Saturday, October 24, 2009

School Improvements

In the last month the following projects were started at school:
1) New soap dispensers were installed. 2, to be exact, for 500+ students.
2) The new soap dispensers were filled (it took about a week)
3) They started to install an intercom system in my classroom. They worked on it on Thursday, did not finish and did not return on Friday.
4) School yard was cleaned, and all signs of fall were removed, including leaves and acorns that were on the ground. Note to self, rework that lesson plan
5) Technology support person was notified that the internet jack in my room does not work. Hopefully I will have internet in the classroom soon

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Problem of the day

In my school, many of teachers give their students a mathematical problem of the day. I think this is also the case in some other schools too. This past week, I accidentally posed a very challenging math problem to my colleagues and principal.

Here is the situation. Last year the early childhood and special education classes took a trip to see a play in December. Last year the principal gave me the money for our tickets in advance and then as the students' families paid, he collected the money. This year, he said that was not doable because of some accounting problems he had last year with the school account. He asked me to pay for everyone out of my pocket and I think that is an absolutely unreasonable request. It is 5 dollars per student and we are planning the trip for fifty students. News Flash: that is 250 dollars!

Once I got over my initial shock at his request, I thought some more about it. I am comfortable putting up the money for the students in my classroom because I have good relationships with their parents and would be better able to follow up with them in case someone did not pay. I do not even know all of the other early childhood or special education parents, so how can I ask my them for money? My colleagues are little lazy and or unorganized so I don't feel that I can trust them to do it. I wanted to just take my class but my principal said that was wasteful because the bus would not be full at all.

So I asked each teacher to pay for his or her class upfront. I explained that it is five dollars for each student. Everyone with me so far? Then, I explained that the ratio of chaperones allowed by theater is 1:10. One chaperone for every ten students.Since some of our classes have fewer than 10 students and 2 adults, they are over the ratio and the second adult also has to pay 5 dollars.

Did I lose anyone yet? Because 2 of my colleagues and my principal could not follow this reasoning. I gave an example: If I have 2 adults in my classroom and only 9 students, I need to pay five dollars for each student (45 dollars) and five dollars for that second adult. 45+5 = $50.
Still blank stares and confusion. So I explicitly talked about the numbers of students in each of their classes. One has 6 students and one has 7. Each of their classrooms has fewer than ten students and they have an extra adult. Therefore, they need to pay for that extra adult.

Chaos erupts. My principal whips out his scientific calculator. The teachers explain that they want to combine their classes. They will then have 13 students and four adults, and will still need to pay for two of those four adults. The math was beyond all of them. My early childhood colleagues may have the excuse that they don't teach such complicated math to their students, however, my principal, the person who is somewhat in charge of school finances, should be able to comprehend this.

Frustrated with their lack of understanding, I resorted to drawing pictures. I started drawing stick figure representations. After 25 minutes, I still don't think they truly comprehended the math. They did agree to pay up front for their students. I was annoyed. I find I have a lot of patience for helping students understand something, but very little patience for explaining something that I take to be basic math to adults. People who have been teaching longer than I have been alive. People who are supposed to be mentoring me.

I explained this math problem to other people and they could follow the reasoning. Could you follow the math in this post?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"It's just another manic Monday..."

... and Tuesday!

Things are very busy in the classroom. We started to implement both the reading and math curriculum last week. It is my first time using this math curriculum, so there is a learning curve. While I had been teaching my students math all of the other years, I hadn't been trained or given the district wide early childhood math curriculum or materials. I was finally trained over the summer and picked up the materials a few weeks ago. So far, it seems like I was already implementing many aspects of the curriculum so I am focusing on the parts that are new to me. The materials we have used so far seem to be exciting and actively engaging my students.

Last week was a really rough week emotionally. My kids are dealing with some pretty rough stuff at home and I was working hard as their advocate to clear up confusion with parents and get them the proper services that they need.

Yesterday, Monday, I was startled by their behavior around food. More than half the class came into the classroom in a frenzy. They were desperate to have breakfast, and even though I have assured them several times that everyone can eat at school, my words don't penetrate. Some of the kids became very aggressive and protective around their food. "That's my food, don't take it from me" and other troubling statements. The frenzy died down once everyone who wanted to eat was sitting with a breakfast in front of them. I knew before Monday that many of them are hungry or worry about food but I was still shocked by their aggressive and protective behavior about their breakfast. I hope that their out-of-school situations improve sooner rather than later.

I continue to really struggle with supporting one of my students who has intensive behavioral challenges. I have a behavior plan in place that he seems to respond to, sometimes. I am working on training my para and the other teachers on how to support this student. In addition to attempting to decrease this student's non desirable behaviors, I am working with him and the whole class to build better social skills.

As I write this though, I am optimistic. My principal finally changed the schedule so that it is more consistent. Consistency is an essential ingredient in academic learning and in reducing problematic behaviors. My principal and I have had this same conversation each year. Each year it seems as though he has completely forgotten all of the points I have made to him about this topic. When I got to him and express the need for routines and consistency in the lives of my students, I am not asking for me. I am not asking to have all my prep periods in the morning so I don't have to do any planning on my own. I am asking on the behalf of my students, who do not need more chaos and disorder when they come to school. I am optimistic that a set schedule will help my students adjust. Once they learn the routine, hopefully they will feel less anxious at school and problematic behaviors will sharply decrease.

I must remind myself that it is still early in the school year. This is only my students' fourth full week of school. Things will get better.