“Can I Bring a Gazelle?”

4245731-gazelleFifth graders are pretty funny.  In discussing noise makers to bring for an activity next week one of the girls asked about bringing a gazelle.  Her classmates looked at her quizzically.  Brow furrowed, she continued, “Wait, no, that’s an animal.  Is it called a kazoo?” which was met with a universal chuckle and nod.

I had my first solo teaching experience last week teaching a fifth grade class start to finish.  Given that more than half of these kids have either a cell phone, a social media account, or both, I figured I could treat them more like youth than young children.

So as I was giving them directions, I said something like,  “I think by fifth grade, you don’t need me to dismiss you row by row to get your supplies in an orderly fashion.  I think you can handle it.”  images

Imagine my surprise when my mentor teacher looks up abruptly from her desk and interjects, “Oh no, they can’t handle that.  We have these procedures for the fifth graders.  The little kids don’t break nearly as many supplies as the fifth graders.”

I was flabbergasted and suddenly it was the funniest thing in the world.  My expectations for them were apparently so radically inaccurate.  I couldn’t help but be amused.  Trying, unsuccessfully, to conceal my snickering, I asked, “Really?” with authentic surprise.

Mrs. Dorian answered, “Yes really, look at the looks on their faces right now—they know it’s true.”

So I look at the kids and I’m still trying (and failing) to stop laughing—it’s that self-conscious laugh that says, “This shouldn’t be funny, but it seems so absurd.”  And then I felt bad because I couldn’t tell if the kids were flattered that I thought they were all grown-up and didn’t need the structure and step-by-step directions I gave the younger kids, or if they were embarrassed that Mrs. Dorian called them out.  

I spent the balance of the class period trying to readjust my paradigm for how to manage and interact with 10-year-olds.  Our lesson involved moving with the music to show various musical elements via movement—high vs. low, fast vs. slow, repeated patterns, etc.—so it was pretty active.  During the dancing, one little boy kicked his friend right in front of me.  This time I was shocked but not amused.  I stopped the music and we had a chat about what reasonable fifth grade (or even pre-school behavior) looks like.  After our chat, we resumed and to their credit, they pulled it together and we finished strong.


Wonder by RJ PalacioI recently read the book
Wonder by R.J. Palacio (I highly recommend it!) and it has fueled my ponderings about kids and growing up. The book portrayed a group of fifth graders with all their human interactions—they dealt with bullying issues, they had playdates after school, they did science fair projects—they were normal, multi-dimensional people, just young ones.  The writing was beautiful, the characters were authentic and sincere.  After reading Wonder, I feel like I have a better perspective on kids as people.

The dichotomy of these young people who live in a grown-up world, but act like little kids can be startling.  These kids talk about texting, Facebook, Instagram, and having imgres“boyfriends” while still mixing up their gazelles and kazoos. They live on the line
between childhood and youth.  How can we better understand this line and then help them navigate this transition?

“Hidden” Treasure

Fotolia_42878169_Subscription_L1-300x300As students in education we have so many opportunities to see awesome teachers in action. For example, I have gone to the BYU Preschool and observed several times. Last semester, I volunteered in a third grade classroom every Friday for one of my classes. We will continue to have these opportunities as volunteers, practicum students, and even student teachers. But we don’t actually have to be that far in the education program to see incredible examples of effective teachers. All we need to do is attend our BYU classes! In these classes we can find “hidden” treasure! I could think of countless memorable moments in my classes, where I feel like I learned from master teachers and found ideas to add to my treasure box. Here are just a few:

  • One of my fantastic religion professors helped me apply scriptures that I had not previously pondered much, to my everyday life. He made the scriptures come alive for me!
  • In one of my classes, our professor had us work in small groups every week. He knows that we will be working in small groups in our professions (PLCs, or professional learning communities), so he made a simulation of that as closely as he could.
  • The same professor believes that elementary students should have opportunities to receive feedback and improve their work, so that is how our class worked too. He strongly believes that every student can be successful.
  • My professor for my ‘Dance in the Elementary Classroom’ class knows that it’s hard to remember all the dances that we might want to use in our future classrooms, so when we are practicing the dance in class, she has half of us “film” (on our smartphones) and half of us dance, and then we switch. By the end of the semester, we will have a library full of videos that we can refer to later. That will be so useful!
  • In another of my classes, we learned about assessment types and the effectiveness of each type. Instead of having a midterm, we had a personal interview with the professor. We taught him what we had learned in the class. We knew at the beginning of the course that this would be the assessment type and we studied accordingly.

So, take advantage of the classes you are in right now! Instead of totally focusing on being a student, step back and notice the admirable qualities, techniques and teaching strategies of your very own teachers! We are very privileged at BYU to have incredible professors. Take note of the things that they do that you would like to recreate in your future classroom to add to your treasure box!

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

student teachingWell, folks, this is it.  I am officially student teaching.  As an elementary school music teacher, I’m working with kindergarteners through sixth graders, which provides quite the range of experiences.  After years of training, I get to run the long-anticipated final leg of the teacher-education relay.  I promise to not only post excerpts from my student teaching journal, but it seemed like an appropriate way to introduce the experience.  I’ll certainly be drawing from the classroom when I write and I hope that some of it will be helpful.  (For the sake of privacy and anonymity, names have been changed.

Without further ado, welcome to a few of the thoughts of a first-week student teacher.

Day 1:

We had a sub today because my mentor teacher, Mrs. Dorian, had to attend a funeral.  The sub kept introducing me to the kids as “Hannah” and that irked me a little.  He can be “Gary” because he’s just here today.  I think I need a little more of an impression since I’ll be working with these kids for the next seven weeks.

* * * * * * * *  

The older kids started pulling the whole “give the new teacher a fake name” trick.  Oh well.  Overall, I think it went well and I’m looking forward to everything.  It was actually kind of nice getting to establish my own presence without Mrs. Dorian there on day one.  I tried to show the kids that I can hold my own, and I mean business, but also that I’m fun and happy.  I think it worked.  And I’m certainly glad she’ll be back tomorrow.

tight rope

Day 2:

The kids are REALLY good for Mrs. Dorian.  She told me she’s gotten a little flack over the years for being too strict, but she runs a tight ship and can afford to be nice and fun and relaxed later because they know she’s serious.  She made me more consciously aware of how consistent and vigilant you have to be with the kids—you have to always be giving little reminders about proper procedures: how to line up and sit quietly, how to walk in the hallway appropriately, to keep their hands to themselves, etc.  All those tedious little things that the idealist in me wishes I didn’t have to do, I actually DO have to do.  And they will probably be the key to success with classroom management.  

herding cats

Day 3:

The last period was the most fun for me because she let me run the “playing tests” for the 4th graders on the recorder.  I got a couple minutes (or just seconds if they were really good and played it well quickly) with each student in the hallway to listen to them play.  I got to coach them and help diagnose potential trouble spots.  It’s weird suddenly feeling like a total expert on an instrument I don’t really play.  But I can play it.  And as a musician, I can figure out what they’re doing or not doing that makes their sound quality suffer.  I just wish they didn’t get so nervous!  I felt bad standing there with a clipboard and a pencil—Mrs. Dorian wanted me to mark if they couldn’t get it in 3 tries.  I’m actually much taller than these kids and I felt intimidating.  That’s a first.

scary teacher

Day 6:

I taught parts of 2nd and 1st grade and a whole kindergarten lesson—with some help and reminders from Mrs. Dorian.  I also did warm-ups for the 6th grade choir.  I enjoy teaching, but I get nervous.  I talked to several music teacher colleagues about this, but I kind of feel like when I write out all the details of the lesson plan, I feel like I have to memorize it because I can’t consult it while I’m teaching or I’ll lose the kids’ attention.  So then while I’m teaching, I’m preoccupied trying to remember all the details of my perfectly planned sequence and don’t actually teach well or connect with the kids. One of my professors pointed out the benefit of writing out the detailed plan even if I don’t use it—it helps me think through the process so I can better anticipate and respond to needs.  So my plan is to write out the detailed lesson plan anyway, and then just teach.  

Day 7:

I feel more comfortable in front of the class and I’m having more fun teaching.  It’s amazing to me the difference between teaching something for the first time and teaching it the second and third times. After I’ve been doing this for a year or two, I’ll be having so much fun!  I mean, it already is fun, but once I have a really good handle on all the lessons, I can focus entirely on the kids instead of worrying about what and how I’m teaching so much.

hey girl

That’s all for now.  It’s been a great first two weeks and I’m eager to keep learning and practicing!  What are some of the most helpful things you learned while student teaching? Or if you haven’t been there yet, what do you hope to learn?

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I love this time of year when we get to wipe the slate (or the smart board) clean and start fresh, in a way. We put bad habits behind us and make resolutions for Happy-New-Yearhow we will be better in the coming year. Something that has been on my mind a lot lately, with the stress of choosing classes and the uncertainty of a new semester, is trust. Sister Worthen put some of my thoughts about this topic into words recently in her devotional address. She said, “There will be no guarantee that you will succeed. In such moments, you will have to decide for yourself, whether you will proceed with faith, or be brought to a standstill by a fear of failure. Being able to proceed when the specific outcome is not assured is one of the great tests of life.”

I was all signed up for classes this semester, when, over Christmas break, I felt like I needed to change a few things around. I did it, which meant I was on a waitlist for almost every class. Talk about feeling like your whole life is in limbo! But, I am learning to trust that somehow I will be able to register for the classes I need and that these rigorous classes are going to help me grow. It is important to get good grades and do your best, but, like Sister Worthen said, “It’s the growth that is important.” She continues, “After we have made the decision to act and proceed in faith, knowing that we have taken all the right steps… then we need to move forward and enjoy the process without too much concern for the specific, ultimate outcome. Things may occasionally turn out upside down or topsy-turvy, but with the proper perspective, we can enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from moving forward with faith.” I am grateful for her advice. As we begin this new year, I hope that we can all apply her advice and take risks, having faith and enjoying the journey. Sister Worthen promised us, “…as you move forward in faith, in those moments your life will be greatly blessed in ways you may not have fully anticipated.”

What helps you to trust and move forward, despite uncertainty?