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Pearls of Grade 3 Wisdom

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I teach a group of Grade 3 French Immersion students English for 40 minutes a week. They are mostly a very sweet and funny group. We’ve been working on poetry, including a poem with a template called “I Am.” The first two words of each line are given, and then they fill in the rest. The results are sometimes predictable, sometimes decidedly un-poetic, sometimes surprisingly insightful.

Here’s an example of one whole “I Am” poem, written by a (very bright) Grade 3 student:

I am brave and curious.

I wonder if I will ever change the world.

I hear babies crying.

I see my friends walking by.

I want to live and hope.

I am brave and curious.

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I pretend I am my sister.

I feel sad sometimes.

I touch the air that we breathe.

I worry about my family.

I cry because of war.

I am brave and curious.

***

I understand the world we live in.

I say do not change.

I dream about life.

I try to change the world.

I hope for world peace.

I am brave and curious.

Pretty straightforward, but interesting and optimistic, no? I liked it. And here are some other lines that cropped up in various other kids’ poems:

I wonder if Santa is real.

I wonder if I will ever be an artist.

I wonder if I will ever be a mom.

I wonder if the pandas will be OK in China.

I wonder how wonderful my dog drawings are.

I wonder if I am as cute as a baby.

I wonder why Donald Trump won the election.

I hear the phoenix song.

I hear Santa breaking my house and sitting on my house.

I hear Hogwarts.

I hear a tiger roaring in the desert.

I see a leopard catching its prey in the tundra.

I see a kitten fly on my shoulder.

I want people to stop buying palm oil.

I want a credit card.

I pretend to have the cheese touch.

I pretend to ride on a black bear.

I feel proud to be Canadian.

I touch every cat that I have had in my life.

I touch the world flooding.

I touch a glass sphere with memories in it.

I worry that my stuffies will go away.

I worry about Donald Trump.

I worry that Donald Trump will kill me.

I worry about my parents being taken.

I worry I will touch a spider.

I worry about the sun exploding.

I worry that in a few years there will be no orangutans.

I cry because Santa didn’t bring me a present.

I cry about every cat that has passed away.

I understand how to make paper.

I understand bravery and love.

I understand that my iPad makes myself mad.

I understand that paper is made of trees.

I say I believe in Santa.

I say that Santa is real.

I say I believe in God.

I say I can do the armpit fart.

I dream I would meet God.

I dream that my cats will wear little elf costumes on Christmas.

I try to be the best that I can be.

I try not to eat tomatoes.

I hope for hot chocolate at Christmas.

I hope that I will stay young forever.

I hope I will meet Prince William.

I hope I get a red hockey puck.

I am… generous, brave, a youtuber, a lover of soccer-baseball, humorous, lovable, curious, funny, smart, creative, intelligent, part Dutch, super, cool, awesome, helpful, respectful, a cat lover, a small kitten and I can fly, active, nice, happy, and I like bubbles.

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I felt privileged to read these. They are so honest, and so much more interesting than their “About Me” paragraphs in September. And there’s imagery there that amazes me. Some of their worries seem really deep and scary for Grade 3 – but I remember having similar grand worries at that age. (Some of them still apply.)

And it made me happy that the characteristics they named about themselves in the first and last line were, without exception, full of self-confidence.

Teaching in English is fun.

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A Little Faith in Humanity from Remembrance Day

Hi, lovely di-hards.

It’s been an emotional week, n’est-ce pas? Right around this time last Tuesday, there was a disbelieving dread building on my Facebook news feed. I could hardly bear to look at the actual stats. My daughter had strep throat; we all slept badly, and felt ill the next day – on so many levels. It was an Armageddon-y gloom.

And though that has not really gone away, there have been things to remind me that humanity is still kinda cool.

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I ran the Remembrance Day assembly last Friday, and as such spent several hours of the preceding Thursday creating an iMovie of my Grade 4 FI class’s collaboratively-written peace poem. Listening to their little-kid voices reading, line by line, words like “It’s friends and family and coming together for love/By calm, planting, and happiness” and “Humans are meant to be free and to walk… give love, help others,” and then all their voices together saying, “And stop war.”… It helped. It was comforting in a deep way.

I think we teachers are in the privileged position of seeing the best and the worst that kids have to offer. We are both jaded and optimistic – sometimes both these things, several times a day.

There had been some worry about behaviour during this assembly, since there were issues with noise level during the last assembly; the kids who were presenting had their feelings hurt by the not-so-focus of their schoolmates. And I have to say, it’s a thing. Many of us teachers are frustrated, constantly having to remind students that you don’t just yap all the time when it’s not your turn.

So for Remembrance Day, when there are usually quite a few community members present, there had been a lot of preparatory discussion in classrooms. The principal issued a reminder before classes came to the gym.

And then the kids blew our minds. They. Were. So. Quiet. Coming in, listening to each presentation, waiting in between… Even the wee kindergarteners. The minute of silence after the Last Post was incredible. A whole sea of kids making almost no sound. (I saw one child trying to distract his classmates with silent silliness, and they just ignored him. I was amazed.)

The last part of the assembly was the playing of “One Day” by Matisyahu. It’s a sad-but-happy song, and most of the kids know and love it, having learned it in Music class last year. When the song began, they were still incredibly quiet, unsure if they should sing, but gradually we could hear their voices joining in and getting stronger – and only with respect. It was this perfect rising tide of youthful hope. I know most of us adults got tears in our eyes at the sound. I couldn’t even look out at the kids, they were so beautiful at that moment.

If you want, try listening yourself, and imagine hundreds of sweet childish voices singing “When negativity surrounds, I know someday it’ll all turn around.”

Makes you think it really will.

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P.S. I’ve decided I’m going to try NaBloPoMo again, but changing the dates. There was no way the first two weeks of November were going to work, so I’m starting today and will be attempting to post every day through December 15th. See you tomorrow!

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 19: Questions excellentes

Today at school, we talked a little bit about Paris. I showed my Grade 4s and 5s that little boy and his dad – not just because the vocabulary (très, méchant, gentil, fleurs, maison, etc.) is right on point, but because when they see a child, they instinctively relate.

Two days a week, I have a group of only nine Grade 4s for the last period of the day. Often, it’s my favourite group. Grade 4s in Core French class are well-known to be the most excited about it (the novelty is alive), and although this group has a couple of very busy boys, they are also usually sweet and enthusiastic.

When I occasionally put aside the speaking of French in class, it’s usually in order to hear what they have to say about the social issue at hand; usually these moments arise from the French songs we listen to, but today it was the news. Frankly, I was very impressed by their questions and insights, and how most of them really listened and responded to each other. For a lot of it, I was simply listening.

Where did the terrorists come from? What made them so angry? If the parents teach their kids to be angry and to want to kill people, where did they get it? What is the violence for? Is it for fun? Or does someone make them do it?

We talked about racism and prejudices and wrongdoing on different sides, and the cyclical nature of violence. It may sound heavy for Grade 4, but they knew all the worst parts already, and obviously wanted to talk about it.

One of my favourite parts was one little guy, the most overt keener in the group, not quite nine years old yet, who is never afraid to call the other kids on it when they’re being immature. When a couple of kids began to get silly, he said to them, “You’re making a joke out of something that’s really serious. How would you like it if a terrorist came to your home and killed you? That’s what happens to people.” He is such a sharp little guy, with astonishing perspective on things. Makes me wish I could know and teach him when he’s seventeen or twenty-one and really taking on the world.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 12: Teachers

I am what they call a “planning teacher,” which means I am always teaching the students from other people’s homerooms, when their regular classroom teacher is doing his or her planning. At the moment, I work with four different groups of students in Grades 4 to 6.

This job means that I get a unique perspective, and work closely with several different teachers at a time, who inevitably have different styles. I’ve learned a lot from my co-teachers over the years.

Today I’m feeling grateful for them. For all the teachers I’ve worked with who are hardworking, innovative, caring, and constantly learning – and believe me, that is the vast majority of them in my experience (no matter what the fabrications written by “journalists” at the National Post might say).

It is a privilege to be able to work with people who inspire me every day. I am always looking for ways to improve my teaching, because that is what the professionals around me are doing, and they are doing it no matter how tough things get.

And they do get tough. This is for a whole other blog post, but suffice it to say that, even in just the decade I’ve been a teacher, I’ve noticed a difference in the level of difficulty – not so much in the curriculum (although that is a factor), but in the needs of the kids. On the whole, at least at our school, we are teaching kids who have shorter attention spans, higher levels of anxiety, weaker coping skills, more learning disabilities, and lower capacities for self-regulation. Managing behaviour has become a primary focus of teachers across the board, and Educational Assistants are widely overworked.

It does bother us to see this, and to have so much of our time and stamina used for the explicit teaching of appropriate behaviour when we’d so much rather be teaching our subject matter. Sometimes it drives us bananas. Sometimes I resent spending so much emotional energy and patience on other people’s children, leaving me less for my own children. Sometimes I am discouraged because, no matter now good I am at my subject or the act of teaching, the disciplinarian role does not come naturally to me and requires inordinate effort – and what’s the point in that?

But then I look around, I see the strength and talent of my colleagues, and it makes me want to try harder. I see their classrooms, full of neat ideas. I hear their stories of how they’ve dealt with the hard situations and kept at it. When things aren’t going well, I see them create new strategies, overhaul lessons and units, research best practices, pick each other’s brains, brainstorm new angles, and muster their determination to get results.

I also see them constantly doing things to improve school life for the kids. Assemblies (like yesterday’s), clubs, teams, field trips, special projects, enrichment activities, and on and on.

Yes, they also vent their frustrations, behind closed doors. (If we didn’t do this, we’d all implode.) But even in the midst of conversations about the most difficult students to teach, there is caring and compassion and actual love. That’s what drives the practice. We are all very aware that the more a child drives you crazy, the more likely it is that s/he’s got a story that would break your heart.

I’m grateful every day, but especially on the really hard days, for the many teachers who have motivated and uplifted me with their amazing work since I came into this profession. Makes me wish I could go back in time and be a student in their classes.

And since we’re on the subject, please take a look at this article about one of my extraordinary colleagues, who is being awarded for her teaching – and I can say in all honesty, nobody deserves it more. She simply rocks the classroom.

And while we’re at it, here is one more article about another wonderful teacher I’ve had the privilege to work with. Again, honour thoroughly deserved.

Teachers: love you.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 2: Perfect Storm

 

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The Full Moon: TEACHERS KNOW.

It’s not just Monday. It’s the Monday after Halloween, a few days off the full moon. The kids had a three-day weekend (Friday PA day). And we just changed the clocks. School was a bit wacko today.

It would figure that – less than 24 hours after I’d mentioned how well the kids were sleeping lately, HA – my daughter woke up at 1:40 needing cuddles and tried to infiltrate our bed, and it took almost an hour to get her back where she should be. And I’d already had trouble getting to sleep (the clock change messes with me too).

I’m grateful for that sleepy 6-week-old golden lab puppy I got to pet, right when I arrived at school. That’ll make your day.

I’m grateful for absolutely beautiful fall weather that didn’t look or feel like November.

I’m grateful for a completely unexpected cooperation and problem-solving between two difficult students, on today of all days, that meant I didn’t have to mediate at all. Amazing.

I’m grateful for my colleagues who understand everything we all go through, who work so hard and really want the best for – and out of – those kids.

And I’m really grateful that our Federation and the provincial government have finally, finally reached a tentative agreement, so we can hope that school life will go back to normal soon.

Oh – and boy, was I grateful for coffee today.

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Be The Calm

It was a busy summer.

Just so you know, that’s the usage of the word busy where it actually means overwhelming-and-sometimes-stressful-enough-to-make-me-think-I-might-lose-my-marbles. And that’s despite summer vacation, and my school being closed for renovations.

We bought a house in June, right before end-of-school craziness; we beautified and sold our house in July; we packed in August, and moved on the last Saturday of the month. It was hard to tell how much the kids felt the upheaval – they had plenty of emotional outbursts, but that’s nothing new.

In truth, it was a pretty nice low-pressure timeline – we even had five days of overlap with both houses, so that we could properly clean out the old house. I said goodbye to it by scrubbing out its fridge and vacuuming its bare carpets with a thoroughness it hasn’t seen since we became parents. (Interestingly, vacuuming an empty house is a good way to find all those above-mentioned marbles one has lost.)

Five days later, in our new house, I suddenly got weepy for no reason I could pinpoint… other than, I suppose, a whole summer of emotional and physical craziness.

Now we are settled in. Ish. That is to say, we have unpacked enough to function quite well, but there are lots of boxes still to unpack, and certain things we haven’t yet located. (Like E’s raincoat. Mom Fail.)

The kids like it at the new house, but E especially still likes to mention, in tragic tones, that he wishes we could go back and live at the old house.

E has started in Grade 1 at his new school, with a much smaller class than in JK or SK, and seems to have had good days (overall) every day… but he still doesn’t really want to go each morning. He still looks sadly at me each day before he goes into the school.

AB is going to same day care provider as always, and we are now within walking distance of her house! But since the summer, AB has decided she doesn’t like going there. This morning she was sobbing and holding my hand as hard as she could when I left.

In an alternate reality, today would have been Sebastian’s first full day of Junior Kindergarten. We got a notice last winter, on lavender paper, inviting all parents of “children born in 2011” to register their kids for kindergarten. Yep, we’re those parents… but not.

That was the first time I realized that starting kindergarten is the first concrete missed milestone for Sebastian, and for us as his parents. We know he would have gotten teeth and crawled and said words and walked and all sorts of cool things by now, but we have only a vague idea of when. The event of starting school has an exact date. I know many beautiful JK munchkins, Sebastian’s would-be peers, who have visited their classrooms and begun big-kid school over the past week. I’m excited and proud for them and their parents, and I’m sending them extra-special vibes as they settle into this new phase. With a little lump in my throat.

Before school started, I was feeling so-so about going back to work. My emotions were all over the map; the house wasn’t all ready; I didn’t feel organized; and I was still dealing with the bitter taste left after last year, when I contended with difficult behaviour from my students with a frequency that exhausted me. Last year, I was not happy with the level of patience I was able to muster, with either my students or my own children. I was not really proud of the job I did.

But, ready or not, a new house is a fresh start, and a new school year is a fresh start. And many things have happened this summer, both locally and globally, that give me perspective on the things I struggle with.

So, regardless of how many boxes remain to be unpacked, I am starting over. I have given myself a new mantra, in which I misquote Gandhi (but in a way I think he’d endorse):

Be the calm you wish to see in the world.

My life will be disorganized for a bit longer, but the calmer I can be, the sooner things will fall into place.

My children will certainly have emotional outbursts, but the more I can model calm, the more likely they are to absorb it.

Certain of my students will forget the expectations, say rude things, fall off their chairs, interrupt, be mean to their peers, and/or goof off when they should be working, but the more I remind myself to maintain calm, the easier it is to remember that it’s not personal – those kids are simply displaying their needs – and that my reaction, the part I control, sets the tone more than anything.

I aim to Be the Calm, and at the end of this school year, to be proud of myself for it. I can feel already that my classroom atmosphere has more humour in it, and less stress.

Today, one of my new Grade 4 students blurted, after five French classes with me, “You’re my favourite teacher!” I know it’s only week two, and opinions change mercurially, but that has to mean something, right?

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100 Happy Days – Day 4: Silence

There are two kinds of silence that made me happy on Day 4.

One was in my 5/6 Core French class. They are a class that is, as a group, not great at self-regulation. Many of them have great difficulty stopping themselves from saying whatever they feel like saying, whenever they feel like saying it, in whatever language (i.e. English, not French). And some, it seems, just… never learned basic courtesy. Makes for a sub-optimal classroom environment.

I’ve had a whole system in place designed to curb this kind of noise and distraction, but in spite of having spent a lot of lunch breaks in discussion with certain students, overall behaviour hasn’t improved the way it needs to. It occurred to me that by telling them I will warn them (by name) when I see the kind of behaviour that will get them in trouble, I’m allowing them to relinquish ownership of their conduct.

So I gave them a frank lecture. Since these are 10-and-11-year-olds who do know what’s expected, I said I would take notes on the behaviour I was seeing, without wasting class time to talk about it. At the end of 50 minutes (which is actually ALWAYS less, by the time the kids get to me), if a student has a list of actions that need further discussion, we can take recess time to write out a “good copy” of what happened, for their parents. (Honestly, some kids’ lists would look like this on a bad day, if they were permitted to follow their instincts: “Today I forgot to take my hat off at the beginning of class, talked out when it wasn’t my turn twelve times, tried to argue with classmates/teacher three times, fell out of my chair once, insulted my classmate three times, sprawled on learning carpet as if it were my couch twice, stole my neighbour’s {whatever} twice, and left the classroom before I was dismissed.”)

Anyway. Point is, as I told them my new strategy, you could have heard a pin drop. TOTAL QUIET. Ahh, it was so lovely. Like watching a rare orchid bloom. Balm for my ears.

And THEN. One of my students raised his hand, while his classmate was writing the date on the board, and asked a legitimate question about the word “novembre” (we talk a lot about loanwords and root words in our class) and I answered it, which included me writing the numbers from 1 to 10 in Latin on the board. In case you don’t know, the word for six in Latin is “sex.”

I actually wrote “sex” on the board in front of 29 pre-teens – and they stayed quietThat’s how well my li’l talk worked. It was AMAZING, y’all. (Even if it only lasted for 1.5 periods.)

The other kind of silence is one that makes me happy almost every evening. We are a family with a birthright Quaker (me) as a mama, and although we attend Quaker meeting only sporadically, we do keep the tradition of silent grace before family meals. We hold hands in a circle, and sometimes we close our eyes, and think about the good fortune we have to be together for a good meal… and then we squeeze hands and it’s done.

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This is a dramatization. E is not usually smiling beneficently during silence. AB does do squeeze-shut-eyes like this, though.

AB has enjoyed the hand-holding ever since she was a baby. When she got old enough to say words, she used to order us: “Close de eyes.” And I don’t remember who started the tradition of saying, “I love you, family,” at the end of silence, but now we all say it every time – and my kids are usually the first to pipe up. I know this ritual means a lot to both of them. If they miss it for some reason, they want us to do it again.

It’s pretty much the most cheesily, heartwarmingly wonderful thing ever.

Oh, and speaking of silence… I may put this whole thing on hiatus until my blog is back to being healthy. My IT peeps and I are still working through issues that make blogging extremely annoying and slow, and although I am definitely noticing and enjoying happy things every day, trying to post about them under the circumstances saps that positivity with alarming speed. So… there may be a form of blog silence happening for a while. I hope not, but we’ll see.

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