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Thursday, July 29, 2010

NOT A TYPICAL FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL ENTRY

Summer, where I live anyway, is rapidly drawing to a close. I spent half of last week in a workshop and will spend four days this week taking or teaching workshops. Teachers in my district officially return to work a week from tomorrow. Tonight I found some terrific new first week of school ideas on English Companion ning. Brilliant educators are posting about community, engagement, rigor and passion. They are incorporating reading and writing and speaking and listening. They are using technology in thoughtful, real world ways. Reading these entries gets even more excited about heading back to school.

As someone who has always worked in urban settings, and as the mom of two kids with really unique histories, I want to take a different approach to the whole back to school thing. It's not that I don't love, love, love my job, because I do, or that I can't wait to get back into it (have I mentioned that I love teaching), but this morning, I want to think for a minute about things that get some kids off to a really rough start. I hope I won't offend people because that's not my intent. At the same time, I think there is some stuff that educators don't very often talk about. And maybe they should…

Here are some things that I am thinking about the first day of school.

1) I won't ask kids to research where their names came from. I adopted my boys when they were seven and nine. They were named by their biological mom, who is not a part of their life right now. We have no idea why she chose the names she did. My boys love me and they are, for the most part, pretty ok, but their biological family is still an area of huge hurt in their lives. They shouldn't have to start out their school year by explaining to someone they barely know why they can't do the first assignment.

2) I won't justify the "research your name" assignment by offering an alternate to kids who can't do the original assignment. Yes, my guys could do an alternate assignment, e.g. talk about why they have a hyphenated last name, but that is not what the rest of the class is doing. And like most other adolescents, they absolutely do not want to stand out or be identified as different in any way.

3) I will be careful about how I structure autobiography/timeline events. My son once spent an entire day creating a time line that basically skipped the seven years between the time he was born and time he moved in with me. I watched and tried to suggest possible events, but he wanted nothing to do with the things that occurred while he was in foster care. He got a D because he omitted basically about half of his life. I need to remember that some kids can't do a complete timeline or autobiography, either because they don't know their whole history or really don't want to remember that part of their lives. I won't penalize them for their history.

4) I will avoid "How I Spent My Summer" writing assignments. Many of my students have spent the entire summer locked in a hot apartment babysitting younger siblings, the highlight of their day was a trip to school for free breakfast or lunch. I also avoid favorite birthday or the best present they have ever received assignments, because some kids just don't have lots of happy memories.

5) I won't give points or rewards to kids who bring their supplies (or punish kids or make snide remarks if kids don't have school supplies). These are hard times. Some parents, no matter how much they care, simply don't have the money to send a ream of paper, or dry erase markers, or even a bottle of glue. Instead, I will seek out community programs, ask for donations from a church or service organization, or hit up some of my friends who don't have their own children.I also hit all of the "Back to School" sales.

6) I won't give points or rewards to kids whose parents don't come to back to school night (or punish kids or make snide remarks about parents who don't come). Yeah, there are some parents who simply don't come, but there are others who have to choose between working and putting food on the table or coming to "Back to School" night, and still more who don't have childcare or transportation. I will offer some alternative dates, (maybe the morning after the first "Back to School" night while everything is still set up), make a point of being outside when kids are dropped off or picked up. I will also make sure parents have phone numbers and emails and contact information for me.

8) I will make sure that the first day includes the most interesting and engaging content I can pull together. And the best read aloud.

9) I will tell the kids about me the first day of school. I want them to know that I have two teenage boys who play football. I will tell stories about my two crazy, naughty black lab teenager puppies. I will tell them about moving this summer and how many boxes of books I carried. I'm trying to decide how I will do this- through collage or imovie or ????

10) I will make sure the first day includes lots of activities for my visual and kinesthetic learners.
We are going to read lots of great books, laugh, personalize the room, make collages, do a science experiment or an activity that involves reading to cook or make something. We are not going to spend the day talking about rules, or passing out books and talking about what happens to kids who lose their books.

10) I will make sure that the first day includes lots of laughter. What is learned with laughter is never forgotten.

24 comments:

Susan T. said...

I love this post, Carol. Wonderful.

Susan
Chicken Spaghetti

Mindi said...

What a thoughtful and touching post. You've hit on so many things I think about as I prepare for the new year.

Susan said...

Oh, how to get this message to all the teachers out there who are expending all their energy on the first adorable bulletin board.

Although . . . speaking of bulletin boards, that could be the way you tell your students about you. I always start the year with a Getting To Know Your Teacher bulletin board: the words "I like music" posted over my favorite CD; "I like reading" over my favorite book; "I like coffee" over an empty Starbucks cup (a little hint for parents who might wonder what to get me at Christmas). Then, for the first project, I have them do a Getting To Know Me poster to display.

Karen said...

Carol, you have perspective on some of this that I unwittingly would not have thought of regarding first day. Thanks so much for sharing this post. It has made me very reflective about what I want my students to take away from the first day of school.

Mrs. Johnson said...

I enjoyed your post. It is important to think about everything. I want my classroom to be a welcoming environment from day one. I also do not want any students to be made uncomfortable about things they have no control over.

Mrs. Johnson said...

I enjoyed your post. It is important to think about everything. I want my classroom to be a welcoming environment from day one. I also do not want any students to be made uncomfortable about things they have no control over.

Lori Sabo said...

Very thoughtful. Students who spend a year with you are fortunate, indeed.

Rebecca said...

Last year I shared personal information about myself with a Powerpoint. I had linked to a video I had taken of millions of bats emerging from a cave in Texas that summer and was sure to put out lots of bat books. I gave them a little funny non-threatening quiz (multiple choice) about myself. I followed up with a scavenger hunt - find someone who... and used the scavenger hunt results during my morning meetings for the next couple of weeks. I would post "Who has a dog?" "Who went to the beach?" and students would try to remember classmates.
I read something in Teach Like Your Hairs on Fire that has also inspired me. Rafe Esquith says that he has these amazing string art projects that he does with his 5th graders. He has them showcased on the first day of school. Students ask "Are we going to do those this year?" and he replies "Yes, and we are going to start them right now!" How cool is that. So I am going to do something the very first day that is exciting and gets right into the content -
Thanks for your great post.

Patrick A. Allen said...

Lovely post. Thanks for always making us think!

Laura Benson said...

So happy to dwell in your wise words again. Much love and abundant respect forever and always...

Diane/2nd said...

Thanks for this post! I have two adopted daughters also. I'm so glad you posted this.

Nanc said...

Thank you for this post...my foster daughter who now is 24 still remembers never having a baby picture or little girl picture to share in her classrooms. Thank you for sharing your perspective...I hope that some will change their plans as a result

Mary Lee said...

All of them, but for sure #8. That one doesn't require you to know the history of your name, share your life timeline, or have the right school supplies.

Thanks, Carol, for sharing your heart with us.

kberg said...

Thank you for your perspective. It gives me a great deal to think about before I start school as well. It is important to consider all the possibilities of who our students are even before we meet them.

Jennifer said...

Wonderful post. As a second year teacher, I hosted a back to school night for my class because my school had not planned one yet and it was October. Near the end of that meeting, one of the men in the group stood and said he would like to say something to me. I was so afraid of what he was going to say since I had just gone over my teaching philosophy and beliefs. I was prepared for "an earful". Instead, he thanked me for addressing them that evening and in all of my communications to "families" rather than "parent/guardian". He said that he was touched that I recognized that some children in my class, including his own nephew, did not have or live with their biological parents and that the families they lived with were more than guardians. He thanked me for not calling attention to the children who were foster children or adopted or living with family members other than their parents for whatever reason by saying "your parents, grandparents or whoever you live with" to the children because he knew that those words made his nephew feel as if his family was less than other families. I have not forgotten this moment in my 17 years and coninue to address my families as just that, families.

BCH said...

Thank you for the lovely, inclusive, and thought-provoking reminders, Carol!

vcollet said...

Thanks for sharing your wonderful perspective, Carol! I saw a link to your post on the Choice Literacy newsletter and new it had to be you. Hope to see you at some upcoming CCIRA events.

Vicki C.

Sharon Creech said...

Ahhhh. Refreshing.

Karen McQuestion said...

Wonderful! As an adoptive parent (whose kids are now grown) I appreciate your post and would add that I always hated the "family tree" assignment as well.

Jacqueline Jules said...

Thanks so much for this. Teachers are often encouraged by curriculum to ask kids to write about their lives. Autobiography is frequently a first writing assignment. Not all kids have lives they care to share or if they do share, it is painful for the reader and the writer. Asking children to share personal histories, particularly in the beginning of the year is not always wise. As a parent of two boys who lost their father, it was disheartening to watch my boys have to fill out timelines that included their father's death. We need to be more sensitive about asking children to write or do assignments about their lives. Thank you so much for bringing this up for discussion.
Jacqueline Jules
www.jacquelinejules.com

Augusta Scattergood said...

As a former school librarian, I thank you for this amazing post. I just linked to it on my own blog and liked it on Facebook. I hope all the teachers I know will read it and ponder.

Julie said...

This is a great reminder to be inclusive! My son's class did a scavenger hunt on his first day of school last year (@ Rebecca). I was shocked that the content was so middle/upper class, a few students couldn't relate to any of the choices: "Traveled out of town for vacation" or "Grandmother who lives in Florida" or "TV or laptop in your bedroom" or "Have a cottage on the lake" - my son was quite upset, not that he couldn't answer one, but for the students that couldn't! Hope you all have a great year!!

Janet said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am fostering my own grandson who will start preschool in two weeks and I'm hoping that he gets a teacher with your sensitivity.

Rose said...

while I agree with many of your points, I do not agree with all of it. Sometimes parents have to realize that school is important to the point that the can take off from work one day to support their child, and if we don't put the expectation on them they will not rise to that expectation. My students put the pressure on their parents because they have a desire to do so. I try to instill in my students the importance of school and this is the first step to success. I also do not think we should have to give up on the richness of your name because of adopted children. Yes, we have to be sensitive to those children, but there is always going to be something for someone in every single thing we do. Part of life is learning how to deal with unpleasant things. It is too bad that student received a D, that teacher should have been sensitive to that child's history. This is where getting to know your students comes into play. Obviously she did not.