Pocket charts, playtime, and Pinterest: What elementary school teachers can teach us

As my youngest son enters his last year of preschool, I am increasingly amazed at everything that preschool and elementary schools teachers do. I knew I could never teach in a classroom full of young children, and most elementary school teachers feel the same way about the idea of teaching teenagers.

I like small children. I just prefer them in small numbers and mostly related to me. Coaching a gaggle of 3, 4, and 5-year-olds in t-ball certainly solidified the fact that my patience does not stretch that far.  My twice a month schedule teaching the 3 and 4-year-olds at church is just the right dose of little-ones that I need.

There are so many things that high school teachers can learn from elementary school teachers in the practical applications of a classroom.

Organization: Elementary school teachers have to be organized.  They not only have to organize their own supplies, but supplies for 18+ students. They have the best pocket charts, baskets, shelving systems, label makers, stacking files, Rubbermaid drawer systems, rolling carts, station caddies, and chalkboard paint painted pails.

Application for the high school classroom: Invest in a organizational chart (like my Pocket Chart for the dreaded objectives) that will save you time and/or board space.   Is instructional time lost because students do not have the needed supplies? Create an area for classroom supplies so that students may get what they need without interrupting the instruction or activity.  Are you constantly misplaced the stack of copies you just made? (Ahem, me.) Get a file folder chart to keep yourself organized. Find a solution to a problem in your classroom through organization.

Cross-curricular work: In a self-contained classroom, or one with a small team of collaborating teachers, it may be easier to incorporate cross-curricular work and reading. It is not uncommon to find young students reading in a math classroom or calculating the miles traveled by a fictional character during language arts.

Application for the high school classroom: High school students are all over the building, but often take similar core classes. It takes effort to coordinate American literature to American history and art, but authentic learning takes place when connections are made.  The autonomy given in the English classroom is a great place to incorporate thematic readings on science, history, health, or current events to complement the poetry and prose you are already teaching.

Classroom décor:  Bulletin boards, curtains made from ribbons, door decorations, reading nooks, ceiling décor–I’m not sure how preschool and elementary school teachers feel about Pinterest. They may love it because of the ideas or hate it because of the pressure it brings to have the perfect classroom from day one.

Application for the high school classroom: When I moved into a new classroom I was so thankful that the room didn’t even have a bulletin board! I have a few posters on the wall, but have added student art work collected from projects over the years. High school teachers do need to remember that students have to spend 90 minutes in our room each day, and something to make the white cinder block walls more inviting would be a welcome change. I am in awe of Ashlee Tripp’s redecorated high school English classroom full of book shelves and flexible seating.

Go outside:  At the elementary school my child attends they still have recess every day.  I am so thankful for that because he looks forward this free play time each day.

Application for the high school classroom: My students absolutely love the times we have been outside for various lessons such as an introduction to Transcendental poetry. It is hard to teach Thoreau indoors. One of my most successful lessons combined going outside and celebrating when I created an Easter egg hunt for literary and rhetorical terms.  Susan Barber also has a wonderful first day of school lesson for seniors that takes them to the football field where they will graduate in 180 school days.

Celebrate: Most elementary school classroom walls have at least one poster recording birthdays and students are recognized in some way during their birthday month.  In addition to traditional holidays, the younger grades celebrate the 100th Day of School, Groundhog Day, President’s Day, and Dr. Seuss’ Birthday. If they are lucky they may also celebrate Pancake Day, Pluto Demoted Day, and Toasted Marshmallow Day (that was actually yesterday).

Application for the high school classroom: While it may not be practical to celebrate 92 birthdays per semester in the high school classroom, we can celebrate milestones in our class. Celebrate great attendance or effort for a sustained period of time. Celebrate birthdays of authors, inventors, or entrepreneurs. April 23rd for Shakespeare’s birth/death day and the Ides of March were always big hits in my classes.

If not celebrating, then commemorate events of historical and national occurrence.  On 9/11 we read a heart-wrenching article from Sports Illustrated titled “The Real New York Giants” to commemorate an event that students are too young to remember.  Even for the eclipse, we read poetry and selections of nonfiction to bring an English edge to a scientific event.

And finally….Let’s also remember that elementary school teachers do this with less than an hour of planning time each day.  God bless you one and all.

Tag your favorite preschool or elementary school teacher and give him or her a shout out. Thanks for all you do (and for the inspiration).

Continue Reading on The Learning Curve:

An open letter to my college-bound students

My teaching manifesto for 2017-18

A reader’s journey in four books

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