Sometimes I feel like I am failing my students. The supports just aren't in place for each student to get that quality time with a caring adult that they need. The higher the needs in my class, the less time the average student gets. This is why it is so important for classes to be made up with class size and composition in mind, and why it is important for the government to fund these levels. In the last few years, I have had students who were cutting themselves, but we had no counsellor at that time. I had students who got caught up in drugs, one that I chased down on the way to the drug dealer's house. I have had students who are going through difficult times with their families, and have even missed school as a result of this. This year, we thankfully, had a counsellor a couple times a week. My kid on his caseload maybe got to see him once a month? I have multiple students on the list to have a psych ed evaluation done (3 this year, 1 still waiting from last year; apparently there is a 4 year wait list at my school). I had a student who needed a speech and language specialist; we saw her maybe 4 times since January. I had students who needed more care and attention and were constantly seeking it. I had students who were unable to make friends and needed to learn social skills to help them function in our classroom. I do my best to meet the needs of all my students, but sometimes I feel like such a failure and it breaks my heart.
I have witnessed kids fall through the cracks. There are always some that need extra time, care, or attention. Not all of them get it in every class. I try my best, but there is only one of me. I offer my time before and after school, during silent reading, or any moment where the other students are working quietly, but sometimes I just feel run off my feet, and that I'm still not doing enough. I am able to devote all of my time to my students because I don't have a family of my own. I think my students know how much I care, but I think they forget once they leave my class. It is quite devastating to hear that some have dropped out of school, or started doing drugs, or gotten kicked out for whatever reason once they hit high school. I always wonder what else could I have done? I try to stay in the loop of what is going on, but once they leave elementary, I don't always hear what's going on with them, and even if I do, there's not always something I can do to help fix things. That being said, I still try my best. I have helped kids pass courses (all of my students know they can come back for help anytime), provided them with leadership opportunities so that I can be a positive force in their life still, and just been there so they can always come back to what I hope is a safe place I have created in my classroom.
Ideally, my class would have a class size that is manageable, with supports in place for students with higher needs. I would love my students to get LST (Learner Support Teacher) time during each math and language art block, so that the ones who are struggling and below grade level will have more support and can get more small group instruction. This year, I started the year with 4 half hour blocks of LST, but I ended the year with none, as classes with higher needs needed it. I was lucky enough to spend part of the year with only 22 students in my grade 5 class (THIS IS UNHEARD OF!!), some students moved schools/ districts mid year. I normally have closer to 30 students, so it was amazing to have this smaller class size and boy did I notice a difference. When you have less students it is a lot easier to get around to each student and check in with them. Also, you usually have less students needing help. I was lucky in this, because I had one student who was mod with only a part time EA (not during LA or math) and another student who had no English. Thank goodness they were around a similar level, so whenever I had the rest of my class quietly working, I would work with them. Unfortunately, this meant that the average student who could work independently, didn't get their share of my time. But we had to make do with the supports we had in place. Teachers are good at making due. This is probably why a lot of people haven't noticed the results of a 12 year lack of funding to our schools. We make due with less and we fund our classrooms using money from our own pockets because we want our students to have the best learning opportunities possible.
If I had an unlimited supply of money for my classroom, my classroom would be amazing. I have participated in every grant, contest, or giveaway that I knew about in order to get more for my kids. This year, our school put together a technology grant which finally got us some technology into our schools. I was part of this team, and as a result I got 1 ipad, an Apple TV, and a projector for my classroom. I also have access to ipads that are shared with the school. I also participated in My Class Needs, and received 2 ipads for my class. I also won a Chromebook through a contest. I also let students use my BB playbook, my ipod, my laptop, and my iphone; however, none of these would be covered if they were stolen or broken. My dream would be to have devices for 1:3 students. This would allow us to do so much more. It would be amazing to just always incorporate the use of technology into my day rather than have to hope I can sign out the school ones. We do the best with what we have, and I let students use their own devices, but I want to do more with blogging and e-portfolios. I want students to see their work as valuable, and to see that they can impact the world around them by putting their thoughts and ideas out there for the world to see.
Another thing that would help with this, would be a reliable Internet connection. I had Telus come to my house as my Internet was not working properly and we did a speed test. He told me that in order to download and upload at all, you needed to have a minimum of 10 Mbps; when I tested our class the next morning (before it was being shared), we had 7 Mbps. When I talked to the IT guy later, he said that if I wanted better wifi access, I would need to transfer to secondary. This can create problems because when you go to the computer lab and all try to go on your blogs or e-portfolios, no one can do anything as the whole thing freezes. Sometimes I just get them to write in Word and then copy and paste into their blogs, but this really negates the whole idea of blogging. We asked if we could use some of our technology grant to up our bandwidth and they said no. Another problem this leads to is when we are using our Apple TV, it will boot you off if another teacher signs in to their Apple TV. So sometimes you get booted off a few times within say a half hour of reading while projecting the book onto the whiteboard (this is a work around, since we don't have enough books). If you look at my post on how I am using technology in my classroom, you will see some of the things we are doing or trying to do. This would be a lot easier with more technology, and more reliable internet.
In terms of my classroom, each teacher gets from $50-100 each year to spend on their classroom. I can easily spend that each month. I probably spend over $1000 each year; I am scared to actually add up my receipts, but it's in that ball park. I buy classroom supplies like scissors, pencil crayons, rulers, felts, geometry sets, erasers, pencils, pens, etc. The last 2 years, I have been lucky enough to participate in a Teacher's Exchange. People get given a class and then donate supplies to help them in terms of supplies. This year, my person gave us some supplies and also books!! I am so thankful! It is pretty amazing to think that people care enough about public education to do this. Unfortunately, in a grade 5 classroom, things disappear. While I have all labelled bins and encourage students to put things back; they often don't. Sometimes I wonder if they eat them? I have no idea where they go. I don't want to have to have students sign out a pair of scissors or a pencil. They should have access to these supplies whenever they need without having to ask for it. I also buy things for science labs, art, supplies to make gifts for their parents for special occasions, and PE supplies. We do genius hour and students often need things for building, creating, and learning. My mom donated a heap of fabric to our class, and I whenever friends say, "Hey, I'm cleaning out my ____ do you need it?" I say yes! Our school is lucky enough to have firefighters donate snacks, so I don't have to buy these too. I would love to be able to write off the cost of what I buy for my classroom on my taxes, but apparently the government doesn't agree.
I also buy things for my classroom to make it look more homey. I want my students to feel like our class is a welcoming place that they can learn comfortably. I want them to want to come to school and to love our classroom. I probably spend more time in my classroom than I do at home, and as a result, I have spent more on my classroom than I have on my home. I actually think it is nicer. LOL! I have bought hundreds of books. Some were new, some were through scholastic, and some were used. I think it is important to get books into children's hands to get them excited about reading. I also buy books on Kindle and load them onto the ipads; this means I can have 3 copies and only pay once. I love reading and I want my students to love reading. I have also bought pillows, mats, carpet, lamps, and furniture (comfy chairs and a bench). I can only afford to buy a bit at a time because I am not made of money, but every year I am adding to my classroom vision.
My dream classroom would have the following:
1. I would paint the tables with idea paint to make white board tables. This would be amazing for working things out. Students could then take pictures of their work and load it onto their blogs/ e-portfolios. It costs $225 to do 50 square feet. My friend Gallit did it with some of her tables in her class. See her blog on this: http://www.gallitzvi.com/home/collaboration-community-and-cooperation-writing-on-tables for pics and reasoning behind it.
2. I would make/ buy benches to create a seating area for lessons and class meetings. The students hate to sit on the floor and it takes them SOOOOOO long to bring their chairs. I would love benches that you can just slide against the wall if you aren't using them. Also the idea of storage underneath would be great for storing the building materials for Genius Hour/ Maker workshop. I envision it a little like this. I found these on Pintrest.
5. I would love to have better wiring in my classroom. All of the plug ins are along one of the side walls, so I have extension cords taped to the floor everywhere and then mats covering them up. I like to have lamps so that the fluorescent lighting is less harsh (we usually only turn on one set of lights.) My favourite lamp got broken this year, and I would love to have a replacement. I would love if they could do some plug ins in the floor like they have in the Surrey Central Library.. that would be amazing, but I would settle to have a plug in at the front and back of my room.
7. I would love more creative types of seating. I love this chair made out of an inner tube, but even a vinyl bean bag chair would be awesome. I want my students to learn how they work best; this means where and with who, so it is great to provide different options for them. Not everyone learns best at tables. I know that when I'm left to my own devices, I NEVER work at the table.
Here are some pictures of what my classroom looks like already. Basically, everything you see, I have bought myself or managed to have given to me somehow. Mostly bought, and it gets expensive.