A Whole Day the First Grade Way

Yep. Believe it or not, I graduated up to First Grade this week. 7:40am till 3pm is a haul, follks. I was tired when I was done. Truly some uncollected thoughts, but let me jump right in.

Order is such a wonderful gift to children. From the moment I entered this class I knew where I should be, what I should be doing, how to do it, and what would happen if I chose to not be doing it. Such clarity of purpose and direction is a great blessing. When the activity is focused and directed, it brings warmth and confidence. This was incredible, given the rather impromptu and haphazard nature of being a headmaster most days.

What is this obsession we have with foods these days? Way too much information, even in the minds of First Graders. I was told my granola snack was more healthy than the fruit rollup in the hands of the kid next to me (by the kid next to me) but when I looked, he had fewer fat grams and calories than I. And several kids were horror stricken by my choice of a Diet Coke. “That stuff is poison, Mr. Elliott.” Courageously the wizened headmaster took a mighty swig and smiled in the face of impending death. Salute!

I have to admit that for the first time in three of these experiences, I got myself in trouble! I found myself running my fingers over the bubbles on my phonics reader where air was trapped in the contact paper we put on them to preserve them. That made noise. Order was restored by a teacher unaware that it was the headmaster and not one of the other six year olds making the noise. I did stop. I did not wish to be sent to the headmaster’s office!

Ohhh, and another first: we had visitors while I was sitting in the room. A couple was brought in for a look at our First Grade while I am sitting there doing my thing as a First Grader. Look, look again, smile, move to the back of the room, “This school is being run by a lunatic who thinks he is a First grader.” But it gets better…read on.

Competition in learning. We played “Around the World” with our math facts (with the visitors watching me take on kids 30 some years younger than I). This brings out some marvelous things, and perhaps some poor things as well. On the plus side, their attention is keen and they are seeking to be correct. On the negative side, their thinking is rushed and some negative emotions are brought to the front when Student A does not think as fast as Student B. Is speed the key in thinking? Perhaps with math facts it is, but I wonder. I know the visitors really wondered when I regularly got beat.

But let’s get back to those readers. I was placed in a reading group but then was not called upon to read. This was somewhat frustrating for me. Now apart from the fact that the teacher and I did not discuss the ground rules for this, I was surprised just how it made me feel to be reading but not be able to read aloud. I really wanted to be a part. The text was rather basic and banal, but the participation was everything, and I could only watch. Every time it came around to me I was hoping, but nope, she skipped me. Perhaps the closest I came the whole day to “being a First grader” in complete form. No knock here on the teacher, just an very interesting experience for me.

I was the one who showed up in kindergarten already reading, so this was a whole new deal for me. Woe is me. Pity me. Send me flowers. Feel really bad for me. I am so neglected. Okay, I think I am past it now.

I am curious about the “office” phenomenon. Offices in this context are tri-fold cardboard “blinders” that keep my test paper my own information and not public. I like the limiting temptation aspect. It just makes for a very “Dilbert” type of appearance to the room. I am a little out of it in this regard, never having seen this done any where else, but mindful that as common as these things are in the education catalogs, they must be common. We have a culture that needs this kind of help with “keeping our eyes on our own paper.” Of course, back in the day, and even these days in my old fashioned older classes, we use cover sheets to produce the same effect. Again, not so much a relating of approval or disapproval, more just a thinking through the experience. Are they good, or bad? Do they promote or prevent the cultivation of virtue? Would love to discuss it. Comments?

Another area that after hearing it in three classes I just have to ask someone who “knows.” Why do we teach children to pronounce the article, “a” as a short rather than a long vowel? Was I taught wrong? My voice and diction coach in college harped on this long and hard and I guess I just need to know the reasoning. I am going to take it up with our teachers so I don’t sink the boat one way or the other. It brings up to me the whole issue of colloquial teaching. Should we teach students to speak within the local dialect or is there a “neutral” form of English that should be promoted. Deep and interesting stuff to discuss.

I found overall a calm and peaceful day of learning in First grade and look forward to another day in with the other class of Firsties soon.

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