I've just spent one whole week with my daughter "volunteering" in her first grade classroom. The week far exceeded my expectations and heart's desire. Number one, I wanted to spend time with my daughter. Since she lives in Alaska I don't see her often. She's the best daughter anyone could ever hope to have. She calls her dad and me everyday and sometimes I even forget that she's over four thousand miles away. Number two, I wanted to try to help her to become the best first grade teacher any child could ever hope to have. I wanted to teach her everything that I know about teaching children to read and write.
Teaching side-by-side with her was simply an incredible experience. The truth is, I think I learned more from her, than she did from me. As the children walked in the door, I saw her greet each child one by one, calling each child by name with a huge smile on her face, welcoming them to school. The sparkle in their eyes reminded me how much first graders love their teachers. The anticipation of the learning that was before them for the day was ever present as they sat on the carpet in a community meeting. She took attendance and the lunch count with the greatest of ease. She looked at the class "name chart" and read each name, the children looked around at their friends' faces, while she and some of the children commented, if the child was present or not. She quickly asked, "who wants a hot lunch today?" Hands flew in the air and she quickly counted them. At some point within the next few minutes, she slipped to the computer and entered the information she had just gathered. It appeared effortless. Children shared a few highlights from their activities since they left school the day before or their anticipated events of that day. Within minutes, the instructional day began.
She teaches reading the first part of the day. Teaching first graders to read and write has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I'm thrilled that my daughter will also be able to taste the miracle of opening the world of literacy in the lives of tomorrow's future. From the start of one lesson to the end of the lesson, we were able to see children growing in their knowledge and understandings. Miracles were happening right before our eyes. Number three--with children in the palm of your hand, sitting at the edge of your feet, absorbing your every word, internalizing instruction, and acting on the learning, I was reminded of the power of good instruction. When a teacher knows what to say and do and designs instruction based on children's needs, the children learn.
Number four--children need to experience math. I watched her teach a math lesson to the entire class. Then the children were given an opportunity to practice their learning in a math journal. Upon completion of the journaling, they shifted into working in their math stations. They played math games in small groups or with a partner. I became the new kid in class and they welcomed me with open arms. I had no trouble finding someone who would let me play with them. It was such a pleasure to listen to the children "teach" me how to play the games. It was very obvious that their teacher had taught them well. I had no trouble understanding the games and found them quite fun. But, most of all, being able to "experience" math with the children was a tremendous learning for me. It's been many years since I've spent five whole days in a first grade classroom. The math games illuminated the math concepts so clearly for the children. While we were "playing", my daughter reviewed the math journals. Any children who did not demonstrate understanding of the concept she taught, were immediately brought together in small groups for reteaching, while the others worked in stations playing math games. Additionally, throughout the week, she assessed children's knowledge on key concepts, individually. She gathered input on their rationale and thinking related to their knowledge of the concepts. She gathered grades and recorded them, without me ever seeing her "give a test". Incredible.
Number five--parent volunteers are awesome. On Friday she had several parent volunteers work the better part of the day creating little books for her reading class and math games. They sat on the floor trimming the many games they had laminated. Parents came and ate lunch with their children throughout the week. Parents dropped by the classroom and visited at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. My daughter teaches on an Air Force Base. These parents brought a new understanding to me of "parents as partners" in a child's education. Seeing our military personnel take such an interest in their children's lives and education was rewarding beyond measure. Listening to the children share their many experiences was unlike anything I've ever witnessed in any school. Many of the children had lived all over the world and brought experiential backgrounds that ranged as far as the world is wide. Because of this, when we worked on creating a community, the children had no trouble identifying the key community helpers. They are the only children I've ever taught that had any concept of the need for water in a community. We saved milk cartons, juice cups, and yogurt containers for the community we were building. One child selected a container and said, "This will be our water tank. A community can't exist without water." Amazing.
To my daughter, her students, and the teachers in her school---thank you for sharing your lives with me. I learned so much from you.