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Favorite Memories of First Period

Today is our final day of school.

Because I have second period planning, I will only see one class today…my first period.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite memories and musings about this class.

This class began with a small number of students…twelve, to be exact.

Why so small?

Because this class was comprised of all ESE students.  It was a class labeled as VE (varied exceptionalities).

What does this mean?

It means that every student had a learning disorder of some type.

This class had one blind student and one hearing impaired student.

This was the class that greeted me on the very first day of my second first year of teaching.

I.

Was.

Petrified.

I wondered what in the world my friend, Barb, had been thinking when she had insisted, last summer, that I was qualified to teach intensive reading.

I felt ill equipped to meet the special needs of these very special students.

When students have learning disabilities, they often have behavior issues as well.  I mean, it’s easier to act up than not know the answer to things and embarrass yourself.

That’s not to say that all of my students were this way.  I had some very well-behaved students in this class as well.

The ratio of girls to boys was 4:8.

When the second semester began, a few of the students’ schedules were changed, and they were moved to different reading teachers’ classes.  New students joined my class in their place.

Others joined the group as well until I had twenty students.

They were twenty kids with varied interests.  I had two basketball players, one football player, one wrestler, and one cheerleader.  Several of these students were exceptional artists.  They enjoyed doodling on their folders, exams, the desks, and each others’ arms.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I had to take things a lot slower with this class.  What my other classes could do in one day, this class needed three or four.

They had trouble focusing, and they needed instruction to be scaffolded in very small steps.

They also needed class to begin much later than 7:30.  I can’t tell you how many of them straggled into class late every day.

It was the First Period Sleeping Curse.

After talking to a couple of teachers last summer, I had decided to allow my students to eat in class.  They were only allowed to drink water because I worried about sugary drinks spilling.

Many of these students walked in last minute after cruising by the cafeteria to pick up breakfast.

I kept cereal and other snacks in my closet as well.  There were many days when I fed these students.  That was the only way I could coax work out of them sometimes.

In fact, I finally figured out that some of them would do anything for candy.

Yes, bribery works wonders in the education system.

😉

I experienced a lot of ups and downs with this class…mostly downs from August through December.  Once the dynamics of the class changed in January, and (not coincidentally) after I began doing guided reading stations, the behavior improved and real teaching and learning took place.

Oh, and I also did a little something else.

I got strict…really strict…and I started writing up my students…often…following through where I had not previously done so.  I also started having disruptive students removed by administrators.

It took a little while for my students to realize that I meant business, and that I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone interfere with the learning process.

Consistency was the key…and a determination to hold my ground, which I did with every cell in my 5’3″ body.

The payoff was worth it.

One of my students who had been a handful from day one and for a number of teachers made one of the most amazing turnarounds.

He started coming to school…

On time.

And he started behaving…

In my class.

I finally “got it,” becoming sensitive to when he was about to lose control, and I figured out how to diffuse situations in such a way that he was able to remain in class without being written up.

This child made several years of learning gains this year…a fact I proudly shared with him and used to encourage him to keep working hard and stay on track with his behavior.

One of the hardest things about this class wasn’t their learning disabilities nor their behavior issues.

It was the way they defined the word respect, and the way I defined it.

I had no idea that we weren’t on the same page until I used a cartoon that had Whitney Houston in it to teach inference.

My students were appalled that I’d chosen this cartoon, feeling that I had disrespected her and, in a way them as well.

It was not a good day to be in my room, and I shed a few tears about that lesson.

Some of the more positive memories includes my use of music to teach figurative language.  Oh my word, but my students ATE THIS UP!  In fact, I quizzed my kids about similes and metaphors, and they did exceptionally well.  The music had been the key that unlocked the door to understanding.

Another favorite memory involves the bellwork that required them to make words from letter tiles I provided.  I copied the letters onto squares that I cut out so that students could manipulate them on their tables, and they went to town!  I rewarded them with candy.  This activity opened up the door to explain homonyms and other types of vocabulary and spelling concepts.

Throughout the year, I watched the students in this class evolve from initially being angry when they were seated beside my blind student to eventually offering a lending hand, without being asked, so that he could complete his work.  One gentleman, in particular, will always stand out because of the gentleness and patience he showed his blind classmate.  I told this student that he had a real gift, and he should consider working with the handicapped when he gets older.

Yes, these were special students, in more ways than I can describe here.  They were also very unique.

This class, more than any other, taught me the importance of positive feedback.  In fact, one of the saddest things I read in one of my student’s files was that the student needed encouragement.

Really?

They put that on his official paperwork?

Well, giving encouragement was easy for me, but it worked especially well with this student.  He will be attending a different school next year, and I’ll miss seeing his face in the hallways.  He was a bright spot in my room…someone I could count on to do neat work and never give up.

Oh…so many memories!  How does a teacher save them all?  Is there a magic bottle I can pour them into to save for later, or will I just have to relive them in my head over and over?

I pray that I never get Alzheimer’s because I don’t want to forget the fun times with my students!  Ultimately, I don’t think I will, no matter how old I get or what afflictions may strike me.

God brought us all together for a reason.  Whether we wanted to or not, we’ve left imprints on each others’ lives.

I’m sure I might forget a name or two as time and distance separates us, but we will forever be joined together as partners during my second first year of teaching.

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4 Responses

  1. I love your enthusiasm! Just think…it will be easier as the years go by & you’ll be able to figure out when a student is at his/her breaking point.

  2. I enjoyed your post yesterday about 3rd and 4th period but LOVED today’s about 1st. This is my world and as you have learned…it’s a great place to live! You are so lucky in that you have recorded all these memories here. I wish I had done the same.

  3. It sounds like you are a wonderful educator and really love the students and care about them learning. Keep up the good work. Our schools need more teachers like you.

  4. Here’s to another successful year! I know that you will be remembered my many for years and years to come for the positive impact you’ve made on their lives. Awesome job!

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