I have been a secondary teacher all my life, certified grades 5-12. The only grade I have not taught is 5. So this new school year and new job has been a great deal of change for me. I am now not only the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for a WNY city school district, but I am also the principal of an elementary building that houses three different Universal Pre-K programs. Only one of these programs is mine, or connected with my district; the other two are county programs to which we basically rent space in the building.
My district-funded UPK program is THE highlight of my day. I absolutely love these kids and the teachers and aides who have a great deal more patience than I have ever had in my entire life. The adults in each classroom work tirelessly at not only providing academic content for the kids, but also at behavior and socialization skills like manners and being a good friend. It's great to see the changes in them each day. One little boy struggled in the beginning at simply coming to school; he cried each day his grandpa left and often sat alone, too afraid to socialize. Each day I made an effort to talk to him and ask how he was doing. I'd touch his face or poke at his belly trying to get him to react to me. He is just the cutest little thing with big saucer-like blue eyes and although I tried to break the ice and his teacher and classroom tried too, he was very introverted. Thankfully, he has made great strides since then. Now, he talks to me and smiles when I ask how he's doing or compliment his work and he no longer cries when grandpa leaves. He is a changed little boy and it does my heart good to see him this way.
Outside the classrooms, the hallway is decorated with crafts the kids have made. Everyday I enter it, I marvel at the improvement in coloring, cutting, and the writing of their names. Each month, teachers take a writing sample of the student's names. One little girl has made such improvements that when she saw her sample from the previous month she said, "What happened here?" Out of the mouths of babes!
During the month of November, we planned a Family Fun Night and invited parents, grandparents, and siblings to the school for an evening of games, face-painting, popcorn, music and sing-alongs. In addition we had "The Reptile Guy" from Nickle City Reptiles address the crowd of over 250 attendees and teach us about some exotic animals. The parents and kids loved this performance. The presenter was funny and the animals were so cool. He took volunteers from the audience to come on stage and help with some of the animals. A 9 year-old brother of one of our students helped with hissing cockroaches and one of our students, a shy 4 year-old girl, eagerly went on stage and helped to hold an enormous snake! It. Was. AWESOME. It was such a wonderful experience to meet our students' families and enjoy some fun together outside of the classroom.
Things have been getting pretty exciting this month with Christmas right around the corner. We have many plans in the works for the kids. Glenn Colton will be giving a concert, students from Niagara University's theatre program will be coming to give a holiday performance, and Santa will be visiting as well. The kids are so excited to come to school, but they are also a bit more difficult to settle down as well. Next week, I will begin calling the classrooms each week as one of Santa's Elves and talking with the teacher about her naughty and nice lists. Hopefully, this will help to make it a bit easier on the teachers and aides.
We have two half-day programs of a.m. and p.m. classes and each day I visit every class for a few minutes. Simply walking in the door is a wonderful experience for me. As I enter I say, "Good morning/afternoon, boys and girls!" and I get a resounding response each time. I just love it! They completely light up and are truly happy to see me and share with me what they have done. Interestingly, the moms of two of our students are former students of my own. It is so nice to see how they have grown into being wonderful, caring parents and have happy, loving families of their own. However, it is hard not let my connection to their children show in the classroom. I have to love each and every little boy and girl equally; the ones I have special connections with, the ones who struggle academically or socially, and the ones who have difficult home lives. I often find myself thinking about these students at home and I am so thankful to have been given this responsibility of ensuring the safety and educational programs for our most precious of learners.
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