Friday, September 25, 2009

The first day of class...

Here it is fall and school has started. What does a teacher do on the first day of class? For the moment let us leave out Kindergarten as that is a special deal--most kindergarten teachers have to deal with parents leaving off their kids--lots of tears, both from the kids and the mothers. As I said, it is a different scene.

The high school (secondary school in Canada) is cool. The entering class be it ninth grade (Freshmen) or tenth grade (Sophomore) probably would be scheduled to an assembly where they are given a pep talk plus rules on how to behave, what offices to go to if having a problem, hours for lunch and going home in the afternoon, maybe bus information as well. And of course they would be given their "home room" assignment. Do you remember your home room? I don't but I know I had one--I think it was the band room. Meanwhile, upper grade high school students were probably going about their classes getting textbooks and finding out what the goals for the class would be for that semester. Seniors are the cool ones; they know all the ins and outs of school behavior. They even know where their locker is.

But the elementary teacher probably has his/her hands full. Perhaps in the gym or maybe out under the covered play area, the kids gather as they get off the bus. Intermediate grade children (fourth, fifth and maybe sixth) might even see their name on a list and head for that room--mostly to see who else is in the class. But the first and second grades are probably being put in a group for each primary teacher.

It goes like this. "Hi, what is your name?" "MarySue? That is a nice name. Do you know your last name too?" "Smith." Good, you go over to that nice teacher next to that wall--that will be your teacher this year. Her name is Mrs. Gray. Have a nice year." "And what is your name dear?" And so it goes until the grades are sorted out. In some cases the children know from a letter that has been sent home who their teacher is and what room number they have. It takes a couple of hours but soon everyone is in their correct classroom with the correct teacher.

There are exceptions. I remember twin girls who kept exchanging classes at recess and at lunch. No one could tell them apart. They didn't like to be separated so they shared as much as they could. And no, I don't know why some school policies say that twins should be separated. I should look up the research on that subject some day.

Another exception to calmness on the first day of class was when an Italian family moved into the school district. I think there were six kids, one for each grade. But it was the first grader who drove everyone nuts. He couldn't speak English so he yelled and I do mean yelled bloody murder until someone would go get an other child who could speak a little English and and would come to the first grade to see what the matter was. He finally was sent to the principal's office and when he yelled there as well, the secretary who had several of her own children, knelt down in from of the child and gave him a stern talking to in English. Maybe it was the mother in her that he recognized but he immediately settled down. But it was a rough go for several hours until she talked to him.

So now we're in the new classroom with thirty one? Twenty nine?" Hopefully under twenty five children all looking big eyed at the teacher. A few of the children may have already said something like, "my brother had you last year." But I suspect the teacher has already said that they would be able to talk a little later on--"we need to get our coats and lunches stowed away first." And I suspect for the most part many teachers would have the children sit on a rug while she would go over the list in her hand of the children she would have this year. Charles Brown? Does your family call you Charles or Charlie or Chuck? Then on to the next child. It takes time and for sure someone will need to go to the bathroom. Stress seems to make bladders smaller for some reason. Do you ask the child to wait until you show them all where the rest rooms are and which one is for boys and which one is for girls? Flip a coin. Once the teacher knows who the children are and that the correct kids are in the class, then the desks and chairs can be assigned.

To a non-teacher, the question probably is why not alphabetical? For most teachers you want to put some of your smaller children in the front while some of the taller children may be in the back rows. If the teacher has some children who don't speak English as a first language you may also want to put them closer to the front. Also, desk height is important as the children will be learning to write and draw this year with more precision then in kindergarten. Chairs size is also important. This chore also takes time. And thank heavens for those children who sense that the teacher needs some assistance. There is always four or five who know how to help. Must be in their genes although I have observed that the country school children are more helpful then the city kids. In some cases the teacher has to write a quick note and have one of these children take it to the office. "I need three more desks and chairs! Mrs. Smith, Rm 12."

So we have the desks and chairs taken care of. It's probably time for the bathroom tours. I remember telling the girls that I would give them privacy but if I heard giggling or yelling or shouting, I would come in the girls room. Much twittering from the girls. Did they want to test me? Always a question of should they.

Recess time is a good time to explore the play area outside. How far to go on the playground, what slides to use and in some cases what classrooms to stay away from (upper grades who may be still studying). Also this is a time to introduce the playground supervisor (teacher assistant or volunteer mom or dad) if the school has such a position.

Lunch time is another major informational time for first graders. In some schools the children go to a lunch room--in others the lunch comes to the classroom. Either way it is a new behavior for the children to learn about.

Maybe by the afternoon, textbooks, writing materials, rulers, whatever the school supplies are passed out and if the teacher is on the ball, a sticky as to whose desk is whose. Later after the kids have gone for the day, I would make a large name tag to put on the front of each desk with the child's name. Big enough for me to read it from the front of the room. It would take me a week or longer to learn everyone's name and even then I sometimes would have to ask once again.

By the end of the day I would read a small story to the class. It was almost time for the busses and the children had been on great behavior all day, excited, in some cases so excited that they would actually wiggle like a puppy. What teachers want is to keep that excitement for the rest of the year.

Oh dear, as I once did, I forgot to say that early on in the morning a teacher has to do the lunch count. Some kids will say they want lunch although they brought their lunch from home. Others have no idea what they are to do--they didn't have a lunch to bring and they didn't have any money to bring. What to do? And now in some schools that are children who are helped with their lunch costs. I even forgot the breakfast bunch who get a subsidized breakfast in the morning. Regardless of your political philosophy, from a teachers point of view, children who have food in their stomach learn better and more. And they don't fall asleep. I had one child who would fall asleep at her desk. I don't know why--I remember calling the mom by phone and she told me Beth got plenty of sleep at night. I was a young teacher so I didn't say anything about seeing the doctor. Perhaps I should have. I don't know and I've worried all these years what I should have done.

One more chore for the first grade teacher--getting the kids on the right school bus. In some cases older brothers or sisters made sure their sibling is on the right bus. But probably that clip board with all the children's names will have a number near it--the right bus number; bus 12 or 5, whatever. When all the kids are gone all you want to do is go back to your desk and sit down. Maybe a bit of cold coffee from lunch will help. It is a tiring day to be sure. And tomorrow the lessons start. Time to start putting names in the grade book.

Do you remember your first grade? Probably not. So be sure to thank a teacher the next time you meet one--that person might have been a first grade teacher at one time.

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