Okay. So here are some things that have happened over the past several weeks. Has it really been several weeks? Yes, Brynhildr. Yes it has.
Category Archives: My job
It’s progress report season! Did you know that even preschoolers get progress reports?
This year at my work, it was decided that the early childhood teachers would collaboratively re-work the way progress reports have been written. I gather that, through the school’s history, they’ve gone back and forth between developmental checklists and a more narrative style. While I’ve been writing narrative reports for the past several years, I fully supported the decision to begin using a checklist. There’s 22 of the little buggers, after all, and with very few exceptions, everyone’s developing exactly how they’re supposed to.
Sometimes I even write concise, pithy titles for my blog posts. Not this time, suckas! Oh Lord, I’m tired.
- Back to work this week. The children were delightful and angelic the first day, and then a mess the rest of the week, which pretty much sums up my behavior as well. Things should be more normal next week. It was damn hard getting back into the routine of waking up early and working all day. My re-adjustment was compounded by the fact that everybody asks “How was your break?” as a casual conversation starter, and I have to decide each time if this is a person who needs to hear about how my break really was.
- I worked Saturday morning at my school’s open house for prospective parents, earning me many points in the eyes of my boss and the chance to get a fresh look around campus. It is becoming clearer to me that it’s not the school that’s diametrically opposed to everything I believe about education and classroom management, it’s just my co-teacher.* This is frustrating and encouraging at the same time.
I apologize if the title brings on any Ed. students’ PDSD (that’s Post-Dewey Stress Disorder, for those of you not in the field).
This weekend I went through a bunch of my old grad school materials, looking for curriculum ideas. And I found one! This is the beginning of a relief map of North America, which we’re doing in my classroom as a culminating project for our North America study. It should be noted that on Friday, when I asked my co-teacher if we were going to do any kind of culminating project, she said, “What?”
I said, “How do you usually end one unit and move on to the next one?”
She said, “We take the old materials off the shelves and put new ones on.”
But, since the school is trying to be some kind of Montessori/Reggio Emilia hybrid, she’s open to suggestions. This morning, several students and I made (gluten-free!) clay out of cornstarch and salt, colored it, and then pored over an atlas to figure out where the mountains in North America are, and how we could represent them. There was math, there was science, there was geography, there was literacy, there was collaboration, there was learning.
Though I was ready to be finished with grad school, I didn’t expect to need much of a break from my books, notes, and resources. It was comforting to look back into the Bank Street bubble, at those idealized classrooms, at the curricula that I got to write for an imaginary group of children. One major philosophical difference between what I learned in grad school and what I’m doing now is who makes meaning in the classroom. In my current classroom culture (and yes, we’re nominally co-teachers, but she’s been there for fifteen years, is older than me, and knows where everything is, so…you know how that goes), the teachers set out materials with very specific uses and meanings, and the children gradually discover those meanings during their time in the classroom. I can’t say how characteristic this is of Montessori classrooms, but from my limited experience and the reading I’ve done, I’d say it’s pretty typical. In the kind of classroom where I want to teach, children are provided with foundational materials, out of which they can make their own meaning. Paper, markers, paint, blocks, clay, pieces of fabric…in the classroom I want to build, these things are what the children decide they are. They learn about maps by observing places and drawing pictures. Learning doesn’t have to be abstract when it can be real.
Well, I’ve known for a while that a straight-up progressive education rant was coming. There you have it! I’m not going to be changing jobs anytime soon, in part because I’ve spent the last two years on what’s felt like a continuous job search and in part because, all my ranting aside, this is a really good job I’ve got here. I can save these experiences, I can learn what I can, I can be a tremendous asset to my classroom and the school…and then, when it’s time, I can move on with a better idea of what I want and how to build it.
Today at work, my co-teacher brought out an activity meant to be done by one or two children on the floor. It was a large world map and a basket of toy animals. The animals had paws that were color-coded to the continents on the map, and the purpose of the activity was to place the animals on the continent to which they were indigenous. Cool. She demonstrated the activity to two children: a bright girl who pretty much does everything perfectly (you know the type), and a boy, one of those boys that teachers call “active” or “intense” when we’re in a good mood. I watched them work together to complete the activity, and then I moved away.
When I returned, the boy was alone with the animals and map. He was moving the animals from continent to continent, making them talk to one another in a quiet voice. I chatted with him a little about what he was doing, but generally let him be. As soon as my co-teacher saw him, however, she swooped in and began to chide him for putting the animals on the wrong continents. He protested that “they’re walking home.” I told her that he had completed the activity correctly, and she acknowledged that, but still reinforced that he was supposed to do it “right.”
There are times when I feel very out-0f-place at my job. I work at a school that is attempting to “open up” their Montessori curriculum; my co-teacher is probably the most traditional Montessorian left at the school. (I don’t think this is coincidence. There were three new teachers, including me, hired to the early childhood program and partnered with teachers who’d been at the school a long time; of the three of them, I’m the only one with no Montessori training, in the most Montessori classroom). She’s much more invested in teaching academic skills than I am, and while she’s able to pay lip service to the need for dramatic and creative play, they’re not at all her priority. It’s hard for me to know how much to push my agenda: I’m pretty sure I was hired and paired with her for a reason, but I’ve only been there three months (to her fifteen years). However, I also realize that I’ve been spoiled during my short career, teaching at schools and programs that were so in line with my own philosophy. This job ain’t perfect, but what is?
One of my students put it perfectly the other day, in one of those moments where children are wiser than they intend.
“(Brynhildr), you’re too silly to be here.”
“Really? Where should I be?”
“A silly school.”
Someday, kid. Someday.