With the kids gone and my principal's additional chore in my head, I then walked about the school collecting the audiovisual equipment. Actually not a hard task as we only had one 16mm film projector on a rather tall cart, one opaque projector which was already in my room, one overhead projector in another fifth grade classroom and one push-pull 35mm slide projector. I think there was suppose to be a reel to reel tape recorder but I never saw it during the year. It might have been in some classroom's cupboard. I collected all the equipment and stuck in under the table...except for the 16mm projector which got put into the corner. Apparently my duties included carrying or moving any of those pieces of equipment to another room if a teacher scheduled their use. Hardly anyone every did.
I went home for dinner and told my wife what sort of a day I had. Although I was physically tired, I went back to school and my classroom and cut up tag board and with a felt marker made extra large name tags for each desk and student. I had already found out that my super deluxe seating chart from some school supply house in Seattle was essentially useless--too small even though I could move names about. I needed something that I could read from the front of the room. I had bought special tape and every desk had a name. An experienced teacher would have had some kids cut the tag board, another child who could print well, write the names and others to tape them on the desks. I was to learn.
Then I sat down and took out the files of the kids that I had in class and took a look inside each one. In the following years I would wait a week or two until I got to know the children. But for my first year I took a gander right away. Shock! Twelve, I'm not kidding you, were kids who had been held back! They were really six graders. Twelve. The teacher who had retained them had been let go (fired) by the district but no one had challenged her decision. Amazing. And why did they give them to me, essentially a new teacher?
I went home late that evening with a great deal of confusion. I decided my policy would be to ignore the fact that a number of the kids had been retained and not mentioned it. It appears that that was a lucky move on my part. Every once in a while one of those students would say to me, "I was held back last year," and I essentially said, "I don't know why 'cause you seem pretty smart to me." And they were. I don't know why she held them back. Two had reading problems but that didn't last long. And one kid was, I swear, a math wizard. He loved numbers.... Although the files indicated these kids were being retained it really never mention why or what they needed to improve on.
My first parent-teacher conferences later on in the year were stressful for me but the parents were really great. Most, if not all, came to the conference happy with their child's progress and thought I was doing a good job. I now know that I wasn't very good that first year but if I did one thing correctly it was that I encourage all the kids all the time. Every child in my class learned. I don't know to this day if they learned up to grade, up to speed, up to their age but WE learned. Mostly out of the textbooks, but we learned. Those were the greatest kids--I really enjoyed my elementary classroom years.
That first year I believe I had either 36 or 38 students. I think the next year I had 41 for a while. Oh, yes, I learned to be a teacher. One thing I learned was not to erase names from my grade book. I can remember one day a child coming up to me and saying that Friday (or whatever) would be her last day as her family was moving to Oregon. No time to plan a party, I had the kids all write her letters saying how much they would miss her. Some tears, lots of hugs. And next week she was gone.
I started to blank out that line in my grade book and Jo my guardian angel said not to do it. Don't worry that the grade book has a total of one number and my class was a different total. Just don't do it. Okay. And she was right. Maybe a month or two, here came my little gal back. "We've moved back with grandma--Dad's job didn't work out." I remember her jumping up and down with excitement to see us all again--she hadn't like the school in Oregon. Welcome back, Princess. This happened a number of times with different kids during my elementary teaching time. Flexible class numbers.
By the end of the first week, I could do the Pledge of Allegiance (required by the local VFW), get the class started on their spelling books with some instructions by me, start the lunch count and do the attendance sheet. By 9:30 we could move on to reading which lasted to 10:15. Then recess. At 10:30 it was arithmetic for an hour and then about a half hour of study time to do homework (which I hardly ever sent home--more about that in a different blog) or special reading for some of the kids. Later on in the school year it turned into project time when they worked with others on a group project. Sometimes we'd push arithmetic back and continue reading after recess. We were flexible. I began to read the kids--how are they doing? Do they seem bored? Or tired? Do we need a change?
As I said in yesterday's blog I had to serve out the hot lunch to those that paid for their lunch. It was wheeled in carts to each room. Later on in the school year the kids did much of the work. And then there was noon recess. Everybody out. No one to stay in the room. And I would head for my first break and some coffee in the teachers' room. It was small and didn't have seats for everyone. I'd get there late and have to stand. But I would get my coffee.....pick up my mail--never much. Mostly announcements from the administration building and the principal.
After lunch, the kids would come in very excited by the games and running around. They NEEDED that time to blow off steam. These were ten, eleven or twelve year olds who had sat for most of the morning. They needed to run. On days when they could not go out for noon recess it was obvious that it was a necessary activity. They became grumpy in the afternoon.
As soon as they came in from noon recess, happy but tired, I took to reading out loud from a children's book. I had purloined a stool and I would sit in front of the class and read. This turned out to be one of their favorite times of the day. I could threaten if they didn't behave I would not read after lunch! Heavy threat. My first book was Rufous Redtail by Helen Garrett. It's about a redtail hawk who is impatient to grow up. I picked it because we had redtail hawks around the school. I just googled the name and found it still is available--I am surprised. But my class and I enjoyed it and I learned something very important. I would read several paragraphs and sometimes smile or laugh at the absurdity of the situation that Rufous would get into. But the class didn't always get the scene. So I actually had to teach them the humor of the writing. I didn't know you had to teach humor. I wonder if that is measure on those damn tests we now have to take. I really enjoyed myself during these reading aloud time to my class. And they paid attention. I still remember one of the boys saying, "Rufous is just like us--silly." My student was learning.... and so was I.
After reading aloud, it was social studies time. That first year we basically read from the text about the western movement. I desperately needed maps and none were available. Okay new teachers, pay attention--important. I went to an intermediate service district--sort of a audiovisual help desk in Seattle that serviced my school district. Did they have maps I could use? And what they did was give me an old map of the United States and showed me how to take a leather punch and punch holes all around the perimeter of the continental United States.... about an eighth inch apart. I think we did the Mississippi river as well since that was important in our social studies lessons. Then I would tape it up on the black board and kids would pound it with the erasers. Take the map down and dots were left on the blackboard which I would have the kids connect. They loved doing this. Pounding that map raised much dust and they thought that was just perfect. Every kid who got the job came out white! But we would have a map on the board in which the kids could place cities, wagon trails, whatever. I bought color chalk and we could color in different aspects of a growing nation. Those maps probably saved my social studies lessons. The next year I learned to make a negative overhead transparency.... It was all black expect where I wanted to let light through and so I did the United States outline and flashed on the blackboard and had the same white outline that I had the year before but without dusty kids... and we could erase without erasing the outline. It was cool. It was a good thing that no other teacher ever wanted the overhead--I kept it all year.
I am green with envy but now teachers in the Bellevue school district of my state have SmartBoards and can blink whatever map they want on the board. Oh man, I wish I had had that device....
Back to my first year. At about 3:10 I'd have the kids clean up the room and put their chairs on their desk. (see a previous blog about this activity and noise) By 3:20 we'd head for the buses which normally left at 3:30. After the kids were gone I'd head back to my room, sort papers to be graded, look at tomorrows lesson plans, check supplies that might be needed and sometimes grade a few papers. But I can attest, I would be tired. I normally was in my classroom before eight and I would head home around four-thirty. I quite often would grade papers in the evening.
But there was much more I had to learn. Thanks to all those colleagues who would give me a heads up or an idea on how to teach something to someone. They saved my bacon many times. I wish them all well.