Sunday, 19 June 2016

Reflections on a Positive Year

My Report Cards are in. With the exception of some editing (and maybe a few changes to the Science marks after next week’s activities) I am now thinking about next year. However, I should take some time to reflect on the year that is coming to an end in eight school days.

This year started wonderfully because I finally escaped my portable and got back into a regular classroom. Moving from a portable to a classroom is not a small upgrade. It is a monumental game changer.  Here are just a few of the perks...

  • There is much more space in a classroom - much more.  
  • That space is enhanced by the presence of a hallway, where jackets, boots and backpacks can be stored away from the learning space.
  • The hallway also acts as a buffer for the mud and snow that children track-in during recesses therefore, the classroom is always cleaner.
  • The heat and air unit is silent in a classroom. In a portable, this space crowding behemoth hums and drones a dull, white noise at about the same frequency as the human voice. Consequently, teachers and students have to speak much more loudly all day. Group activities naturally become shouting matches that wear the nerves of teachers and students alike.
  • The heat/air unit also recycles the dirty air. I would like to see a study that compares the number of sick days lost to students and teacher in a portable vs those in a classroom.
  • There is a sink and there are many cupboards in a classroom.
  • The ceiling projector does not shake and rattle out of focus when the door closes or when the students move around the room.
  • There are large windows in my classroom, allowing the room to be flooded with natural light even on overcast days.

Portable 2 - My classroom for 4 long years.
It remains my belief that classes in portables should be hard-capped at 24 students.  I have had over 30 students in a portable and, as the old expression goes, it was so cramped that we had to go outside to change our minds.

How about this? For each student above the cap, the teacher and each member of the class get a small, monthly monetary bonus. This is to make up for the dusty, cramped, loud, dark confines in which they are expected to operate. How about a $100 gift card for the teacher to buy those extra school supplies (or class prizes) not covered by the school’s budget and a $10 gift card for each student to Scholar’s Choice or a Book store? In all honesty, even if I received an extra $500 a month in cash - I would still opt for a classroom.  I guess I should also mention that I make this suggestion in jest. I sincerely believe that I am paid well for a job that I love to do. I would hate to misrepresent myself or my colleagues as cash-strapped complainers.

I also returned to Grades 5 & 6 this year. That was a good decision for many reasons, not just because it got me out of the portable village. I loved the Grade 4 curriculum and kids at that age are really sweet but, it was not a good a fit for me. I work better with students who are a little more independent.

My very first full year position was a Long Term Occasional gig at Lorne Avenue school in 1999 with a Grade 5 & 6 class. Those “kids” are now 25-27 years of age and my current group of students would not be born for another 5 years. I think back on the guy that I was in those first few years. I was not as competent as a teacher. However, I was more patient and more passionate. Sadly, I think I was a little kinder. I am trying to recapture some of that. My teaching partner, Kyle, has helped me immensely. I see in him, many of the qualities I used to have. He is far more patient than I and he has made wonderful progress with so many students. Sadly, he is leaving for a coaching position. It is a change he needs and he will be a great resource to other educators. He was a great partner to work with. We shared lessons and ideas and we were both available to each other as a sounding board for the inevitable complaints and grievances that come with a job that you care about. Next year I am going to be using many of the lessons (particularly the art activities) Kyle shared with me. I am also going to try to be a little more like him when it comes to working through situations with students who are challenging. I’ll let go of some of my cynicism and work to try to reclaim the passion I had when I got that first LTO gig 17 years ago.

Well, I planned on reflecting on the past year and I am already thinking ahead to next year. I suppose that a change doesn’t have to wait for a new class. I have eight days to make more positive changes with the students that I have right now. I am going to invite them to share their thoughts about the good and the bad from this year. I am going to ask them to write letters to my students next year to warn them about what to look for. I will encourage them to be blunt and honest - even if it means they point out a negative about me. My goal for the next eight days is to find time with every one of my students and have a one-on-one conversation that builds them up and gets them ready for a great summer and positive start to Grades 6 & 7. They, like me, will be in a classroom (not a portable next year). So, we have that going for us.

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