Monday, December 20, 2010

Did We Make It?

Did we make it through Christmas week?

Yes, we did.

I can proudly say that despite the butt-kick of a week it was, I made it through my first Christmas Week experience, the week before school gets out for the Christmas holiday, where my students were hyped up on candy, wrapping paper, and ornament making. Oh, and let us not forget the epic Gingerbread house creations we so eloquently put together on Friday morning.

Story 1: The Dreidels

If you know me well, you know that I do enjoy art. I like having art time and doing art things, but I really like art that the students can do independently and on their own. If it turns into something that I am mostly doing-- punching holes, tying string, gluing things-- then to me, it's a teacher's art project and not the student's. It is art like this, however, that exists during Christmas Week. I could barely hold it together.

Thus, for our Christmas Around the World rotations, I opted for a game instead of a craft. Each first grade teacher was assigned a country/holiday to represent, and our classes rotated to each room for 45 minutes each. I couldn't handle another mostly-teacher-created-art-project, so I decided that for Israel/Hanukkah, I would have the classes play Dreidel. What a good idea! Dreidel! And that way, at the end, I can let them have a piece of candy or two and they will enjoy that.

The night before I was creating Israeli culture in my classroom, around 11:00 pm, I was talking to my dear roommate about the ongoings of Christmas Week. I told her that I was proudly having my students learn and play the Dreidel game when it suddenly hit me-- I do not have any dreidels. I grab my purse and rush out the door and begin my search at Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart, to end up empty-handed and without dreidels for the next day, where I would have four classes full of eager first graders reading to do something Hanukkah-esque.

I looked up Party City online and discovered that they had dreidels, so in desperation at about midnight that evening I call my sister to ask her a huge favor-- to go and get the dreidels at Party City in the morning and bring them to me at school. She was reluctant but agreed.

However, the next morning, she calls and tells me that there are no more dreidels left in Party City (apparently Hanukkah is over...) and that she was sorry. I pace over next door to my neighbor first grade teacher and tell her my dilemma and how I embarked on a massive search the night previous and how my sister was out of luck with the small wooden spinning tops. And my neighbor simply tells me, "I have dreidels." and goes into her room to get them.

I stood there with the dumbest look on my face, ever, as she handed me 6 wooden dreidels and sent me back into my classroom.


There was a lot to be joyful about this past week, despite the craziness and holiday cheer abounding in our little jungle. I helped assist our music teacher with putting on our school's Christmas show, where the 4th and 5th grades put on a Christmas concert and play for parents and teachers on Thursday night. I wasn't sure if we would be able to pull it together by then, but the kids did fantastically, and I couldn't believe how great it went. I was so proud of them and how precious and great they were. It's been really fun to get to know the older kids in the school too. Three of them brought me a card and present on Friday morning, even. It makes me wonder sometimes if I could teach the older grades, but then I look at my babies and think, nah...not yet. :)

Friday was our best day of the week, surprisingly. Maybe it was because I had 4 sets of extra hands, eyes, and ears, as I had some parent helpers assist with the snowman making, Gingerbread house creating and decorating, and class Christmas party. I have a great group of parents, who are very supportive and helpful and giving. I couldn't be more blessed with that. I really enjoyed Friday and being able to just indulge in the Christmas joy, as I hadn't allowed myself to really do all week. It was too jaded with the stress and activities and art projects that I forgot to really just enjoy it all. Friday I was able to see that and fix it, and really pass the short half day well with my students. I was glad that God allowed our final day to be smooth and a beautiful one.

The topper of the entire week was this: One of my students, whose mother is a 2nd grade teacher at FVE and my closest friend at school, decided what he wanted to get me early on in the Christmas season. He took his mother to the store and went straight to this gift.
"That's what I want to get her, mom."
"Oh...well, I mean, are you sure that's your only option? You don't want to look for anything else?"
"No, mom, this is what I want to get her."
She went on and told me there was no other option for her son, that he was dead set on getting me this gift, and that she attached the gift receipt just in case I found it as strange as she did.

On Friday morning, this child excitedly watches as I unwrap a bright, royal TCU purple Snuggie. His eyes lit up and a smile spread wide across his face as I exclaimed, "oh, YEAH!" and went in for a high five.

My joy was made complete. And now, as I type this post to you readers out there who find my humorous 1st grade teaching life entertaining, I am wearing this bright purple Snuggie and thanking God for a great first semester of teaching. Until January 4th...

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day of Boredom

For the past few weeks, I had a few students who seemed to be constantly complaining.

"Miss Leiss, I'm hungry."
"Miss Leiss, I'm thirsty."
"Miss Leiss, school is so boring."

It was the last one that really got to me, because I will tell you this now and stand strongly by it-- school is not boring, because my class is not boring. I am worn out day in and day out by the way that I run my classroom. My students do not sit in desks all day and do worksheets and seat work. Actually, they rarely sit in desks at all. My kids are usually on the floor, able to use pillows and cushions and little seats to sit on. They have lap boards that they can do work on anywhere in the room. They have a huge smart board that features a Daily Routine powerpoint presentation that runs our entire class from start to finish, with interactive games, songs, and activities. My kids have access to more technology than I do-- 3 iPod touches with instructional games on them, a smart board with abilities to use for learning web sites and games, and a computer in the back of the room to do the same. All of our learning is hands-on and interactive. My students do not have to keep their mouths closed all day-- I want to have them talking! I want to hear their voices, let them sing and chant things, and have them learn how to effectively discuss ideas, communicate with others, and socialize. Music is a constant in my room. We are either singing songs, chanting, or playing Pandora radio overhead as we work. All of our activities have game components, spelling activities include play-dough and stamps and pipe cleaners, even math is done in game-format with addition and subtraction games out the whazoo. We never rest. I never sit. I don't even have a desk in my room--I told them to remove it before school started because I knew that the way things would be in my room, I would never be sitting there. I would constantly be with my kids and running activities and teaching.

Needless to say, when my kids said that school was boring, I began to take notice of such comments happening more often. This generation truly is affected by our world full of technology and devices and their attention spans are so increasingly short. It's insane. I finally decided to show my kids what a boring day at school really is like. Hence, the name: Day of Boredom.

Day of Boredom occurred on Thursday. I pushed my smart board to the side of the room and turned it off. I turned off my TV-- no powerpoint presentation today. No Pandora radio or music. No iPod touches, no computer in the back. I xed out any and all technology possible. No math games. No stamps and playdough. Nothing fun.

I started the day off by making the kids go to their desks and do their morning work page. When they walked in, I was less enthusiastic and joyful than usual, mundanely telling them to only do the top morning work on their desk and then get their book bags and read to self AT THEIR DESK. Usually I let them read to self anywhere in the room, get comfortable on pillows and such. So this was different to them. "In our desks?" they would say. They were so confused.

I then announced that we would be having a Day of Boredom and that there was no talking allowed all day. Absolutely none, or I would change their colors. (Remember days of changing your color? They still exist.) My kids started to argue and ask questions but I would throw out warnings to them. It was utterly and completely silent. It was so eerie...I couldn't believe that some teachers actually operate their rooms that way.

I made them stay in their desks following morning work. Usually we have a routine of singing a Welcome song or two on the carpet, and me going around in a circle telling each friend Good Morning and I love you. None of that on Day of Boredom! No "Welcome to School??!" they all cried. My kids were devastated. "No Welcome to School, no songs...because those are fun, and we can't have fun on our day of boredom!"

Other such comments:
"No pillows today?" "No, no pillows today, because pillows are fun. And we can't have fun on our day of boredom!"
"No math games today?!" "No, no math games, because math games are fun. And we can't have fun on our day of boredom!"
"Are you not giving out good choice sticks today Miss Leiss?" "No, no good choice sticks, because good choice sticks can be exchanged for fun THINGS, and we can't have anything fun on our day of boredom!"
Oh, they were so aggrivated. Heh.

Calendar time was the same way. No songs, no games, no activities. Usually we do calendar on the smart board where they can interact with the weather graph, write money amounts, etc. Not this time. Calendar time was the most boring thing I may have ever taught-- simple, unenthusiastic, to the point, and fleeting. I sent my kids back to their desks and told them we would be taking our math assessment, and when they were finished they had 3 math worksheets to complete. Their eyes googled over the stack of worksheets and seat work on their desks. "We have to do ALL of this TODAY?!" They were beside themselves. "Yes, all of it. You said school was boring so I decided to show you a truly boring day today."

I felt so bad, let me tell you. I also didn't know what to do with myself. I was doing random organization things around the room, checking my emails constantly (something I never do during the day usually because I'm always engaged with my students)...I was so bored too! I had 2 kids crying (trust me, I did not expect that! I felt AWFUL.) They did not want Day of Boredom to continue.

At the end of Day of Boredom, I asked my kids: "Do you think Miss Leiss's class is boring now?"
"Do you ever want a Day of Boredom again?"
"NOOOO!!!!!! Never again, Miss Leiss! Please never again! It was so boring! We want our class back!"

The following day was pure as gold. Back to normal, love and learning abounding, relationships building, communication thriving, music and joy returning. Sometimes you have to learn a lesson about appreciating what you have...and I think my kids learned about that on Thursday. :)