First First Grade Class
It was two weeks until the school year would begin. I was just out of college. In just two weeks, I would have a classroom filled with first graders. I carried a large box of homemade decorations from the main school building to the smaller elementary school building. Chickens were on either side of the sidewalk, pecking at grassy grains. I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder at my “Little House on the Prairie” school. But this was no prairie in the 1880s. It was a little town near the beach in the 1980s. The school was a family owned business. Most of the family members lived on the school grounds. Some of their children were students at the school. This was my first teaching job.
My empty classroom had 16 student desks, one teacher desk, a mostly empty bookshelf, and a giant chalkboard. As I taped, stapled, and strung decorations to the walls of the classroom, a friendly woman poked her head in the door. She introduced herself as the upper-elementary grades teacher, activities coordinator, and bus driver. She’d been at the school for ten years; since she got out of college. She liked my classroom decorations.
On the first day of school, I met my students in the main school building. Together, we walked to our new classroom. I had planned several “getting to know you” activities. But the kids didn’t need to get to know one another, all but one had been students at the school’s kindergarten. The first day went well. The kids were adorable!
In the first week, I realized that this group of first graders was very different from the kids in my student teaching internship. I was planning to teach them how to read. They already knew how. I had put together a math activity center for beginning math skills. They were beyond most of the activities. I had created a cool handwriting program. They gladly played along, but most already had good penmanship. The kindergarten teacher had taught them well. I had to adjust my game plan. It took some time to figure out activities to accompany their level of learning. Even the textbooks and workbooks were easy for most of these kids. But they were hard workers and good students.
There was no arts program at the school. I was the music teacher, art teacher, and P.E. coach. In my classroom, music was mostly singing and dancing. P.E. included exercise and competitive games. I knew a lot about art and artists. I often told an art related story before we did an art project. These kids, like most kids, loved information.
I still remember some of the wild conversations that transpired in that classroom. One of the most memorable was a discussion about a Weekly Reader story in which a young boy had been severely injured and needed a prosthetic device to replace his leg. It sparked a lot of imaginative dialog. One student posed a question, “If I accidentally lost my head while riding on my dad’s motorcycle and was only able to say hello with my hands and not my missing mouth, could I get a prosthetic head?” This prompted one of the girls to share a long winded tale about riding on a rollercoaster that derailed. In the story, several people in her family lost limbs as the rollercoaster took a wild journey through town. The next time her family went on a rollercoaster, they made sure it was correctly attached to the tracks. I smiled and said, “Wow, what an unbelievable adventure.” She frowned and replied, “It’s not unbelievable. It’s actually, totally, really true.”
I thought about my first year students as I was working on this V-POP card. The card was inspired by my love of Henri Matisse. I remember telling my students about his “Portrait of Madame Matisse,” also known as “Green Stripe.” I explained that the artist painted with bold, unusual colors. He used two different skin tones and painted a green stripe down the middle of his wife’s face. Back then, the art critics called the painting a monstrosity, and said it looked like it had been painted by a wild beast. That story inspired some pretty creative portraits which hung on the walls of my first first grade classroom.
Click here to get the template and instructions for the “V-POP CARD.” I hope you have fun making it with your creative crew.