almost the end of pre-planning. I am also wondering how much money I will get for supplies this year. Last year, I got $250 since I was a new teacher. I think that I will only get $100 this year. I really want to buy a class set of Judy Clocks, and I also want fraction circles for all of my students.
That's all for now! The REAL fun will start on August 7 when I meet my brand new class of third graders!
Date: Tue Jul 18, 2000 2:27 am
Subject: 20 Days Until School Starts!
I am finally done tutoring for the summer. I am SO glad! I have been tutoring five kids and working on my book. It's been crazy. The kids have been great, but I was glad that today was my last day. They have kept me busy because I helped them all create webpages. They wrote stories and published them. (It was good practice, because I am doing that with my third graders this year.) They are always emailing me with more links to add to their pages. :) The tutoring is the reason why I have only gotten to work in my classroom one day all summer. Tomorrow will be my second. Here I am up at 2:00 in the morning. :)
As I said, I am going in tomorrow. I started my word wall last Friday, but I didn't get to finish it. I had no idea stapling all those words would take so long!!!! I hope to get done tomorrow. I am about halfway through. I am really excited about my word wall! I ordered the words from Classroom Direct, and I am really happy with them. I am not using the wall the way many teachers do. I am using it only for a spelling reference. We aren't really doing word wall "activities." Of course, we will talk about the words a bit, but we won't be dissecting them. The words are great. I am including frequently used words, compounds, contractions, and so forth. I've got great words like popcorn, disappear, and television. I noticed last year that they were so unsure of themselves when it came to spelling. I try to encourage my kids to use rich, descriptive language even if they can't spell the words. They can always get the right spellings later! However, many of them get hung up on it and avoid words they can't spell. This may be because other teachers or their parents have told them how important spelling is. I think it's important too, but I believe in the writing process. When they are first writing their stories, I tell them to "write, write, write!" When they stop to spell every other word correctly, they lose their flow and this can be frustrating.
I am also going to type out a list of the word wall to glue on manila folders. Then, I am going to get the folders laminated so that each child can take home a "portable" word wall. (They can also use it at their seat.) I heard about this idea on the TAWL listserve. I wish I had thought of it last year. I think it is really going to help my kids with their writing. I think they will really use it as a resource. Of course, I will write about that when it happens.
In addition to the word wall, I am beginning individual spelling lists this year. (I wanted to do it last year, but I was trying to get all of the "basics" of teaching down.) I am going to pull the words from my kids writing each week. They are going to practice their words with their "spelling partner" throughout the week by doing spelling activities of their choice. (I believe kids learn differently, so I don't tell them all to write the words five times each and so forth.) All of the teachers on my team use the traditional spelling workbook, so I can't wait to see the funny looks they give me when they hear that I am doing individual lists. They should know by now that I don't do things the "traditional" way. :) I am a bit concerned about how the parents will react when they hear about spelling in my class. I am prepared. I have done a lot of reading, and I feel that I am ready to defend my spelling instruction if the need arises.
I went to Home Depot to ask for carpet today. Last year, I spent way too much money on my classroom. Hubby and I are just starting out, and I have got to stop spending a lot of my paycheck on my room. We are struggling to pay bills, and here I come, armed with books for my classroom!!!! This year, I vow to do a better job of asking for donations. It is time-consuming, but I am going to make time for it this year. Anyway, it sounds like they are going to give me some carpet for my reading area, but I have to send in the letter on letterhead and everything.
I am keeping the same classroom management system this year. I use Lunch Bunch, and I believe in it completely. I don't even remember where I originally heard about it.
I can't wait to meet my kids. On the first day, I am going to read Thank You, Mr.. Falker by Patricia Polacco. It is my all time favorite children's book. I use it on the first day as a community building activity. The book is about a little girl named Trisha who is teased all the way through elementary school about her difficulty with reading. It turns out that she's dyslexic, and Mr.. Falker is the first teacher who seems to believe in her. It is truly inspiring, and I share it with every group of students that I encounter. By the way, the book is auto-biographical. "Trisha" is Patricia Polacco!!!!!
I am going to wait until September to elect class officers. I think they need a month to get settled and used to routines. Last year, I did not have even ONE male class president. Interesting.
This year, I want to teach my geography unit based on an Olympic theme. I have been meaning to write up the unit, but I just haven't gotten to it yet. I tend to procrastinate...
Date: Mon Jul 31, 2000 6:31 pm
Subject: Open House is Friday!
Guess where I am? You guessed it! I am in my classroom right now.
Pre-planning officially starts Wednesday, but that's not enough time because there are so many meetings. I am coming in all day tomorrow to work, and I hope to get a lot accomplished. I have a "to do" list written on my chalkboard, and my goal is to get most of it done before pre-planning actually starts. (That's my GOAL--it doesn't mean that it will happen.)
I still don't have my class list. I really want it so that I can do my files and electronic gradebook. We have a new program, and I would like some time to get used to it. I also need to do my nametags for desks and so on.
I will get to meet many of the parents on Friday. I was SO nervous last year. I could HARDLY speak. LOL This year, I feel MUCH better. It's nice to be a SECOND year teacher. Being a first year teacher was SO hard! I didn't know anything! LOL
I am really excited about the first day. Here is what I have planned so far (in no particular order):
- Read aloud Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.
- Discuss class rules and procedures.
- Discuss class officers.
- Practice procedures.
- Play the game "Zoom."
- Circle Activity: My name is Bobby, and I love pizza...
- Peer Interviews and Introductions
- Tour of the School and Blowing Bubbles (I am surprising my kids with those little bottles of bubbles that they give out at weddings. We will blow bubbles outside on the first day of school.)
- Discuss homework policies, bathroom policies, and so on
- Discuss math mornings.
- Discuss class meetings.
- Discuss individual spelling lists.
- Discuss computer policies and Lunch Bunch.
- Language Arts: Read letters from last year's students. Discuss Colorado pen pals. OUT OF TIME!!! Get ready for second day!!!
This is just a ROUGH list of what I want to get accomplished the first day. I know it's a lot, but it's better to OVERplan than to UNDERplan. :)
That's all for now! I will write after Open House on Friday. I can't wait to meet my students!!!
Date: Sat Aug 5, 2000 11:33 am
Subject: Open House was Great!
Last night was Open House. The kids and parents came in to meet the teachers from 4-6. I had an INCREDIBLE time because I got to meet my new students, AND I got to see my old kids.
Several of my former students stopped by with their parents, and I was SO glad. I had a lot of trouble letting my students go last year, and I have missed them so much all summer. It was nice to see them again and to see how much they've grown. They all seemed excited about their new teachers.
My new students seem great! Of course, I only met about half the class, but I have a GREAT feeling about this year. I told the parents right away that I am "non-traditional." I try to be straight with parents. All of the parents I talked to responded positively and seemed excited about this school year.
Well, school starts on Monday. It's Saturday morning, and I am in my classroom. I have a few things left to do before school starts:
- lesson plans
- job chart
- welcome letter (My computer got fried, and it was LOST!)
- set up student files
You see, at my school, we get our class lists just a couple of days before school starts. Otherwise, I would have had the files and everything done by now.
I also have some general housekeeping stuff to do like organizing cabinets and drawers. I think I am going to do those things afterschool next week.
Since I have this list of stuff to do, I really need to get to it. I will definitely be writing after the first day.
Date: Mon Aug 7, 2000 6:15 pm
Subject: The First Day
Today was great! I really enjoyed getting to know the kids, and I KNOW that I overwhelmed them with information on rules and routines. They were VERY excited about everything.
I told them right away all about myself--how I love cheese and hate bananas. I told them that I am not a "regular" teacher. I am very honest with them. We talked about how our goal for everyone to WANT to be there. We want everyone to feel comfortable in this class. We talked about how we are going to have a great year doing research and so on. They seemed PSYCHED.
We practiced our journal homework at school today, and I asked them to leave their journals on their desks. I noticed the same things in most of the journals. Here are some of the things they wrote about the first day:
We blew bubbles in the field.
We listened to stories.
She is funny.
She is nice.
She hates bananas.
I am glad I got her.
I love reading their journals. I can tell that they are truly excited about this year. I think they like it when someone is straight with them. They are especially excited about the "go to the bathroom when you need to" policy. Of course, we talked about how there are many privileges and that you can lose them.
They are excited about class officers. In fact, I think they will be ready for them in two weeks. I can't wait. Writing speeches and doing the election is fun.
I am glad I did the letter to new students on the last day of school. They really enjoyed hearing what my kids had to say about my class. I am also glad I did the bubbles. We are doing the bubbles again on the last day of school.
There are some potential behavior problems, but I don't think I am going to be struggling with anybody. Doing projects and student-centered activities keeps them engaged, and I think that behavior problems start with kids who are bored or kids who feel that the activity is no relevant to their lives.
Also, I started doing lunch bunch today, and they were really into getting those team points.
They seemed to LOVE the portable word walls I made for them, and I think they like the individual spelling lists. I am giving them their first lists tomorrow. We'll see how it goes.
I am SO sleepy. I just can't write anymore. Getting up at 5am when I am used to getting up at 10 was HARD this morning. I need to finish up here, and then I am going to head home.
P.S. I think it is going to be a great year!!!!
Date: Sat Aug 12, 2000 4:43 pm
Subject: The First Week was a Success!
Well, I am sitting at the public library typing this message because my computer got struck by lightning. Therefore, this message will be very short!
The first week went very well. I am really excited about this year. I have already gotten some positive feedback from parents, and that makes all the difference in the world.
As some of you know, I have ADHD. This week, when we were sitting on the carpet talking about rules or something, this kid raised his hand and said, "Why are you so...hyper...like a kid?" I just laughed. If he only knew. I responded by saying, "I have LOTS of energy, but most of all, I LOVE school!"
I have some behavior problems, but I try hard to diffuse situations as they occur. I had a few behavior conferences with children this week, and I documented them in my behavior log. Basically, I just have a spiral notebook called BEHAVIOR LOG. I wrote all of my kids' names on the tops of the pages. Each kid has one page. At the end of the day, I go to the my book and write down all of the stuff that sticks out in my mind. If it isn't a big deal, I don't note it. This book is open for the kids to see. They like to check out their "behavior page." I have a homework book that I use the same way. In fact, I also keep track of all of my parent contacts this way. I have a spiral notebook homework, behavior, and parent contacts. Last year, I had little pieces of paper that I had to file. I lost papers that were important. I dreaded documenting things that needed documenting. This works better for me.
I had two teams get "lunch bunch" this week. It was a huge success. Fun Friday went well. This is a 20 minute block of free time for children who are all caught up on everything.
I have been communicating with a few parents via email. How convenient!
On Monday, we are starting government. We will be electing class officers, so the week will be filled with speech writing and poster making. It should be fun.
Well, as I said, I am in the library. I need to go. I just wanted to write to say that the first week went well.
Date: Tue Aug 15, 2000 5:17 pm
Subject: The Second Week is Going Fine...
This week, we are working on understanding government and elections. Of course, this is third grade, so we are going in depth or anything. We have been talking about democracies and monarchies. We even talked about Hammurabi.
We are writing two expository pieces at the moment. One is their speech for the election on Friday. They have to write about why we should elect them for class president. They are also writing about their favorite singer. (Many are writing about Britney Spears and N'sync.)
I have a few conferences lined up for this week, but of course they aren't with the parents I really NEED to talk to.
Today, we left lunch and the kids lined up really BADLY. No big deal, just a bunch of talking and wiggling. We went back to the lunchroom to practice. Well, we had to practice during our story time. I didn't take it away, but the rule is that if we have to "practice" after lunch, then we don't have time for story time which is right after lunch. Losing that precious story time made the rest of the day difficult. That is a time that they need each day when they get back from the noisy cafeteria. It's only 10 minutes long, but it is treasured by all. It reminded me of the fact that kids NEED routines and rituals. When they come back from lunch they need that story time. Hopefully, we won't have to practice again for a long time.
Everything else is ok. I wish I had more time to write.
Jan (who is already completely overwhelmed with papers)
Date: Sat Aug 19, 2000 2:26 pm
Subject: Week Three Starts Monday!
(at the public library--again!)
Week 2 went very well. There were some behavioral issues because some of the kids were "testing" me, but we nipped a lot of stuff in the bud. I have a couple of girls who really want to stay in the same group, but they have been talking and not getting their work done.
I don't have a problem with talking. In my class, I ENCOURAGE the kids to help each other. We talk about the difference between "helping" and "giving answers." Anyway, my point is that the kids in my class get plenty of opportunities to interact with their peers. However, I DO have a problem with kids who are JUST talking and NOT working. Anyway, I had a behavior conference with these girls at lunch. I won't go into the details, but we ended lunch with a deal. If they could get their work done all day Friday, then I wouldn't put them in separate groups. Well, they did it. They did a GREAT job. They got their work done, and their team earned a lot of points. They had to learn how to prioritize. They still get to work together, but they have to keep their focus on completing the current writing pieces--All About Me Powerpoint Presentation and speeches for the class election.
I think what my kids are struggling with most right now is learning to work in a student-centered classroom. They are all used to the WHOLE class working on something at the same time and stopping at the same time. They aren't used to seeing other kids working on different projects. They might be working on their PowerPoint plan, when another child is finishing their speech. That can be difficult when they have never experienced it before.
Some kids take longer to write. Some kids take longer to do math. I never want my kids to feel pressured or rushed. As long as they are not wasting time and trying their best, I am happy. After two weeks, we are finally getting to the point where they are starting to say, "I have 15 minutes left, what project should I work on?" And the great thing is, they AREN'T saying it to me. They are starting to think for themselves, and seeing that is wonderful. The first week, all I heard was, "What do I do now?" They have to learn that they are never really "finished" in my room. They aren't just completing a few worksheets. When they work on projects, they will come to me and ask if they are done. I will say, "I don't know. Only YOU can say whether or not you are done." That throws them for a loop. LOL (I give them a rubric with all of my expectations for the project, and they check it off as they go along.)
I am starting to see some community in the classroom. I am really excited about that. I am also happy about the fact that the kids are asking to come in before school to work on their projects. I had one little girl who worked on her project throughout an ENTIRE afterschool conference. She came in BEGGING to work on her All About Me during the conference. That made me happy because I spend a lot of time figuring out how to teach the standards in a way that is really meaningful to them. Knowing that they WANT to work on a project even when they don't have to tells me that it is a worthwhile one. I will definitely do the All About Me project again next year.
I am starting to get overwhelmed with paperwork again. There is SO MUCH PAPER HANGING AROUND MY ROOM! I don't know where it comes from. I am also struggling with the fact that I am not where I wanted to be this week. I know that is part of teaching, but I wanted to start my Olympic unit this week. We aren't done our speeches yet, so we will have to wait a few days. I can't wait to see who gets class president!
I have been going on and on. I am sorry. I try not to proofread these entries. I just want to say whatever comes to mind.
Oh! Something else. I went to Walmart and got some hanging plants for the room. I am really excited. My friend has a LOT of plants in her room, and it looks so homey. I "copy" her a lot.
I need to buy a bulletin board to hang on my wall. I only have one big board, and I use that one for my word wall. I will wait till my next check for the bulletin board. I have so many things I want to buy, but I have to remind myself that my bills must come first.
If I win the Lotto tonight, I will keep teaching. However, I will add on to my school. I want my kids to have the best. I think a roller coaster would be nice...LOL
Gotta go. Living without my computer is starting to fry my brain.
Date: Thu Aug 24, 2000 7:33 pm
Subject: Open House
I am sort of sad. I only had five parents show up for Open House. I am glad I didn't plan anything elaborate. The good news is that one of the reasons for my low turn-out is that I have had a lot of conferences lately. They probably didn't feel the need to come since we just talked.
Today was a great day. We made maps of the room. That is harder than it sounds. I gave them a list of things to include on their maps. It was hard for some of them to "look down" on the room to create a map. It was also hard for some of them to put things in the right places. They had fun drawing, labeling, and coloring. This was part of my Olympic unit. We are learning about maps so that we can find all of the host cities for the Olympics. We will also be doing longitude and lattitude as soon as I can get my hands on hurricane tracking maps. :)
They are kicking me out of the building. Gotta go!
Date: Sun Sep 3, 2000 1:32 pm
Subject: Progress Reports Due Tuesday
Well, progress reports are due Tuesday morning. They go home Wednesday.
Since I teach SFA, I have two sets of progress reports to do. It would be no big deal if I only had to average grades, but of course, I have papers that need to be graded before that can happen.
I am not nearly as behind as I was last year, but I still feel like I am never "caught up." I am beginning to realize that maybe I will never feel "caught up." In teaching, there is always more you can do. I guess the key is knowing when to stop.
Today I am going to a family gathering for Memorial Day. I wish I could just go and relax, but I feel like I need to take my stuff with me. I have tomorrow off, but hubby and I are going to do laundry and stuff like that.
I borrowed a laptop from school, so I am going to take that. I need to do lesson plans for this week, catch up on grading, and of course, progress reports.
You might wonder why progress reports take me so long. You see, I have terrible handwriting. That "comments" section gets me every time. Third grade is the "cursive" year, so I feel like my handwriting needs to at least be legible. (Making it legible takes me awhile.) It takes me awhile to write the comments for SFA and homeroom.
The kids are doing very well. We are in our fourth week of individualized spelling, and they really know what they are doing now. We started our weather unit last week, and this week, our daily journal will change from a diary format to a weather journal. You guessed it. They write about the weather everyday. I also ask them to include the high and low for that day. (THey have to watch the news or look online.)
We will do the weather journal for three weeks. At first, the entries will be like this:
It was hot today. It rained. The high was 98. The low was 75.
The goal is this:
Today was a beautiful day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. It was very hot and humid. The high temperature was 98 degrees. When I went outside, I started sweating right away. I went back inside and got a nice, cold drink of water. In the evening, it cooled down to 75 degrees.
Of course, that is corny, but you get the picture. Since we are in Florida, the kids will be able to write about the hurricanes we are tracking in class, too.
Well, I need to get ready to go to this family thing. I am going to take my stuff. They are just going to sit around a pool anyway, so I might as well take some stuff.
Date: Thu Sep 7, 2000 4:20 pm
Subject: Halfway Through the Term...
The progress reports went home yesterday, and I haven't gotten any phone calls yet! I don't mean to sound negative, but last year, I had quite a few phone calls after progress reports. I have always sent home weekly reports, but last year, I kept getting phone calls from parents who acted SURPRISED about the grade on the progress reports. Of course, they had been signing the Friday Folder, but I don't know whether or not they were actually reading the comments.
Anyway, my point is that I haven't gotten any phone calls saying, "I can't believe my child has a D!" In my class, things are very individualized, so a D is almost always a result of playing around instead of putting in 100%. I think quite a few of my kids got "wake-up calls" yesterday. =)
We are in the midst of our weather unit. The daily journal has become the weather journal. I can't wait to read them tomorrow. We have been talking about the water cycle, and today I did a demonstration using a burner and a pot of water. Here is what I did:
I boiled a pot of water. The steam was an example of evaporation. I held a pan of ice over the steam, and let the steam form water droplets on the bottom of the cold pan (condensation). When the water droplets in the cloud (on the bottom of the pan) got heavy, they fell down (precipitation). The kids loved it. I let the drops fall on them. All six of them...LOL
I get my weather ideas from a weather unit that I found online. It's a neat unit with lots of hands on activities and teacher demonstrations.
I am trying to think. What else is going on? We are still working on All About Me and My Favorite Singer. We are focusing on expository right now. It's going well, but it seems like we are always being interrupted for specials, lunch, assemblies, and so on. I guess I should just get used to that. LOL
I STILL don't have my computer. I am adjusting to life without a computer at home, but I bet I will go right back to my email-addicted self when I get my computer back.
That's all for now.
Date: Tue Sep 12, 2000 6:10 pm
Subject: Conference Day
Well, the good news is that the kids are off tomorrow. I can breathe a quick sigh of relief. Tomorrow is a conference day. It's a new thing this year, and so far, I like it a lot. The day is set aside for conferring with parents. We are working 12-7 instead of the normal day. This is to fit the needs of parents with busy work schedules. I like it so far because it eliminates some of the before/after school conferences when I am usually tired or not awake yet.
I have 6 conferences scheduled for tomorrow. I have conferences at 12, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. It should be interesting. I think most of them should be less than 30 minutes, and I am counting on that so that I can get something to eat!
I need to get myself prepared for tomorrow. I need to get all the right forms. I need to make sure I have all of my stuff ready for each child. I don't want to have to look for any info when the parents are here. I am so disorganized, and I hate not being able to find that test or paper or whatever when I need it.
That's all for now. I need to get my "ducks in a row" for the conferences tomorrow. I also need to make sure I am prepared for Thursday. I certainly won't feel like doing any grading or whatever after six conferences.
I get to sleep in tomorrow!!! That's the best part!!!