School’s out for another year!

Teaching is forever in my heart

It is almost the end of another school year in Australia. I can’t believe that it is now four years since I left the classroom, both sadly and probably, to never return. I often hear advice given to never say “never”, but although a large part of my heart remains in the classroom, I’m fairly certain that I’ll not physically return; not full-time anyway.

It is also the end of the first year of formal education for Gorgeous 1 (first-born grandchild). I’m pleased to say that he has had a wonderful year and very much enjoyed attending school. His parents are happy too and relate many positive things about the teacher and the ways in which she has nurtured the children. That makes grandma happy too.

However a few queries have been raised in recent discussions. One of these is with regard to class allocations for next year. The parents commented that Gorgeous 1 won’t know what class he is in, including teacher, classmates or classroom, until he turns up for school on the first day. They wondered if this was common practice and about its purpose.

Sadly, I think it is a fairly common practice for which a variety of reasons may be given. However I’m not convinced that any of the stated reasons are justified or have any real validity.

I very much liked the way my most recent school dealt with class allocations. I thought it worked well for everyone: children, parents and teachers.

Towards the middle of October children were asked to identify three friends they would like to be in the same class with the following year, and any they wouldn’t. I never emphasised the “not like” part but made sure that children knew it was there if they wished to use it. Few did.

friendship choices

 

At the same time parents were invited to submit in writing things they wished included for consideration when class allocations were made. Requests were to be specific to their child’s needs; for example friendship issues or the type of teacher thought best suited to the temperament,  learning style or needs of the child. Identifying a teacher by name would invalidate the request.

The process of allocating children to classes was time consuming with many things to be considered; including, for example, the distribution of children of high, mid and low achievement levels; boys and girls; children from non-English speaking backgrounds; children with disabilities or requiring support with learning or behaviour.

Current class teachers collaborated to draw up lists which were checked by an administrator to ensure even spreads and that parent requests (not revealed to the teachers) were complied with. It was no small feat. We would go into the meetings armed with lists of children’s friendship groups on sticky notes, scissors, coloured pencils, erasers, and more sticky notes. It was always amazing to see the classes come together.

The best part of this process occurred in the second-last week of term when teachers and children met their new classes for the following year. Another feat of organisation. Class teachers told children which class they would be in and distributed to each their portfolio of work to be given to the new teacher.

All year levels met in their respective assembly areas, divided into their new classes, met their new teachers and went off to their new classrooms for about 45 minutes. The new teacher would explain class expectations and topics the children would learn about. Sometimes the teacher would read a story or engage the students in discussions about what they had learned in the current year and what they were hoping to learn in the following year. Oftentimes children returned with a small gift from their new teacher; for example a book mark, pencil or eraser. They always returned excited.

In addition to stories and discussions, I would always ask my new students to draw a picture of themselves, write their name and anything else they would like to tell me about themselves or their picture. I would also take their photograph and attach it to their drawing. In addition to the portfolio of information coming from the previous teacher, this would provide me with valuable information that I could use when preparing for the new year.

Michael likes dogs

In addition I would have a letter and a small gift ready for my new students. The letter helps to create a positive connection, makes them feel special and helps to ease the transition back to school after the holidays. It also ensures they remember what class they are in and who their teacher is. It lets their parents know as well.

end of year letter

 

I think this is a wonderful process and one that should be adopted in all schools. It has many benefits; including:

  • helping teachers get to know important information about students before the year begins and aiding preparation.
  • reducing the anxieties of children and parents over the holidays, wondering about which class they would be in and which teacher, even whether they would be in the same class as their friends.

Once children knew their new classes I arranged their seating and named their groups to match. This provided opportunities for children to bond with future class mates as well as identify their class for the following year. There would be no unnecessary confusion or anxiety on the first day of school.

I’d love to know what you think of this process or of other processes with which you are familiar.

With the holidays just around the corner I provide links back to previous posts which provide suggestions for maintaining children’s learning in informal and fun situations.

Learning fun for the holidays, without a slide in sight!

Counting on the holidays!

Let the children write! 20 suggestions to get children writing during the school holidays

20 suggestions for maintaining reading momentum during the school holidays

The lists are all available for free download and distribution to parents from my Teachers Pay Teachers or Teach in a Box stores.

 

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

24 thoughts on “School’s out for another year!

  1. Nillu Nasser Stelter

    Hi Norah, what a wonderful process. You are quite obviously a gifted teacher and I am so glad you share these ideas on your blog. I have a 3 and 6 year old, and the class allocation for our eldest (youngest will start at 5 in line with the UK system) is always a mysterious process. She has always coped well but I love the transparency of your ideas, and esp the letter to kids and the friends list for the kids. What a great way to find out if there is any underlying discomfort with some friends – a heads up for bullying. Cheers for sharing, Nillu

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts to the mix Nillu. I think the process has many positives. As you say, picking up on issues, such as bullying, that may slip under the radar otherwise, is one of those. I wish your children a wonderful educative experience.

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  2. Charli Mills

    I went to such a small school that I simply went to the next grade with all my classmates that was often one teacher for two or three levels. We were a “large” graduating class of 12. My children started in small schools, too and we didn’t get to Minnesota’s massive districts until they were in middle school and that was multiple teachers with a home-room. Your process seems like an undertaking but well organized and thought out with the children in mind.

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    1. Norah Post author

      The process does, of necessity, differ from school to school. Small schools have many advantages, but they have some disadvantages too. Being in the same class of children with the same teacher for a number of years can have its positives and negatives, especially depending on the relationships between the children and with the teacher. I taught one group of children for three years and loved it. I have very special memories of those children. I hope I didn’t do them too much harm! They certainly didn’t do me any.
      I think about 3-400 children is a good size for a primary school. That gives about two classes per year level, which is quite manageable. Everyone knows each other and the school can maintain a family-type atmosphere. My most recent school had about 1300 primary children with between five and eights drafts of each year level. It was a huge organisation and defied anyone knowing everyone! At least some processes, such as the class allocation, put the children first and highlighted the importance of relationships.

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  3. robinettercleave

    Oh, Norah, you are such a great leader and teacher – so creative, patient, caring, personable, organised, flexible, enthusiastic and resourceful. (And many other adjectives!) You love children and are passionate about education. I know if I were a kid, I would have LOVED being in your class!!! It’s just great how you help students feel comfortable right from the get-go. For me, you’ve always been such an inspiration – thank you!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Robin. You’ve given me a lot of adjectives to live up to there! I strive to be all of those things. Sometimes, I hope, I hit the right note! 🙂 I could turn your comment around and put your name right there on the top! You are an inspiration. And not only that – you can sing!!!!! 🙂

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        1. Annecdotist

          Ah, Robin, pleased to see you are also part of the campaign to get Norah to release her singing voice – all she needs is a teacher as patient and dedicated as she is (I say all, might be hard to find)

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            1. Norah Post author

              Well, Anne and Robin, I just have to tell you about a conversation I had with my 4-year-old granddaughter the other day. As I was buckling her into the car seat she asked me if I knew “You are my sunshine”. I said, “Yes” and sang the first few lines. She interrupted me saying, “Yes, but can you sing it!” There you go – proof! Out of the mouths of babes. 🙂

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  4. Bec

    Hi Nor, this is a really nice description of the class allocation process, and you have me convinced about the benefits. I can understand from an administration perspective why the classes wouldn’t be released before the first day, but I also agree with you in that the benefits of preparing ahead of time would be worth it. Transparency always has its hiccups, but the payoff tends to be more contentment and harmony in all settings!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Bec. I remember heading up to school with you once or twice the day before school started to see which class you were in, with which teacher and which children, including any friends. There were some anxious moments, but I think you were generally happy.

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  5. thecontentedcrafter

    Hello Norah, this is I think my first time commenting on your blog – and what an interesting post for me to arrive with. I was a teacher in a non-state educational system for almost thirty years. As we didn’t change children or classes up annually the issues and processes you mention were not ones we had to deal with. [We had others though] Given the amount of preparation, organisational and ‘end of year’ work we all had to contend with I don’t know how you all fitted in an annual class revamp as well. Kudos for making the transition as easy as possible for the young students!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for visiting and commenting, Pauline. It is lovely to welcome you to my blog. I love meeting other educators and hearing of their experiences. We have both had many years in the classroom.
      I do know of some schools that don’t adjust the mix of children in classes each year. Sometimes in small schools it is impossible to do so as there is only one class, or maybe two classes, at each year level anyway. There are advantages and disadvantages to that. When I started at this school I was describing, we had four drafts of each year level. By the time we finished it was up to eight! It was an enormous feat, especially combined with all the other end of year must-dos, but as I say, I think it was worth it. I can’t take any credit for it though. The process was in place when I started at the school.
      Hopefully we’ll have many other school tales to share. 🙂

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  6. Steven

    Another fine thought-provoking post Norah. If my memory serves me correctly, I seem to recall that students at our childrens school do not find out their allocated teachers/rooms until the first week of term. Until that time, students are allocated temporarily. I suspect there may be shortlists, but the final allocation is not released until that first week. A cited reason for this is that the school will not know whether their teacher allocation is suitable until such a time that the student numbers are confirmed. This sounds reasonable, but it also sounds odd that the school will not have confirmed student numbers until that first week. It would seem to me that they would have a reasonably close estimate of numbers for classes 1-6 (given that they are likely to be the same students from K-5 of the prior year). Enrolments for K (kindergarten) should also be reasonably accurate as these would need to be processed by December.

    I can think of two factors that may explain this strangeness. The teacher-to-student ratio and class sizes may be such that a difference of one student may make the difference between a “valid” and “invalid” class. If one class is invalid, then this will have flow-on effects to the others, as whole new allocations may need to be recreated. If this is the case, then it is quite unfortunate that there seems to be little or no flexibility to staffing levels or that schools are forced to operate at the brink of such levels; State Departments need to control such things to prevent waste of resources, but they also need to be able to delivery the services in a timely and reasonable manner. Another possible factor is that the classes are also mixed-grade or combined, so a single class may be 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, etc. This may compound the allocation problem (in a previous year, one poor teacher had a 3-way mix – 4/5/6 I believe).

    I do quite like the more consultative process you have outlined in your post. It would seem to be a bit of an administrative burden, however the concept is most agreeable. Any reasonable parent would like to have some sort of input, particularly if there was good cause or justification for particular areas they feel need to be addressed for their child. However I suspect if a school is struggling to get the quota allocations correct in the first place, then they would rightly throw their hands up in the air if they had to add a consultative process into the mix as well.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for stopping by and adding so much value to the post, Steven. I appreciate the thought that you have applied to the process under scrutiny and the depth of your response.
      I am fairly sure that your interpretation is pretty much what happens in most schools, state schools anyway which have to take whoever turns up on the doorstep. There is no requirement for pre-enrollment, and the transient nature of many families means that there can be many departures and arrivals during term breaks. I think this is what makes the effort that my previous school went to even more remarkable and admirable. They experienced all of those same difficulties, but instead of using them as excuses, went ahead and put in place processes to ease the transition as much as possible. I have no idea who instigated the procedure. It was established when I joined the team. I have not seen or heard of a similar process elsewhere.
      Sometimes classes did need to be readjusted in the first few days. Enrollments and teacher numbers weren’t finalised until day eight. Unfortunately any large increase in numbers after that day would not see any additional staff so we always hoped that everyone who was going to would return from holidays or enroll before then so we would not suffer large class sizes for the remainder of the year.
      Any adjustments that needed to be made to classes were done with consultation with the parents and still took into consideration all things that had been previously considered.
      It’s interesting that you mention composite classes and I understand your concern. I think when they are formed as an administrative tool to cater for uneven numbers there can be issues for both teacher and students, but generally most do well in the situation, though it places an extra burden on the teacher.
      At our school teachers would have been asked if they were willing, or maybe they even volunteered, to take a composite class. Parents would have been consulted and consideration would have been given to which students would be best suited to the situation.
      However I am rather in favour of family groupings in which children of different ages are in the same class. However family grouping is a philosophical decision, rather than an act in balancing numbers. I think family grouping works very effectively in early childhood as it allows children the opportunity to develop at their own pace, to move seamlessly through the levels (which are not distinguished) taking more or less time as required. A long time ago I started out with year ones. The following year I took them on to year two and picked up some year ones as well. The following year I took them on to year two and three. It was a wonderful experience; I hope for them as much as for me. 🙂

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