Sunday, September 15, 2013

Even When 40 Feels Like 140, Don't Stop Believing

Anyone else ever feel this way after the first week of school?

Whew! We made it through our first week and we are wiped!! We're not usually ones to toot our own horns, but there's nothing like the the first weeks of school to remind you of how AMAZING you are that you sustain this level of energy and activity for 10 whole months. We are definitely missing our stamina; we are going to have to build it up all over again.

Anyway ... what we really wanted to write about is starting the year with collaborative teaching, specifically dealing with all those kiddos. Now usually when we tell people that we teach forty students, they give us a funny look and say something like, "Dear God, where do you teach?" They are so horrified by the number that they fail to do the math: 40 students divided by 2 teachers = 20 students per teacher, a perfectly respectable (and actually difficult to find nowadays) ratio. And we always reply, "No, no, no! It's really great! It doesn't feel like 40 kids at all," while giving them a bright smile and a comforting arm pat (they just seem so disturbed). That statement was true for most of last year, except for three times: the first day of school drop off, Open House, and when we did our Rainforest play.

This year, we noticed there have been a few times when 41 has felt like 141:

Achieving Quiet

Teaching the children the signals that we use to get their attention and then training them to follow the signals takes forever because we have to wait for twice as many students to get used to becoming quiet on a signal.


It takes much longer for the children to transition because they are still learning what to do and we have to walk the kids through it a few at a time. The children tend to erupt into conversation during and after each transition, particularly coming in from recess and lunch. They are still learning that they need to transition quickly and quietly so we can move on with our day.


We learned the children's names by the end of the first day because we're awesome like that :) But 41 feels like 141 when they are trying to learn each other's names. It's a lot of new faces to learn and remember. For us, learning and remembering all of the parents' names and faces makes 41 families feel like 141 because we have so many more families to get to know. We love getting to work with so many families, but we hate that feeling of not remembering people's names.


It is so essential to check each child's work in the beginning of the year so they have that sense of accountability and that you are checking their work for completeness and quality. We believe that the more time you put into this on the front end, the less you have to carefully check everything later because the children have built the habit of doing their best work. 41 feels like 141 when you're having to check each child's work before they can move on, particularly when a swarm of them finish at the same time.


41 feels like 141 when you are teaching the children the systems of the classroom and the behaviors you want them to follow. Good teachers know you have to be explicit in the beginning of the year with exactly what you expect of the children and practice, practice, practice. This practice time can take a lot longer when you have twice as many kids. For example, when teaching the children how we want them to unpack their snacks, lunches, and backpacks. With a class of 20, this takes forever in first grade, but this feels like it is taking 41 forevers with 41 kids.

Gettin' from A to B

Now we all know that first graders in a line, especially at the beginning of the year, can be a bit like herding cats, but with 41 kids in a line it can feel as though our line stretches the length of the school. Other classes have to stop as our line goes by like a railroad crossing, just kid after kid after kid as the line goes on and on. Oh, and the gaps in the line ... oh, the gaps! And the best part is when the kids aren't paying attention and then they start following another line like little lost ducklings. Oy vay!

While we are usually waxing poetic about how amazing collaborative teaching is and all the benefits, we wanted to write this post because we are also here to keep it real. We want you to know that it's not always lollipops and rainbows; if you want to try this - merging your class together with another class like we have - it's going to feel daunting and exhausting and a little cray-cray at times.  In the beginning you are probably going to think, "Forty kids? What in the world were we thinking? WHY???" You are going to have to hold on to your teacher partner as you dig deep for strength and patience.  Just hold on and hang in can do it. There is a silver lining:

Once you get your children trained and your classroom humming, it's magic!

Your children will learn the systems and the expectations, they will get used to moving efficiently in a line, they will make friends with each other and learn each other's names, they will figure out how to transition quickly and quietly ... you will even learn ALL of the parents' names and faces ... and before you know it, you will be sitting back and marveling at how far you've come. You'll be saying:

Get through the beginning and forty will feel like twenty. We've been there, we promise. Hold on. It's worth it!

From the limb,

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