The first grade classroom is a magical place—especially my classroom. I mean, the blue walls, the whimsical flower mural, Dr. Suess posters everywhere and all the brightly colored art work displayed on the walls, there is no place I would rather be.
Well… sort of.
This teaching year has been a very challenging year.
I finished my first year teaching feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed; I was excited to give my classroom a facelift and expected nothing but rainbows and butterflies from my incoming first grade class.
Sometimes, when expectations meet reality… they clash. Loudly. This teaching year has been filled with that: loud clashing noises.
Clamor. Noise. Uproar. Turmoil.
Maybe I’m dramatic…
But, the beginning of the school year, I was hit with a huge reality check. My class was filled with 15 unruly children, most of whom had never been in any sort of schooling before, and many from questionable home situations without any sort of parental guidance or support. Combine that with a foreign language, and you get a disaster.
And that’s how I would describe the first month or so of this school year. Disaster. The students drew on my mural, peeled paint off the wall, destroyed the rug that I bought and had no concept of a quiet signal.
Miss Samara—the happy go lucky first grade teacher, with her big glasses and even bigger hair—was in over her head.
Fortunately I was gifted with a veteran teacher willing to come in and do a classroom overhaul. She told me to ‘man up’ and burst all the bubbles I was still grasping for about the ideal first grade class. Yep, she burst my bubbles and she taught me how to take control—how to implement discipline, and, in some instances, how to be mean.
It has not been easy.
I would go home many days, completely ready to throw in the towel and never go back.
But now, with 5 weeks of school left and thousands of timeouts under my belt, I have a classroom that I am (90% of the time) very proud of.
Last year I was filling this blog with tales of hilarity from my class; unfortunately, I didn’t have many funny stories to tell this year, however, as I was telling a friend about the disciplinary experiments I have tried, this story stood out.
Through out this year I have established a very predictable routine for my classroom. The students know, in general, what we are going to do each day and what to expect from me. The first three things of the day never change: Bible, Calendar, Interview. This time is followed by a four minute break, during which I play the song ‘Peace Like a River’ and the children know that they are allowed to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water or dance and that I expect them back in their seats by the time the song ends.
This is the routine. Everyday. Never changes.
One particular day, a couple weeks back, when ‘Peace Like a River’ had ended and I was standing in my classroom with only five students. Five little girls, sitting diligently in their desks waiting for the day’s lesson to begin.
Where was the rest of my classroom? (To be honest, I didn’t actually want to know…) So I decided that I would just go ahead and start the lesson.
Apple Apple A A A
Baby Baby B B B
Two students run into the classroom, sliding on the cement floor with their worn out socks.
Cookie Cookie C C C
Dolly Dolly D D D
Three boys burst in wrestling and pushing and laughing.
Elbow Elbow E E E
Flower Flower F F F
There are the rest of them—running in, asking for permission to enter the classroom but not allowing me to respond.
I was not happy.
Hands on my hips. Lights off. Silence.
With my authoritarian face on, I asked my first graders where they were and what took them so long to get back.
I ask, rhetorically, “Is this an appropriate way to enter Miss Samara’s classroom?” and then I answered myself, “No. Absolutely not.” and went further, explaining that Miss Samara is not going to allow the late students to sit in on her next lesson and I sent them outside of the class.
I had them sit on a bench outside of my classroom and shut the window so they were not able to make faces or join in on any of the fun that was happening with myself and the five girls on the inside.
I taught the five girls a new letter—the letter E—a very important letter if you ask me, especially if you’re in first grade and learning how to read and write three letter words.
We practiced differentiating between the short E sound and the short A sound. I let them watch a silly cartoon all about the letter E and we learned some new vocabulary words. All the while, two thirds of my class sat outside. Teachers and staff members kept walking past my classroom with looks of confusion and a couple chuckles as they realized that I kicked my class out of my classroom.
Of course, this couldn’t go on all day. I couldn’t just keep them outside. I had to invite them back in, but I wanted to make sure they understood the seriousness of the offense.
So, I invited them back in and decided to have a fun game of ‘board races.’
I split them into two teams—Team A, the five girls and Team B, everyone else. They were to take turns going up against each other spelling three letter words on the board, a game we play fairly often.
Naturally, this particular day, every word that I said had a short E in the middle—fed, met, get, bed, peg, leg, web, wet, and so on.
Team A crushed Team B.
When the game was over, I sat everyone down and we had this conversation:
Miss Samara: “Team B, why did you guys do so poorly? Team A got every word right… What was the matter?”
Team B’s Students: “Because we didn’t know about the letter E. :(“
Miss Samara: “Weird! Why didn’t you know about the letter E, but team A did?”
Team B’s Students: “Because Miss Samara wouldn’t let us into the claaaaaaasssroooom. :(“
Miss Samara: “Oh no! Why wouldn’t Miss Samara let you into her classroom? “
Team B’s Students: “Because we were late and looouuddd. :(”
Nothing like loosing miserably in order to learn a lesson.
That evening I felt a little silly for being such a ‘mean teacher’, but have since come to terms with the fact that structure and discipline, while they may seem ‘mean’ on the forefront, are actually two of the nicest things I can provide for these students.
The next class, in order to make up for the humiliation Team B had suffered the class before, I bought a bunch of Eggs and had my students draw Eyes and Ears on them and make them look like Elephants.
Then, I gave them each a small bowl and told them to put their Elephants to sleep. Once their Elephants were sleeping I told them to use their Elbows and SMASH their Elephants!!!
They looked at me with pure shock and disbelief, but after the first brave student smashed his Elephant Egg with his Elbow, the rest of the class was quick to follow and I once again felt the pure bliss of being a first grade English teacher.