Friday, January 3, 2014

Falling in Love with First Graders: A Case of Love and Hair Loss (Part 1)

Blogging is fairly therapeutic for me. So, the fact that I haven't been blogging much over the last 2 months either suggests that I've been doing so well that I don't need therapy or that I simply haven't been taking care of myself. In this case, the latter is definitely true.

The first three months of teaching have gone by in a blur. I've experienced some successes as a teacher but more often I've felt like a failure (really, not too strong a word for how I've felt) and like I'm letting my students down in so many ways. My students are at vastly different levels, academically and socially. I have one student, A.H., who can read at a 4th grade level and got every single question on my math diagnostic test correct back in September. He's a really good kid, but I haven't been meeting his academic needs. Mostly he's bored, unless I let him read independently. He's one of the reasons I'm terribly happy I stocked my classroom library with books all the way up to a 6th grade reading level.

A.H. Sorry, not sure if I can post pictures of my students on my blog. The eye blocking is my attempt to be legal but also share my darlings.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have students who can still barely read a complete sentence, even a phonetic sentence with kindergarten-level high frequency words. And some of my students just didn't catch on to basic addition and subtraction our first time through it. Those are the kids I lay in bed at night worrying about.

I have two boys (three at the beginning of the year, but one was expelled...) who struggle with dealing with their anger in a constructive way. Interestingly, all three of them are the youngest child in their family and the only boy (in a Muslim home). From what I've heard from people who know their families, and from what I've observed, all three of them are spoiled at home. So, the behavior problems they have come more from spoiling than from abuse or neglect. At the beginning of the year, these three boys threw my class into chaos regularly. Daily. Hourly. Thinking back to that, I realize that they have come a long way in dealing with their anger, and I have come a long way in helping them. Yay for all of us.

A.A.-1 is probably one of my favorite students, despite his anger issues. He loves to learn and is often telling me random facts he knows about animals. ("Teacher, did you know sea cow and manatee are the same?") His anger is a lot more manageable too, which probably helps my opinion of him. When he gets angry (usually from not getting his way in something), he generally shuts down, crouches down by the table that he shares with 3 or 4 other students, and starts pulling on the table legs, making them exclaim angrily. Another time, when I didn't let him write with a pen on one of our assignments, he started ripping up his paper. I left him alone with his temper tantrum, and when I came back to him, he said, "Teacher, when I feel mad, I rip up one paper and then I feel better." He's learning, though, when he starts to feel angry, to ask to go sit in our Spot for Thought or go out and take one walking circuit in the halls with my aid. Those things usually calm him down.

A.A.-1. All my pictures in this blog post are from a field trip. I want to try to take more in-class pictures this semester.

A.A.-2 is my other 'angry child,' and he's been a more difficult case for me. Whereas A.A.-1 seems to get angry and then act without thinking, A.A.-2 is a little more thoughtful in how he creates havoc in the classroom. I find this a little harder to swallow. He's advanced in both reading and math, but unlike A.H., he doesn't passively resign himself to being bored in the classroom. (This is probably a good trait, if we can figure out a way to harness it and use it more productively.) In large group instruction time, if I don't acknowledge A.A.-2 about every 2 minutes, he starts to act up. And when he gets really angry, like really angry, he does things like throw chairs across the room, spit in my face or my aid's face, and emit a high-pitched wail that curdles the blood. He also is making progress toward handling his anger more effectively, but he had a relapse right before break and got suspended. Oh, A.A.-2....

A.A.-2, the little stinker. Doesn't he have an adorable smile?
Even though I feel like I'm failing a lot of my kids academically, I've fall in love with most of them. A.A.-3 (so many A names!) is one little girl who I just couldn't get along with at the beginning of the year. In the last month, though, she and I have wormed our way into each other's affections. She's a tough little girl and walks with a swagger. At the beginning of the year, when most of my little girls would give me hugs at the end of the day, A.A.-3 would cock her head and extend her hand for a high five. Now, most days, she gives me a quick, hard hug before swaggering onto her bus. She has a problem with hitting other students and saying unkind things, but she so badly wants to please. Often I hear from her, "Mrs. Fuhrman, look! I did this all by myself!" For such a rough little girl, she has incredibly neat handwriting and takes pride in it.

Z.M. is tiny and is incredibly concerned with what everyone else is doing, even when she really has no idea what she's supposed to be doing. Sometimes she rubs me the wrong way, with how worked up she can get over what everyone else is doing, even when it has no connection to her or to school. ("Teacher! Her has candy from her's pack-pack!") She's one student that I lay awake at night worrying about. She's one of my lowest in both math and reading. Frankly, she spends a lot of the time looking around the classroom in a daze.

Z.M and A.A.-3 at the museum. Love them!
OK. I promise I'm almost done telling about my students. Just a few more. M.A. is another student who occasionally has behavior problems but who I've grown to love over the past two months. Actually, I think most of his behavior problems in October stemmed from the fact that his glasses were broken and he wasn't able to get a new pair for about 3 weeks. He was downright contrary during those three weeks. I'm not surprised, though. Judging by how bug-eyed his glasses make him look, I'm sure he's quite near-sighted. He has this way of cocking his head to the side, staring at me out of those bug-eyes, and asking me in a squeaky voice, "Mrs. Fuhrman, why are you doing that?" "Mrs. Fuhrman, why are you taking your coat off?" "Mrs. Fuhrman, why are you wearing those shiny shoes?"

A.S. is one of the tiniest kids in my class. He's super well-behaved all the time and is usually one to set a really good example for the rest of the class. His handwriting is atrocious, and I'm pretty sure he should be writing with his left hand. He does everything else left-handed. But I can't get him to stick with his left hand. He just switches back to his right and holds the pencil in a claw-like grip. A.S. is also a good morale booster for me. Whenever I try to be funny or super engaging with my class, I can always count on him to have an ear-to-ear grin on his face, like I've just let him in on the funniest secret of his life. I honestly haven't gotten to know him very well, yet, though. He didn't say a word to me for the first two months of school, and even now he only speaks about 4 words at a time. I think he just doesn't talk much, but I want to try to get to know him better.

A.S. and M.A. on the bus. I wish you could see M.A.'s eyes! Adds so much to his character.
One final student I just want to mention. S.Y. is one of the most loving, happy, friendly children I have ever met. She genuinely wants to make other people happy. When I started a Kindness Heart board, she was practically jumping up and down at the end of the day, when there were 5 hearts up on the board. (Each heart had a student's name on it and represented a time that student had been kind during the day.) "Mrs. Fuhrman!" she said, "This is the best day of my life! Everyone in our class is so nice!" S.Y. is also one of the reasons that A.A.-1 began to deal with his anger in a more effective way. Somehow, despite the fact that A.A.-1 always says, "Teacher! I can't work with girls!" S.Y. managed to become friends with A.A.-1. Now, he loves to work with her and she has kind of become a mediator when he throws a temper tantrum and ends up in a turtle position on the ground. She will kneel down by him, whisper in his ear, put her arm around him, and in general, coax him back into classroom life. When I was telling my dad about her, he murmured to himself, "You are not far from the Kingdom, child." Honestly, those words brought tears to my eyes. S.Y. is one of the most Christlike children I've ever met.

S.Y. at the museum offering me 'something to eat.'
I had meant for this blog post to be about much more than the students that I teach, but this is now going to have to be a two-part post. Stay tuned for 'Falling in Love with First Graders: A Case of Love and Hair Loss Part 2", coming soon!


  1. I love how you describe each child - I can almost imagine your classroom. So sorry that you've had those rough times, but it sounds like all the kids know that you care for them!
    Aunt Nancy Peckham

  2. Oh Hillary!
    You have made these precious children come alive for me! I can understand now why you have given your heart to them. May God give you His grace, strength, wisdom, and renewed health as you start back in this new year... with love & prayers, mom