536 am clockMorning comes way too early.

I just closed my eyes and now it is time to start all over again. The morning shower is about the only time I am going to have today with a little silence. I have found myself standing under the water a little longer each day as the school year is passing. That moment of peace is my chance to brace for the day. The problem is that in my moment of peace I can’t take my mind off of my kids who are struggling. I can’t stop thinking about the things I should have done to make learning a little easier. Wait, I have to clear my mind. I just need 5 minutes for me. The rest of the day can be for the kids.

I get to my classroom early in hopes that being extra organized may make the day a little easier and make my teaching time more effective. Wouldn’t you know it, there is a Mom waiting by my door wanting me to explain why her little angel was in trouble yesterday when all he was doing was “trying to express himself”. I spend 5 minutes acknowledging that self expression is important and I tried my best to get her to understand that there is a time for self-expression and there is a time to sit and listen. I’m not sure if I got through to her or not. I did let her know that the rules are the rules and learning to keep the rules is part of learning. It never ceases to amaze me that parents somehow see the rules as oppressive rather than educational. Oh well I…..oh no, the bell just rang. So much for being extra organized today.

There was a movie in the 70s called “The Swarm”. That is what the hallway and my room turns into. There are bodies everywhere and they are all talking and buzzing around at a speed I can’t quite keep up with. The day has begun. “Everyone sit down and get your books out”, the tug of war between my will and 20 kids desire to talk and have fun and seemingly do anything but learn has begun.

Teacher and student at board

As the morning progresses I work my way through a group reading, taking special care to listen closely to little Mykele because he has really struggled with reading chapter books. He makes it most of the way through his paragraph but tears start to form as he struggles with the last sentence. I find myself in full protective mode and jumping to his aid and nursing him through the last sentence. I am not sure whose relief was greater when his turn was over, his or mine.

From there we were onto math and my stomach was tied in knots as I called on little Karen to go to the board and complete the problem. I wanted to cheer for her and I so wanted to give her hints to complete it. Come on Karen, you can do it! Please let her do it!! She did it! I want to high five her so bad but class control dictates a smile and a pat on the head instead. I feel like I just conquered Mt. Kilimanjaro.

This is the moment I live for - the moment when the light comes on for a child and suddenly they understand and suddenly they have learned.

I just changed this child’s life and if I were any more proud of her I would break down in tears. What a moment. Now it is back to the board and Billy is struggling.

It is so hard getting the kids to calm down after lunch.

It takes me a solid 10 minutes getting them to sit down and get back into the class mindset. Charlie and Zach just won’t hush. They couldn’t keep their hands to themselves and lunch and I ended up eating half my lunch and throwing the rest in the trash thanks to the boys deciding that French-fries can double as missiles in their game of table commando. Why am I not skinnier??

Afternoons are so much harder than mornings.

I am tired. I feel like I have been wrestling a 34 armed wriggling, giggling, smelly animal. The kids are getting tired and they are ready to run. Sitting down at a desk and reading goes against every instinct and urge they have. The afternoons are just harder. It feels like I am pushing a wet noodle up a hill trying to get the kids to focus. I love science but this afternoon even I can’t find my enthusiasm for rock formations. I am trying because I know if I show the kids that I am not enthused about learning this then there is no way they will be. It is so hard maintain abject enthusiasm all day. The afternoons are so much harder.

I give up. They won’t sit down and they won’t be quiet. There are going to be some unhappy moms and kids tonight because behavior slips are going out. Charlie and Zach and Lakarsha are shoe-ins for getting a slip. The whole class is watching them instead of me and I feel like standing on the desk and screaming “Just pay attention and we can be done and go home!!” But I don’t. Nobody wants to pay attention and I am tired. I can’t find my enthusiasm for rocks either. The afternoons are just harder.

One and a half hours to go.

My lesson planner shows that I am behind schedule. I am behind because I keep getting interrupted by kids not listening and not paying attention and wanting to go to the bathroom. It feels like I am investing my time in quick sand.

I take a rare break and sit at my desk and try to collect my thoughts. I have now been on my feet for nearly 6 hours. I have answered questions and reminded kids to keep their hands to themselves and told kids to be quiet so often that I feel I need a flashing “Be Quiet” neon sign in the back of the room.

I then remember something I heard in staff development session. A speaker once charged us with thinking about the amount of time we spend telling kids to sit down and be quiet and pay attention. His question was: "What if we reinvested that redirection time and turned it into proactive lessons on how to sit down and be quiet and paying attention?" When I first heard him say this my only thought was “Yeah, good luck with that when you have 20 kids constantly needing something and wanting to be doing anything but the lesson you are teaching”. But maybe that was the point.

School is about academics but the payoff for academics is down the road. There really isn’t an immediate gratification for learning about math and science and reading and writing. Sure you get those moments of pure gold when little ones like Karen suddenly get it. But those are the moments of the day. The hours of the day are spent redirecting the kids’ thoughts back to learning.

OK... I’m going to spend 15 minutes working with my kids

on calming down and being quiet.

Kids group on floor

I’m not going to wait until I hit my boiling point, I am just going to take the time and work on it. I have a friend that teaches in a school that is working on social and emotional development and she shared a lesson with me one time that focused on getting kids to calm down after transitions by using signals. I soon find myself teaching the kids our own special class signals for quieting down and sitting down. The kids really get into it because I tell them that these are going to be our special and secret signals. We have a song for clean up time. We have a bell on my desk that is rung when it is time to sit down. We have double clap when it is time to be quiet. The kids voted on these signals and we practiced them several times. We even practiced being out of our seats and getting back into our seats when they heard the bell. They really got into it because it was like having their own secret handshake. And when one of the kids didn’t snap into place the other kids reminded them to do so before I could. They had taken ownership in these ideas and they wanted to see them work.

Little Karen had her “ah-ha” moment this morning and I had mine this afternoon.

The 15 minutes I invested felt like I had just hit the jackpot on the slot machine. The kids learned a lesson but the pay-off was as good for me as it was for them. I even appointed room captains to be in charge of the bell and the clap and the song. They each appointed a co-captain for each table. They thought it was so cool. Now sitting down and being quiet and paying attention are not on any of our tests but I can’t get them ready for the test if they aren’t sitting down and being quiet and paying attention.

The final bell rings and the swarms descends back into the hallway.

I take a deep breath and look at the mountain of papers on my desk. I only have 20 kid’s papers in math and science to grade, get 20 packets ready for tomorrow, write my Friday letter for the parents, make sure everyone’s permission slip for next week’s field trip is in place, attend my afternoon staff meeting, and then go home and be a parent and a spouse.

The whirlwind begins to slow down when my head hits the pillow.

I can’t hardly keep my eyes open and I think that there must surely be an easier way to make a living. Then my thoughts drift back to little Karen and I remember the exact moment when the light went on for her and she figured out how to do the problem. I remember the joy that came across her face and the pride that swelled in me.

That is my moment. That is the reason I will do it all over again tomorrow.

My eyes are heavy but I know why I am a teacher.

The social and emotional development program referenced above is Leaps. Leaps has over 240 social, emotional and behavioral lesson plans along with classroom, small group, and individual assessments. It’s not reading writing and arithmetic but it is amazing how much easier those are to teach when the class is learning to behave! You can get some free Leaps lesson plans on www.goleaps.com. There are also all kinds of videos and papers about how to make your class more manageable.