Friday, August 20, 2010

First Days

Mary Lee's latest blog (Poetry Friday) reminded the of the following:

I love first days.  25 years and I still get butterflies (even when I know most of the children quite well).  There's something about walking into the classroom that first morning that excites me... it did in 1986 and is does in 2010.

For me, teaching is more than an occupation... it's an avocation.  I remember when I was a young boy, my friends and I would fill many summer afternoons playing school.  Usually I was the teacher.  I had a chalkboard and bulletin board built into my bedroom wall.  When my friends couldn't "play school" my mom would... she'd sit at the TV tray desk and practice handwriting, reading, writing a story, doing the math problems off the board.  We'd laugh and sing and find joy just in being together.

Often I'd load up my Radio Flyer with paper, pencils, Big Chiefs, crayons, books... and the wagon was transformed into a traveling school.  Moving from cool shade trees to front porches, I'd "teach" my neighborhood pals... Myrna would be the naughty student, Rhonda would be the serious student, Ron would be the class clown, but together we'd play for hours.  Of course, the crayons would get soft and mushy, the pencils dull (my dad could whittle a sharp point like nobody's business with his pocket knife), and the papers damp from an unexpected sprinkler.

The joy hasn't changed... I still like playing school.  I love collecting children's book and sharing a good read with my students.  I love when a student's eyes light up when he discovers the new meaning of a word or shows such empathy for a character that she has a tear running down her cheek.  I love when a student realizes that multiplication is simply repeated addition or that place value does make sense.

Of course, it's not about Big Chiefs and TV tray desks anymore.  There are content standards and grade level expectations.  There is critical thinking.  Reading is about surface level systems (graphophonic, lexical, syntactic) and deep structure systems (semantics, pragmatics, schematic)... it's a complex process that goes far beyond decoding or filling in blanks.  Writing is about process and inquiry... not just about a final product to "grade."  There is talk, learning is inherently social (which, of course, can't be captured on worksheets or skill/drill pages)... learning has to "float on a sea of talk" (Britton).  Learning has changed.  As we move into the 21st century, it will continue to change!

But... there's nothing like that first day.

"A little glimpse into my classroom 
(a small, but homey mobile this year)... waiting to be filled with children's voices and thinking."

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