Let's be honest with ourselves here for a moment, shall we? Sometimes it is hard to psych yourself up for a new class at the begining of the year. Last year, it was definitely not love at first sight for me. I remember being all, "I'm so excited to start the year with you!! We are going to do so many fun things together!! Second grade rules!" And, as I wiped sweat from my brow, they were all *blank stares*. But whatever, we got over that initial little hump, bonded and were totally obsessed with each other by the end of the year. I try to think of the whole thing as a process...
Keeping in the spirit of it being a PROCESS and reminding ourselves that the first few days of school can be very exciting but also INTENSELY PAINFUL AND ANXIETY INDUCING, I thought it best to dwell in a place I call Happy Memories of Successful Teaching Past.
You see, earlier this week I had lunch with a very special friend of mine. This person volunteered in my classroom for three years (I know, she totally deserves a trophy...Most Tolerant Person Ever) and saved my behind on many occasions. She filed, she conferenced, she corrected...she ROCKED. (I'm not sure why I haven't blogged about her more often, but you can read more about her here. I HEART her.) We were chatting and reminiscing about all of our past faves and funny stories from our time together. It reminded me how every year a new batch of students goes from being a sea of blank stares to super cute friends...it just takes awhile.
She reminded me of the story of the Math Fairy.
One of my favorite things about my friends is their tendency to believe anything that comes out of my mouth. Seriously, by the middle of the year they not only sound like me (Imagine kids looking at each other's latest piece of writing and exclaiming, "That is FAB!" or saying, "I totally heart this book" when in the library. Yeah, maybe I DO take it too far...) but they also hang on my every word. It's quite the power trip (Bwahh haha ha haaaa!) yet is an ability that I never want to abuse. (No matter how tempting it is to force them to believe that the Golden Girls is classic television from which one can learn many life lessons or that I really DO have eyes on the back of my head.) However, sometimes I say things in passing and don't even realize what an impact they have on my little friends.
Get this. So, all the kids in my class have Finish Folders. These folders are not only TOTAL GENIUS, they are an F'ING LIFESAVER when it comes to digging up last minute sub work or dealing with that group of friends who take 45 FREAKING MINUTES just to get their name on the paper and therefore never complete anything. I stole the idea of the Finish Folder from one of my ultra-amazing Super Colleagues and never looked back. You see, if we are working on a page in our math journals, or practicing a word sort or whatever, I'll walk around and see how everyone is doing. Once I get a sense of things, I usually will call my friends back to the carpet to debrief. Many times, it really isn't imperative that they finish each and every problem, rather it is more important that I determine who has got it and who needs more help. (Um, were you so just totally impressed that I used "rather" in that last sentence, because I was...) In the interest of time, it's more important that we move on and so my friends either turn in their work or lovingly tuck it into their Finish Folders to work on at a later time when they have a free moment (read: a sub is in the room because I am called to a last minute meeting or I just found out that I lost my prep and there is no coverage...again).
A side note on these Finish Folders, in case you try to implement them in your classroom (which you should because they are BRILLIANT and you're CRAZY if you don't, but that's just my opinion). Watch out, because you will have an occasional friend or two who allows so much work to be placed into their Finish Folder, that it quickly grows to be two, two and a half inches thick. This happens very quickly and often will float under your radar. Let me pose a quick and simple solution to this dilemma which worked wonders in my classroom. I noticed that one little friend's folder was bulging with incomplete work - now keep in mind that none of this work is absolutely essential...if it was something I used for formal assessing, it HAD to get done and never went in the Finish Folder - these papers were more of the pencil-to-paper-keep-you-busy-when-you-walk-in-the-room-and-unpack variety. But still, COME ON! Do something! Take some responsibility! So, I sauntered over to said friend the day before our spring vacation and said, "Hey. I see you have a lot of work in there, huh? I was thinking it would be perfect fuel for your brain on vacation." And BAM! I stapled a note to his parents on his folder so quickly that he never saw it coming. The note explained the purpose of the folder and also included exactly how many pages their child had lovingly stuffed in there. (Yes, I counted them.) Problem. Solved. When word of that little incident spread, friends started to miraculously turn in previously incomplete work and folders began to shrink like Biggest Losers. (Another note: I quickly learned the need to occasionally check the garbage/recycling to see if any crafty little devil had decided to suddenly purge their Finish Folder in a not-so-responsible fashion. ) (If they still got away with getting rid of incomplete work after all that, I say Bravo! Good for you and your problem solving mind!)
(Don't worry, I'm getting to the Math Fairy part.) (Geez.)
Every once in awhile, I would notice that so-and-so's Finish Folder was getting low, so I would sometimes put additional practice in there, you know, as a little surprise. Enter My Rockstar Volunteer and Partner in Crime who would most often be the one to tear out unused pages from their math workbooks for this very purpose.
The next morning, the following scene would inevitably take place:
Friend: HEY! There's new stuff in my Finish Folder! How did that get there?
Me: Oh, it must have been the Math Fairy. Sometimes she visits our class at night.
Friend: (Giving me that I-Don't-Know-If-I-Believe-You-Or-Not stare and in the interest of not looking like a douche in front of their friends simply responds) Cool.
And we go on with our day.
I never thought my references to the Math Fairy got noticed. It was really just some flippant thing I said before I finished my usual travel mug of coffee. I didn't realize that My Rockstar Volunteer and Partner In Crime had overheard me and began to leave notes from The Math Fairy on future pages. Evidently she thought to herself, "Duh! They'll know right away it's really me and it's just a little joke" when really she should have been thinking, "Perhaps they won't know it's a joke because they won't recongnize my handwriting since Mrs. Mimi is too anal retentitve to let anyone else letter anything in her classroom." Because THAT'S the truth.
We discovered the damage we had done one Monday morning, as we went around our meeting circle and shared tidbits from our weekends.
Friend: I spent all weekend dreaming that the Math Fairy would visit me on Monday and she did! (beaming smile)
Me: Uh, what?
Friend: The Math Fairy came and now my folder is full! She wants me to practice counting coins and I agree! (blinding smile)
Sigh. Kids are cute.