Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"First Day Jitters"

                “Funnest first day ever.”—One of my fourth graders.

                Well, the reviews are in folks.  It has officially been the “funnest first day ever.”  My first instinct is to say that I am completely exhausted, but it really doesn’t fit.  I’ve decided to invent a new phrase—I’m in a state of “exhaustive completion.”  I’m tired yes, but it feels so great.  I want to hold onto this feeling that I have right now—of hope, anticipation, love, and excitement for my new kids and our year together. 

Today was far from perfect.   I actually taught the kids the wrong procedure for coming to the carpet and I had to reteach it to them later in the afternoon.  I had to follow two kids onto the bus because they weren’t sure where they had to go.  Our transitioning felt like a revolving door of children and at recess I had a hard time remembering who was my student and who was one of the other teacher’s.  I walked around the day desperately wanting to have absolute complete control over everything because Harry Wong told me I needed to and failing at it.  But I left the day, and I think the kids left the day, with the feeling I wanted to instill.  Several kids told me they didn’t want to go home, and I wasn’t ready for them to leave either.  Things will fall apart at some point, I know that, and there will be days when I just want to go home, sleep, and cry.  What I want is to have this feeling written down, to have this hope to come to again and again when I feel myself fraying at the edges.  Remembering this pivotal moment in the life of these little kiddos—that’s what I want.

I wish I could read this!!

Besides the children, what do I think worked well?  The read-aloud.  My first two years I despaired.  Being a fourth grade teacher, EVERY SINGLE child has heard First Day Jitters.
Just once I want to be able to read that book to my kids and revel in the last page together.  But alas, it is not to happen. 
The past two years I read Mo Willem's City Dog, Country Frog. Most kids are familiar with the Pigeon books, but in the past two years none of them had read that one.  It’s a great story about a frog, a dog, unconventional friendships, and a serious life lesson.  Last year it was a VA Reader’s Choice, though, so that is out the window now.  I also read Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes and A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon.  I have serious issues with the retaliation aspect at the end of Chrysanthemum and most kids have already heard A Bad Case of Stripes.  When I began to think about my read-aloud this summer, I wanted to pull my hair out.  Having a first day of school five years into their school career makes it hard to find something new and original.

This year I decided to do Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull as my first day read-aloud. 
I’ve read it to my kids the past two years, but also in the middle of the year.  I am so glad I did.  If you have never read it, it is the true story of Wilma Rudolph.  When she was a child, she was stricken with polio and told she would never walk again.  The book takes you through her struggles and ultimately to her three gold medals that she won at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.  I love this book for so many reasons.  First, it introduces an African American protagonist and we need more of those in great children’s literature.  Secondly, it just shows you what you can do if you put your mind to it. We talked about the word “unlimited” and how it applied to her.  When we were done, I told them about my hopes and wishes for them this year.  I tried to help them see that they are as unlimited as Wilma and that no matter what has happened for them in their past years, this year can be different.  As I was driving tonight, I had the idea of writing a poem for them in the second person called “You, Unlimited.”  If you’ve never read the book, please do.  I promise you that you won’t regret it.  I get chills every single time.

The first day is done, and I guess so am I.  I’m off to write a poem of hope for the children whom I will spend the next 10 months of my life and every bit of energy I have helping them be better than they were on this first day when they walked through my door.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Let's get it started in here

  My floors have been waxed.  My green carpet that matches my pink and green room d├ęcor has been shampooed.  Apparently you can use Sharpie Paint Pens on desks and remove it with Expo markers, so now I have 23 desks, with kids' names written on them, that are waiting for the kiddos to come sit in them on Tuesday.  It's time.  I've been wanting to write a blog for over a year.  Originally, I wanted to write a book blog, but my passion for reading simply cannot outweigh my passion for teaching.

So what to share, on my very first blog that nobody besides my mother and possibly my reading professor may ever read?  I want to write a blog where I don't focus on things I cannot change--home lives, paperwork, bad attitudes--but on the things that I can do.  I operate on the fundamental belief that reading and writing can change our lives and it is my job to help my students see that in themselves.  My goal is to have my children orchestrate their own reading and writing lives, makes their own choices as readers and writers.  No one should leave my class thinking they are not a part of this literacy community.  I want this blog to be about living and learning within the reader's and writer's workshop.
  I guess I've got to start with my room.  Helping my children see themselves as readers and writers will happen within these four walls, so I should start with how those four walls (err, five-ish) look.  This is the first time I have felt like my room is really prepared the way I want it.

The best part of my room, hands down, is my library.

Fabric on the bulletin board, $8 chair from Goodwill, donated green carpet.  Fits me perfectly!

For the past few years, my book baskets haven't matched.  I finally took the plunge and bought out all the pink and green baskets from Big Lots in three different counties.  It was expensive, but it was well worth it.  And the baskets are really, really sturdy!  When school supplies go on sale in a few weeks, I plan on going back for more!
I wish I had never bought these white bookshelves.  They are sturdy, but they only fit two baskets across!
This is how I organize my library.  Each book as a yard sale sticker on it with a code.  The baskets range from genres like Fantasy, to things like Easy Readers (ER), Jerry Spinelli (JS), and Books with Boys as the Main Character (BB).

My room is pretty standard.  I don't hang up many posters or really anything commercially-made, because I think it is important to build up the walls of the classroom together.  By the middle of the year, my room will be wall-to-wall with anchor charts and powerful words.  Last year, I would let my kids take home the anchor charts when they started to become wallpaper.  All of them would fight over who got to take home the "powerful leads" chart or the "homophones" one.
So here it is, the start of a new year.  My room that seemed so big a few weeks ago will seem extremely cramped as the 24 of us begin to live our lives together.  My room is ready, and as much as possible, I am ready.  The next ten months will be a great journey, and I appreciate everyone who comes along for the ride.  Even if it is just you, mom.