Messy Hands

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 19 2012

Making Each Moment Count

It’s been one year exactly since I had to pick up my cap and gown for graduation and where I am at now is totally different then where I thought I would be. Since being an accepted 2012 corps member I have been anxiously awaiting getting started!

Since September I have been volunteering at my little brothers school in a third grade classroom. The school is a private catholic school, very different I imagine from the Delta. It has been nice being in a classroom and gathering ideas for my classroom. One of my favorite things about college was taking field notes and I never really stopped writing them once I graduated.  So I thought I would share some of my thoughts here with you!


While currently I am not a certified teacher and I have never taken an education class while in college I have spent about 400 hours observing different classrooms over the last year and a half. While learning in a classroom is great the technique of observing is one that has been a successful tool for my preparation for Teach For America.
Since September I have been volunteering every Monday in a third grade classroom to help with reading. I am there for the first two hours of a 35 hour school week. I have been struck in the past by how the transitions of the classroom work. Many times as an observer I feel like I am watching viable learning minutes slip away. This week I decided to count and add up the minutes where students were not engaged in an activity, this included some times where the teacher told them to “get out a silent reading book” but the majority was not focusing in an effective manor. Twenty minutes total of the two hours I was there, or out of an hour and forty five minutes due to their 15 min recess. That is about 30% of the time at I was there, wasted. If their school day is about 7 hours of learning and about 10 min are lost every hour- the school day might as well be shortened, or the week ending Thursday, or school might as well just end at spring break! It seemed to be a lot of time was slipping away.
Now I don’t want to seem like I know everything at all I certainly don’t, that is not my intention, I just want to think back to some other classrooms I’ve been in and how the time was used differently. The two schools that I have primarily worked in are complete opposites. One is a school where 97% of the students below the poverty line, the other a catholic private school that costs thousands of dollars. Can you guess which school was using their time effectively and which wasn’t? If you thought the private school was the effective one you would be wrong. A school that parents are paying for was wasting so much time and time means money.
The main areas I noticed where time was being used ineffectively were at transitions: bathroom breaks, drink breaks, snack, getting in line, changing groups.
The bathroom breaks at this school are whenever the child wants, they are allowed to roam the halls by themselves, where as the other school I worked at this was a huge “no-no.” Having the students all go to the bathroom at the same time took about 5 minutes for the whole class but it saved learning time. Students wouldn’t be missing different parts of the lesson and with 20 students each missing three minutes during different lessons that is a lot of time you are going to be spending reteaching something. If all the students go to the bathroom at the same time then they are all getting the same lesson. If the breaks are built in then they probably won’t have to go all the time. Also tacking on bathroom breaks when students are already lined up and in the hall saves time as well, so after lunch, around a recess, or around a specialty class like gym, art, computers or library.
Getting students to line up I also have seen as being a time waster. If there is an effective way to line up then it happens in silence and more efficiently. So having the students line up with numbers, math problems, colors of shirts, birthday months..etc. This will require them to listen and to stay quiet while the rest of the students line up. It has always been frustrating to watch a teacher say ok students line up and then have them get upset when the kids are loud, talking and not focusing on getting in line. Just like there are rules in the classroom there should be rules for how students behave in line. No talking, hands to themselves, focus on the destination and know that if these are not followed they will be sent to the back of the line.
Snack is a big one where there is a ton of time wasted. At the private school snack time is 15 minutes in the morning and in the afternoon. The students grab their box of snack and eat however much they want and can shove in their mouths in that time. There are no rules about being quiet at this time and even sitting at their desks, its a fifteen minute free for all. During snack the students would either listen to a story being read, or watch a short video clip on a subject that would open up their next unit or class. This allows the students to concentrate on eating their snack but also get more information. Having the students stay focused in the classroom even during these short break times let’s the students know classroom is for learning outside and recess is a for playing.
The last area where I saw time being wasted was changing subjects and groups. When I come in on Monday’s the class is usually split into three groups. One group is always the same the other two change. It takes the first group, the one that knows what their group is, several minutes to gather their stuff and move to their spot, then another three or four minutes are taken splitting up the rest of the groups, about seven min total. If it was known that every Monday students were going to split into reading groups keep them the same for maybe three weeks at a time. Then to split into the groups all that would need to be said is grab your stuff and get with your groups. Having assigned groups and assigned areas of the classroom they meet in will help the students with structure. Rotating the groups and areas every two to three weeks will keep things fresh for the students as well.
The director of the camp that I went to for twelve years and high school teacher would always tell us that the class he liked most at the beginning of the year was his least favorite at the end because they tried to get away with stuff and he sometimes would be more lax with them on disciple but the class he didn’t like at the beginning would be his best students at the end of the year because at the beginning ground rules were established, students knew what their behavior was expected to be and what would happen if they didn’t act accordingly. Taking the first weeks of school to really drill home the basics of transitions, expectations and how the class is going to be run will save so much time in the end.
Just recently on one of the TFA blogs I have been following I saw where it states that organizing a classroom can be one of the hardest jobs, but that is one that I think observing really helps with nice really what you are doing is just seeing how a classroom functions. From an outside prospective sometimes it is easier to see the faults or areas that could use some improvement.

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    Becoming a teacher all the way to the classroom.

    Mississippi Delta
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