Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How Much Is that Doggie in the Window?

At what cost do we suffer through these first dark weeks of school? Yes, we do love seeing all these new faces in the classroom, and c' can't say you don't love that little girl that leaps out of line to give you a hug! But physically and emotionally, how are you taking care of yourself. Teaching is a grueling job...well, but there are those summers off, right?

I sat across from a new teacher the other day in a meeting, an intern who's currently working on a thesis and trying to teach as well. She's also holding down a job nights to pay for her education. Oh boy, those were the days! And she said to me, "I had no idea it could be this hard!"

Well, for one thing, what the public doesn't know or can't imagine, is the length to which you carry around this cadre of little guys inside your head. I'm constantly evaluating and re-evaluating each and everything I do...via every interaction I have with each and every student. Factor in the parent interface just to get a complete understanding...well, that alone gives your brain enough to burst its seams!

Last week, I was examining the inventory...something I've made a practice of over the years. Teachers, both rookies and vets, have to lighten their load to be effective in the classroom each day. see a whole mass of puppies and you find yourself treading water in the treacherous seas of all the state and national initiatives out there. You have to get a handle on the kids, because that will calm your raw nerves and settle your sleepless nights down.

The best way is to go back to the old three column model. I label one heading "ready & able," a second "needs a boost," and then a third "wild things." Underneath each heading, I take a look at each of my students to figure out where they fall. This is just a first blush, so don't get yourself too worked up over it at all. The "R&A" kids are a breeze for now, but don't forget to keep a pace and challenge them, or you could easily see a change in their ranks. The other two groups are the ones that will swim around in your head, so you've got to start chipping away. I generally look at that middle group and star two at a time, sit down with them, get to know trust so you can bring them along. Interest inventories are helpful, but really knowing them well is often the best start. You want to move them over to the "R&A" column as quickly as you can, or the "Wild Things" might draw them in!

The "Wild Things," are often the toughest group, but it's usually upon close inspection just a few kids. These students can often be jaded, undermotivated or underchallenged in previous years, or they're just desperate for negative attention, because they have no other strategy to be social at all. Right now, that's the case for a few of mine. My work with them is to set things straight. I let them know "Teaching is a business," and they will not disrupt others or interfere with their own learning. I also let them know that I really care about them...and I follow through by demonstrating that fact. Lastly, I hold them accountable, because that's the best way to show them I mean what I say.

It's October, things are starting to turn the corner in room 229 A. I've taught students many of the behaviors I expect by modeling almost everything you can imagine in class. Transition language, for example, "I'm expecting to see the 3 S's in five seconds." (Sit, Settle in Silence...then I give them the cue, tell them what they need and they get the 4th S: Sort) I've taught them how to carry their books, how to line up outside my door (this still needs work!), and we've already had NMGTTLD (No More Going to the Locker Day). But best of all, with all this under my long last, I'm starting to sleep through the whole night again!

Teachers need to take good care of themselves! Make yourself a priority today!


  1. Just found this post, Gael-love it!! Your three column model is so wonderfully and playfully set a great example for working hard to know your kids but also working hard to know yourself as an educator and as an individual.

  2. You're the best, Erin! A true inspiration to me!

  3. I'm finally catching up on some long-neglected reading and came to this. Very nice piece, Gael. With a little volunteering in grandson Cole's kindergarten class (Mrs. Vollmer) and some subbing at SHS I'm easing back into things myself. I have to confess it's been a little more difficult than I thought but getting better and I'm beginning to enjoy myself with the kids and many of my former colleagues. Sleeping through the night? Not just yet. All in due time.

  4. Hey George! Little by little, step by step. I'm just putting one foot in front of the other myself. I have to admit, though, I am so enjoying the wonderful parents I tuned in they are to their kids this year, and just how real and right their priorities are right now. Taking in the sweet with the bitter...that's all we've got.

    1. Very true. Onward and upward one day at a time. Thanks.