First Week of School

I’ve already been pretty bad at keeping up my blog since arrival, so I’ve decided to split this update into two parts—one about school and one about day-to-day life thus far. Keep an eye out for “part two” tonight or tomorrow!

5 days of school has passed and we already had a “día de festivo” (aka: holiday) today! Long weekends, which they call “puente” because it means “bridge” occur fairly regularly. The longest haul without a break will be when we come back in mid-January until spring break at the end of March, just like in the states. My next break is in October when students have a week and a day off, although teachers have the first two days for professional development. I’m not complaining! 🙂

Now let’s talk about the first days of school. YIKES. Every year, I seem to forget how much I hate the start of school until I go through it again. It is so much work to instill all the rules, procedures, expectations, set up the classroom, and build community. Now, I thought it was a challenge at GB….BUT I HAD NO IDEA. It is way harder when you go down to 1st grade and the students are coming from a Regio Emelia play-filled environment, much like the transition from Pre-school to Kindergarten in the states. Add on the fact that they don’t speak or understand 95% of what you’re saying, plus the cultural differences of school behavior norms, and you have a TRUE challenge on your hands. I was trying to get creative as I spoke simply and slowly, acting everything out, trying to get them to do interactive modeling, but nothing seemed to be working. I felt like I was herding a bunch of sheep all day long. By the end of Tuesday, I was asking myself what the hell I was doing here.

The other grade 1 teacher told me they will start to actually talk more and understand me at about 3 months in. My jaw hit the floor. 3 MONTHS?! I had no idea how I was going to make it through the next 12 weeks. Every night this past week, I went home thinking to myself, I guess I’ll try again tomorrow. While things are not exactly how I would like them to be as of yet, it is slowwwwly getting better. And on the positive side, at least I’ll be able to see huge growth in my kiddos this year. But I’m going to have to work really hard to stay positive until I start seeing the growth.

The daily schedule varies quite a bit from a typical school day in the states. Instead of having set blocks of time dedicated to reading, math, specials, etc., it depends on the day (see schedule below). Students arrive every day at 6:50am and school dismisses at 2:30pm every day except for Wednesday, when they have early dismissal at 12:30pm and teachers have PD time until 4pm. Teachers are expected to stay until 3:30pm MTuTh to meet with parents, plan, etc. I love that it’s pretty much “our” time for what we need though! On Fridays, apparently most teachers just up and leave immediately (you can leave at 3pm on Fridays to make up for the half hour extra you stay on Wednesdays). The principal literally came into my room on Friday to let me know about this. I tried to explain that I’m accustomed to Fridays being one of my longest nights when I would stay until 8, 9, or 10pm to prep for the next week (okay, maybe just a typical evening for me). He convinced me that I should start leaving pretty much right away. WOW. Then a few expat teachers stopped by and talked me into going out for some drinks. It was nice to just go and leave my room a mess, but so strange.

Kids have two recesses at day. The first is from 8:30-9am, during which time they also eat a snack since we start school at 6:50am. Then they have another from 11:15-11:30am before going to lunch. I only have recess duty 3 days a week, which is nice, and several prep times depending on the day. For example, my Tuesdays are literally NOTHING. I have my kids in the AM for language arts and at the end of the day for math (which comes after art, music, and PE…they’ll basically be useless for anything academic). My Thursdays and Fridays are long, though, because of my extra duties, Library time which I have to lead, and Advisory which is sometimes taught by me and other times by the counselor (used for social skills and health topics). I wish my heavy days were at the start of the week, so I could have preps on Thu./Fri. to plan for the following week, but you can’t always get what you want. 🙂 I’m grateful for the time I have already since it’s more than I’ve ever had before! I actually have a lunch break…WHAT IS THIS MAGIC???

1B Schedule

Having less teaching time can definitely be a problem, though, because there is so much my students need and not near enough time to cover it! For example, in my 90 minute language arts block, I need to do my Morning Meeting because there isn’t time built in for it (already moved my Calendar time to the math block), phonics small groups that we split amongst the 4 teachers, reading mini-lesson, round of Daily 5/a guided reading group, whole group word work for the week’s spelling pattern, writer’s workshop mini-lesson, and writing time. There’s absolutely no way to get it all in. And I HATE, I repeat HATE, that I won’t get to see my guided reading groups more than once a week. Fortunately, we are given freedom to be flexible, so I may be doing some of my language arts at other points in the day. It’s the most important for them at this point in their learning. Speaking of subjects, there is a huge emphasis put on specials here even beyond the school day. Most of the kids participate in co-curriculars after school, too. There is a huge range of activities, although they don’t start until tomorrow, so I’m not sure of the exact ones.

I’ve decided to get the lunch meal plan at school that automatically deducts from your salary for these first few months, as I’m having trouble figuring out what to cook at home. (I’ve been living on rice, beans, and eggs…kinda over it.) These meals are HUGE. Literally I counted the number of items on Thursday this past week and there were nine. We had rice, fried egg, vegetables cooked in butter (squash, carrots, and some other things), beans, “salad” (strips of lettuce and onion), ground beef, plantain chips, mini smokey link, and a sweet mini-pastry. I am always amazed at how people clean their plates, but it is similar to Spain where lunch is the main meal and they don’t eat much else in the day. I need to figure out some healthy eating asap, though, because many of the meals I made back home are either difficult or super expensive to make here.

Hopefully that gives you a little insight into how the school week is for me here. There’s a lot I could say about the behaviors I’ve seen, recess activities, cultural differences, and more, but I’ll save those for another time as I continue to reflect on my experiences. If you have any questions or things you’re curious about, ask them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you! Before you leave, here are some pictures of my classroom! (still a work in progress, but I’m pretty pleased considering how few resources are available here….so glad I brought everything I did in my suitcases. Now I just wish I had brought more).

photo 1

I need to change “H” of HALLS to “Hugs and Bubbles” because that visual is WAY easier for my kiddos (thank you GB Kinder for the idea). The clip chart is difficult for these kiddos to understand, so I’ve been doing all the moving of the clips. Positive reinforcement (or negative reinforcement, for that matter) doesn’t work with these kids because they have no idea that what I’m saying about a particular student is even good! We also have a tooth chart and poem that we’ve already started because these firsties have already lost 3 teeth in a matter of 5 days!

photo 2

Look at that number line that I printed, cut, laminated BY HAND using contact paper (HOURS of work…I miss the laminator machine), and spent forever trying to make fit up there. Pain in the you know what.

photo 3

Word wall had to go on the windows since there is so little bulletin board space. Putting anything on this brick is really difficult. Luckily I brought command hooks to use for my calendar stuff. Again, so happy I brought all that I did.

photo 4

My desk where I get eaten alive by mosquitos the second the kids leave or when I’m there on the weekends. (You should see my legs…the lady commented on it when I got a pedicure. HA!) Still need to level my library….horrible flashbacks to the months I spent last summer doing my own there. 😦

photo 5

The alphabet that, yes, I again had to laminate and cut by hand…more hours. And you see the fans because there is NO air conditioning. Yes, they are loud. Yes, it gets hot. Yes, I sweat all day long. Gross.