This is the first picture my mother sent me from her new camera phone. To anyone else it is merely a creepy toad hiding in our backyard. To our family it is a sign that summer is ending and it's time to go back to school.
My mother is a second grade teacher. Every year, if possible, she scours our backyard in hopes of catching both a toad and a frog for her second graders. She doesn't keep them all year, but keeps them for the first bit of school to fully grab their attention. From there her beginning of the year builds itself. She can embed all her beginning of the year lessons among Frog and Toad read-alouds, discussions of comparing and contrasting the frog and toad, writing about frogs and toads, and discussions about how to take care of each other in the classroom (it can be easier for children to discuss how to take care of animals than how to take care of each other, then you help them generalize).
But let's be honest- the real edge the living, breathing frog and toad have in her room is that she teachers seven year olds. For a moment pretend you are seven. You just spent your first fantastic summer as an independent, curious, and capable child. You rode bikes, swam, played outside, got dirty, built forts, and had play dates where adults were not breathing down your back. It's over, and you're headed back to school to wait in lines, sit quietly, raise your hand, and read books when you'd really rather be using your new found seven year old independence.
You walk into your classroom to discover that your teacher has a frog.
And a toad.
A real-live, disgusting toad.
A cute, sleek frog.
The types of outdoor treasures your mother still didn't let you bring into the house even with your savvy seven year old ways.
And just like that, her students are hooked.
Although I am my mother's daughter I have never found myself following in her amphibian footsteps, even when she's offered to catch them for me. It involves making sure you have the food to feed them while you keep them in captivity, and, well, that's quite alright. But I love that she does it.
It's the perfect reminder of how to start off the year on a good foot. We don't necessarily need to have pets in our classroom to start the year off this way. Reaching our students where they are- helping them feel comfortable in our classrooms and excited to be in school will go a long way in allowing us to create the classroom communities that will set the tone for the rest of the school year. We're competing with their summer breaks, with video games, swimming pools, the ice cream truck, new school clothes, and seeing their friends again. The beginning of the year is essential in building community with our students- even if it's merely having a welcoming and warm classroom, sending postcards to the children before they enter the school, or starting the year with stellar read-alouds, those first few teacher actions set the stage for all the amazing things that will happen in the coming months.
*She got the phone in order to finally receive cute pictures of Baby Lipstick like the rest of the family. I sent her a few this morning in order to welcome her to the picture-texting family. This is what I got in return.