Falling Into First Grade

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 10 2013

99 Problems

On the 100th Day of School, we did some writing to make two class books. The first book was about how you would spend $100. That one was cute to read, as I have a few students who are generously planning to buy both me and their parents a new car with their imaginary money. But the other book was enlightening. The prompt was, “100 Days Ago I did not know how to_____, but now I do!” Quite a few students said read “hard words”, which obviously made me smile. Others wrote about learning how to subtract, tell time, and writing in complete sentences. Two students said that they learned how to draw, which they simply didn’t learn from me. Whenever I draw things on the board to illustrate a point, one or two students will encouragingly say something along the lines of, “That was a good try, Ms!” But one student wrote the following, “100 Days Ago I did not know how to solve problems, but now I do!”

There are a lot of problems in first grade. Pencils break, you get the wrong color dry erase marker, a friend begs you to share your hot chips, teeth fall out, you get pushed in line, cuts invisible to the human eye start to bleed, the computers freeze during centers…I could go on. Last year, these trivial problems would add up throughout the day and end up making ME explode. As my blog title suggests, the original plan was not to teach first grade…my placement was high school English until two days before the school year started. I had no idea how to relate to six year olds and these seemingly unimportant issues. And so I just ignored the little dramas until they escalated to the point of, “I need an administrator to Room 149″, only to feel like an idiot when I realized the whole mess started because one student was mad at another for “looking at him”.

So this year, we have been working on problem solving. When a student starts to freak out about their fake cut, I ask “How can you solve the problem?” And they remember that they can get up, get a Band-Aid, play with it for a minute before getting bored and then rejoin the group. Same goes for replacing broken pencils, asking C to fix the computer when it freezes, and well no, we haven’t quite mastered the best response to cutting in line. But we’ve got four more months. Anyway, I seriously must ask, “How can you solve the problem” at least 15 times per day, and still walk students through an appropriate response. My students are starting to say it to each other. We role play a lot. And I can say it’s the thing I’m most proud of.

I’m not a “transformational” teacher. I’m not even a particularly good teacher. Nothing in my classroom–student work, my lesson plans and assessments, my data, will ever be held up as an exemplar of how to do anything. ┬áBut I can say with confidence that the 19 students I have taught this year will walk out of Room 149 in June with an ability to recognize and solve problems. And that’s a good thing. Because the problems only get harder after first grade…

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