Thursday, January 13, 2011

where i'd like to be

I'd love to be in the Hidden House with the dolls.
But I am here, looking over my horrendously messy kitchen with disdain.
With two kids and a husband and me making messes and not cleaning them up every morning before we leave for our days (while the light silently breaks through gray snow clouds) and then coming home again (in the winter-pewter twilight) and being too tired to clean up the morning messes only to make new messes on top of the others,
my house is rather dingy...
and not in a good way.

Being a Kindergarten teacher for the first time has really taxed my energy.
I am much smarter this time with it all, though. I decide what is important to spend time on, and what is not. It is not important to make copies of worksheets (which have their place), but it IS important to put up our World Traveler storyline frieze like I told the kids I would.
It IS important to keep in contact with parents, but not important to organize the building blocks.

But, with all of that kind of priority-making experience under my belt, I had never before encountered a room full of 5 and 6 year olds. Just about every day brings up something new to consider.
They are eager to learn. They'll do just about anything you ask them to (this if fading in some of them as they begin to test their limits with teacher), and they get excited about everything...making my job loads easier.
In middle school, it was mostly about getting that age invested.
In kindergarten, it is mostly about...well, what is it about... at this age, learning is second nature. They'll learn, no matter what I do. They are thirsty sponges, and gather the forms and sounds of letters like water. It is an amazing experience to teach Kindergarten...

I work hard at it. I get a deep satisfaction out of it. Because I'm interested in it, I keep getting better. I am working on being gentle with myself. If I think I should or could be teaching a subject in a different, more effective way, I don't suddenly change it. I have decided to let myself flow into it. What I was doing before wasn't bad, and many might still say, "how clever of you to have been teaching it in that way." But anyway, I am trusting my own judgement. I have found I feel more balanced when I quietly let go of what I was doing and quietly add in what I want to do next. In this way, I am acknowledging all of it as valid. It helps to remind me that I am always getting better. Nothing I was doing was BAD, I only thought of something BETTER.

My favorite moments in teaching have been those unscripted moments. The ones I didn't plan on. The ones where I fit like a great cog slipping into the other great cog and finding that together they are lifting a heavy weight or pushing a mighty thing.
The ones where I reaffirm that being a teacher is my nature.
~and all those other inane cliches we hear about this sort of thing~
After 14 years of teaching, I realized something:
I'm very good at just talking to the kids.
I'm very good at bringing up my own knowledge mid-lesson and heading on that tangent.
I'm very good at getting kids to look at me wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
I'm very good at bringing big knowledge down into small bits.
I'm very good at helping kids remember information.

Today, we were sitting at the meeting rug and I had a very grown-up book with loads of words in it that had some very good photos of octopuses. I decided to show it to them and talk to them about the pictures:

Me: "Hey, look at these two octopuses kids! This one kind of looks old huh! And what does the other one look like?"
Kid:"He looks mad!"
Me: "why do you think so?"
Kid: "He's standing up with his eight arms out! and he's all dark brown....he looks mad."
Me: "Hehe...he does look mad! I like the way you decided he was mad because he was standing up with his arms out like that. In fact, octopuses really do DO that when they are mad! They also turn a dark color to show the other octopus that they mean business! What do you think they are saying to each other?"
Kid: "That old one says,'Don't be mad!' and the mad one says, 'You're buggin' me! I'll eat you!'"
Me: "Oh, wow! That'd be scary for the old one. Do you know what else I think they are saying, 'I'm gonna eat one of your tentacles old guy!' 'No, don't eat any!' 'Yeah, I'm gonna eat it, but don't worry, I'll just eat one and it grows back anyway!' 'no!' 'yes! Don't worry, it grows back'"

Kid: "It does grow back Mrs. E?!"
Me: "Yessiree! Sometimes a bigger, madder octopus will get so hungry that he finds an old or a sick octopus and will eat some of its tentacles! But those grow back!! Do you know of another animal who looses a part, but later it grows back?"
Kid: "I think a snake...or somesing..."
Me: "You know what I was thinking of? A lizard! They can loose their tails, but their tails can grow back. Why do you think some animals can do that?"
**loads of discussion on that topic, then later**
Me: "Okay, so if that mad hungry one ate five of the old one's tentacles, how many would he have left?"
Kid: "I think three."
Me: "Woah!! You are doing subtraction! Tell me how you figured that out?"
Kid: "He's gots 8 arms, tentacles, and if 5 gets ated, that's only 3 left!"
Me: (drawing this on the white board as he talks) WOW!!! That is amazing!!
**leads to a tangent on what-if he lost 2 arms, what-if he lost 7 arms**
Me: "So, if he only had three tentacles left, what would he be called? Remember what we talked about those bikes that have three wheels?"
Kid: "A Troctopus!"
Kid: "A TRItopus!"
Kid: "A Tri-octopus?"
me: "Those all sound so funny - I think it would be closer to Tritopus though - what if he only had 2 tentacles left?"
All Kids shout: A Bitopus!
Me: "Let's go get our journals and a pencil. Write the date at the top of your next fresh page and draw a story of The Octopus With Less. You decide if he should have 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 or NO tentacles left! What does he do?Draw pictures and write words. Use your own spellings and I'll help you. Let's GO!"
The kids rushed to tell the story of "The Octopus With Less"! We had no-legged octopuses who decided to be a playground ball instead. We had the four-legged octopus who became someone's pet, on a leash no-less. We took AN HOUR talking and laughing and imagining and then writing and drawing and sharing. Amazing. An HOUR with 5 and 6 year-olds on one subject. Amazing. Truly.

So, I took what I thought would be a simple 1-2 minute look at the pictures of octopuses in this book, that I'd picked up at the last moment, and besides the animal science, we became mathematicians, etymologists, and story writers.

I'm constantly amazed at what children learn.
It makes my job that much easier, and that much harder.

I enjoy my job, but I take it very seriously. I sweat it out. I worry. I improve. I always try to go in a forward motion. I want more OCTOPUS moments...know what I mean?
As much as I love teaching, this is why I wish I were in my little Hidden House in Terrebonne right now.
I wish I were in my little slope-roofed bedroom with the window overlooking the very old lilac bush and the willow. I wish I were looking out at the moon casting shadows on snow covered fields...hidden away all snug and warm and watching.


sarah said...

I love that multi-discipline lesson. That's the wonderful art of teaching in action. Such a blessing it must be to work as a kindy teacher.

... And yet, I know, and I agree with you, about being in the little Hidden House

Jacqueline said...

You sound exhausted katiebird. Spent, used up, but in the nicest of ways.
Relax, restore, return to your are vital to the the kids, to the future.
Would that every teacher thought the way you did.

Victoria said...

I want to be a kid in your class Katiebird...I have the number '5' in my age...please!