Friday, January 9, 2009

Before we get too deep into teachers, let's review what a teacher's day is like.  I'm going to generalize a bit but I suspect I'm pretty close to what many teachers do.  Let's start first with the grade school teacher--a fourth grade teacher in a regular public school.  ME!

Most grade schools start classes at nine in the morning but teachers normally are required to be there generally by eight AM.  I would unlock my room, hang up my coat and just look things over. My first task of the day was to put away yesterdays lesson plans, generally jotting some notes on what was good and what was bad on them.  I'd file those and get the days lesson plans.  Let me be clear on this--at the first of the year, the principal would pass out a lesson plan book--a week on two pages with little squares for each hour and a grade book.  About all you could do is write the subject in the square and page number.  But I've had principals that demanded that the lesson plan book be on the right hand side of my desk every day.  Without fail.  For me it was totally useless but I'd fill it out.  One year I changed the dates and used the previous year's book--no one  seemed to notice.  

Back to the real lesson plans.  I normally had them on 8X11 sheets of paper for each subject in manilla folders by subject.  The plans were numbered so I could find where I was fairly quickly.  Some lesson plans were used for several days--a continuation of what the children and I were doing.  Other lessons changed day by day.  These lesson plans I normally wrote at home on the weekends and used several years in a row with modifications.  [I'll write more about lesson plans, objectives and evaluations later on.]

Most of my lessons for the day were on a clipboard which I  (or one of the students) could carry around.  Being the clipboard monitor was a coveted position  which changed weekly.  Some of the kids while being the clipboard monitor would actually tell me when I had deviated from my lesson plan.  I like that--kept me on my toes.

So now it is about eight twenty and the first children are beginning to show up outside the room.  Busses began to show up around eight thirty and the kids began to gather at the same time.  I'd open the door about then and some of the kids would get the playground equipment (tether balls, Four square ball, jump rope, etc.) while other children would want to come in the room.  It was their world, their classroom.  A place where they felt okay.  Some would grab my clipboard to see what we were doing that day--interesting aside--I use to say don't read my lesson plans but the kids would sneak a peak when I wasn't paying attention.  What I quickly found out was that some of them actually would get organized for the day's work.  I soon just let them read the lesson plans.  About eight forty I would write the days objectives on the blackboard in one of the corners.  I hoped it would help the kids keep organized--lots of teachers do this activity.

Generally about eight forty five I'd head to the teachers' room for my last cup of coffee and pick up my mail.  Back at the classroom door by a couple of minutes to nine.  I always (well, most of the time) greeted the kids at the door--girls lines up closer to the building while the boys lines up on the outside (all under cover).  The bell would ring and I'd let them in trying to greet each child.  Some would want to rush right in while others would wait until I would say, "good morning, Ann" or something like that.  It was a ritual for some......and for me.  It was the beginning of my teaching day.

Coats would get hung up, lunch boxes were stored on a counter near the sink...more so that the kids didn't eat everything in their lunchbox by lunchtime....and still be hungry.  Then the Pledge of Allegiance--everyone stood up.  I didn't do this everyday after my first year as the children began to recite it in a drone like fashion.  They were really not paying attention--just saying something.  So we would do it maybe once a week. 

But after the pledge it was lunch money time.  I hated this part and towards the middle of the year would pick two kids who had good number control.  But early in the year it was my duty to collect the lunch money.  Some schools have the children visit the office before school--we tried that but some of the kids duly forgot each day.  Anyway, children would come to my desk row by row and I would write their names and dump the money in an envelope.  No matter what I did later on in the day the office would call me and say I was so many cents short.  Never over.  Always short.  It would come out of my pocket.  

Now that that measurable task was over (nine ten) it was spelling time.  We had booklets with words for each week.  Introduce the words on Monday, use them on Tuesday, trial test on Wednesday, more use on Thursday and final test on Friday.  More on spelling at a later blog.

Nine thirty and it is time for reading.  There is tons of research on how to teach reading and don't bother me with the phonetic method being perfect for all kids--it isn't.  I don't know what the best method to teach reading to EACH child is--I normally tried them all.  At the fourth grade most children could already read--what they needed was practice.  Those that couldn't read (very few) I'd sit next them and help them along.  I'll write about learning how to read at a later day.  However, reading in my class went from nine thirty to ten fifteen.  AND THEN IT WAS RECESS.  The kids needed it--not so much for me but if they had been going since nine, they were tired mentally.  It was time for a break.

If I wasn't on playground duty, I'd head for the teachers room for a quick cup of coffee if I got their in time.  For most of the teachers it was a ten minute break given time to walk to the teachers room and back.  There were times when I would stay in the room to get some equipment or lesson plan lined up.  I normally told the children they had to go our even if they only walked around the building.  Everybody out!  But of course there were always someone with a cold, or a note from Mom to stay in.  So in reality I always had kids in the room.

Ten thirty to eleven thirty was Arithmetic.  Numbers.  Abstractions.  How to add, divide, subtract and multiply.  For some children it was tough.  When I was teaching we didn't yet know about dyslexia and I now know that I had children that just couldn't see the numbers or they wrote them in wrong places.  I remember one child who always wrote the number "5" backwards.  He was always sorry and would correct it but when doing the next problem, the "5" would be done backwards again. Perhaps he was dyslexic--I wish I knew.

Most of the children could do their numbers and I would walk around the room helping kids, praising some, telling others to redo a problem or two.  Things would get hard when we started "fractions" including "improper fractions."   It is an abstraction that takes a bit to understand and the class and I would struggle with the concepts.  It is hard work for fourth graders.

Most of the time by eleven thirty the kids were tired--all thought out.  And I tried to have some sort of an art or music lesson.  It was a good time to sing and they enjoyed it.  I tried to find folk tunes that might be associated with the social studies lessons.  But not always.  It was also a time for writing.  I would give assignments like to write five sentences that had at least two adjectives in the sentence.  English lessons would merge from reading to writing to social studies.  It was a fluid lesson.

Lunch came around noon.  Yes, I did say "came" to our room.  Another part that I disliked intensely.  They would wheel carts with hot food, dishes, milk cartons and silverware to the rooms and the teachers had to serve the kids.  More then once I've served the kids only to find myself short in serving all of them.  Or some child would get in line who forgot he wasn't getting lunch that day.  Always a hassle.  The rest of the kids would get their lunch and eat at their desks.  It was a noisy time and I learned to overlook some exchange of foods, a few bad eating styles (although I would say something if it was totally off the wall).  The students needed their food and some space.  I would eat at my desk and invite several different children each day to join me--high point for some of the children.  We'd talk about things in general, mostly what was going on at home.

Twelve twenty and those that had finished lunch were allowed outside for noon recess.  Most of the time they were ready to blow off some steam.  I watch some children just run for the enjoyment of just running.  Most of the time they had been sitting since nine that morning.

Now it was time (twelve thirty) for me to take a break.  Most of the morning I have been standing and walking around the room.  Some of the time I had taken a small chair with me to sit next to different children and help them with their work.  But it is a tiring morning physically.  Down to the teachers room and plop down on a couch or chair.  the chit-chat was minimal and was not about teaching.  "Where should I get my car repaired?"  "Where did you get that good looking skirt?"  Out of sixteen teaching stations (classrooms), there were only three male teachers--the women teachers outnumbed us.  Some schools the teachers eat together and I longed for that.  It would have been fun.  Now, mostly we just sat and did small talk.

One o'clock.  Another bell and another afternoon of teaching to begin.  I normally started my afternoon by reading to the children out of a young adult book--a continued saga day in and day out.  This was a survival technique by me.  The kids come in from afternoon recess  and they are excited, sometimes sweaty, and they have had a good recess.  A few who have won at a playground game don't want to let go.  Everyone it seems wants to tell me something.  The class is high.  If I were to start teaching a subject at this moment, I'd probably have about half of them paying attention.  The others would be in their minds still enjoying the recess.

So I would read to the children.  I had a stool for a few years and I sit on it in front of the room and just hold the book.  It would only take a moment for the class to settle down.  No heads down or fold your hands as some teachers do.  I'd just hold the book.  It was like a soap opera on TV with each day something happening in the book that I was reading.  Now remember I was doing this for survival but I soon realized that the kids were learning from my reading as well.  How to read aloud.  How to change one's inflection.  How to pause.  And something that was a surprise to me I also was teaching them about humor.  I'd stop and explain why I though it was funny and they would join me.  Later on someone in the class would say, that part is funny because I do the same thing.....or my mother yells at me the same way.  They were learning story line recognition.  I enjoyed reading to them.  I started this activity planning on only ten minutes but it soon became twenty minutes and if the book was really gooooood, we might go thirty.

By one thirty we had either Social Studies or Science or Health.  The latter two sometimes merged--it was hard to tell the difference between the two.  Social studies was fun particularly when we had maps.  Not all rooms had maps so we sometimes shared between grade levels.  The district would buy only one set of maps be year per building.  Pity.  Those maps really promoted day dreaming and excitement.  Both I thought these behaviors were valuable.  By three o'clock we began to straighten up our room and our desks.  

Busses started coming at around three twenty and I had to get the kids down to the bus stop by that time.  I don't know how many times I had to drive a few kids home because we MISSED the bus.  I didn't like the system but that was what we had.  

Before going to the bus, the room had to be straightened up.  Desks were aligned, tables put back, the music stand put in the corner (we used it for other things--more later), maps put away or returned to other rooms.  The kids were good about this housekeeping work.  They took pride in the classroom.  We finally put our chairs on the top of the desks (more about this later too)   so that the janitor could sweep underneath.  Coats and lunch boxes were collected, the coats were put on and I would go around the room to see if anything was left or out of place.  Once the kids were lined up we head for the bus ramp.  No, I didn't say good bye to each one--I was too tired and they were too although there was always someone who would say, "see you tomorrow."

If a bus didn't show up, a teacher was required to stay with the children, their own and the other kids for that bus.  Bus Seven was notorious for breaking down and we'd have to wait until the back up came--about a half hour or so.

Once the kids were gone, it was back to the room, check out one more time.  Put my clip board away.  Put my chair on the desk.   That was about it.  I was tired.  We were required to stay at the school until four or four fifteen--I don't remember.  But some of us were ready to head home.  I'd collect spelling papers or writing work or arithmetic papers for grading.  I didn't always get them done. I normally didn't stop at the office mostly because I wanted to be left alone for a time.  

When I go home sometime after four thirty I use to flop down on the couch and fall sound asleep which use to tick my wife off.  It did seem like I ought to get the dinner started so that when she came home from work we could have a quiet dinner together.  But mostly I napped.

One day in the life of a fourth grade teacher.....

Note that I haven't written about computers (which I didn't have), or physical education or a few other subjects.  We had no music teacher or art teacher.  More about this later.

So if you've read all this and even understand some of it, thank a teacher.  It's been a long day.

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