I spent a majority of yesterday and last night planning the next couple of weeks out for my unit on Night by Elie Wiesel. I created an entire detailed calendar to provide to my students so they know what to expect and what pages they should be reading and what activities they should be completing. I started to get so stressed about planning and fitting everything in and what activities I should do. Towards the end of the evening, I came to the realization that I need to just take this whole unit basically day-by-day rather than week-by-week because chances are, things aren’t going to go as planned so I’ll have to reschedule and rearrange everything anyway. With a general idea of the next two weeks in mind, and a thorough plan of the next two days, I decided to call it a night and go with the flow.
Well that “flow” started off extra hectic this morning. I signed into the front office, said hi to the ladies at the desk, and made my way to my classroom, thinking the day through. As I’m halfway down the hall, I see my mentor teacher frantically speed-walking down the hall, arms filled with papers and a large box. I greeted him with a “Good morning!” only to be bombarded with one million and one statements: “I copied your quiz. It’s on the table behind my desk. The calendars are in the box ready for the kids to pick up. I’m going to grab your colored reading comprehension worksheet right now. ” And blah, blah blah. Jeez, I hadn’t even set my stuff down. But then came the worst part. “And I’m on my way to grab the books. Bad news. We only have a class set. So the kids can’t check out any books to read at home. All of the reading has to be done in class. We don’t have enough books to give to every single student.” …THAT, ladies and gentleman, is why I don’t plan things out way ahead of time anymore. It gets turned around last minute anyway. I could feel my heart drop. How could the kids read this entire book in class AND get the instruction and hands-on work that they need to understand it and engulf themselves in it? I was planning on setting some time aside in class for the students to get reading done, but I was also banking on them having the book at home to finish the reading and to refer back to. *sigh* Okay, well it was time to take a deep breath, go with it, and figure out a new plan. “I’ll be back halfway through first period. You’re on your own,” he said, already starting to walk away. HAPPY MONDAY TO YOU, TOO.
I walked into the classroom, set my stuff down, and put the starter on the board. The starter, at least, could stay the same.
I actually thought my starter was clever. I thought, “This is a good one. It connects the author of our story to a writing piece!” Well, first period didn’t seem to agree. I was instead faced with blank stares and blank papers. I don’t think it was my fault, but they didn’t quite connect to neither the quote nor the questions. Or maybe it was the fact that it was 8:30am on a Monday. Maybe I’ll never know. But no matter how many times I re-read the quote, walked around, trying to redirect attention, it was unsuccessful. I decided to collect the papers and move on. I explained to the students the “little” dilemma we have at-hand: We only have a class set of books so all of the reading would be done in class, at least for now. They responded with silence. There might as well have been tumbleweeds rolling across the floor and crickets chirping in the air. My teacher’s assistant handed out the books (today was her first day and SHE IS WONDERFUL!) and I told the students that they need to read pages 1-19 here in class. They opened their books and began reading. I expected many students to start to look up, look around the room, put their heads down, or work on other work. But instead, every time I looked up, each and every student was reading and turning pages. I couldn’t believe it! I monitored their progress by walking around the room and saw most of the pages turn progressively from one to twelve, to fifteen, and to seventeen. There were a few exceptions, but what the heck? They were actually getting into it? I decided to stop the class from reading for the moment to have a discussion on what was going on so far. Every single question I asked got a unanimous and correct response. I was so pleased and proud. Then, my students filled out a “K-W-L” Chart I created which is a chart that shows what they already know about the subject (The Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, and Night), the “K” column, what they want to know and learn by the end of the unit and what they learned (L, which is to be filled out at the completion of the novel). After getting verbal responses about what they wrote after they were done, I was so happy. They seemed to be really interested in this topic and this book! I gave them 10 more minutes to complete the reading for the day. When I asked for students to pass forward their books, they responded with “NOOOOO!” and “But I wanna keep reading this!” I was smiling and my heart was breaking at the same time. I was so happy that they were enjoying it so much, but so sad that I had to cut them short and take away books from them! I allowed a few (begging) students to “check-out” a copy of the book from me, but I definitely couldn’t do that for many people. I reminded them of tomorrow’s quiz and set them away with mixed emotions.
Because of what the school calls “block scheduling,” it means certain classes are on certain days (divided into “A” “B” and “C” days, today was an “A” day). Third period was the next and last class I saw today. This is the class I am completing my “Work Sample” on: collecting their work and data, writing reflections and progress on each student (which they know and are excited about. It’s so cool that they like to play a role in getting my teaching credentials.) This is also the class I seem to mesh with the best. They are all so bright and vibrant and I look forward to seeing them. In the past week, they have tried to challenge me, and I like that about them. In this class, I got much more of a reaction to the bad news. They were sad they couldn’t take the books home with them but they understood that it was out of my control. This class was more engaged than first period, and grasped the starter much better. We had a better discussion of the novel than first period, too, and I’m not quite sure why. It could be a million different reasons. A few students in this class insisted on checking a copy out from me, and I complied, wishing all of the students could take a book. A few students even asked if they could read ahead, and how am I supposed to say no to that!? After class, a student came up to me and said “Hmm. This is actually a pretty good book!” (Which in 10th grade language means, “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVER!” On their K-W-L chart (in both classes, actually) they expressed so much knowledge of what they already know (I front-loaded information on The Holocaust and Elie Wiesel last week, and they remembered all of it!) and I could have cried, I was so happy (And still am). I know it sounds like “Duh, you’re a teacher, that’s how this works,” but it’s so cool to see these kids grasping the material and getting into the text and actually LEARNING something! Despite things that are out of all of our control, we have remained flexible and not let us stop us from learning! I’m so happy! I know I’m going to deal with snafu’s like this for the rest of career, but really, on my first unit?! Come on! But after today, I am confident that my students and I can make this work. Yes, we’ll have to spend extra time in class reading, but we can do it. I will make it fun for them and ensure they get the most out of this situation.
After both classes, at 11:30, my mentor teacher gave me some really great feedback. He said my pacing and timing was great and I did a really good job despite all of the hurdles. I am really lucky to have him as my mentor teacher. Yes, he’s disorganized, but that’s what I’m here for. I’m the organized one! He cares so deeply for his students and education in general and he wants so badly to help me become the best teacher I can be. He has been giving me such great advice and he has let me take full control of his classroom, which isn’t easy for ANYONE to do. I am so grateful for him and I am so grateful for flexible and bright students that make my job so much easier. Day one of Night, CHECK! We can do this! Now, let the grading begin…