While completing my student-teaching, my fantastic mentor-teacher advised me saying, “If you want to keep your sanity, figure out your ‘pet peeves’ in the classroom, then create procedures to make sure that your ‘pet peeves’ are kept to a minimum.” Her words stuck with me. You see, it’s not that I am a naturally patient person, though I truly try to love my students through exercising patience; rather, I try to prevent the things that annoy me before they happen. Proactive approach vs. reactive approach, ya know? Here are my top two pet peeves and what I have implemented to address each one.
Well, just the ones that we are done making.
Tables. Get. Messy. Ask any janitor at my school, I am fine with students making messes: glitter, Modge Podge, tissue paper, paint, flour, melted chocolate–it’s all used on the regular. I’m SOOO fine with students making messes during the learning process. In fact, I might even argue that making messes is a necessary part of the learning process, BUT when it is time to clean up, I WANT IT CLEAN! Because seriously people, we can’t make the next mess until the first mess is clean.
Allow me to set the scene… In my classroom, we have “community supplies” rather than individual boxes full of supplies. At the center of the tables there are containers for pencils, erasers, and crayons. Students also keep a writing journal at the center of their tables. Glue and scissors are kept in a separate location. (As a elementary teacher you learn the strangest things. For example: glue sticks actually taste yummy to small children and kids get great satisfaction out of making frayed shirts with their safety scissors.)
To help keep tables clean, I have implemented a table point system. Tables earn points for pushing in chairs, picking up trash, working on the appropriate voice level, cleaning up right away, every team member contributing to the cleaning process, and the list goes on. On Friday, the table that has earned the most table points gets a reward. Examples of such rewards: eat with the teacher at lunch, extra snack, shoes off in the classroom, the ability to work on the floor, etc.
Each table has a captain. I choose a different captain each week. The captain is in charge of passing out supplies to their table, but they are also in charge of doing the final “table sweep” before coming to the carpet. Students take this job very seriously. I love having table captains because it cuts down on arguments, teaches kids to take responsibility, and develops leadership skills.
After a particularly messy project, we play “Magic Piece of Trash.” The game is not original, but it is oh so effective. Whenever I randomly yell, “Magic Piece of Trash!” students hit the deck and start picking up every speck of ANYTHING remotely in the “trash” family because they know that I have randomly selected a piece of trash in the classroom and dubbed it the “Magic Piece of Trash.” The student who picks it up first gets their name in the “I DID IT” box–that is a fancy way for saying, “Go you! You get to choose a treasure out of the treasure box at the end of the day.” The catch is, if a student picks up the magic piece of trash but wasn’t completely silent, they forfeit their winnings, and I choose another winner.
Finally, instead of saying, “clean up!” I say, “make your table look AWESOME!” because that is my expectation. I have also found that chanting during cleaning helps the students stay on task. My class will chant, “right away, all the way, and with a happy heart!” The kids love the chant because we chant it in silly voices: deep voices, high voices, squeaky voices, whisper voices, accented voices, or loud voices.
Transitions: The Chaotic Type
If ever there is an incident to occur, it will happen during a transition. Am I right?! I don’t like chaos during transitions because the chaos almost always leads to an argument or a trip the nurse.
That last sentence might just sum up my first year as a teacher. Hmm.
Anyways… I spend the first two weeks explicitly teaching all of the rules and procedures, but I spend the most time on transition procedures. For every transition (carpet to line, hallway to carpet, carpet to chair, centers to carpet, and the list goes on), we make an anchor chart to describing transition expectations and all students practice the transition multiple times. I know that practicing transitions seems mundane and maybe a bit silly, but I try and make it fun and game-like. AND, I have an abundance of rewards ranging from skittles to smellies (fruit-flavored chap stick on the hand). We have “best times” and we try to beat our times every time we line up or clean up. If a student runs, then I add on 5 seconds to the time. My current class’ “best time” for lining up for lunch is 12 seconds. The kids actually enjoy practicing transitions. I have found that whenever I explicitly teach transitions, problems almost never happen in the classroom.
Now for specifics, we navigate the transition from the table to the carpet by a simple game of “Teacher.” As students are finishing up work, cleaning, or restroom breaks, we play “Teacher” on the carpet. During this time, I choose a kid that is following the rug rules to sit in my rocking chair and hold up flashcards to the other students on the carpet. After a minute, I allow the “teacher” to pick a new “teacher.” I like this game more than Quiet Water Still Water because it helps to turn “down time” into a time in which content can be reinforced. It also encourages students to come to the carpet quickly and quietly because they want to be chosen to sit in the rocking chair and be the “Teacher.”
During transitions, my students know that I am looking for a student that is transitioning appropriately. I will quietly write a student’s name in the “I Did it Box.” At the end of the day, that student will get to choose a treasure our some other kind of positive incentive.
When we are transitioning from our tables/carpet to a line at the door, we will often skip count while lining up or say a chant together as a class. My students are in love with the “BOOM, SNAP, CLAP” cheer. It isn’t original, but I honestly can’t remember who created such a glorious chant.
Each “boom” is a hit on the chest. Each snap and clap are just that, a snap and a clap. It goes like this:
Boom, snap, clap
Ba-boom, snap, clap
Boom, snap, clap
Ba-boom, snap, clap
The chant ends with all students putting their hands behind their back.
The other chant goes like this, “My hands are tight behind my back, I’m standing very tall. I’ve got a bubble in my mouth, I’m ready for the hall.”
My students know and will tell you that transitions are a time for beating records and earning rewards. You won’t believe me, but my students LOVE transitioning, and so do I. I’m all about keeping chaos during transitions to a minimum– but, I do try and make it fun for the kids.
Elementary teacher equals superstar. Don’t believe me? Watch a teacher walk into the lunchroom… the cafeteria erupts with students calling after the teacher. Kids are madly waving and hoping to get a smile back.
The little people need us… they want to tell us ALL the things. Everything. Every detail of all their actions. They want us to know their random thoughts and experiences.Because when we listen, they feel important. And they are important indeed
I get overwhelmed whenever all the children come up to me and try to tell me something (or a lot of somethings) all at once. When I allowed this to occur, it would always happen after waiting in the gym to begin the day, lunch, specials, or recess. As they entered the classroom and I was standing at the door, they all wanted to tell me something important. It was chaotic, and I didn’t hear anything that they were trying to say.
The reason why I found this so frustrating was not because I was annoyed by their stories, it is because I couldn’t truly hear them and give them the listening ear that they deserve.
You see, one of my biggest values is that kids deserve to be heard–they have a voice. Whenever they make a sad choice, I listen to their side of the story. With all my heart, I try to hear their hearts. Whatever is going on deep within. Whenever they cry, I listen. If they tell me that they do not feel good, I listen.
I really try to listen… but whenever I’m crowded, I don’t hear a thing.
Other than implementing Circle Time and allowing students to come up to me during recess, bathroom breaks, and such, I only have one good system that helps me listen to the kiddos.
The Glorious Posted Note.
If students have a story that they want to tell me, they take a posted note and write their name on it and leave it on my desk. During bathroom breaks and the like, I can pick up the posted note, read the name, and call that student over to me so that they can tell me their stories.
It’s not fancy, but it seems to work for us.
Teachers already have enough stress– we don’t need to lose our minds by allowing our “pet peeves” to reign in the classroom. We must identify the things that frustrate us the most, and form solid procedures to keep them to a minimum. Happy teacher equals happy kids. Do yourself a favor… do the kids a favor and implement solid procedures.
Bye, bye pet peeves!