In my five years teaching, this is only the second time I have been able to return to the same school, so in a way, a lot of things are still new to me.
Surprise #1 - The Kindergarten and 1st Grade kids from last year no longer stress me out as 1st and 2nd Graders. Something magical happened and they REMEMBER ME!!! I don't know why this is a shock, but it's strange that my last year Kindergartners are acting like 1st Graders. It's amazing.
Surprise #2 - I remember their names!! You really don't realize how handy knowing a kid's name is until he is in a herd of 30 other kids and in the back of the room and you can say "Randy, put your chair down." Much more effective than "Eh, er, you in the yellow shirt. . . no not you, the kid behind you. . . no, you have a green shirt, I need the kid with the yellow shirt . . ." Magical.
Surprise #3 - Kindergarten lives to please. Now that 1st and 2nd Grade know what's going on with my class, it removes the stress and I can come at Kindergarten in a more Zen approach. I use the Power Teacher Method (or at least part of it) in my classroom and part of that is happy faces when they are good and sad faces when they are bad. When I explained that there are things that Kindergarten does that make me really happy, and things that make me really sad, behaviors changed instantly. I never realized that was enough for them. They don't understand future rewards (I knew that), but they want Mrs. Huffman to like them and to be happy. Today I was less like a cartoon character trying to stop up holes in a dam with all my fingers and toes, and more like a blissful children's entertainer happily singing my songs.
Surprise #4 - Ignoring bad behavior works. I had a little girl in my 2nd grade class yesterday who sat with her arms folded across her chest and a look on her face that dared me to say something about her not singing or participating. I decided to ignore her and wax on about how my class was doing so well and how their participation made me SO happy. Today she was back and I didn't even notice her until she corrected another student for not following my directions. You better believe that girl got attention and praise from me. I asked a band teacher who came to talk to my class one time, how did he keep the kids from blurting out while he talked to them. He simply said he never acknowledged blurters. He only ever answered kids who raised their hands. Duh. He definitely didn't get on to them for not raising their hands, he just ignored them and they figured it out. I try to keep that my practice, but when things go well, I relax and get more conversational with the kids and the next thing I know, I'm pausing during my train of thought to listen and respond to a blurter. NOT THIS YEAR!!!
Surprise #5 - Kids who were a problem last year aren't necessarily a problem this year. What is that? No, seriously, what happened to them over the summer? I have one kid who couldn't stay seated last year. If I didn't keep a close watch on him, he would be standing on his head in his chair. The entire school was pulling the stops out for him with behavior charts and rewards and mentor teachers, but nothing seemed to work. This year, he sits in the back of my room and I don't hear a peep from him. Is he a time bomb about to go off? Did he just mature over the summer? Did someone drop a paint can on his head? What's going on?
We're only three days in, but this year is looking hopeful. The kids know what to expect from my rules and structures, and I keep finding surprises for them to keep things fresh. The sadness that came with the end of the summer is gone and I'm back into teaching. Good grief, I love my job.