Journey to the Other Side

While I’ve worked at the middle school level, teaching 7th and 8th grade for ten years and as an assistant principal for a year and a half, I’ve spent the majority of my career at the high school, which I’ve loved. I’m certified in elementary education, but I only taught there my first year of teaching: science, literature and Spanish at a local private school, St. Joe’s. That was many years ago.

Today I spent a couple of hours in our elementary school and it was an incredible experience for me. What did I learn? First of all, those elementary teachers work their butts off, non-stop. Second, they spend a lot of time talking about behavior cues and expectations with students. I assume this is because it’s only the second full week of school and the children are learning the routines of their new teacher. I don’t know yet if it was a typical day, but I was struck by how well-behaved the students were.

The incredible part for me was realizing how varied the reading level is in a second grade classroom. I know this may seem like an obvious observation to many readers, but high school kids are pretty skilled at hiding their stuff–they figure out how to keep us from knowing what their problems are. Everything from poverty to home problems to reading levels. High school kids figure out how to keep that below level. What I observed today was something very different.

With elementary students, it’s all out there. One group of students read from a book that had only one sentence on a page while another group had four to five sentence paragraphs. I would not have guessed that the abilities of a group of second graders were that disparate. I wanted to sit and help them read all day–I still believe there is no more critical skill on which we spend our time. This integrated classroom was cooking, the teacher, consultant teacher and teaching assistant were working like clockwork to maximize learning for their students.

I also saw a new teacher work with first graders who looked like she was born to teach that class. And a special needs teacher who was working with five students on journal writing, building patterns, reading and testing one–all at the same time. I defy anyone to spend time in that classroom without falling in love with those kids.

There was an overwhelming positive atmosphere, one in which I wanted to stay. I imagine and hope that our children and staff feel the same exact way.

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  1. Welcome to the world of elementary school! It’s wonderful that you enjoyed yourself so much.

    I firmly believe that we need more communication and collaboration between the levels. There is much we could teach one another.

  2. As a technology resource teacher, I’ve been in classrooms from grade P – 12 and will agree there’s always a lot going on in those early level classess. Teachers at the level really have to stay on top of things!

    I, too, agree that as students reach the upper grades, they do develop many mechanisms to cope with their disabilities….I’ve also noticed that parental interest also drops off as they reach the upper grades. We just held a parent-teacher night a couple weeks ago. Attendance was poor at best, and most of the parents we saw were those of 9th grade students…very few upper grade students’ parents came…and most who did were those with A students. Truly there are a lot of issues to address with each student…and I’m afraid we are not getting the job done!

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