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.

Confessions

Confess is the topic for #Kinderchat’s Summer Blogging Challenge. I teach kindergarten, I blog, it’s summer, I’m in! You wouldn’t think there would be many confessions related to teaching kindergarten. I thought so, too, for about 30 seconds.

Here’s my confession: I’m a big fat liar.

Although I do have some great classroom management strategies up my sleeve, sometimes I impulsively go in another direction – but don’t judge me too harshly, I never claimed to be perfect. Below are the ones I am willing to share, feel free to adopt for your own bag of tricks.

1. “When I was in Big Teacher School they taught us to tell the difference between real coughs and fake ones. You are faking. Stop it.”

2. “If you run on your way to the library, I will know out about it. I always know.”

3. “I can see everything.” (a slight twist on the “eyes-in-the-back-of-my-head” fib parents use).

4. “If you lie, your right ear turns blue, but only teachers can see it.”

What confessions would you care to share? Babysitting stories are sometimes the best source – share, share away!

Kindergarten: The Good, The Gross, and The Amazing

You remember Bill, don't you?
You remember Bill, don’t you?

Back in the Dark Ages, before WiFi and SmartBoards, when Bill Nye the Science Guy was still cutting-edge, I began teaching. My first assignment was kindergarten and I liked it and thought I’d try it out for a while since “I’m no kindie lifer.” Fifteen years later, I’m still in Kindieland, but it’s not because it has gotten easier, it’s because I continue to learn. Every day. Teaching Kindergarten has clarified my gross threshold. I can calmly bandage a scraped knee. I can witness a child throw up and clean up vomit without batting an eye. Nose bleed? No problem. I am a

star when it comes to yanking out loose teeth. But on any given day, I am one booger away from tossing my lunch. Even writing it down makes me – hold on a second….ok, I’m fine now. I have learned that simple things are really complicated. Don’t believe me? Pop into a kindergarten hall at Home Time (okay, really, any time). Among the most challenging of tasks are the following:

  1. Putting on boots/sandals/running shoes
  2. Putting on a coat/jacket
  3. Zipping a coat
  4. Unzipping and removing a coat because someone thought the teacher wouldn’t notice they hadn’t put on their snow pants (this applies only in winter, we’re not cruel)
  5. Numbers 1-3
  6. Zipping up a backpack (easier if mittens aren’t already on, but that strategy is met with great resistance)
  7. Staying in line as the class travels outside
  8. Keeping one’s hands on one’s own body
  9. Not stroking the walls as we walk in the hall
  10. Refraining from applying excessive amounts of sunblock to self and others

Kindergarten has taught me to be a Jenga Master. Can’t fit your sandwich container back into the bag? A little twist, a flip – BAM! There you go. Backpack too full to cram in your library book? Just a little nudge to the right, a few shakes – all set!

Over the years, I have garnered many useful phrases:

I have yet to meet Arnold's standard of discipline
I have yet to meet Arnold’s standard of discipline

What are you learning when you squish him with a pillow?

We don’t lick our friends.

Only snack goes in your mouth.

I’m wondering what you’re learning when you put blocks down your shirt?

Sticking your tongue out has no power over me.

You don’t need to high-five my students, this is not a petting zoo.

If you have to lift, you can’t pretend that toot was accidental.

Steady, everyone gets a hula hoop – it’s not Hunger Games. 

There’s no crying in British Bulldog.

 This year I have had the privilege of a new assignment and I taught about 130 kindies every day while their teacher had planning time. It was crazy and busy and incredible. I learned so much from their educators and from those little people. Perhaps most of all, kindergarten has taught me that life really is made up of the small things:

Recognizing your name for the first time is empowering.

Snow is its own kind of amazing.

Reading your first book on your own is unforgettable (for the teacher, too).

Dancing is fun, and even better when your teacher dances with you (with abandon).

Sometimes, a hug really does make everything better.

Now I cannot wait to see what is in store for next year. What are some of your memories from kindergarten? Good, bad, or ugly, don’t be shy.