Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Whole New World: Kindergarten

Why no new posts, you ask? Well, I'll tell you.  Last summer, around July, I received a phone call from my former principal.  I had been RIFd that March and he was  frantically trying to find a way to get me back into his building.  Fortunately, a position in Kindergarten opened up.  When I heard the news, I was excited and scared all at once.  Kindergarten was a far cry from experienced 4th graders.  I quickly reviewed my shoe-tying and coat zipping skills and got down to work researching everything I could about that first, and very important year in school.

My main goal was to familiarize myself with best-practice methods to teaching literacy, something I hadn't taught in over two years.  Every evening, I pored over pages in Guided Reading by Fountas and Pinnell, The Next Step in Guided Reading by Jan Richardson, and The Daily 5 by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  I took notes and tried to come up with some kind of plan, not knowing at the time what I would be faced with that first day: scared children who weren't sure what "please line up" meant!  

If you've ever seen a Kindergarten teacher after the first week or two of school, you know she looks haggard, tired, and stressed.  My coworkers reassured me that the students would just "get it" one day.  "One day, they will line up without shoving each other.  They will even raise their hands to speak!" they told me time and time again.  Fortunately, they were right.  Soon, that room full of 22 five year olds and their teacher became somewhat of a family.  They understood that the rules applied to everyone, every time.  They understood that they were there to learn, and learn they did!  We were able to set up a consistent literacy block, and they worked hard at building their stamina while their teacher did push-ups each day to show that she could build stamina, too (not my best idea but my arms thanked me!).  We use the "Daily 5" approach to literacy management, which was modified to three rotations in Kindergarten: Read to Self, Work on Writing, and a combination of Listen to Reading, Word Work, and Read to Someone.  This gave me an opportunity to meet with small groups, a feat I was amazed could be accomplished in Kindergarten.  It wasn't always easy, and it wasn't always perfect, but in this way, I was able to teach, really teach, my students how to read.  I watched in amazement as they applied the strategies for figuring out a tricky word.  Wait, they were not only listening, but they understood when they applied a certain skill?  Amazing! I was proud after the first round of benchmarking in December.  So this was why people stayed in Kindergarten.  I was beginning to understand and love my new position. 

While I was busy learning how to teach Literacy, my coworkers were looking to me to strengthen the math program, seeing as the Common Core Standards were soon going to be a huge part of our lives!  I love teaching math and was excited to take on the challenge.  I learned everything I could about the Common Core for Kindergarten and soon began sifting through our curriculum, Everyday Math, to find its strengths and weaknesses.  With the permission of my Principal, I created a Daily Math Journal for all four Kindergarten classes.  Its intent was to reinforce concepts taught in EDM as well as expand on those concepts.  We had a new Journal each month, something I changed to fit the needs of our classes.  I was also fortunate to have the complete support of another Kindergarten teacher in her 6th year in K.  Soon, we decided to begin co-teaching together so that our students had the benefit of two adults in the room, one who was in charge of teaching, one who was able to monitor students and circulate the room to answer questions.  I loved this time of day because I was able to see an experienced K teacher at work and how she dealt with certain behavior issues.  There is no greater benefit than seeing a great teacher doing what she does best: teach!  We bounced ideas off each other and really got our students excited about math time.  Our classes played math games together, and we were able to combine our high students together as well as our low to play games at their level.  It was truly amazing!

Looking back on the year, I know my students learned an immeasurable amount, but I'm not sure they'll ever understand how much they taught me.  I can honestly say that this year I learned something new every day about my profession.  Kindergarten taught me patience beyond belief.  I was able to see my students at their best: eager and willing to learn, something that was much more difficult to come by in 4th grade.  As I look back on this post, I notice a word I used over and over: Amazing.  But I really cannot come up with a better word to describe this year.  It was amazing.  It was amazing that my students practically came in as babies not being able to recognize their names and not knowing too many letters, to six year olds eager to tell you that "that word has 'oo' in it!" or "let me read that to you!"

Now that I'm finished with my 4th (!!!!) year teaching, I'm starting to see that just because I am the teacher does not mean that I am no longer the student.  As long as I am in this profession, I will always be learning something new.  And I can't wait to see what next year brings!  

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