Friday, August 31, 2007

They're Gone!!

Finally, after three weeks of stress, my Japanese exchange students have all gone home. When I first agreed to teach the elementary class at this small Christian School, I had forgotten about the foreign exchange students that always come each year. And I had forgotten that usually it was the elementary class that took them in! I do not speak a word of Japanese. I can barely pronounce their names...though by the end of the three weeks I have to admit that I think I figured it out. I even said my DH's wedding boss's name today and got the pronunciation right!

It's been such a tough three weeks and not a good way to start out school. I feel like having the disruption of foreign students in the class has set a precedent for unruly behavior with my own kids. With mixed ages as well, it is hard to teach to everyone's level. And not being able to communicate just made it worse.

Many days I would spend the majority of the lesson time writing words on the board for the Japanese students to copy onto their worksheets. Is this cheating? I do the same for Cassie and Eric and anyone else who asks "teacher, how do you spell.....?" I could tell them to "sound it out" or ask leading questions like "what letter makes a "K" sound?" but honestly, writing the word out is so much easier. Especially when I have the K5s crawling under the table or trying to climb shelves to reach books/puzzles/games etc that are put out of reach for a purpose.

I remember one day leaving the room to make some photocopies and coming back to discover 4 kids writing on the white board with various markers - not all of them dry erase pens! One was even a permanent marker!! This was done under the watchful eyes of my "helpers". Needless to say a lecture erupted out of me on what exactly the children were allowed to touch/climb/do and who needed to be monitoring this when I was out of the room! Thank God for Magic Erasers!

It is Labor Day now and back in Canada, school would officially start on the day after Labor Day. With my class finally free of the Japanese children, I feel like school will really "begin" tomorrow. These past three weeks have been the "assessment" phase. In other words, tomorrow is a new day!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tigers and Elephants

Unschooling at school takes its toll on me. From one moment to the next I have no plan, just a vague direction I think I want to go.

The day starts with just getting the children settled, chairs found, packs put away. I clean off the board and gather markers and bible book, quickly glancing at the title and accompanying drawing to see what the story will be. It's always a surprise for me, just as it is for the kids.

"Is it about tigers?" calls out Whiskers, our current tiger obsessed 2nd grader, AKA Eric my own son.

"Not today. It's about..." I say and then hear a sweet voice say, "Elephants?"

"Did you peek?" I smile. N's shy nod confirms, and it's an elephant I get to draw today. Nino to be exact. Apparently Nino strolled off of a circus train, had a chat with some forest friends, and then realized he was lost, but then was found.

This bible story book had appeared on the bookshelf the first day of school. It's been a life saver. Each story has some kind of picture you draw to help illustrate it. The kids love it when I draw on the white board. It doesn't mater how well I draw. Whiskers will always give his professional opinion of my art work and is more than willing to assist me in my endeavors. Unfortunately I can't quite trust him yet not to behead poor Nino the Elephant or perhaps sick a tiger on him. But in time I hope I can count on him.

I had a special project that really made his day. As mentioned in a previous blog I found a comic book template on Enchanted Learning (my current life-saver lesson plan site) that I printed out and made several copies of. I gave it to Eric in hopes it would appeal to his artistic nature. I first told him about it in the car on the way to school. That might have been a mistake. Maybe I overplayed how cool it was. Anyway, he took one look at the comic book pages and announced "It's not what I expected!!" in a high pitched wail....his signature cry. I cut him off with a sharp look and that threatening under the breathe "Ericcccc" with the "c" part drawn out between clenched teeth. I don't want to deal with hysterics before my coffee has fully kicked in. Diverted by passing out worksheets to the rest of the class, when next I look up, Eric had completed the title page and cast of Characters and came over to tell me his first scene.

"It's where Science Cat teaches Whiskers how to catch lobsters without being pinched." Some day Science Cat is going to pay for my retirement...or at least that's my dream.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The "Help"

My biggest problem with teaching (aside from foreign exchange students...but that is another story) is my aides. I have two 20+ year old aides - both special needs students who graduated from the school a few years ago and now come in to help in class. They have the mentality of about an 8-year old, with little or no common sense. I'm not putting them down, just stating facts. Both are very sweet girls, but they aren't really aides for me....rather more of liabilities. They do provide some very basic help for taking kids to the bathroom, helping with snack and lunch issues (opening bags/bottles, etc.) - but unfortunately not able to help with cooking anything that needs to be heated up (microwaved) least not yet in my eyes; nor can they do photocopying for me or help me do lesson plans. Most of the time they are just another body in the room that I have to try to maneuver around in an already overcrowded room.

One girl has some physical disabilities as well, so when she sits on the floor she has a hard time getting up (as do I, but at least I have the common sense not to sit on the floor!), her back is often sore and the noise level in the classroom makes her have a headache. I'm not sure how pleasant it is for her to be there...but she does love the kids and is always asking for prayer. The trouble is, in class when I ask the class for answers to a question, she is always saying it out loud or saying "I know Mrs. Smith!" I usually just include her in the answer process rather than fight it, but it gets irritating when I'm targeting a specific child and she interrupts.

The other girl is a bit more capable and can actually help kids with paper work, but she needs to be constantly prodded to help, or she will sit in a chair, right in front of whatever area I'm trying to get to (like bookshelf, desk, white board, door, trash can....) and not move until I ask her to. It just makes my job a bit more exhausting than I had anticipated. Today they did go down into the playground and played with the kids, allowing me to clean up the class in peace. I keep telling myself that for "everything there is a purpose".

Make it Fun!

We made pig puppets this afternoon and did an impromptu variation on the 3 little pigs with volunteers. We had 3 girls, so of course the 3 pigs were sisters. Eric had turned his pig puppet into some kind of Frankenstein monster Pig so instead of a big bad wolf blowing down their houses, it was "Monster Pig". The kids loved it. I, of course, narrated the story while the kids acted it out. I do find I have a knack for just making up stuff on the spot and the kids think I'm really wacky. But that's good. Les's advice, when I agreed to do this job, was "just make sure to have fun" so I act as silly as I want. I think I even crossed my eyes today....

Age Doesn't matter

My primary class often gets to interact with the middle school kids and I love to see how they all get along. It honestly is like a big family. There are 5 middle schoolers - 1 6th graders, 3 7th graders, and Stephanie, my other daughter in 8th grade. There is also one 11th grader that likes to hang out in the middle school class as the high school class intimidates her. Stephanie has fit in well with the class and is already friends with the two girls in her class. She has no problem with the PACE booklets and even claims to be learning something. Last night's lunar eclipse was especially interesting for her as she had just had to do a unit on the moon in science. She did get frustrated during a math quiz (though she aced the first one) because she couldn't remember how to divide and was trying to solve the problem by guessing and multiplying. I think she finally remembered out to divide now. She was the only student to get 100% on the reading quiz - the next highest grade was less than 50%. All in all I'm proud at how she is showing my pastor (who is her teacher) that homeschooling didn't damage her. She's becoming more outgoing and has already established herself as the classroom artist/writer. She's even instigated a reading day and was excitedly picking out books to share with her classmates to try to get them interested in reading. Her book choice included: The Princess Bride; Brian Jaques: Pearls of Lutra (her favorite of the Redwall series); The Little Prince; A Terry Pratchett book that Adam recommended (can't remember the title); and Brian Jaques: The Castaways of The flying Dutchman.

The Strew Method

The Strew Method:

I'm using the "strew" theory in my class right now...just "strew" all kinds of educational items in front of kids and eventually they will learn. Today at least an hour was spent with several children working together to stack all of the peg board pegs into a tall tower.(Discovery Toys) It involved cooperation, balance, and interaction amongst kids aging in range from 3-8 years of age,including one of my 21 year old aids. This was completely child instigated and was a big hit as a "game" to play. I loved watching them figure out that the person standing on the chair, trying to reach the top of the column, could only reach so high and a taller child was needed to take over.

Eric, my own child, needs constant attention. I have to find specific things to keep him occupied, or he wants to be the center of what is going on. Even if this means getting negative attention. I did find a cool comic book template on (My $20 membership is finally paying off!)and gave this to Eric yesterday. It occupied him the entire day, with various times for snack/play/recess/lunch etc. But basically he was engrossed and excited and made a super cool comic. I plan on scanning and putting it online soon. It will need a bit of explanation notes for non-Eric comic book connoisseurs to understand...but it is really cool. He started a new one today and we read his first one in class. It has prompted some of the older children to create their own comic too.

I also had to allow him about 15 minutes of alone time in the class during lunch, while the rest of the class played outside with the middle school kids. He really needed this "quiet time" on his own to regroup and calm himself. He can be quite boisterous and loud in class - both when he is excited about something and when he is disappointed. Which is often...sigh.