The First Day of Kindergarten

Months in advance of the start of this school year, we decided to send Lil Pig to the full day kindergarten program at his pre-school. After weighing all the pros and cons given our current family situation (ie. academic needs, class size, our jobs, sister at the same school, cost), this decision made the most sense.

Well, three days ago, Lil Pig started kindergarten. There wasn’t as much hoopla for us since he was staying at the same school with many of the same friends moving into the kinder class. Admittedly, I did little to prepare him or ourselves for starting “real” school. So, much to my dismay when he came home and said that he didn’t like kindergarten because it was “boring”, missed his former teacher, and wanted to return to pre-school, I was surprised and distraught.

We consoled and reminded him that he’s a big boy, ready for the exciting adventure of kindergarten. We asked him specific questions to see if we could get to the bottom of his boredom. After about 10 minutes of talking with our 5-year-old, we managed to conclude that he wasn’t bored, but in fact, he didn’t like the academic nature of kindergarten. After all, there was far less play time in kindergarten than in pre-school. This is a portion of the week one newsletter I received from the teacher:

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Should I Be Allowed to Choose My Child’s Specific Teacher Part II

In the first part of this two-part series, I wrote from the perspective of an administrator who honors parent/guardian requests for specific teachers. For the second part of this two-part series, I’ll share the perspective of an administrator who does not accept parent/guardian requests for specific teachers. There are a number of valid reasons for not allowing this sort of teacher selection to take place.

1. Self-selection makes it nearly impossible to create balanced classes. In other words, a class could end up with 5 boys/25 girls or 10 students with special needs or 15 students who are English language learners. When parents make specific requests and they are all honored, it leaves little room for school officials to balance the classes into a heterogeneous mix as needed.

2. I’m a firm believer that perception is reality and as such, many a teacher has been chosen (for better or for worse) based on general public perception and reputation. The problem with this type of selection process is not every good teacher is a good teacher for each child. Don’t just go by word of mouth as a teacher’s personality/style may not fit your child’s.

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The Complicated Middle and High School Master Schedule

There is absolutely nothing more complicated in the middle and high school than scheduling. Whether it’s scheduling for athletics, use of rooms/meeting space, or bus scheduling, it’s all ridiculously complicated. And the larger the school, the more students; the more students, the more teachers and staff; And thus, the ever more complicated scheduling becomes. Above all, creating the master schedule is the Mount Everest that every school has to deal with during the summer months preceding the start of a new school year.

The master schedule is the schedule that shows what each teacher is teaching (called sections), in which room, at what time (or periods or mods for schools that are on 10-15 minute increments). It also shows what is called the “seat count”, meaning, if you have 1600 students in the school with 400 at each grade level, there should be at least that many spaces (seats) per grade level per period to ensure that there’s space for every student as well as some “give” or flexibility for students who may want to transfer courses. A master schedule typically looks something like this:

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How Are Students Placed In Classes?

Have you ever wondered: how are students placed in classes? How are they separated? What are the factors that are involved? Do the teachers do it or does the principal do it? Can I as a parent have some say in the matter? What about new students?

In all likelihood, you child’s school has a process just like every one of the schools where I’ve worked. At the first school where I worked as a teacher, there were 5 grade level teachers. At this school, the teachers did the bulk of the work in sorting the students into classes for the following school year.

Starting in May, we completed a grouping card for each student in our class. These were color-coded (pink for girls and blue for boys–yes gender-stereotyped colors, but simple for everyone to recognize), 4×6 index cards that included information such as: overall ability level, special needs (ie. Special Education, Gifted, or ELL–English Language Learner), allergies, wears glasses, overall behavior, degree of parent involvement, names of other students from whom to be separated or placed with together, special interests/talents, and space for the current teacher to write any additional information that may be helpful to the next teacher.

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What Happened to Field Trips?

Have you ever wondered, “Whatever happened to field trips? Do kids still go on field trips?”

When I was a teacher a long time ago, we took our third-grade students on several field trips throughout the year. From what I can recall, there were around 5 total, including a big day trip to downtown Chicago, which was the culminating trip for our Chicago unit. (At the time, the history of Chicago was a required part of the curriculum in Illinois.) This field trip was a lot of fun because we took the kids to the Sears Tower (now, sadly, called the Willis Tower) and a bus tour of the city. Although as a teacher I wasn’t a big fan of field trips, simply because they are hectic, I felt they were a value add to the kids’ learning experience.

The fellow grade level teachers and I planned the field trips (where to go and when) together and then ran it past our principal for approval, almost always without any objection. Since our school district was in a fairly affluent area, there typically weren’t any issues with field trip cost or frequency.

Nowadays, field trips are not as often nor as common. There are a few reasons that come to mind:

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How Important Is It to Learn a Second Language?

The past few days have been busy due to the holiday and because as of late, I have been engrossed in watching Korean dramas that stream for free on Netflix. Watching Korean dramas got me to thinking, how important is it to learn a second language? Or maybe more appropriately, I should say how important it is to learn a second language.

Thirty some odd years ago when I was a native Korean speaker entering the school system in the U.S., there was no value-add for knowing Korean or any other foreign/world language. In fact, my school teachers discouraged my parents from continuing our Korean language development and insisted that we solely speak English in order to help my English language skills to develop quicker. Back then, it made all the sense in the world.

We lived in the U.S. and therefore, we should speak English. Nonetheless, my parents were relentless in their belief that although we lived in the U.S., we were still Korean and should learn the Korean language and embrace Korean culture. There was no ESL (English as a Second Language) program at our school so I learned English through the proven teaching method called “sink or swim”. (Forgive my sarcasm. )

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Should My Child Skip a Grade?

One of my nephews, whom I will refer to as Thor (because he loves the movie character), was born at the end of September. His older sister, whom I will refer to as Rachel Alexandra (because she loves horses), was also born at the end of September. Neither of them made the September 1 cut off for Kindergarten in their public school district. Both tested for Kindergarten readiness in the month of May after they turned four, and both were accepted to start a year ahead of schedule. My sister and brother-in-law decided to start Rachel Alexandra early and to start Thor on schedule.
Fast forward two years. Rachel Alexandra is not only able to keep up with her grade level peers (who are all a year older) but also has been and continues to participate in the accelerated academics program. Thor is well above his grade level peers both academically and in physical stature and participates in the accelerated academics program.

He is a little bored academically at school. My sister and brother-in-law can’t help but wonder if they made the right decision by not starting Thor early given how well he has been doing in school. And now they are considering the possibility of Thor skipping a grade also known in education circles as grade acceleration.

Some of you may find yourselves in a similar predicament and are wondering what factors to consider when making this decision. Here are four key elements to consider:

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Should I Hold My Child Back a Grade (aka Retention, Flunking, Repeating a Grade)

Vector concept of investment in education with coins books and scales

One of the toughest questions that parents ask me is, “Should I hold my child back in the same grade?” As such, I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, and the various professional experiences I’ve had with students and parents/guardians helped shape my views on holding kids back a grade.

One of the books in the reading program that I used as a teacher is called The Flunking of Joshua T. Bates. At first, I wasn’t sure this was a good book to read since it was about…well…the flunking of Joshua T. Bates. Joshua is a student who finds out that he has to repeat third grade. Despite the less than happy theme of this book, it turns out to be a genuine story about the struggles of repeating a grade and the success this student finds with the help of his caring teacher.

Reminiscing about this book and the school year rapidly coming to a close got me thinking about all the decisions that have to be made towards the end of the year. Helping a parent make the final determination about whether or not to retain a student in the same grade is probably the least enjoyable responsibility as a principal.

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