Fist Bump Victory

It’s a busy time of year again. The kids are back at school. We are in a cooperative elementary program, which means that I am back to school too, volunteering in their classrooms each week. This beginning is made even busier by the fact that we are moving next month. It’s very exciting but also bittersweet as the kids will be changing schools. Knowing that we’re leaving makes me reflect on how far some of the kids in the class have come since I met them years ago. I remember walking into my daughter’s class and realizing right away that one boy in particular was quite a handful. Most days he was totally checked out of the lesson and tried everything he could to distract the kids around him. Adults approached him and he would find the quickest way to offend them or scare them off with little regard for the consequences. In other words, he was on my radar.

One thing I’ve learned working with kids is that the toughest ones to like are the ones who need positive attention the most and he was no exception. His mom told me that she and her husband had adopted him just a couple of years ago after he was in foster care. When he was 2 years old, his mother overdosed in her bed, leaving him in the house with her body for days until he was finally discovered. Can you imagine what that does to a child? For this boy, it meant being unable to adjust to change. His day was shot if there was a substitute, a field trip, an assembly, a fire drill, or anything else that broke the routine. His mother died right before Christmas so the holidays are painful for him. Once on a field trip to the arboretum he realized his mother had taken him there before she died and he couldn’t recover for the rest of the day. It’s a minor miracle that such a great family adopted him and that he functions so well so much of the time.

I think the co-op program is a perfect fit for him. It’s great that he has a parade of adults who interact with him and build him up. Week by week I work with him as I would any other student. I set expectations and follow through with consequences when necessary. I also look him in the eye and ask his thoughts and feelings about what we study. I choose him as my helper and offer him leadership opportunities. I play with him and we joke. Today I wandered the room and greeted each student. When I came to him, we gave each other a goofy look and he showed me the screen of his computer. He pointed to a tiny speck on a screensaver of a street in Paris at night, said “slug bug” and bumped his fist into my hand. It seems so small but what a gesture for him. It really filled me up all day. After years of effort and positive interactions, he focuses so much better now and wants to do well. It’s a beautiful thing to get to see.

A Beginning Teacher’s Bible

As a brand new teacher of course I felt unprepared for a classroom of my own. I took all the right courses and set up my very first classroom but felt really green when it came to classroom management.  Classroom management is the process of ensuring good behavior from students.  I cannot stress to you how important this concept is to a productive learning environment. Establishing rules, routines, and procedures at the start of the year makes the teacher’s job easier, empowers the kids to positively contribute to the class, and offers a predictability that benefits everyone.  The best part about good classroom management is that if you start off strong, your classroom will ultimately manage itself with very little work from you.

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Conscious Classroom Management by Rick Smith is a fantastic resource that set me up for success. I reread it every summer in anticipation of a new school year.  The book is well-organized and broken down into three parts. The first part discusses who you are as a teacher. It helps you clearly define your role and standards. The second part is all about avoiding the common pitfalls of teaching and getting ready for the year. The third part gives the reader great strategies for when misbehavior results in a need for consequences.

My favorite items in the book are the lists Smith provides. I go through his “What Procedures Do We Need,” item by item when I am starting a new year. He also has a “Before-School Checklist” that is immensely helpful.