My classroom looks and feels a lot different this year than it has in the past. For one thing, there are 17 students in my class this year. Ten of those students are full-day students in what had been a solely half day kindergarten classroom.
There's also another teacher in the room.
And there's a brand new flat panel Smartboard.
Between the extra students, the change in my instructional format, the additional teacher and the new technology; this year feels like it was the most chaotic start ever and I've been struggling to get my feet firmly planted on the ground. Every single change has been a blessing, and yet even the most wonderful experiences are often accompanied by growing pains.
I've sat down to write this blog post so many times and always managed to talk myself out of it. Mostly because I wonder why any other teacher would have the time to read about this type of change in my classroom. I know you're busy and it always amazes me that other educators with way too much on their plate would take the time to read about the ins and outs of my classroom.
So I always manage to talk myself out of sharing the story of this year's changes.
But then I want to share something from my classroom.
And I know that someone will notice the extra desks or a detail in a photograph and there won't be a short answer to that person's question.
And I definitely don't want to hide the fact that there is another fully-qualified teacher in the classroom teaching right alongside me.
And then the not telling of the changes feels dishonest, and the very last thing I want to do is misrepresent myself or what happens in my classroom on this blog.
And it's too big of a can of worms to just tag onto the start of a different blog post.
So I'm finally ready to share all of the changes with you. Not so much for my benefit. Rather, I'm ready to share because I know many of you are truly interested in what happens in my classroom and I love to be honest with you.
And I feel like the blog has been at a standstill waiting for me to finally sit down and say something about my year so far.
So here goes …
I knew early in the summer that my classroom would be furnished with a brand new flat panel Smartboard this year. And I was thrilled. No more projector that had to be situated 10 feet in front of the screen. But I did need to have some type of computer workstation within 15 feet of the board so I could connect my laptop to the Smartboard. Fortunately, my classroom wasn't set up yet for the new school year. Which meant it was the perfect time to flip my classroom library and teacher work space so I could have all of my teaching tools in one area.
The Growing Pains
We are four weeks into the school year and I am still adjusting to the Smartboard and my new configuration. We had some internet problems at school this year and it took a while to figure out how to make my older model Elmo communicate with my top-of-the-line Smartboard. The situation was less than ideal.
I also really, really miss having full access to my magnetic whiteboard.
And then there's my newly flipped teacher work area. I am just not settling into a groove with the new layout. The space feels crowded and nothing is as easy grab when I'm in a hurry.
And the extra cords? Well, they're kinda killing me.
The Good News
Despite the growing pains, having a beautiful piece of technology in my classroom is certainly a blessing. I am slowly discovering a more functional way to use and organize the teacher workspace. And you better believe my students are completely engaged during any lesson that includes a giant tv screen that you can touch.
The Full-Day Students
The biggest change in my classroom this year truly is the addition of full-day students to my former half-day kindergarten program. Prior to this year, I had a tidy little schedule. Yes, it was a race against the clock, but it was a race that I loved and it just worked.
I was all set and ready for another whirlwind year of half day kindergarten, when we had several full-day kindergarten tours late in the summer. So many, in fact, that it was too many students to fit into a single classroom. With so many full-day students enrolling, the only solution was to place some of the full-day students in my half-day classroom.
The Growing Pains
Faced with a much larger batch of students and a whole new schedule was certainly an unexpected curveball! All of my core content still had to fit into the morning so that none of my half-day students will miss out on any instruction. In the afternoon, the full-day students eat lunch, have recess, rest and do centers.
Juggling the two groups of children and their needs has been an interesting challenge. It's not because there are more students in my class this year – just the fact that there are two groups of students with different schedules and needs. As their teacher, it's my job to protect the instructional interests of both groups of students and make sure both groups of students (and parents) are at ease with their role in the classroom.
The Good News
After having several years with less than a dozen students in my classroom, it feels refreshing to have a larger group this year. I actually have four tables of student desks again. The children have more opportunities to socialize with each other and the learning environment feels more dynamic because there are more students participating in the the classroom.
The full-day students also have a little more room to spread out and breathe in the afternoon, which is nice since our mornings are so rigorous from the instructional time constraints.
The Extra Teacher
A few years ago I discovered that managing two blogs and working full-time at school was too much of a workload for me to manage. I was burning out fast and I needed a chance to rest and take time for myself so I decided to work part time last year. It was a perfect fit since my students were only at school for the mornings. I handed off the tech-related responsibilities I had taken on during the afternoons at school and used that time to manage blogs and share my passion with others outside of the classroom. It was a great system and I finally found time to relax and enjoy life.
When I found out that full-day students would be coming my way, I had no idea how to handle that situation. I knew there wasn't enough of me to adequately serve the needs of my students, readers of the blog, and maintain my relationships with my husband, family and friends. It took a little creativity, but my school administration and I worked together and invited another full-time teacher into the classroom to teach alongside me. And just like that Ms. S entered my kindergarten classroom.
The situation is certainly unique. Our students have not one, but two qualified teachers in the classroom each day. I take the lead instructional role for all children in the morning and Ms. S (that's how I plan to refer to her on the blog) takes over after lunch.
Neither one of us is a teacher's aide. While I'm leading instruction in the mornings, Ms. S. works one on one by the side of any children who are struggling. She rotates around the room and helps children work on pencil grip, or cutting skills, or does intervention activities who are working on letter recognition.
After lunch, lead instruction transfers to Ms. S. I often stay for an hour or two after the half-day students leave. During those afternoons, I fade into the background of the classroom and Ms. S is completely at the wheel.
The Growing Pains
When Ms. S was hired, I was consumed with relief. She was (and is) the answer to so many of my prayers. All of this happened in a whirlwind of activity less than two weeks before the first day of school, just as I was preparing to fly out to to Virginia to assist with the Astrobrights classroom makeover. Ms. S and I only had a few opportunities to meet, plan, and prepare for the year before meeting our students and their families at our school's annual Sneak Peek event before the first day of school.
One of our biggest challenges thus far is that Ms. S and I mutually struggle with being too polite with each other. When the school year started, I spent about two weeks deliberately avoiding my traditional “teacher's chair” behind what had been my teacher desk because I didn't want to establish it as mine. When we needed to sit and meet, I often motioned to the chair and invited her to sit in it. We also spent the first two weeks of school awkwardly dancing around each other because we didn't want to get into each other's way.
It also happens to be Ms. S' first teaching job and I am so blessed for the opportunity to be a resource and a support for her. I remember the unrelenting feeling of being overwhelmed at school every single day during my first year of teaching and I'm thankful that I can help soften that burden a bit for Ms. S.
I also walk a very fine line each day between being a resource for Ms. S and desperately trying to avoid becoming an accidental authority figure. Which can be a little weird at times because there are so many school and kindergarten traditions that keep surfacing. After 8 years in kindergarten, I have a lot of experience to share and pass along. As you might expect, I spend a great deal of time filling her in on how all of these events work and what our responsibilities are. But as much as I take the lead in our kindergarten events and classroom activities, we are ultimately teaching partners. Like I said, it's a fine line. It's also a weird line.
She and I both try to take it all in stride.
News of our new classroom structure was also a surprise to the students and families. When they enrolled for the school year, they expected their students to be placed in my half day classroom or in the full-day classroom next door. The full-day students were surprised to be placed in an entirely different classroom with two new-to-them teachers. And the half day students? Well, they were prepared for a significantly smaller learning community this year.
We fielded lots of questions during the first week of school. Mostly because parents didn't quite understand how all of the pieces would fit together. And who could blame them? Thankfully, the parents trusted that the school administration and the kindergarten teachers ultimately had their child's best interest at heart and embraced our unusual classroom structure.
The Good News
As rare and unusual as my current teaching situation may be, it is also an incredible blessing. Yes, it provides me with the time that I need to juggle all of my passions and responsibilities. And yes, it is a highly supportive first-time teaching position for Ms. S.
But the real winners in this situation are the students in our classroom. Our class of 17 students reap the benefits of having two fully-qualified, certified teachers in their classroom on a daily basis. While most kindergarten classrooms in our country have anywhere from 24 to 32 students, our class of 17 is quite small. Combine that with the fact that our students have support every single day to two fully qualified kindergarten teachers, and that the ten full-day students in our class have the benefit of small learning community with Ms. S and I would say it's a wonderful situation all around.
Here's to an unexpected 2016-2017 school year. I can't wait to see what else God has in store for our classroom this year.