Be A Learner

Last summer I was invited to share some thoughts with a  roomful of student teachers. I was nervous, they were nervous, we were all nervous.

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Welcome to teaching. This week you begin a year that will transform you. I must confess, I’m a little envious of you.

This is the year you get to try all kinds of new experiences with the security of being partnered with an experienced teacher. There are times you will sink a little bit, but you will not drown, because someone is by your side, encouraging you, making sure you’ll be okay, and a little bit better for the experience. That person is your Associate Teacher.

I’ve had the privilege of being a mentor to more than a dozen teacher candidates during my career. It is exciting, challenging, thought-provoking, and stressful.

Yes – it can be stressful. We wonder who our TECs will be. Will I like them? Will they like me? Will they be a hard worker? Will they cry if I have to give them some critical feedback? What if we aren’t a good match?

You are probably feeling nervous about starting your year, but rest assured, even old veterans like myself, get the jitters, too. We’ve been where you are.

So, how do we establish a positive working relationship?

Here’s a little secret – we are often asked to take a student teacher as a favour, but the fact is, we really enjoy it. Through the process of mentoring a teacher candidate we question our methods, we try new things, we learn through observing and collaborating with you. It’s a win-win.

But there is that relationship piece. And it’s a big piece. So my advice to you is: Be a Learner.

A learner asks questions, even if they might seem obvious. We’d rather have you ask for clarification than to feel uneasy or unsure.

A learner looks for things that need doing. It’s important to observe and watch, but not exclusively. Jump in. Help a student manage their belongings, sit with a group who seems to need help staying on task. Offer to run down to get the extra paper from the supply room. And if in doubt, ask if there is anything you can do.

During my very first practicum, I asked my associate if there was anything I could do to help her get ready for the day. She pointed to 3 stacks of paper and asked if would staple them. I then proceeded to staple each of the 3 piles. When she returned I asked what else I could do and she smiled and told me she had meant for me to collate the three different piles into 3 page double-sided booklets for the class. So, although I did look for things to do, I didn’t ask the obvious question. I did wonder why she had me do such a simple task and also why the booklets were so thick.

Ask the obvious questions.

"Do you drink coffee?" is an excellent question.
“Do you drink coffee?” is an excellent question.

A learner takes risks. This is your chance to try out all kinds of things. While I do recommend discussing it with your associate first, this is the best opportunity to apply new methods, new strategies, new techniques. And the really great thing is that we learn through you as well. We appreciate when you try to maintain the overall tone and classroom culture, part of the excitement of having a TEC is that we get to learn what you learn and see it put into action. I had a student teacher who really wanted to try a new game for gym. Right in the middle of it he turned to me and said, “this is a total bomb.” It was, and we regrouped, and then the next day, it went really well. He took a risk –he was a learner.

You know what else a learner does? They communicate. Let us know how you felt about your teaching, or your interaction with a particular student. If we’ve given you some constructive criticism, when you’re ready, talk about how that might have changed your teaching. I had a TEC who needed some time to process some feedback I’d given her and the following day she told me, “I remembered what you said about non-verbal cues and this morning I did more of that and I felt it went much better. “ She was right, it had. She was a learner.

It’s good to let your associate know some of your goals for the block so that they can give you better feedback. And this may seem insignificant, but communication includes being friendly – a warm hello to your associate and also other staff, emailing or texting if you are going to be absent.

A learner plans. Planning is perhaps most important during this year as you learn more about your teaching style and the curriculum. With time and experience, you will need to formally plan less and less, but it’s good practice for beginning teachers. Planning in advance allows you to ask for resources, to discuss possible glitches with your associate, and to seek feedback or brainstorming ahead of time. Collaboration can only occur when you know where you are heading.

Along with planning is preparation – if you need sand or lego for an upcoming lesson, ask your associate ahead of time where to get those materials. It can save you a lot of last minute stress and the school day is unpredictable, you might not always have those 20 minutes before school to gather up your supplies.

Did I mention “ask”? It bears repeating. If in doubt, ask.

How do you think that lesson went?

What would you do if the smart board did that in the middle of your lesson?

What do you think I could do differently next time?

What does IEP, IPRC, TLPC, ESL, ELL , FDK mean? (teaching has more than it’s share of inside lingo – sometimes we forget, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification)

 Make the most of this year. It will be busy, at times daunting, but it is an up-close glimpse of the amazing world of teaching.

Be a learner.

Kindergarteners: They Don’t Care

Yelling out the window is not a learning centre.

Neither is chasing a classmate with a spray bottle. Stop it.

Flushing play-doh down the toilet? Also not a centre.

Please don’t pet the tadpole.

We don’t save Lego creations, no, not even if you “put it down really gently” in the bin.

Kindergarten.

I love it. Another year is wrapping up and this time of year is my favourite. This is when we get to reflect on the growth and success of the past year. I’ve been teaching this age group for about 14 years, give or take a maternity leave or two (math is hard, guys). Every year I learn new things.

Have you ever noticed a kindergartener when he dresses himself? I want to live my life with that kind of “take me as I am” attitude. Very few people over age five can pull off sports shorts paired with a long-sleeved, plaid, button-down shirt. Or socks and crocs with a winter vest overtop a t-shirt. They don’t care. 

I dressed myself. Obviously.
I dressed myself. Obviously.

Some might say that kindergarteners have inflated egos and sense of self and they would be correct, but part of that is amazing. If you didn’t have a crazy ego you’d never think that coming in 8th in a race means you won. They don’t care.

Need a pick-me-up? Come to kindie gym and watch them run laps or do dashes from one end of the gym to the other. It is the best. It is physically impossible not to smile like a lunatic who ate too many Oreos when you watch them run their little hearts out with complete abandon. And their peers cheer them on and pat them on their backs regardless of how they performed. They don’t care.

This year I learned once again that being outside is better than just about anything. There are articles and books and jargon-filled resources that essentially all say the same thing: Magic happens when we learn outside.

Just going to do some writing on my own for a while.
Just going to do some writing on my own for a while.

 

Don't know the lyrics? No problem.
Don’t know the lyrics? No problem.

No matter if you are indoors or outdoors, kindergarteners will sing along with any song, even if they don’t know the words. Because they don’t care.

I think I need to care a little less, too (but not about flushing play-doh, seriously stop doing that).

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Is it Mephibosheth?

I did not record this recent conversation with a little kindergarten friend, but it’s pretty much burned into my memory.

 

Kindie: Do you know my middle name?

Me : No. Do you?

Yes. My mom knows.

What is it?

Ummmm….

Do you know?

Yes. My mom knows.

Ok, what is it?

Ummmmm…..

That’s alright.

No, I want to tell you.

Ok, what is it?

Do you know?

No.

My mom does.

Do you know?

Yes.

What is it?

Ummm……

You know, that’s fine.

Do you know my middle name?

I don’t.

My mom does.

Ok.

Do you?

No, I don’t. You don’t have to tell me.

I WANT to.

Ok, tell me.

Ummmmm…..

Is it Mark? Seamus? Mephibosheth?

No.

Do you know, but you forgot?

Yes.

(and back to Lego).

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Wine, guys. Red wine.

Kindergarten Subtext

I often tell people I am a Kindergarten Teacher, but that is not completely accurate. I am, in fact, a teacher of kindergarten students. I love my job and I love the students. So much of our day is not covered by a curriculum or plan. If only the children knew explicitly what I really mean.

Maybe they do.

I hope they do.

When I say, “Try your zipper first, I will help you if you still can’t get it.” I’m telling you that independence is important and I am confident in your abilities.

When my team member tells you, “Those bins are for toys. Are you a toy?” she is really saying, “I want you to be safe and make safe choices. I care about you.”

When I tell you, “I know you farted. That is not nice, we say ‘excuse me’ ” I’m really telling you, “You can’t just fart in front of people and expect them not to notice. Plus, that’s gross.”

When I ask you, “Did you wash your hands? With soap?” I’m letting you know that hygiene is important and also that teachers always know when you skip that step. Or lie.

When you almost trip me in the hall as I walk by with arms full of resources just to give me a hug, I return that hug with a smile because even though I nearly died, you matter to me. We’ll talk about Sneak Attack Hugs another time.

When I tell you to eat your healthy foods first it’s because I care enough to teach you good eating habits. I want you to have a great day and feed your body food that is good for learning. And when I comment on how yummy your cookie looks I’m saying, “I get it, treats are important, too. Life is all about balance.”

When you colour and write your name on a wooden block, I have you scrub that block clean because choices have consequences. It’s always best to tell the truth and own up to your actions. I know you will do better in the future.

When I fist bump you for a well-executed belch before reminding you it is impolite, I’m really saying, “I get it. But there is a time and a place for that.”

When I tell you that you may not cut the line, I’m really saying, “I care enough to teach you that no one likes a ‘butt-er’ and I want you to keep your friends.”

When you put your hands on a friend and hurt them, I will make you take a break. I’m really telling you and your classmates that school is a safe place for everyone. No one is allowed to hurt someone I care about.

When you flop on the ground and squawk I will tell you that you cannot join us for computer lab. And it hurts me. I know you love computer time. But I love you enough to be consistent and set boundaries. We’ll try again next time.

And when you come up to me and ask me to pull out your first tooth, you are telling me, “I trust you.”

I trust you.

That is the best subtext of all.

Ferris Wheel Moment

Recently a kindergarten student was struggling with going to music class. His biggest concern was the noise and busyness of so many kids singing together. A coworker and I debated about how much we should force the issue. It was a tough balance between expecting him to do what the class was doing and respecting his sensitivity.

What to do, what to do.

Then I told him a story.

When I was in about grade two, my dad took me to Niagara Falls. They had the biggest ferris wheel ever. It was so high you wouldn’t believe it. Now, I don’t like heights. Being really high up makes my stomach feel funny and I get scared. My dad knew this. But he also knew that the ride might be a once in a lifetime moment. So he made me a deal. He said:

“Try it for one rotation. Just one. We’re the only ones here. I will tell the operator that if you want to get off, I will signal him to stop it after one time. But if you’re okay after one time around, then I’ll give the thumbs up and we’ll go again. Every time we get to the bottom, I’ll signal to him and you can decide when you want to get off. Deal?”

Even though I still felt nervous and scared, I got on the ride and we went around. And you know what? It was amazing. I did love it. Yes, every time we got to the top my stomach flipped a little, but my dad was with me and I trusted him. I saw things from that ferris wheel that I would never see from the ground. I was glad I tried it out.

Then I looked my little friend in the eye and said, “This is your ferris wheel moment.”

I asked him if we could make a deal. He had told me he didn’t want headphones on because they hurt his ears, so that wouldn’t help him in music class. No problem, no headphones. I suggested he could sit right at the back, close to the door. He agreed. Then I suggested we give it a try for five minutes, he countered with one, I came back with two and we shook hands. Off we went to music class. And he did it! He sat in his spot and we were both surprised when my timer beeped announcing the two minutes was over. He declined my offer to stay longer and we agreed that next week we would try for three minutes.

This is your ferris wheel moment.

Because I’m Four

Join me as we take a peek into a typical day of the average four year old kindergartener.

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Ah, good morning! I know it’s morning because everyone is still asleep except me. Rise and shine, family!

Seems like no one has heard my beckoning so I’ll need to go with Plan B: walk stealthily to my parents’ bedroom and stare at them silently until they sense my presence. I know they are ready to start the day when Mommy finally opens her eyes and seems surprised to see me. I have to remember to ask her what “serial killer” means.

Once the mundane task of choosing my clothes is done (no, not that shirt, no, no, maybe, okay that one, wait, let me see the first one again) we move on to breakfast. I prefer my cereal with just a splash of milk. Not too much or the whole experience is ruined. Daddy seems to have that mastered, but I don’t put much faith in Mommy.

And now we’re off to kindergarten!  Oh, wait, Daddy is insisting I put on a coat. Fine. I can do the zipper myself. I got it. WHY ISN’T HE HELPING ME?!

And now we’re off to kinder —- my hood! my hood is interfering with the comfort of my body! I cannot walk to school under these conditions.

And now we’re off to kindergarten. We seem to be walking fast today and Daddy is muttering something about being late. Guess he shouldn’t have overslept.IMG_1487

I love going to school, but I think Daddy misses me, so I like to make a bit of a fuss about lining up, just to make him feel better. He pretends he does not want me to cling to his legs, but I know he secretly likes it. I line up and then make one or two return dashes for one final hug before the bell. You have to invest in relationships.

I wonder what we’ll do at school today? I hope the teacher got new glue sticks because the ones that were out yesterday tasted awful. I think I see some fresh play-doh, that’s good because I may or may not have sneezed on the last batch.

We finally all get our coats and shoes put away and now it’s Carpet Time. I’m not sure what “criss cross applesauce” means exactly, but if you tuck all your body parts in, you’re good. We check that everyone is present, I like to help the teacher by telling her if someone is at school or not, by calling out “not here” at random intervals. Her voice says “stop it” but her eyes are saying “thank you”.

Uh oh, I feel a booger in my left nostril. This cannot wait. As long as I don’t make eye contact with my teacher, I can extract it undetected. Almost….almost….got it! Quick and easy disposal in my mouth, mission accomplished. No, I wasn’t picking my nose, it was just itchy way high up.

Centre time! Where should I start? Sand? Paint? Blocks? Maybe the Discovery Table? No, I saw Jason lick all the pine cones yesterday. Paint it is! I create a fantastic piece using mostly swirls. It’s definitely fridge-worthy.

I think I’ll head over to the blocks. My buddy and I build an elaborate garage for the cars. It is great until Jason thoughtlessly knocks it over. The maker is the breaker, Jason.

The rest of my day passes in a bit of fun-filled blur. I spend some time writing about my snack (it is an apple and a Wagon Wheel – delicious). I rebuild my garage and put pylons around it to keep Jason at bay. Change my book at the library (yes, I’m a bit winded, but that doesn’t mean I was running in the hall). I help at tidy up time and show off my sweet dance moves. We play outside until someone pees against a tree. My teacher and I read together and now I can find the words “is”, “mom” and “me” all by myself.

The next thing I know, it’s Home Time. The day went by so fast. I get all my stuff shoved into my backpack and I’m all set. Oh, wait, forgot to change my shoes. All set! Oh, yeah, that’s my lunch bag you’re holding up, just give me a second to pack that. All set!

And there’s Daddy, waiting for me. He’s always early because he misses me so much. He gives me a big hug and rubs my head. I grab his hand and we head home.

As we avoid all the goose poop on the pathways Daddy asks me, “What did you do at school today, bud?”

I give him my standard reply.

“Nothing.”

I Don’t Mean to Brag, but…

I actually have a superpower.

Brace yourself and prepare to be amazed.

A few years ago when I did Science as a stand-alone subject and not part of learning centre time, I invited Professor Petri to come in and do a science lesson. Professor Petri looked a lot like me, but with goggles and a lab coat. Funnily enough, whenever Professor Petri appeared, Mrs. Moyer vanished! It was uncanny and just a tad unnerving. The students claimed we looked a lot alike, but that only made sense since we are cousins and she tends to copy my excellent taste in fashion (that was nice at first, but has worn on me as the years have passed – make your own clothing choices, Professor Petri -sheesh!). The students pointed out some other similarities and I have to admit, Professor does talk with her hands and says, “I know, right?!”, but don’t forget that we’re cousins and she’s a big copycat.

After her engaging and stimulating science lesson Professor Petri would have to dash off to her other job at Tim Hortons (she was always running late, something I’m thankful we don’t have in common). I’d return to class (thanks for leaving them unattended P.P.) and the kids would be so excited about the materials she left for them to explore that it made all the copycat stuff more palatable.

So, yeah, I’m pretty good at duping small children.

It's not flattering, but it's for the kids. My other alter ego, Super Moyer.
It’s not flattering, but it’s for the kids. My other alter ego, Super Moyer.

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This post is part of the Kindeblog13 Summer Blog Challenge. To read other posts in this series, go to http://www.kinderchat123.net