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21 February 2017

Can I just be completely honest and real with you all right now?

This. Year. Has. Been. Rough.

I moved from one state to another; and it's not just any kind of state y'all I moved from the south to the north. Big change.

I changed from being a kindergarten teacher to a fourth grade teacher.

I changed from teaching all subjects to only teaching reading and writing. Yup. It has truly been the year for change.

When I originally took the fourth grade position,  I knew deep down that it was for my family. I desperately wanted my boys to grow up the way my husband did and I wanted a change. I'd been so accustomed to moving around so much as a kid that I almost felt anxious to move again; like I'd been in one spot for too long. I was happy. I was happy that I had found a job but the jump to fourth was unnerving. I had been with the little ones for so long that I had a mixture of emotions going. I was happy to experience something other than kindergarten. I mean they can tie their own shoes! They can read the board! Fourth graders can do so many more things but I wasn't sure I could handle fourth grade. Would they respect me? Would they like me? Would they listen? These were the questions that went through my mind.

Time went by and so did the summer and I was excited for a new start. I wanted to be my very best. I started the year off with a bang and from the very start I was tried as a teacher. Students tried to push past my limits and I was stressed and feeling the pressure.

The hardest part of moving was not the age or the change in state, it was that I had reached a point in my career where I knew who I was as a teacher. I knew the hows and whys of the things I chose to do in my classroom, but once I switched I was unsure, I second-guessed myself, and I was forced to rethink my approach to teaching. This is definitely not the worst thing to happen, in fact it was a blessing in disguise.

I was back to switching things constantly. I wanted to find what was going to 'work' for me. I filled my time learning and dissecting the new curriculum that I was given with no guidance, support, or help. I cried. I was stressed and the pressure that I was placing on myself was not fair to my family or myself.

I wanted to go back to kindergarten and during the month of November I was giving up on fourth grade and already thinking of how I could be placed in a younger grade.

Until I was faced with the question of "WHY". Why was I trying to leave? What was causing me to be so sad and unsure of myself.

The thing is, my principal is amazing! He is supportive, intelligent, and wants to do what is best for his students and his staff. My partner teacher is everything I could ever ask for. She is inspiring, a hard worker and someone that you would be in awe with. Her work ethic is incredible and her passion is unmatched. My vertical team is fabulous! They work incredibly hard and I love each of them.

So why was this so hard for me? Why did I struggle so much?

I think back to that first day of school and I remember thinking "These kids are like bigger kindergarteners!" Y'all I repeat myself just as much now as I did in kindergarten and it can be exhausting!

As time went on I was faced with situations that I never thought I would have to witness or hear and it got to my teacher heart. Being a teacher in a Title 1 school is no joke. I am not inner city but I do have my fair share of nuggets that have their own problems.

Since January my entire world has changed. I am beginning to find who I am as a Fourth Grade ELA teacher. I finally have a flow to my day and I "feel" like I know what I am doing.

For the first time in a really long time I am happy. I am happy with my job, my home life, myself.

Grading. Oh boy do I have to grade in this grade level! In kindergarten the pressure was more on oral assessments during class so the pressure happened during class but now I always seem to have some sort of stack of papers to grade or look over.

Less Stuff. I don't take home as much work as I did in kindergarten. I feel like in kindergarten I was constantly coming up with centers and activities. Crafts. Oh how I miss the crafts! I grade more yes but it's not the same as having to laminate, cut, make centers.

Less Planning. It has taken me a ton of time to plan out my lessons, mainly because I don't have a curriculum to help me. I have a little love attraction towards curriculum. I love it! I love how it just seems to make sense in my brain! So I've been spending my time learning about my curriculum and standards that I am expected to teach. I broke them down into targets and into smaller more assessable targets. Now I am in the process of creating lesson maps that will help guide what I am teaching and what students need to know before they move on to a different skill. Since this has happened. My lesson planning is less! I simply spend the time looking for resources that will help in teaching the lesson.

Reading to Learn. I found that the way that I approach reading is very different in this age. In the K-2 this is the time where students are learning to read. They are picking up on spelling patterns and practicing with fluency and automaticity. In the upper grades you still want to practice this but the emphasis is different. Here you are reading to learn. Students are learning to pick a part a piece of literature to understand it more.

Lots more reading. I was not prepared for the amount of chapter books I was going to be reading this year. It is incredibly different than picking up a picture book and reading it. Now it's taking me a good chunk of time to get through books, and it doesn't help that my memory is the WORST. So what I've done to help me through this little issue is I've been collecting multiple copies of books. If it's just one to get into my library and make it available for independent reading I don't fuss as much but if it is a book that I want to really pay attention to, I will annotate and keep one of my book club packets inside the book. This makes it easier for me to review what the book is about and remember key details that happen. I mark it as a Teacher Copy and tuck it away in my closet. If a kiddo is reading it for a project or we are using it as a book club, small group or book report I can take it out and easily recall the information.

I Feel Repetitive! One thing that got to me a bunch was that I was teaching the same thing twice a day. Yes the planning is easier and I can concentrate more on two subjects but I missed being able to teach all subjects. Once again my partner teacher is amazing because she and I were able to figure out a way to incorporate a little bit of science and social studies into writing. I've also had to rethink my approach to small groups and more like skills. This cuts down on how repetitive my groups feel and keeps me a little more sane.

You can't expect to be phenomenal. You are relearning a whole new grade. I came into fourth grade thinking, "I'm not a new teacher." I mean, I did my time. I know what it means to be a "good teacher". It's just the content that is changing. Ugh. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I was experiencing being a first year teacher all over again. I was stressed and I was kicked back into survival mode. I went to a meeting at our central office and they showed us the chart below and it was funny that this was exactly how I was feeling. I was on the first year roller coaster.

It's not me. I struggled with finding my rhythm. I struggled with getting kids motivated {more in the next category}. I struggled with being happy. I was constantly putting the blame on me. I was doing things wrong. I wasn't putting in enough time. I. I. I. Finally, it was time to realize that I needed to stop blaming myself and start looking for solutions.

There are always pros and cons in every grade level. Is every grade level perfect? No. Absolutely not. There are always going to be things that you absolutely love and things that ride on your very last nerve with each grade level. You have to take the good with the bad. I was focusing so much on the bad that it was really hard to see the possibilities of what could be in fourth grade. Until... I was in a training provided by my district and read the book Yardsticks which goes into detail about each age and the characteristics they will show.Y'all. My babies struggle at this age. They are just a ball of mess. When I took the time to learn about my kids and where they are in their lives and what they are like it opened up my eyes. I always believed that they had no excuse for their behavior. They knew better. In reality, they struggle more than any grade. Once I realized this it all made sense and I felt myself relax a little. I felt myself being more compassionate towards them than I did before.

The conversations. When I first got the job I was so excited. "I get to take them so much deeper into the lessons!" I was ready for a little more dialogue to happen in conversations. I was always so envious of the third grade teachers in my building because they seemed to have such amazing relationships and let's face it, kindergarteners will love you no matter what! I wanted to talk about books and learn more about them. I wanted to have conversations that meant something in the end. I get it now. I love talking to them to see what they did over the weekend and hear about all the things they love. I love talking to them about books and letting them take the conversation.

It's a hard age but they need some support! As I mentioned above, this is a hard age for so many of them and I didn't realize it until I was introduce to the book Yardsticks. When I was able to truly understand the needs of my students my eyes and my heart opened so much more. I wasn't able to understand why my students were not motivated, why they were emotional, anxious, and dependent. Little did I know this is just the change they are going through and now that I am able to understand that more I am more patient and understanding.

Reading and getting into good books. Although this can be soon difficult, getting more exposure to literature is amazing! I love reading chapter books and enjoying the conversations that I have with my students. I continue to enjoy reading my picture books but there is truly something magical about getting lost in a book and journeying into a story.

The inquiry process. I was able, to incorporate some of this in kindergarten but let's be totally honest, kindergarteners needs guidance and support. While I was able to do some I was never able to experience it the way I can with fourth grade. I enjoy teaching the skills needed and setting them free to use what they have been taught to explore things that they are interested in. I want them to see that everything I teach them can aid them in learning about things that will inspire them to do great things.

The road has been hard, but I am excited to see where the road is going to take me.

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I too am moving from teaching Kindergarten for 16 years to teaching 4/5 graders. I, like you, am very nervous. I am just teaching writing (as we are departmentalized). I am hoping to have students doing many different types of project-based learning activities over the year and using many types of technology tools. Any tips or suggestions you can give me is greatly welcomed.

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