I thought that my third year teaching would be a piece of cake. I had a core curriculum prepped and ready to go. My second year, I had tweaked a lot of projects that hadn't quite worked as well as expected. Now in my third year, I would get to just enjoy my students, and whiz through the planning stage. Well planning is not from scratch that is for sure but I am always seeking new things that will engage my students. And somehow getting out materials, putting them away, and figuring out when to do what takes more time than it should. And there is always prep of new materials or something.
I haven't yet figured out a good rhythm this year. Unexpected and frustrating, constantly feeling not ready for school, unsure of what I'm doing that day. Actually most days go well and I am ready, I just don't feel like it. Having this cloud of feeling unprepared hanging over my head is a joy robber, an unexpected challenge this year.
I've had a lot of crying kids this year: anxious that mommy will in fact return for them. For many this is their first time away from family, a huge growth step for them. R broke my heart last week. He is quiet, limited English and doesn't talk to me yet. Not uncommon in my class where the majority are learning English as a second or third language. But he is happy, engaging easily in our varied activities. We left our circle time rug to put on our coats and he started to cry. Heart wrenching sobs that he was trying so desperately to control because it wasn't manly to cry but they forced themselves out anyways.
Our coat area is a small confined area and I thought that he had gotten hit or something as we have several children still learning to control their own bodies and wait their turn. Enforcing methodical orderliness is not one of my strengths. "Are you hurt?" "Did someone hit you?" No answer, just tears and more tears and choking sobs. He clung to me and eventually stopped crying part way through recess but wouldn't engage in any kind of play.
Thankfully Dad is perceptive and sensitive and he gently talked with R. He informed me that R thought since we were putting on our coats that it was pick up time. R's daddy was nowhere to be seen so he started to cry. He wasn't able to grasp that none of the other parents weren't there yet so it actually wasn't pick up time yet.
Then there is N. He missed several weeks of school because of an injury. He still cries but not as long or as inconsolable. He wants to be near me, on my lap, touching me for reassurance. It is challenging to attend to the other children's needs as N starts to cry as soon as I move away from him even though he can still see me.
Everyday it gets better and he engages by himself in brief periods of play. Breaking through the anxiety are wonderful glimpses of a happy, inquisitive child. He talks to me constantly, earnestly in another language. I smile and nod. Sometimes I can guess the context and respond in English. Other times I am sure he wonders why I am so stupid and give such odd answers to his questions.
Then there is M that needs to hear that yes Mommy will return whenever something makes him anxious which some days is a thousand times in two and a half hours. Or A that didn't want Mom to leave because her best friend was sick that day and she didn't know who she would play with. Or S that has uncharacteristically started crying when Gramma leaves. He is large for his age yet very sensitive and somewhat shy. I think the other smaller yet aggressive boys intimidate him. He doesn't know how to tell them to leave him alone. He is very polite and they are very rude and that is a new experience for him.
Routine. The security of young children in new situations. We altered our routine this week to visit our make shift pumpkin patch. Pumpkins for sale scattered on the church's hillside lawn. A few bales of hay to sit on. We talked about going out to the pumpkin patch during our opening circle time. Lack of English and prior experience made it less than effective for preparing the children for a new experience. So we get our coats on when it isn't time yet. We line up at a different door. We walk through another classroom where we haven't been before. We wend our way outside, along the fence, past a few big pumpkins lined up along the edge of the walkway, over to the edge of the pumpkin patch. (We don't actually go into the pumpkin patch because eventually the lawn is bordered by a very busy road so we experience the patch from afar.) We sit on the bales of hay and listen to some songs and a story that is difficult for us to understand. By now we are stressed. Many are apprehensive, some are crying. M has started his constant litany "Mommy come back?" with tears in his eyes. R is crying because his coat is on but daddy isn't here. N is on my lap crying. A few are listening. Most are overwhelmed with the newness of it all. I am glad when it is over, seriously questioning the validity of it all. But who am I, a mere teacher, to suggest that we alter the established, highly anticipated "trip" to our pumpkin patch.
Tuesday I brought in two very large pumpkins as it is pumpkin theme week. Some of the children spent all their free play time pounding golf tees into the pumpkins. A child's measure of the success of the activity. It was more satisfying for the morning class as there were no holes and they actually had to pound to get the tees to go into the pumpkin. I pulled the several hundred tees out for the afternoon class to start over again. However the pumpkin was now full of holes into which the tees easily slid a second time. No resistance and a less engaging task but the children still enjoyed the activity.
I found myself with some free time in the afternoon as supervising the tee pounding was less demanding. I sat on the rug with three partly crying kids on or crowded up against me. We proceeded to play with the items in my orange bin. I added three, small pails graded in size and some large brown pompoms. Well the pompoms turned out to be the attention grabber. We filled small plastic jack o' lanterns and other assorted orange objects as well as the pails. Then I counted them as I removed them and they started all over again. Soon other children were drawn into the open ended activity of filling, emptying and counting. I thoroughly enjoyed the moment. I felt the satisfaction of also meeting one of my goals this year. To schedule in free time for myself so I can interact with the children on a more spontaneous level. It is hard because our free play time is limited and usually there is some art project, or alphabet page project or theme project that demands my time. Also worthy experiences but balance, as always, balance is the key.
We also did an experiment to see if pumpkins float. It was not as successful as it could have been because it was all watching and not enough hands on for the children. I had hoped to have a center set up beside the tee pounding for children to experiment themselves with various objects to see what floated and what didn't. Then we would conclude the day as a class with seeing if pumpkins float, which they do. The classroom center never got set up because the tee pounding took all my time and attention. So when we gathered as a class at the end of the day, all the children wanted to do was touch and do for themselves and not just watch so I doubt that they really got the point of the experiment. I knew this would happen but did the activity anyways.
I started this blog to reflect on some of the things that can steal away the joy of teaching. I got diverted into crying children and ended with several of our pumpkin activities. Maybe more later on joy robbers. For today this is enough.