I am at a new school this year and so I am once again learning new routines of the collective culture of the school community as well as the various cultures of the individual students. We have a big crop of Junior Kindergarten students and a handful of Seniors. So far, it is rolling merrily along. Yes, some little ones have had tears, especially a few of the ESL students whose separation anxiety is immense, and a few 3 year olds who are understandably confused about just how long they will be away from their families, but all in all, I think our crews are really coming together in a very happy way.
Last year, in the French Immersion senior kindergarten program at my previous school, the students alternated between a day of English with my colleague and a day of French with me. We were the ones who switched classrooms while the students remained in the familiar setting of their own classroom. We felt that the transition each day was far easier for us than for a whole group of 5 year olds, especially since the classrooms were down the hall from each other. It may have been easier on the students, but there were many times I was in room 3 and something key to the lesson I was teaching was down the hall in room 2…I have a hard time keeping track of my stuff as it is without constantly being on the move! Nonetheless, it worked rather well and it certainly cut down on the organization of the students’ belongings.
This year, in a different setting, my English colleague is right across the hall from me – in 2 giant steps I can knock on her door. Like last year, we, too, alternate a day of French Immersion with a day of English. We have named our two groups of students after trees – birch and maple – and on the bulletin board between our doors (we are at the end of a hallway) there are 2 arrows – one pointing to my room and the other pointing to hers. We switch the pictures of the trees each day so that students and their families know which classroom to go to, should they arrive late and miss our entry from the school yard.
I love having my own classroom again. I am able to concentrate on the one language in the signage and messages I post, and I am able to use all of the (limited) wall space for a French word wall, student work and our inquiry board (“Mur des merveilles”). Also, any resources in the room are mine or the school’s to be used for the French Immersion classroom. Perhaps the biggest improvement is the fact that I don’t lose stuff (as easily…). While there are the many positives, there is still the fact that the students can find such daily transitions very confusing – “Is my hat in this classroom or the other one?”, however we anticipate that that will improve as time goes by and the routine becomes more fluid.
At my previous school, only the teachers moved each day while the ECEs stayed with the students. This year, our principal has set up our program so that the teacher and ECE stay together while the students switch classrooms each day. His belief is that the ECE/teacher team is the most important relationship, and can only properly develop when both individuals are working side-by-side each day. I am very lucky in that I have a great relationship with my ECE – we have similar philosophies regarding every aspect of the program and we share a respect for each other’s knowledge and experience. I know it is not always the case and have heard of some extremely challenging relationships in the kinder program that would understandably make for a difficult year, but I can see myself learning a great deal working with my new teaching partner.
One thing we are still trying to hammer out is regular planning time involving all the kinder colleagues; teachers together, ECEs together, teacher and ECE together, and finally, both teachers and ECEs together. Not an easy thing to coordinate, but an important one. At the moment, we do what we can and we actually make it work, catching a few moments to chat, or grabbing opportunities to stay a little longer after school from time to time. The close proximity of the classrooms helps considerably, as well as the fact that, although the activities, projects and teaching style may be unique to each educator, we still work within the framework of the curriculum. There is always room for improvement, of course, and I expect that things will change down the road as the need arises, but at the moment, I feel as if it has been a pretty smooth start to the year.