A Day in the Life of a Third Grade Teacher
"Writing is a difficult subject to teach, and requires patience and persistence. With a topic of high interest and understanding, and months of practice, my third graders wrote unbelievable stories."
Laura Owen | Teaching.monster.com
Every year in late January or early February one of my favorite milestones in the academic calendar occurs – the day when you realize that your instruction has finally taken effect. At this point in the year It is suddenly apparent that the hard work of the past five months has paid off and the pieces have fallen into place. This milestone just passed for my third grade students, and here’s what happened on that day.
The day started as it usually does: the students entered the room with a slight buzz, checked the board for directions, and moved about the room completing their usual morning responsibilities. The morning routine has been in place all year, and the students had become increasingly independent. However, this morning I noticed how all the students, even the ones who had trouble hanging up their book bag the first few weeks of school, could get through the routine without needing me.
8:15 a.m. Our first subject was Reading. We just finished reading Stone Fox, which is a perfect vehicle for analyzing characters. Stone Fox, the stoic Native American, says only six words in the story, but his character is fully developed through descriptions and actions. My students’ comprehension of inferences and implicit details really started to blossom, and they loved every minute of our study. Because the novel ends abruptly, our culminating project was to write another chapter to the book. After preparatory discussions and careful planning with graphic organizers, the students finished their rough drafts on this February morning. As I read each of them, I was almost in tears. The student with horrible spelling and punctuation had actually reread her work and made corrections using the dictionary and applied the rules we learned in class. The student who I had pushed to develop her ideas further had written four full pages with beautiful word choice and clear events. Most impressively, a quiet student whose writing was usually a bit immature had produced a story where each scene was slowly developed with descriptions that sounded like a budding author. Writing is a difficult subject to teach, and requires patience and persistence. With a topic of high interest and understanding, and months of practice, my third graders wrote unbelievable stories. I am aglow just thinking of it.
10:00 a.m. We have just started having class meetings and our guidance counselor is wonderful enough to come in each week and lead these for us. This morning we were focusing on how to communicate our feelings – something that is difficult for adults, but almost impossible for third graders. The guidance counselor provided some examples of “I statements” and then asked the students to try it. We went around the circle and I was amazed to hear some of my students share their true feelings. It was an enlightening moment for me to see how empowered the students felt from using their words, and how powerful the statements were because they started with “I”. Of course, I had heard this strategy for conflict resolution many times, but its true effectiveness became evident. When it was my turn, I shared, “I feel disrespected when you play with materials instead of looking at me when I am teaching.” I felt liberated. This meeting helped me see how to better communicate with my students and help them communicate with each other. I felt I had just arisen from the couch of a long therapy session!
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11:00 a.m. After a long morning, we headed out to recess. The football game on the playground had become a problem over the past few weeks. Several athletic and competitive boys were controlling the teams, only passing to certain kids and hassling those who didn’t make a good play. I prefer to let the children solve their own problems on the playground, but we had reached the point where the teachers needed to get involved. A wise colleague had told a few boys to walk away from the game if they got frustrated. And today, they did just that. What was most surprising was that others followed, including one of the “leaders”. The boys spent the rest of recess happily building forts and digging in mud just as nine-year-old children should.
12:30 p.m. In math we were studying fractions. Fortunately, my school uses a program that frequently uses manipulatives in a way that lets the children’s understanding of concepts develop. The shortcuts to solving problems are introduced after the concept is understood. Today, we were working with parts of a group so the counters came out. I had joked with the students that the jingle of these counters was haunting me in my sleep because they couldn’t seem to avoid messing with them throughout the lesson. Today, after the counters were out and on the desk, the noise ceased. I said nothing, but smiled on the inside. After many examples, the students seem to understand how to find the fraction of a group, and were actually able to transfer this to written problems. When a math lesson with manipulatives works in this way, I know that I have taught a concept the way it should be taught to young, exploring children.
3:15 p.m. The rest of the day went on with no other major epiphanies, but no disappointments either. At 3:15, as I said “good-bye”, I knew I wasn’t watching the same group of kids that I met in August walk out the door. My group had turned a corner, and I know the rest of the year will be spent moving swiftly beyond the point we reached this day.