Monday, June 16, 2014

"Mine, Mine, Mine"

Week One of Summer School, DONE.

And I lived to tell!

The weekend before summer school began, I was a nervous wreck. It was all about not knowing what to expect. Sure, I was expecting incoming third graders, but I knew very little about the students' levels, compatibility, habits, and backgrounds. I did know a handful of kids from our school, which helped a bit, and I was excited to have them in my class.

It's been a while since I've done a #TopTen, so here's my list of the Top Ten Things I Learned from the first week of teaching summer school:

10. It gets easier. If the Sunday night before summer school was a total blank slate, then by Monday after school, the slate was 80% filled already. By the end of the first week, I've pretty much GOT THIS. And I just met a new student on Friday who is joining us on Monday, but even that's no biggie now.

9. Planning. I realized that I was trying to squeeze way too much into a 4-hour day, so I swiped a few lessons or simply pushed them back into the days ahead. The thing about summer school is that it is pretty much up to the teachers what to teach, so I tried my darnedest to find appropriate, common core standard-aligned, and interesting materials to teach. It's like pulling things out of thin air if you ask me. But I've got my resources (teachers and internet), and I thank them very much. Last week I was planning day by day. This week, I'm pretty much all set.

8. Kids need to move. When I student-taught back in the days, my cooperating teacher did daily exercises with her class. The kids loved it and always looked forward to it. Now, we have a sleuth of technology for everything, so instead of simple squats and leg lifts, we now have YouTube. We've been doing the Sid Shuffle for days, and the kids are enamored with it. Three minutes is all it takes!

7. Daily Read-Aloud. We are reading the book, The World According to Humphrey, a chapter a day. It is about a classroom pet hamster named Humphrey, told from his point of view. I am surprised at how much I'm enjoying reading this to the kids, as I do my squeaky impersonation of Humphrey while the kids LAUGH-LAUGH-LAUGH at me. And I am surprised at how well-behaved the kids are during the readings. They do crack up whenever Humphrey talks about his "poo," though, as one would expect from goofy 8-year-olds.

 Go to

6. Nostalgia. I did these Pasta Art Butterfly Life Cycle with my first class of second graders 15 years ago. So of course I wasn't going to give up the chance of doing it again with these summer school kids! First we read nonfiction texts on life cycles, compared life cycles of salamanders, frogs, and butterflies, and then concluded the lesson with the Pasta Art Butterfly Life Cycle. I colored the pasta shapes the night before (ditalini, rotini, shells, and bow tie) in half-alcohol-half-water and food coloring, and the kids used them to create a life cycle of egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. This isn't a rare or extraordinary project by any means, but it's one very close to my heart. And it's colorful and informative, no?

Click on photo to see details.

5. "How many more minutes?" And always followed by the words, "until recess." (In summer school, the most popular question is not "Can I go to the nurse?") At which time I just produce my most innocent look, break into my my biggest smile, and say, "I have no idea!"

4. Encouragement. A little encouragement goes a long way. Finding something positive--however minor or trivial--to say to kids really makes a big difference. It's hard to do for some kids who aren't apt to finish their work or follow directions, but I believe that the students most difficult to say positive things to are the ones who need it the most.

3. "Mine." I haven't been able to say this for a while, but this is my class and these are my students. Their well-being is my responsibility. Their achievement is my pride. And their laughter is my smile. Just take it from these seagulls from Finding Nemo:

2. Reward. I grew up immersed in the Confucian mindset of humility; the proper Asian way of responding to compliments is to deny them (confidence-boosting much?). But I've also lived in this culture long enough to have learned to simply say "thank you" when someone says something nice to me. I've had several compliments come my way since summer school started, from students and parents alike. It's just a wonderful feeling to know that my effort is paying off. Coincidentally, I've also learned that my perfectionist instincts prove to be no more than superfluous, time-wasting feats that can be quite unnecessary. But baby steps. At least I have the luxury of time to waste this summer <blush>.

And, finally,

1. That this is SO my thing. It's taken some time to get back into the act of teaching--standing in front of kids and presenting academic materials. But now I find it inexplicably comforting to be in a classroom full of kids, to be the facilitator of learning, the setter of examples, and the mother hen of these wide-eyed children. Don't get me wrong--it's not all always easy; there are excruciating times, challenging kids, and moments where my blood pressure is in danger zone. But among these little (most-of-the-time) kindred spirits, it's really my privilege. Especially when I'm given the gifts of smiles, achievements, and flowers.

One week down, two-and-a-half more to go.


  1. It's so great to hear that you're having a great time, getting into a rhythm/stride, and finding that it's like riding a bike (you never forget). I love how creative you are, working their bodies (cute shuffle) and minds and hands. I might steal the butterfly cycle project for the Au pair to give to J! I think it's pretty revolutionary :). Great "mine mine" gif from Nemo. It's wonderful that you have an attachment and sense of ownership to the class and that you are more and more comfortable with the idea of having your own class for an entire year. And #1 - finding your thing. We all want that! Question, is this like remedial summer school (that's all I remember hearing about growing up) or is it like for students/parents who actually want to keep learning through the summer? What do you think about year-round school? Maybe write a post on it. I think as a parent, I'd find it beneficial to the kids. But maybe from your end, teachers would be against it because they want their summers off.

  2. Any chance you'd move to Arizona? I'd love my younger son (who will be going into third grade) to be in your class :) I like your enthusiasm and I just know it comes through when you're teaching. I'm glad you're getting into the swing of things and are feeling more at ease. You definitely got this!