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smalltownTeaching in a small town has many perks.  I am teaching in the room I learned in as a student. I know many of my families before they step through our classroom door the first day of school.  Running errands around town brings smiles, hellos, hugs, and many quick conversations as I run into students and families I know.  “I sometimes forget you are a celebrity,” my mom said one day after grocery shopping with me.  But big or small, rural or urban, public or private school teachers hit the floor running in the morning.  This is a glimpse into any day inside our fourth grade classroom.  Does this sound like your day?

7:35 – I get to school after dropping my own amazing children at school and daycare so my kindergartener can catch the shuttle bus to our sister school.  My building is a third through fifth grade school.  My daughter busses to the Pre-K through second grade building across town about eight blocks away.  Working in a small town you know everyone, everywhere, so there are good morning greetings, hellos and smiles all around as I dash through the teacher workroom to check my mailbox.

7:45 – The contract day “starts” after I have already been here preparing.  This quiet morning time is spent in a flash of checking and responding to email, grabbing science supplies from our shared fourth grade closet and getting my Super Teacher cup full of water for the morning.   Four weeks a year, I have hill duty, so I am at our corner crossing greeting parents and students as they are dropped off for their day.   Today is not one of those weeks, so I feel more prepared as the students enter our learning space.

8:00 –  The first hour is always a rush.  Greetings, hellos, questions, Monday brings the most activity with stories of the weekend and “Hey, I saw you at…” since I too have a life outside of school.  Setting a routine is important and allows us to maximize learning time so my students give me notes and money from home, turn in any homework (although this is a rare assignment in our room), and use the Smart board to help me collect lunch count and attendance.  A student is sent to the office with our blue envelope—holder of all monies and notes from home.  Once a month reading calendars are collected to reward fluency and comprehension practice at home.  Students generally have what they need and parents usually send requests and notes back.  Standing for “The Pledge of Allegiance” brings a respectful quiet to our morning flurry.

Being a teacher you have to find ways to fit it all in.  I have found starting our morning with History of the Day engages the students in math, science, history, politics, and other events.  We watch this clip twice and students are responsible for writing the dates in chronological order.  We figure out which  family members were alive during the events and relate the dates to important events we know such as the year of their birth, the year of my birth, the year of countries birth.  This provides inspiration for some to explore and learn more about our past as well as gives meaning to subtraction. Finally, with an unbelievable 15 minutes passed, our day is off with science or social studies adventures.

9:00 – Supplies are put away and we transition quickly to writing.  Often, for me, this is a pile transition.  Pile the books and supplies from our science and social studies learning on one side of the desk and grab the literature books for writing.  If I do not have the book I need a student is sent across the hall to borrow.  Small town, small building, but with five sections of the same grade level we are often sharing supplies.  I try to do a quick check of my email (if possible) for anything urgent from the office.  Pandora has been a lifesaver to bring relaxing melodies to our classroom as students write quietly.  It brings calm after our busy exploration the hour before.

9:30 – The coveted “teacher plan time” arrives.  My students are blessed to be in a district that values the arts, physical activity, and the whole child.  I walk my students to gym/music, check my mailbox, stop for a little restroom break, fill up my Super Teacher cup again; back down the hallway to fourth grade land, check email, respond to email, prep for math, deal with any emergencies, and get myself organized for the rest of the morning.  This is my time to grade and record in my grade book.  This is my time to update our blog.  This is my time to download pictures.  This is my time to change the desks when new seating arrangements are necessary.  This is my time to fill out special education paperwork.  This is my time to make copies.  This is my time to plan to change the world.

10:00 –  As you know, plan time flies by and before I know it I am making the trip back down the hallway to gather my learners.  We make a quick trip through the lunch room to grab snack milk.  Everyone has paid or has been sponsored for by a local church.  Then we come back for math.  This is a time for review, lecture, re-learning, exploring, extending, and reaching all 24 of my learners in mathematics.  I love math, but this is the most exhausting time of my day.  The needs are widely varied and making work meaningful for everyone keeps me moving.

Small town, small building, open communication  with parents who ask what their child does not know and how their child can be pushed .  We have involved parents in our rural school that want to help at home.  This holds me accountable to knowing the needs, learning styles, and strengths of my students.

11:30 – We use MTSS (known as RTI to the rest of the nation).  This is our time for all fourth grade classes to focus on one standard, test and group students based on need, and then re-teach, practice, or extend their learning in this one math area.  I often end up with the extension group and love the challenge of challenging them.

Noon – Well, we made it through the morning.  Noon brings us to bathroom breaks, washing hands  and the lunch room.  I have forty minutes to check and respond to email, prepare for the afternoon, grade papers, deal with any emergencies or crisis from the morning, oh yeah, and eat.  It is also important to stop by the rest room again and refill that water cup.  This time is the fastest moving of the entire day.

1:00 –  The students have eaten, enjoyed a bit of outdoor activity know as recess, and are back in the room hard at work.  We have our language arts time here and work on comprehension, vocabulary, reading skills, spelling, phonics, grammar, all things language arts.  I read aloud when I can, show short video clips to get students engaged, and teach my students to think about the written word.

2:00 –  Our afternoon is not run on an hourly schedule so we are well into our first reading group.  I have sent my students to interventions for reading and rooms that provide center activities at their reading level.  My room is taken over with fourth grade brains reading at a sixth grade level.  They devour books and my challenge is to get them to apply that knowledge and synthesize their reading to produce, write, create, and share their learning.  While this work is going on around my room I am engaged in conversation and questions with reading groups at our kidney table.  We rotate every 25 minutes, which is never enough time to discuss all we want about the books being read for each group.

3:00 – The end of the day has arrived and my students flood outside for a short recess.  Once a week I have duty and get to observe their interactions in an unstructured environment. The other four days I clean up from the afternoon, check and respond to email, grade papers, record grades in the grade book, run to the bathroom, and deal with any emergencies or crisis from the afternoon.

With the recess bell ringing too soon classroom procedures is key here to get students in, agendas filled out, notes passed out, homework reminders given, and everyone in line for going home.  I walk out with bus students and send my walkers to another classroom.  Watching the buses pull away I head inside to finish my day of work.

The end of the day, when not filled with meetings such as faculty, leadership, technology committee, books study, or MTSS is time for me to work on student paper work, district or building forms, classroom notes for parents, check out and return supplies from the library, make copies, grade tests and analyze the data, sort math and reading groups, plan for learning, organize and play for center activities, work on in-service evaluations, fill out professional development paperwork, report bullying incidents, prepare for the next day and be sure my lesson plans are complete.

This list of tasks is ever ending and never done.  The most urgent tasks are done first, those that are not finished are packed into my teacher bag and hauled home so I can make it there by 5:00 to take off my teacher hat and become a mom for the evening.  My goal each night is to be home by 4:30, this is often later during the end of the 9 weeks though.  After my children go to bed I will work though lesson planning, updating my blog, uploading pictures from the day to share with parents, or reading professional books.  Some nights I accomplish more than others.  Whatever is not done goes back into the bag to be hauled back to school.

I have learned to make time for my family and myself.  I do things I love and focus my energy on watching my children grow, playing outside, listening to them laugh, reading books together, and being a part of their life.  When my head hits the pillow I am exhausted and thankful for the day’s end.  I know tomorrow the schedule starts over.  I know tomorrow there are more lives to make an impact on.  I know tomorrow I have a chance to do more, make a difference, and work on the ever-growing to-do-list.  It is a frantic, never-ending cycle that I am blessed to be a part of.  I like knowing my family and kids.  I like teaching in the same school I grew up in.  I like being part of this community that is home.


Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading...

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