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Shortly before school started, our building faced a class configuration crisis and I was moved from my comfortable nest in fourth grade to a brand new first grade class to alleviate overcrowding of "primary" classes. Even with this new class, we still have 26 first graders in each class.
I wasn't happy at first because of all the fourth grade preparation I had done over the summer, but I had taught first grade before and liked it, so I knew I would be fine. It was not until after the first three days of moving furniture and packing my fourth grade materials and creating a "little people" environment that I began to realize just what this reassignment would mean.
I began clenching my jaw again during sleep, waking up with headaches and bloodshot eyes as I pondered what needed to be done next to have a successful first grade: little books, little journals, labels all over the place, poem charts, sentence strips, bright, attractive centers, a BIG calendar, numbers and letters, word walls, easily accessible materials and lots of color.
The first day of school brought back other memories of the first grader. Many of them cannot tie their shoes and many of these little people can comfortably wear their left shoe on their right foot. Backpacks not only cover their backs, but also their bottoms and the upper back thighs, and the straps hang off elbows instead of shoulders.
Five minutes is all you really have to give directions or convey information before they go off into other worlds and you must transition to a new activity in order to get them back to Earth.
They are just learning about the sounds letters make when put to paper, so reading their writing is a gift belonging only to first grade teachers.
They do not understand jokes. Their best friend is whomever they are sitting next to and they may not be able to tell you his or her name. Most boys would rather build with blocks than play house. Checkers can be played 26 different ways, even with chess pieces. Snacktime is more important than lunchtime for actually getting something to eat. When someone shares a story, you get 25 more sharings - immediately. Recess is a treat and they run to go play - why do they run so fast back to class?
Cleanup time is amazing. Getting a block across the room to its storage container can take up to five minutes. Cleaning up the dress-up area means to stuff everything into the nearest tub; this makes it fun when you are trying to find a specific item the next day. An overhead projector's capability is so exciting that whatever you are trying to teach with it is lost on their inquisitive minds in wondering how it works.
But if I pull out a book with pictures and start to read, all chaos ends almost immediately. They love the fantasy and creativity of books. You can see them connecting themselves to the characters, the setting, the events. That is the magic of first grade - picture books.
I miss my fourth graders who became my friends. I have moved on to being a "second mother" to fragile little souls who need to learn to read and make friends. What a change in roles and what an exciting and exhausting year it will be.
Paula Kalbrener now teaches first grade at Auke Bay School