Work Smarter, Not Harder

I completely understand that my, almost, two years of teaching experience is only a drop in the bucket to what others have under their belt, and far from how many I'll have under my own belt by the time I am finished; however, I would like to think that I have had some of the best, or worst depending on how you look at it, experiences to learn so much from already.

If you have followed me on my blogging journey at all, you will have learned that my first year of teaching was far from a walk in the park, even from being offered the position on. If you haven't been following me for long, here is a rundown of my first year of teaching.

I was offered my Kindergarten teaching position on a Wednesday evening. Why is it important for you to know that I got hired on a Wednesday evening? Well, because my first teacher day of school was the following Monday and students were set to walk through my classroom door on Tuesday! I received the key to my classroom and the go ahead to begin getting my room set up on Thursday. So, I had FOUR days to get my classroom in working order. I'm not even sure that I was able to fully process the fact that I had been offered my dream job until at least Fall Break because I had to seriously hit the ground the running, and I didn't even have time to stop to even collect my thoughts until October. My classroom had been the room that everyone dumped their unwanted teaching items into because they were unsure if the school board was going to approve a third kindergarten position or not, so I had to seriously spend an entire day just clearing junk, for a lack of better term, out of my room. Then, I had to also paint my walls because the paint chipping off the walls was seriously something awful. I look back and I still just can't believe how I even got everything ready for my group of Kinders to walk through my door on that Tuesday morning, but it happened. My room was far from how I wanted it to be, and there were still boxes at the end of the year full of things that I never ended up having time to sort through and organize, but I made do with what I was able to get accomplished, and I just had to learn to let the rest of it go until summer.

So, not only was my entire getting-my-classroom-ready thing a complete chaotic mess, but I also had some very challenging students my first year of teaching. I'm now grateful for those kiddos because I immediately had to learn how to overcome challenges and how to work with students and through situations that college just hadn't prepared me for.

On top of all of the above, we also had 17 snow days in the winter months. SEVENTEEN! To make up all of these days, and at an attempt to save summer break, we opted to add on an extra hour at the end of every school day for several weeks. As if the days in the winter and early spring with indoor recess weren't exhausting enough, try tacking on an extra hour of instruction with your sweet five and six year olds every day for over a month. It was seriously a nightmare for my first year teaching self. I was exhausted both physically and mentally.

Come summer break, I really had to reflect on my first year of teaching and figure out what I could do differently in the years to come because at the rate I was going, I was going to be burnt out really quick. This was disheartening to think, and I knew something had to be done. One of my biggest reflections I ended up having was on how I did my literacy and math centers. I felt like I was constantly having to manage classroom behavior so much during my centers times that first year, that I really didn't get to dive deep into doing centers with my kiddos until, honestly, right before Christmas break. Then after all of the snow days and everything, it didn't get too much better after break either. My math centers really never got up and running quite like they should and how I had always envisioned. One of the main things I started thinking about was the types of centers I had picked out for my class last year. I always had centers that went with our theme for that particular week, but I began to notice a trend. Many of my centers changed from week to week, and I'm not just saying that the clipart on them changed. I mean, the entire type of activity changed. Every week I had some sort of activity for nonsense word fluency because I know the importance of it for our DIBELS testing; however, each week I got them from different sources on TPT and they were always different. Same skill, but different way of going about practicing it. Since the activity changed, every week I was having to teach how to do the center every single week. It got worse when students were absent or "forgot" how I said to do the center on the day that I introduced it, so then here I was again, reteaching how to do the center. Talk about exhausting and frustrating on both students and myself. I decided I needed to simplify this process quite a bit in order to get it to run more smoothly. I decided it was time to work smarter, not harder.

This year I decided that for the most part, I was going to create all of the centers that I possibly could for my classroom. This may seem like much more work on my part, and as far as work at home, maybe so; however, I enjoy and find it relaxing to sit with my computer in front of the tv at the end of the day, so it wasn't going to be so bad. What makes it even better, is my teaching partner, Brittany from Mrs. Banister's Kindergarten Kids, creates similar types of centers as well, so on her planning weeks, I could almost guarantee the centers she was going to provide me with were going to be somewhat the same for each skill that needed to be practiced in centers as mine.

So, what I have done is I have created thematic literacy and math packs for many of our themed weeks we have in Kindergarten. If you have purchased any of my packs, you probably already know that I almost always have the same type of activity for the same sets of skills for both literacy and math, but I just alter them to go with the theme of the pack. By doing this, I am able to begin literacy and math centers much earlier this year because I taught how to do an activity the first few weeks of doing centers and that was it! I haven't had to go back and reteach the centers or teach new ones each week. I just tell my students, you're at syllable sort or nonsense word fluency, and off they go to go work on the skills. I have made the centers progressively more difficult throughout the year, but as far as actually completing the center, it is always done the same so my students know how to do it each week. Here are examples from two of my newest TPT products of how I use the same type of activity on the same skill, but just alter to fit the thematic week. These are taken from my Easter and Ocean packs.

Write the Room: {First Sound Fluency}

Nonsense Word Fluency: {CVC & Blends}

Quantity Discrimination:

Mixed Up Numbers:

These are just a couple examples from my literacy and math centers. I do the same thing with the other activities that are included in the packs as well. By doing the same types of activities, my students already know how to do the activities each week so I am able to get right to work with my small group, and in turn, they can get right to practicing these essential skills. 

I'm always looking for ways to improve instruction and to make my job a little bit easier, so I would love to hear how you work smarter, not harder in your own classroom. :)

1 comment:

  1. I love your first sound fluency write the room....these seem like great activities you blogged about. Going to go check them out! Thanks!