Tag Archives: 5th grade

A quiet, but enjoyable Christmas

Happy Boxing Day, as they might say in the UK!

We had a simple and quiet Christmas here at Casa Poolman. I am about half way through a week-and-a-half long holiday break. Within the University System, we bunch several holidays in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day and close down the institute for a week. I added a couple of  vacation days to that run, so I will have off from the Saturday before Christmas through New Year’s Day. I love it.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Poolman is not so lucky. This was the year she was scheduled to work 12-hour shifts both Christmas Eve and Christmas. It stinks, but what can you do?

I spent the first half of Tuesday putzin’ around and taking care of last-minute Christmas preps. My CCD class provided the readers for a short Christmas Pageant during the 4 o’clock Mass. Everyone we were expecting showed up, and more-or-less on time. Yea! Last year, we had one child who missed all but one practice, but we agreed to let him participate after his mother called up and practically begged us to do so. Then “mom” failed to deliver him on time. We rearranged the readers to cover his slot, but he came running up just as we were walking into church for the start of Mass. I don’t blame the child, but the mom taught us a lesson we won’t forget.

No such drama this year. Our students all did great. After constant encouragement, they all read loud enough that the congregation could actually here them. Yea again!

Our reader team.

Our reader team.

Mrs. P got home around 8 o’clock and we split a pizza for dinner. Very fancy.

On Christmas morning, I got up and drove about 45 minutes out in the country to my daughter’s in-laws. Brad and Annie are great. It was very nice of them to invite me out for Christmas brunch. Writer Princess is very lucky (and so are we) that she has such a great set of in-laws. They a house on several acres out in the boonies. Annie has taken to raising livestock. She has turkeys, chickens, “runner ducks,” guinea fowl and goats. The highlight of yesterday’s visit were two week-old baby goats.  Very cute!

"Well, Tom. We made it through another holiday. Whew!

“Well, Tom. We made it through another holiday. Whew!”

Inquisitive goat.

“So what did you get for me?”

Back home in the early afternoon and started preps for dinner. I planned on a boneless rib-eye roast, twice-baked potatoes, green bean bundles and creamed pearl onions (Mrs. P’s creation ahead of time.) Everything went well, even the green-bean bundles, which were a little more effort than I originally planned.

Mrs. P got home around 7:30 pm and I handed her a vodka and tonic. The rest of our dinner guests included son, girlfriend, daughter, son-in-law, and son-in-law’s brother. I planned to take a picture of the meal, but, frankly, I was so wrapped up in getting it all together when it was time to serve, I just forgot.

Some friends/neighbors walked down as we were finishing dinner. We all gathered in the family room to open presents and visit.

Gathered around

Gathered around

...visiting.

…visiting.

I wish Mrs. P had been around for more of the activities, but given the circumstances, it was a pretty nice holiday.

Runaway baby Jesus

My 5th grade CCD class has been busy since the Thanksgiving break preparing for our Christmas pageant. My class provides the readers for a fairly simple production. They read the Christmas story, while the third grade class acts out the drama, dressed as Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and so on. We have had three practices, and so far, while it won’t be a Broadway production, it won’t be a fiasco either. But it did come close.

Initially, one of the co-teachers volunteered her one-year old son to play the role of the baby Jesus. This was not a great idea. Young Brady was entirely too much into crawling and pulling himself up on anything that was handy. One of the third-graders (who is playing Mary) is disabled and has a motorized wheelchair. Brady pulled himself up onto the front of the chair and grabbed onto the control knobs. The chair took off with Brady hanging on for dear life.

It was very exciting.

For about five feet.

Until they ran into a pew.

Fortunately Brady was not hurt, which is what made the incident hilarious. In any case, the child has been cut from the pageant team in favor of a younger, more docile child. I think Brady was disappointed. If he could talk, I think he wanted to say, “That was fun!  Let’s do it again.”

The fifth grade reader team.

The fifth grade reader team.

The big show will be at 4 pm Mass on Christmas Eve. Looking forward to it.

While we are on a Christmas theme, our friends Sam and Beth stopped by the other day with our “adopted grandchildren” Helen and Brittany. Mrs. Poolman and I got them each an animal-theme throw-blanket. One was a frog and the other a monkey. Too cute!

The monkey and frog.

The monkey and frog.

Back to the Wednesday night follies

For the ninth straight year, I am back teaching 5th grade religion classes at our parish church. Protestant churches would probably call it Sunday School, but since we are Catholic, it is called CCD and the classes are held on Wednesday evenings. These classes are for the children who attend public and other private schools other than our parish school.

As I have detailed in the past, my experience teaching CCD has had its ups and downs. We have had some really great classes, and we’ve had some that caused me to almost dread showing up on Wednesday evenings. Just two classes into the 2013-14 year, my co-teacher and I are cautiously optimistic that we have a pretty good group. So far they have been polite and respectful, while still participating in the class discussions.

Having a group that is reasonably well behaved and cooperative is better for more than just our sanity. If we have a class that will work with us and work with each other without descending into anarchy, we can make the class much more interesting, for both the students and teachers, through interactive activities and more interesting discussions.

That having been said, we also realize that our students are ten and eleven years old, and our class comes at the end of a long day in school. In adult terms, their CCD class is overtime for them. We don’t expect perfection; we just don’t need it to be a constant struggle.

Here’s hoping the rest of the years goes as well as the first couple of weeks have.

Feelin’ a little discouraged

As I have written in the past, I am involved teaching a fifth-grade religion class at our church. We are Catholic, so this class is for the kids who do not attend the parish’s parochial school. Most Protestant churches would call it “Sunday School.” In the Catholic Church, it’s called CCD.

This is my eighth year teaching 5th grade, and I have noticed that nearly every year, we hit a low point around February. I don’t know whether it is the spot in the curriculum, the attitude of the kids or the way I teach. However, it seems that nearly every year around this time I wonder, “Why am I doing this?”

Classroom management is an issue for me. Part of the problem is I wear hearing aids, so keeping track of multiple voices is very difficult. I have a co-teacher who is essentially my “enforcer.” She was not able to attend this week, so Mrs. Poolman came along to help. At one point she asked me, “You don’t get paid for this, right?” When I pointed out that she knew this was a volunteer job, she replied, “I knew you were a little crazy, but not this much.” Thanks for the support, Mrs. P!

I think there are several issues involved. The biggest is the class meets for an hour on Wednesday evenings. The students have already been in school all day, and this is “overtime.” We are seriously infringing upon their leisure-fun time.

While I try hard to make the class as interesting as I can, sometimes the activities I design to break up the routine are counter-productive. This week I planned a small-group poster activity. But once the groups got together, they decayed quickly into chaos. They were much too distracted by cutting up with each other and arguing over what color markers to use, to actually complete the assignment.

The class is not homogenous. There are typically 20 students on any given night. I have a small group of very quiet kids who I have to work on to draw out of their shells. And I have a few who are not naturally quiet, but are usually engaged and well behaved. And then we have:

–One little girl who is desperately needy for attention. Her way of getting it is to stir up trouble with anyone who is around her and then blame them for the disturbance.

–A few loud, high-energy (ADHD?) boys who have a compelling drive to be the center of all attention. They just roll over the quiet kids.

–A group of socially active “tween girls.” They are not intentionally disruptive, but they are constantly “a-twitter.” They just love to chat with their friends.

Next week, we’ll try it again. Since our last lesson was a total bomb, I’ll need to recover the same material, but in a more traditional style.

I hope I’m getting gold stars on my record somewhere for all this. Sigh.

Hello parents! Anyone listening?

This fall I’ve learned a big lesson – don’t try to communicate with adults through their ten-year old children. It doesn’t work. The group in question, of course, is my 5th grade CCD class. (This is religious education for the kids in our parish who do not go to Catholic schools. Protestants call it “Sunday school” except ours is on Wednesday evenings.) This is my eighth year teaching 5th grade, and for some reason, we have had more of a need to get announcements to the parents than in past years. One big issue has been our Christmas pageant. Our class was asked to provide readers/narrators. However, this involved only half the class, which created the opportunity for confusion over schedules, etc.

Unfortunately, announcements made in class go through the filters of 10 or 11 year-olds, who may or may not remember to pass it on to their parents (and may or may not get the information correct.) Even written hand-outs don’t always make it to their intended destination. Of course an in-class announcement or handout is useless for a student who isn’t there that evening.

Then you have the students who deliver the message properly and accurately, but their parents don’t believe them.

Mother of troublesome child: “Yes, she told me that you told her she shouldn’t come to class tonight unless she was in the pageant, but I told her she must have been mistaken.”

Me: “No, she got it right. (And thank you for bringing her. It was a real pleasure to have her here with nothing to do except annoy the other children who are involved in the program.”

I maintain a second blog to update parents on what we are teaching and talking about on a weekly basis. However, judging from the number of “hits” it gets each week, I can see that most of our parents are not taking advantage of this resource to stay informed.

The inability to communicate with parents presents real problems when trying to schedule things like the pageant. One program will be during a regular CCD class time slot. That isn’t much of a problem; the kids should be there anyway. However, a second presentation will be at 6 pm Mass on Christmas Eve. The children have no control over their schedule. They can say they want to read at Christmas Eve Mass, but if their parents have another idea for the family, the little darlings have no say in the matter.

We have one boy who really wants to participate. He stopped my co-teacher in his school parking lot last week and told her how excited he was to be involved. The problem is — he was there for the first introductory run-though of the program but hasn’t been seen since. He missed the next two practices during the regular class time-slots as well as our special Saturday morning rehearsal. So do we penalize the kid because Mom can’t get remember when the rehearsals are and get him there? (FYI – If he shows up, we’ll let him read.)

In January, I’ll assemble an email list and see if that works any better.

Bottom line – I love the kids. The parents are a little exasperating.

Not feelin’ the love

As we finished up our final CCD class of the year last week, I was reminded of a quote from one of our US senators on the state of education in the US.

“The biggest problem with education in this country is a bad case of PDD – Parental Deficit Disorder.”

He wasn’t talking about our 5th grade religion classes, but it seemed to fit our situation.

As I whined a couple of weeks ago, we are never quite sure how much of an effect we are actually having on our students. And we know the children don’t really appreciate our efforts. Heck, they would much prefer to be home watching TV or out playing with their friends. So would I at their age. (Or even at my current age!)

However, my co-teacher, Mrs. R, and I are a little disappointed in the lack of  participation and/or acknowledgment by the parents, for whom we give up 26 Wednesday nights to teach their children.

–We have 25 sets of parents who we have repeatedly invited to sit-in on an occasional class to see what we are teaching their children. So far not a single parent has taken us up on the invitation. We could be teaching their children straight from the Book of Mormon, and they would probably never pick up on it. (Not that there is anything wrong with the Book of Mormon, if you are an LDS, but we’re Catholic.)

–I maintain a second blog that I update weekly so parents can see what we are teaching and discussing. Of 25 sets of parents, my blog count averages around four to six hits a week.

–At the final pick-up last week, one, but only one, parent came up to Mrs. R and me and said, “Hey, I want to thank you for all you have done this year. You’ve been here every week teaching this group, and I want you to know my husband and I appreciate it.” One other student brought us a “thank you card.” We weren’t expecting a ticker-tape parade, but a few more “thanks for teaching my son/daughter” would have been nice.

Of course, we don’t teach the class for the parents or for recognition. We do it because we think it is an important job that someone needs to do. All the same, some acknowledgment from the parents would have been appreciated.

That’s enough of my whining. I’m on religious education vacation until September.

More perils of teaching 5th graders

For the second week in a row, we were hit with an awkward question during last night’s 5th grade CCD class. We had been covering the Sacrament of Matrimony. My co-teacher, Sherry, said she was anticipating and absolutely dreading a question about gay marriage, but that never materialized. Instead, the question originated in a passage in our text.

“The deacon or priest asks the couple three important questions…Will they lovingly accept children from God and raise them in the faith?”

“So Mr. Poolman, suppose it’s not a good time for a couple to have children? Like maybe one of them is in the military and is being sent away. What can they do then?”

I stammered and stuttered, and looked over at Sherry for help. She signaled that I was definitely on my own for this one. Thanks for the help!

There are two problems in trying to answer that question.

1. As I mentioned in a post last week, the students are 10 and 11 years old. We’re not sure what they have been taught about sex by their parents. I really don’t want to open things up to additional questions like, “Mr. Poolman, what’s a condom?”

2. And that is because we do not have a mandate or permission from the students’ parents to get into a discussion of sex. Personally, it wouldn’t bother me to have such a discussion, but absolutely not without the parents’ involvement.

So after thinking about it for a moment, I answered that the Church does not approve of artificial means of birth control, but there are other, natural means a couple can use. And then I said that we really don’t have permission from their parents to get involved any more deeply in that kind of subject, and strongly suggested that they talk with their parents.

It probably wasn’t the best answer, but it was the best I could come up with on short notice.

Fortunately, there were no additional questions on that subject. Whooo!

We are going to discuss the Ten Commandments for the next two weeks, so we should be safe. Oh, wait! They do include that adultery thing, and coveting your neighbor’s wife. Maybe I’m not out of the woods yet.

What a difference a year makes!

Last year this time, I was moaning and whining about my class of 5th grade CCD (religion classes for kids who do not attend a Catholic school) students.

Last year’s class was quite a handful. When I was asked to come back and teach again this year, Mrs. Poolman reasonably asked me if I had lost my mind. I agreed to return for year #7, and I’m glad I did.

This year’s class is a large one – 25 students on a full night. And they have their moments, both individually and as a group. There are at least two boys, whose mothers tell me, are ADHD but they are trying to deal with it without using meds. I applaud the effort, but it can make Wednesday nights interesting.

Overall, this is a nice group of kids. They are active and full of energy, but I have been able to keep them more-or-less focused and engaged on whatever we are discussing at the time. They are full of questions, occasionally to an extreme.  Sometimes we have had to arbitrarily cut off discussion simply because the “what if…?” questions just become outlandish.

For the most part, I don’t really mind it. We don’t have a strict schedule of topics we must follow from week to week. So if they want to talk about something that is vaguely related to Catholicism, religion, God, morality, or just issues they encounter in their daily lives, we run with it.

Last night was interesting. When I arrived, the director, Pamela, handed me a sheet of paper with seven or eight guidelines to teach the class to help them avoid becoming abuse victims. (Think Penn State.) I went over these guidelines (good touch, bad touch, etc.) with the class, and then the lid came off the can of worms.

It was obvious this is something they have discussed with their parents (as they should) and their friends. Everyone had a question or a comment. It was active and rowdy, and while there were many times when three or four students were trying to contribute simultaneously, the comments and questions were all related to the main topic. What I expected would take five minutes ran on for 35 minutes, and could have gone to the end of the class.

I have an outstanding co-teacher, who is also the mother of one of the students. She is “the bomb.” She isn’t really interested in doing much teaching, but she actively participates in the discussions and is a major help with “crowd control.”

We may not be teaching the kids everything we are supposed to, but hopefully, they are learning something important. And we are having a good time.