What Are you Doing?

Ah, teaching kindergarten children. Is it rewarding? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. Challenging? At times, yes. Energizing? You betcha. Draining? For sure. Worth it? Without a doubt.

Do you ever wonder what it’s like to work with small children every day? Here you go.

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Student (to me as I stamp letters with a classmate). What are you doing?

Me (thinking it is pretty obvious). What am I doing?

Student (smiling). What are you doing?

Me. What am I doing?

S. What are you doing?

M. What am I doing?

S (giggling). What are you doing?

M. What is in my hand?

S. What is in your hand?

M. What do you think I am doing?

S. What are you doing?

M (gesturing directly at the stamps and paper and classmate). What does it look like I am doing?

S. What are you doing?

M (weeping quietly). Stamping. His. Name. With. This. Stamp. In. My Hand.

S. Hahaha. What are you doing?

M. Go find a centre, honey.

S. Bye.

photo 2

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.

The Change Your Name Store – In Review

If you go through life being called “Jananice” or “Janet” or “Which one are you?” (I do not have a twin, for the record) you contemplate changing your name. When my sister and I played we often took on new personas. Most often I chose Angie from that TV show (don’t pretend you don’t remember).

When it wasn’t Angie, we fought over who would be Ashley. I don’t know why. And that was when we weren’t reenacting episodes of “Solid Gold”.

The very talented, Leanne Shirtliffe, recently penned a children’s book The Change Your Name Store and I knew I had to have it. I thoroughly enjoyed her first book, Don’t Lick the Minivan and was anxious to see her handiwork with children’s literature. We were not disappointed.

Go. Buy it. Now.
Go. Buy it. Now.

This story follows the adventures of Wilma Lee Wu who decides to change her name. She finds the Change Your Name store where one can try on different names to find the right fit. The catch is that when you try one, you are transported to the country of origin. Love this.

As a parent of all boys, I appreciate that the main character is a spunky girl who does not fall into some of the stereotypes of young female heroines. As a teacher, I value the multiculturalism celebrated in this story along with the underlying theme of liking who you are. The rhyming narrative flows naturally and engages young and old.

The illustrations by Tina Kugler are fun and inviting. They capture the feel of the story and the characters just right. Our boys enjoy finding all the little details on each page. Wilma’s pet dog is an excellent addition and ALMOST makes me want to get a pet.

When asked what he liked best about the story, our seven-year-old replied, “that you get to visit the country when you try a name.” I agree. When asked what I should changed my name to, without hesitation he answered, “Babette”. Not bad, and definitely better than what they wanted to call their youngest brother (Boomer). I wonder what country Boomer comes from?

This book should be on your shelf.

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.

What’s Your Legacy?

I am insignificant.

I cannot name the hometown of grandmother. I don’t know the names of my great-grandparents. I could not tell you how many siblings my grandpa had. Those people are insignificant, too. Yet without them, I would not be here. They are insignificant, but important.

There are four young boys who call me “Mommy” and I matter to them. My attitude, choices, and example influence theirs. But their grandchildren will think of me in passing, if at all.

Every day I interact with more than two hundred students in my role as teacher. I matter to them, but their own children will not hear about that teacher who held their hand when they were scared or helped them learn to be a friend. I matter, but I’m insignificant.

I am insignificant, but important, influential. I will leave a legacy. We all will.

What will that legacy be?

Opa dancing on the back deck with his granddaughters creates memories of fun and silliness. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Fishing trips with Dad let you know that a favourite pastime is better when shared with someone you love. Relationships matter.

Being ridiculous and crazy and uninhibited with your children teaches that life is to be lived joyfully. Small things have a big impact.

Serving others and sacrificing for a greater purpose says that there is more to this life.

Going for that bike ride with your son fulfils the promise you made. Honour your commitments and live with integrity.

What you choose to do here may seem insignificant, but it has a lasting impact. You will leave a legacy. Intentional or not. Planned or not. Purposeful or not. We will all leave a legacy.

The legacy will go on long after we have left this earth. What will yours be?

My Five Rules for Beach Day

There’s a tradition in many Canadian schools to have Spirit Days. One particular favourite is Beach Day which typically occurs immediately before March Break. The logic is that Canadian winters are long and dreary and the best way to snap out of a “lots of snow, but not enough to cancel school” funk is to dress up in your beach attire and pretend not to notice that your eyes are frozen open.

Guys, I’m part of the group that decided to do this. Again.

How do I forget every time that I really don’t like Beach Day?

Oh, sure, Spirit Days are great and even better when the staff participates. The smiles and cute comments from the students are always fun. I love dressing up for Halloween or a good old Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest. These days build a sense of community and it’s worth being silly to accomplish that.

But Beach Day. What were we thinking?

Let’s have a theme day that accentuates our pale, pasty skin and lack of muscle tone from weeks of being indoors. I’m in!

And so, I present to you, My Five Rules for Beach Day.

1. Moisturize. And preferably not just the night before.

2. Commit. Did the nail polish you started to paint minutes before leaving for school turn clumpy and hard to apply? Oh, well. You’re slapping that varnish on all ten of your little piggies because the only thing more noticeable than clumpy nail polish is having only one toe painted.

How can your toes look anything but amazing in "Gloppy Magenta"?
How can your toes look anything but fabulous in “Gloppy Magenta”?

3. Layer. It’s winter in Canada. Even if the heat is turned up, it’s going to be cold. And socks will help cover up your botched pedicure.

The socks really tie the whole outfit together
The socks really tie the whole outfit together

4. Layer. No, for real. You better be dressed for the weather. It’s only summer in your imagination.

Not everyone can pull off shorts and winter boots.
Not everyone can pull off shorts and winter boots.

5. Hydrate. Pretending to be at the beach can be hard work. Trying to appear that you’re confident wearing clothes that may or may not feel snug due to your winter consumption of M&Ms and chips (we all need a little extra insulation) can really bring on a thirst.

Bearded Husband thoughtfully dropped this off, making it extra refreshing
Bearded Husband thoughtfully dropped this off, making it extra refreshing

*Special thanks for the guest appearance by Amanda, modelling the always popular Socks with Sandals.

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Theme Days: Love them or hate them? Would you wear your beach attire or pretend you “forgot”?