How is it possible that 4 days can seem like a lifetime?
Two weeks ago I was following blog posts about the LA teacher evaluations and the Value Added debate with enthusiasm. I was spouting off statistics to friends and debating the principals of teacher evaluations with anyone who would listen.
And then, summer ended, and suddenly none of that matters anymore. I can no longer wrap my mind around caring one way or the other about the LA test scores- I'm worried about transitioning four year olds accustom to running and playing all day into five year olds ready to sit and learn. I'm tying shoes, praising students every two minutes for sitting quietly, developing new behavior plans, noting which students are wearing the same clothes every day, which students bring enough to eat, which students have bruises and which students already know their alphabet.
It's been a long, exhausting, wonderful week.
Every morning during the first week of school I begin by helping kindergarten students from their cars, buses, or from their parents hands and leading them into the gym to find their teacher. As kindergarten students pile out of cars we corral them into a small area and then lead them together down the hallway- each one clinging onto a part of my body- if my hands are taken they grab my elbows or my wrists. As though we are playing kindergarten blog tag we pick up more as we walk down the long hallway, adding timid or excited faces to our pack. Eventually we get to the gym where I ask each child their name, which usually, no one can tell me. I ask them their teacher's name, and nobody knows that either. So we walk down the front of the gym until they spy their teacher- their eyes light up and they run from me straight toward the woman they've slowly been identifying as their mom away from home.
All week I'm amazed at how many children do not know their last names. They might be too nervous to tell me what their first names are, but even the most outgoing kindergarten students cannot tell me their last names.
Finally, once all the buses are in, the cars have pulled away and parents have walked home, we lead our kindergarten students down the hallways to our classrooms, where we then spend the next few hours attempting to model the rules and routines we're going to be following the next 180 days.
Most of these children have no school experience, have never been away from home for more than a few hours at a time, and are not yet experienced in following group social norms and listening to group rules. The first few days are painful as we break them into these expectations. Yes, when we said sit down we meant you too. I know there is a box of beautiful blocks over in the corner but right now we are sitting down. All of us. You too. Now.
Sharing is tough. Waiting is hard. Walking slowly in a line while 1) not talking and 2) not touching the walls- torture. For the kids and for us. I think I've been in bed by 9 every night this week.
I don't think I could manage the opening of kindergarten without Responsive Classroom principals. Guided discoveries for every thing we use- pencils, crayons, markers, paper. Slowly teaching expectations of how to use our supplies.
As a school we're adjusting to our new calendar. We're use to having a full month of school under our belts by September- instead we're realizing just how much our children lost over the summer. The first day our lunch line ran 40 minutes behind because the older children could not remember their lunch numbers. If they could not remember their 3-4 digit lunch numbers they punch into a key pad every single day in order to get food- what else will they not be able to remember? It is not a good sign. I've already had one teacher come to me wanting to know why on earth a child tested at __ level last year because she is far below that now. Yeah. It was a long summer and I'm sure she wasn't reading. I think we're going to have a lot of that as we get to know our new students as learners.
In a lot of ways it's been a wonderful week. Pixie starts everyday by giving each teacher in her classroom a hug. She can't settle down until she's hugged each of us. The little one who cheered with delight when we went on a bear hunt. (Pixie however did not want to go on a bear hunt. "That's not safe!" she whispered to me, frantically, when my partner in crime announced our bear-hunt intentions). The ones who are already producing a long list of wonders about our class pet, Happy the Frog. ("Does she need a bed? How does she sleep?") The little ones who have already found friends and walk with their arms around each other whenever they can.
It will be a great year. It will be an exciting, eventful year and I can already tell I will add to my special education skills and knowledge. Last year I was bored, this year I will not be bored one bit. But it will be good~ I'll learn, they'll learn, and hopefully, if nothing else, we'll laugh a lot.