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teaching Navajo kids in a one room school

October 30, 2009

Once I had the kids’ name sorted out I had to devise a way to teach three grades at once.  I came from a traditional classroom and all of my training had been centered around the concept of one teacher-one grade.  All of my children at Dover had been about the same age, 8-9, and on approximately the same grade level, allowing for individual differences.  I planned my day around that fact.  Some allowances were made for the ‘slower’ students and also for the more advanced ones, but basically all of the kids operated on about a third grade level.  Now I had a classroom of children ranging in age from 6 to 12 and working on grade levels between Kindergarten and third. 

How to manage that and still provide each child with a solid education?

My first few days I had basically two grades–older kids and younger kids.   I started the younger group with pre-primers.    That way I was able to determine which ones had some experience with reading and which ones had none.  I was able to divide that group into two sections.   The non-readers were, of course, my ‘first graders’ and the others were the beginnings of my ‘second grade.’  The other group I used the second readers in the first year texts and went through the same procedure.  Those kids who breezed through were then my ‘third grade’ and the others by default ended up in my ‘second grade’   As it turned out I had six kids in first grade, four kids in third grade and nine kids in ‘second grade.”  The other five kids ended up in sister Lorene’s kindergarten learning English.

My plan book was a night mare.  At first I did do the color code thing-one color column for each grade.  After a few weeks I got used to the pattern and didn’t keep up the colors.  I had enough to do without outlining each column in pink or blue or yellow.   When I taught third grade in public school I had done a rough progression schedule but not really keyed in the exact times.  Now in order to balance three grades and get everything done, I had to operate like clock work.  There was only one of me to cover all three groups. 

Until we got into the swing of things, I started the mornings by assigning a worksheet (made by me lol. No pre printed text book pull outs for us.) to the second grade and a reading assignment in a not so difficult enrichment text to the third.   This gave me time to do a short guided reading/phonics activity with the first graders.  Then I could build on that with a drawing assignment based on initial consonants and leave them working while I went on to a reading activity with the second grade, leaving them with a work book assignment.  From there I went to the third grade to work on some math and leave them with an assignment to complete while I checked on the second graders and went back to the first grade for some basic math.  Later as the year went on the kids had work from the previous day to complete and as I presented new work each day the schedule rolled along pretty well.

And so the day went, progressing through reading, math, spelling, English, social studies, and science.    We started our day at 8:30, had a recess break at 10:00 and lunch at 11:30.   At 12:00 the kids came back to me and we worked until about 1:30 or 2:00 (afternoon break varied a little depending on what we were doing) and after fifteen minutes class resumed until 3:00.  I never sat down during the day.  I don’t even remember where or how I ate lunch.

While the kids were out for their breaks I was busy making sure the work for the next time period was stacked in order so I could grab it quick, checked the lesson plans to be sure I had everything needed and sometimes ran a quick worksheet if I discovered I’d missed it earlier.  At lunch time I guess I did sit down and check a few papers from the morning…. I still can’t think how I ate lunch.   

I refused to cut corners on the things that made a good classroom atmosphere or work environment so we had all the typical bulletin boards, calendars, science exhibits, plants and fish tanks,etc.  I drew all of my bulletin board materials and did all of the lettering ( I made my own stencils and templates) from science displays to social studies to math flash cards.  I’d never realized the value of my ability to draw until suddenly I used it every day without my even thinking of it.  Because of the amount of work and time required I usually was in the classroom every day  by 7:30 and I never left until 4:30 and often not until the dinner bell rang at 5:00.   Everyday I swept, took out the trash, cleaned the bathroom and generally cleaned the classroom. 

On Saturday I was back in the school to mop floors and do lesson plans for the following week, make any necessary worksheets, coloring sheets (for the little kids), make sure all papers were checked and the grades recorded, make copies of any text book tests recommended or compile my own tests and get them copied.  That generally took about as long as the regular school day.

And in between times I studied and prepared a Sunday School lesson for my junior group.  We had a regular two page lesson like you see in Sunday school quarterlies for kids, except I made all of my own.   That took a while on Saturdays too. 

I left a regular paycheck in public school for teaching on a mission where I not only worked twice as much but didn’t get paid at all. 

And I loved it!  Every minute of it.

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