To Be or Not to Be: That’s Our Question This Year

A MiddleWeb Blog

kids_cusp2As our first week of school comes to a close, I find myself wondering what the year has in store, planning how we will work together as a group, and imagining what we may become as a class.

Establishing class routines and getting to know each other is always the focus of the first few days of school, but what we will be as a class remains to be seen. 

What we choose to be defines us. This is an important message I want my new class to understand clearly as we begin our year together… the message that each of us has a choice in the matter.

That’s a big idea.

Starting with the bulletin board

Big ideas need to be broken down into smaller, simpler parts. The answers to big questions can’t be found during the first week of school, but I’ve devised a plan to begin exploring some of the ways we will answer that question, the question of what we will BE as a class.

This year, the plan starts with a bulletin board…the annual “Welcome” board that greets each new class in the hallway outside of our room on the first day of school.

This year, my hope is that our Welcome board will serve multiple purposes. This year I will use it as a teaching tool and a reminder to manage my time better by thinking ahead (as opposed to maniacally trying to manipulate large rolls of bulletin board paper, removing staples and changing borders, while the kids are at gym for 30 minutes).

Last year’s bothersome board

Last year, my grand plan was to design a welcome bulletin board that would save me time. I selected background paper that would enhance the year’s Science curriculum. Its rippled, water-like texture added a little panache. My intention was to keep it up all year long, with only a frewsh border popped on to change it up from time to time.

The words, “Come on in…the Water’s Fine,” told my new crew to relax and dive into fourth grade. This nautical invitation would serve as a welcome board for the first few weeks of school, and the background paper I’d so carefully chosen would display all of our science explorations throughout the year.

I commended myself on my forward thinking and cleverness in devising this time saving, educationally sound, and all-around brilliant plan.

My principal, however, had other plans. His plan involved several school-wide, school-themed bulletin boards, none of which would work with mapping the ocean floor, graphing the percentages of various salts in ocean water, or diving into the abyss to research bioluminescent creatures.

He’s a good man, and he has been a wonderful support to me throughout the years, but I wanted to wring his neck.

This year’s flexible intent

This year, I needed to come up with a better plan, a foolproof plan (or at least some colorful, yet generic background paper for the board in the hall).

This year, red was the clear choice. Red goes with anything. Red can save me time. It’s what’s ON the board that matters.

Here’s a peek at my inspiration for this year’s board and some “plans” for it…  The “BE” board:

mary b bd 2 544

mary b bd 1 550

My inspiration

Three years ago, I took a day trip to a quaint little town called Chester. Unbeknownst to many, New Jersey has an abundance of quaint little towns.

While strolling and window-shopping, an unusual print caught my eye. It was made up entirely of words….adjectives to be exact. Well, adjectives and one simple verb of being, that is. I went back to the shop window several times, hemming and hawing about the price tag. Finally, I gave in to temptation and took it home with me.

With the “BE” print hanging on the wall in my kitchen, my (personal) children and I developed a ritual. We each take a turn closing our eyes and pointing to a word on the print. This random selection is our word for the day. It is the adjective we try to be aware of that day.

Bringing the board to life

This year’s school BE board asks my students a big question. My hope is that we will find answers through some of the following lesson ideas:

mary 6 pillars 275

► The welcome message is one tool that will support this year’s school-wide focus on the six pillars of character. As my developing adolescents begin to truly take ownership of their learning, they are given more freedom to make choices in defining who they are and who they want to be. The board’s location in the main hallway will allow other students to ponder this question as well (if they so choose).

► We are doing our best to integrate our Reading Workshop program with our newly adopted Social Studies curriculum. We will use the words on our BE board to analyze characters through novels and read alouds, asking Big Questions about people’s motives (both in fiction and in non-fiction).

► As we develop as writers, we will use these words to help us enhance our own descriptions by trading in “really cool” and “awesome” for some vivid adjectives that capture meaning more specifically as we add details that illustrate our chosen descriptors.

► Words like inimitable, intrepid, and optimistic will be defined and dissected for their root words, prefixes, and suffixes during 15-minute “Word Play Tuesday” sessions.

The possibilities are endless…

I do tend to get caught up in the excitement of these possibilities.

Many of them may never come to be…at least not this school year. An email from my principal may appear that causes me to change my well-laid out plans.

This year, I will try to be more open to other people’s plans, thoughtful and responsible in my reactions to them, serene and resilient.

For now, I am happy to just be starting a new year with my new crew.

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and visit her personal blog (launched in 2021) Behind the Doors of the Teacher's Room for some adult conversation.

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