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Looking through the classroom window

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By Adrianna Cortes-Proctor , April Evans

Adrianna, a fourth grade general education teacher

Preparing for the new school year

A couple weeks before school starts, I go into my classroom and set up the room. It's nice to go there before all the meetings start so I can focus solely on the room. I feel the room really reflects my personality. When the children and parents walk in on the first day, I like to see them look around and smile.

I can tell they feel secure and comfortable when they see my fourth grade picture hanging on the door. My picture is the first thing I get out when I start to organize everything. It's a constant reminder that I was once a nine-year-old girl, completely frightened of starting school again and wondering who my teacher was going to be that year.

Throughout the year, my picture will remain there to help me share my personal stories with the class. All the children become very acquainted with Adrianna as if she were an actual child in the room. She is there to remind them that we all have our fears and embarrassing moments, but it doesn't matter in the long run. My "first day of school stories" always seem to put them at ease when I tell them how I used to run out of the class and cry on the first day of school — till about seventh grade!

Once my room is set up, I review the children's cards which allow me to place the students in the room according to their individual needs. The cards give me an idea if the student needs to sit up front, or if he is a great helper for other students. I write a letter to each child, telling a little bit about myself and the things I like to do in my spare time. I ask various questions throughout the letter so they can write a response back to me — giving me not only their first writing sample, but also a lot of good information about each one of them.

Student's diverse needs

I typically have around 32 students in the classroom. This is a big jump for the fourth graders because they're used to having a maximum class size of twenty in California. It's also surprising to a lot of parents who are unaware that class size changes in fourth grade. Fortunately, the children are becoming more independent and patient, so it usually doesn't take them too long to acclimate to the larger class size.

Of the 32 students, I may have three to five who receive assistance from a special education teacher, one severely disabled student who is fully included, two to four English language learners, and three to five at-risk students.

My classroom is definitely filled with a lot of diversity — students who have their own individual needs. I try to do the best I can by teaching to at least three of the five senses at a time. For some students, I modify their assignments. Breaking into small groups is helpful after the whole class lesson is completed. Peer tutors are perfect for helping kids who are struggling. It's like having another teacher in the classroom.

Staff support

Every year is different as far as assistance in the classroom. This year I have a reading specialist who comes into my room twice a week for 30 minutes to read with students who are almost at grade level. At-risk students leave the classroom to participate in a new reading program, and students with IEPs work with the special education teacher anywhere from 1 to 2 hours during the day, depending on their needs. Our team will probably have an aide for about two hours a week to do clerical work or assist the children. We all work together as a team to help each child be successful. The general education teachers and the itinerant teachers (those with specialized training who support instruction) meet to discuss the students regularly so we can evaluate their progress and decide what the next steps should be for them.

The first day of school

On the first day of school, I try to do activities that help the children and me learn all the new names in the class. I also like to do a hands-on, building activity to get them out of their seats and to see how they work in cooperative groups. The students are given straws, paper plates, scissors, and tape. They're asked to build a tower with the objects they have received. While they work in their groups, I walk around to assess how they work together. This allows me to evaluate what I'll need to discuss with the class as far as respect for others and the importance of teamwork.

We also make up our classroom rules and review the school rules. At the end of the day, we form a friendship circle and talk about our day. I compliment the class for a job well done, and let them know what is on the agenda for the next day. I feel this helps release any anxiety a child might have about what is expected of him the following day.

I try to make all the children feel special from the moment they walk into the classroom. We work on building a relationship because when a child feels comfortable with me, he's more likely to trust me.

Once the comfort level is there, I begin building up the child's self-esteem. There is nothing better than to see a child who once cried at the thought of putting a sentence on a piece of paper suddenly write two pages in the blink of an eye. It's an amazing feeling!

Comments from readers

"This article is beautiful and touched my heart because I have a kid in EIP"