Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 21 2010

Down the rabbit hole.

Most of you know me as Katja. But in my classroom this summer, my Kindergarteners call me Ms. S.  In the last five weeks I have been adopted into a new culture (of supremely motivated people and what seems like a mandatory love for marathoning), with a new language (just yesterday my SOM asked, “Did you CFU each KP in you LP?” Meta-cognitive gets thrown around a lot too.), and a new value system in which stickers and class points carry more currency than real coins.

Every morning I wake sometime between 6:00 and 6:15am, venture to breakfast, hop aboard a big, yellow school bus brimming with other TFA teachers (externally dubbed “cool bus”), and meet a line of 23 little faces—some run up to me the moment I walk through the gate and wrap their arms around my legs, others are still half asleep and dozing while standing, and a select few have tear trails stained down their cheeks, sad to have left their parents.

My mornings are spent teaching in the classroom. My afternoons are filled with workshops, instruction, and professional development. But the work doesn’t end when I get back to campus at 5pm every day. After a quick break for dinner, I lesson plan, prep posters, create worksheets, flashcards, and newsletters, think of engaging strategies, track assessments, and attend more workshops.  The 101 on planning lessons for Kindergarteners: welcome to the land of mystery bags full of pictures about story settings and characters’ feelings, pattern scavenger hunts, and practicing writing messages about fat cats sitting in the sun.  It’s like scripting Sesame Street (live edition) every night.  Easier said than done I’ll have you know. When I finally lay my head down come midnight, sleep comes so easy.  Just a glimpse into a day in the life of me.

In the last 4 weeks, I have experienced perhaps the steepest learning curve of my life.  It started out rough with so many things to think about and process constantly—classroom management being the most immediate. But get through this with consistent effort and the teaching is so fun.

Kindergartners are not so easy to keep in their seats. They roll around on the floor if I am not completely explicit with directions and consequences, pull on my clothes saying “teacher, teacher, Ms.S, Ms.S…,” cry when it’s nearly time to leave because they remember they’ve been away from their parents, and tattle-tale. Oh, how they tattle-tale.  But all this fades away when lessons click, assessments come back “mastery,” and students smile their big, partially toothless smiles.  The other day I told my kids how important it is to not distract others when working independently. I reminded them to write as much as possible in order to practice, improve, grow their brains, and get smart for Kindergarten in the fall. I set the classroom noise level to “12 inch voices.” But after passing out papers, they got so into their assignment that the room fell silent.  As I circulated the class checking in with each student, one of my typically most off-task students shushhhhed me. She said, “Ms. S, we have to be quiet. We’re working hard. We have to be quiet to work hard.”  The rest of the day I beamed.  Working with rising Kindergarteners comes with the privilege of introducing my students to school. In my classroom, first and foremost, they are learning how to learn.

I have another student who gives me a flower every day at recess and proceeds to serenade me with renditions of Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” Look it up if you haven’t heard it.

Everyday is a new day. That’s what makes this work so exciting. Yes, the learning curve is steep and I still have so much distance to go. Nonetheless, I remember…we cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.

2 Responses

  1. benkenwill

    Love the quote at the end!

    I have to admit that some of the videos they showed us during CS sessions had me wishing my assignment was ECE or Elementary. But instead I’ll be working with middle schoolers! Should be exciting work, indeed.

  2. Joan Hawxhurst

    Katja, thank you for sharing this snapshot of your new life as a teacher. Your deep commitment and creative energy come through so clearly in your beautiful prose about your classroom. Back at Kalamazoo College, we are proud to have known you and worked with you, and we wish you strength and lots more hugs, flowers, and serenades!

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Bottom Line: My kids must have options.

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Elementary School

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