One of Those Days in the Classroom

Monday was one of those days.

I knew it might be a little hectic because it was the start of the second semester and I was getting two new students (and it’s the week before Chinese New Year break, so the kids would be antsy anyway). I was also told I’d have a high school student aide, which I was really looking forward to; I knew she would make my life a lot easier. I wasn’t sure what I’d have her do that first day, though, since a parent helper had made my whole week’s copies the Wednesday before and there would be no homework to grade (I don’t usually assign any over the weekend). But in any case, it would be great to have her.

I got to my classroom early that morning to make sure everything was ready. I was planning on teaching a lesson from a section of our new language arts curriculum that I’d never used before, and it involved a vocabulary chart that the teacher instructions assured me could be found on the CD-ROM that came with the new material. So before school started I put in the disk to make sure I’d have the chart ready to project onto the Smartboard later. Lo and behold, it didn’t work. I tried again and again, but got nothing but confusing menus and error messages. Finally I ran out of time, but I decided not to let it frustrate me. The chart was a simple one; I could easily draw it on the board, and the students would have the same thing in front of them in worksheet form anyway. Just a minor setback.

Well, 7:50 rolled around and I let my 5th graders into the classroom. The new ones both seemed happy to be there, and the class was welcoming (I had let them know about them beforehand.). But because everyone was so excited at the change, they were noisier than usual. Add to that the fact that I had to explain every step of every classroom procedure to the new ones while those who already knew how to do things got bored and restless, and you’ll see why my normally sweet class was a little unruly.

In retrospect, Monday was probably not the best day to try out a lesson from an unfamiliar part of the curriculum. But I’d looked over it long in advance and planned it all out, and I was sure I was ready, malfunctioning CD-ROM and all. I looked in the “Monday” folder by my desk where I keep all worksheets and supplies I’ll need for the day, and was surprised to see that the student copies of the article we’d be studying (to practice infering the meaning of unfamiliar words) were not there. Neither were the charts. And when I hastily searched my shelf, I couldn’t find the teacher’s edition that had the blackline masters and lesson plans, either.

Yikes! I knew I had had all those materials last week. Where could I have left them? Normally I’m pretty organized. I don’t usually leave piles of books or papers sitting around haphazardly in my classroom, and when I use something, I put it away in the exact spot where it goes. But the papers weren’t in the folder, and the book wasn’t on the shelf where I keep my teacher editions. And of course the students were getting restless once again while I looked.

I realized that the last time I had seen the book was when my parent helper took it to make copies from last Wednesday. Aha! She must have left it (along with the copies) down in the workroom. I would have to go get it at recess.

So, I hastily decided on a change of plans and announced that we would be doing math next. The math lesson went well, but as recess approached, I could tell we weren’t going to finish. I normally don’t like carrying over a lesson until after recess, but sometimes there’s no help for it. The situation was further complicated by the fact that one of my students is in ELL and gets pulled out for one-on-one help in between recess and lunch. Normally she just misses language arts (which she can make up with her ELL teacher), but today she would have to miss part of math. Oops. (Not that she minded!)

About that time my new aide appeared in the doorway, and I realized that amid the chaos, I had not come up with anything for her to do. So I introduced her to the students and then had to ask her to please just have a seat on the sofa at the back and wait.

It was rainy and cold, so I gave the students the option of playing inside instead of going out to the covered play area for recess. Little did I know that every single one of them would choose to stay in (that was a first)! Ever tried to figure out what to have an aide do in a room full of noisy kids excitedly playing Twister and Jenga and Uno? Well, I ended up giving her something to photocopy for me for a few weeks later, and I asked her to bring up the papers and books my parent helper had left down in the copy room. Sure enough, she found them there and brought them all back up to me a few minutes after recess was over. (Yay!)

So I taught the language lesson after we finished math, and it went fine, in spite of not having a chart for the Smartboard. But it’s always tiring teaching something brand new, especially something that involving. And it didn’t help that part way through (when I was taking a quick breather at my desk while the students searched their Titanic article for unfamiliar vocabulary) I suddenly realized we were supposed to do a science activity about physical properties and changes that afternoon. There it was in my lesson plan book, necessary materials listed and highlighted in blue the way I always do it so I won’t forget to look ahead and make sure I have what I need. But somehow I had completely forgotten the Friday before, and now I didn’t have anything ready. The measuring cup, spoon, balance scale, zipper seal bag, beaker, plug-in burner and thermometer wouldn’t have been a problem; I knew I had all those in my classroom cupboards. It would just have taken some time during my lunch time to dig them all out, and it didn’t help that I had lunch recess duty that day. But the ice cubes and cold water would have been a little trickier. I would have had to run home at lunch time when I otherwise could have been eating, and I wasn’t even positive we had any ice in the freezer at the moment anyway. I debated it mentally for the rest of the language lesson and finally decided to postpone the experiment until the next day and do Tuesday’s science lesson (much simpler with no unusual materials needed) that afternoon.

The day was made a little more chaotic by the fact that one of the new students kept asking questions about things in the classroom (like the behavior and homework boards and the “Star Helpers” job chart). I’m pretty strict about requiring students to raise their hands before speaking out, and I could soon see that this one is going to need a lot of practice in that area, and also to learn not to blurt out answers to questions I’ve asked other students, or to “help” classmates by telling them what the hard words say when they’re reading aloud.

What with all that had happened, we had been a little behind in pretty much everything all day. The students were still busily writing in their science notebooks when I realized that although we hadn’t covered everything we were supposed to, it was time for them to go to music. After that they would go straight to P.E. and Chinese, and there wasn’t even enough time for them to write down their homework assignments or pack up their backpacks before they left. So I had to tell them to come back to do those things right after school. The poor new kids were a little confused about where to go, especially for Chinese, since the class isn’t all in the same group. The two of them hadn’t taken their placement tests yet, but this week they’re all having special activities in honor of Chinese New Year, so I figured the exact group didn’t matter all that much. I just told them which other students to follow, and bundled them all out the door.

By the time I finally had the room to myself, my brain felt as fried and my voice as worn out as they usually do on the first day of school after summer. Then I had to grade the assignments my students had done that day… then someone came in with a stack of report cards for me to proofread before they get sent home in a few days… then I had to work on my Professional Learning assignment due this week… then school was over and the students came swarming back in to write their homework and pack up, and I realized I’d never explained the procedure for those tasks to the new ones… then both of their parents came in wanting to talk to me about how their first day had gone.

I had to stay longer than usual in my classroom getting caught up on lots of little miscellaneous things. By the time I finally headed home to make dinner, I really didn’t feel like staying up late to have my Chinese lesson that evening. It had been a long day! But I decided that the good thing about Mondays is that there’s a whole week still ahead of them. (Okay, so I know that’s the bad thing about them too!) But I reminded myself that there were still four more days for the week to get better. Four more days to recover from Monday. And just four more days until vacation. I can make it!

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