Tag Archives: fifth 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.

Feeling a little guilty

In some of my past posts, I have mentioned what a good time my co-teacher and I have been having with this year’s 5th grade CCD class (Catholic religion classes for kids who don’t go to the parish school.) Now I’m feeling guilty.

I know there are plenty of kids out there with Asperbergers, autism, out-of-control ADHD, serious family problems and other issues that may make them behavior problems during our short hour together on Wednesday nights. They need love and religious education too. I’m just glad for maybe only the second class in nine years, I don’t have to deal with a whole bunch of them.  I’m feeling guilty because we actually have it pretty easy this year, and my co-teacher and I are enjoying it.

Our class this year is small, only 13 students. Typically our class sizes are closer to 20-25. And for the most part, this is a nice, well-behaved group. I have only one male student who seems to have difficulty sitting at his desk without falling out. As a group, they are not perfect, but they are good natured and manageable.

The best part for both them and us is it allows Mrs. R (co-teacher) and I to do different, and more interesting things when we don’t have to worry about pulling kids off of the light fixtures.

For example, this week we had them break into groups of two or three and brainstorm ways they can continue to serve God and their neighbors after they leave Mass.  With some classes, even doing that much was a recipe for chaos. However, this class handled it. When we asked them what they had come up with, the first group said they wanted to act it out with charades.  Mrs. R was not in favor, but I thought it was worth a shot. As it turned out, every one of our groups acted out their “charade” very well. We ended up going around the class three times. It was a little rowdy, but nothing totally out of control.

The students enjoyed it. Since they actually had to engage in the activity, maybe some of what we did may actually stick with them. One can always hope.

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.

Talking God and religion with fifth graders

For eight months of the year, for the past seven years, I have spent nearly every Wednesday evening in the company of about two dozen 10 and 11 year-olds. I volunteered to teach the fifth grade CCD class at our church. This is a religious education program for the kids who do not go to a parochial school. In a Protestant church, it would probably be called “Sunday school,” except we have the classes on Wednesday evenings.

Mrs. Poolman is not at all certain why I continue to do this. I’m not really sure myself. I am a practicing Catholic, but I’m not a particularly devout or religious person. I do get some sense of satisfaction from filling a definite need in the parish. While I don’t think I’m a particularly good teacher, I do show up with some reliability and fill the space. Our CCD coordinator, Paula, is not overwhelmed with people knocking her doors down to teach a class.

I think I’m also providing a service to the students. It is been clear over the years, that for many of my students those Wednesday night CCD classes are the major source of their education / indoctrination in matters of God, religion, morals, ethics, values and life. My big question is: “How much of this is actually sticking with the kids?” I don’t have an answer to that. I suspect the answer is “very little.” We don’t have much time. Nor do we have the repetition to drive it home. Those 45-50 minutes a week are easily lost in the midst of busy lives of school, sports, school activities, dance, friends, and so on. I try not to dwell too long on that depressing note

Mostly, I think I like the kids and the discussions we have. The curriculum for this grade is to cover the sacraments.  It leaves us lots of time to talk about all kinds of subjects. Once they get comfortable in the class, fifth graders are not at all shy about asking questions and offering their opinions. I have a co-teacher, Sherry. Between the two of us, we try to get the kids engaged and maybe thinking about things that they haven’t thought of before.

By this point in the year, we have gotten to know the students fairly well, and they have gotten to know us. We know who is quick to raise their hand and those who we to be coaxed into participating in a discussion.

During our class this week, we covered the Sacrament of Matrimony. While this sounds innocent, it actually is fairly tricky. The Catholic Church teaches that a wedding vow is permanent, and divorce is not an option. (The issue of annulment is much too involved for this age group.) This fun part is to teach the kids that this is what they should seek to achieve in their adult lives, without appearing to criticize their divorced parents, cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles, etc.

The other interesting issue is we are never quite sure how much our students of this age have learned about sex from their parents, school, friends, TV and so on. If we were dealing with 13 year olds, we could be fairly certain they have at least been exposed to “Birds and Bees 101.” But for ten and eleven year-olds, we aren’t as certain. It makes it difficult to answer a question about a pregnant bride, which is one query we received last night. To make life very interesting, it just takes one student to ask, “What do you mean that they had sex before they were married? What does that mean?” Then we have opened a can of worms, and they are crawling all over the place.

We are fairly certain one girl was trying to “work us” last night with this exchange.

Her: I see all the pictures of the brides here are wearing white dresses. Why do brides always seem to wear white?  

Me: It’s a tradition, but you can wear whatever color you like.

Her: Even black?

Me: Yes, even black.

Her: But why do they usually wear white?

Me: It symbolizes purity or innocence.

Her: Innocent of what?

Sherry (jumping in to help out): It symbolizes that she is a virgin.

Her: A virgin? What’s a virgin?

Sherry: You know the answer to that.

Her: No, really (laughing). I don’t know. What is a virgin?

Sherry: Ask your parents.

We have just a few more weeks of class remaining for this year. This has been a good group. I’ll miss them when we break for the summer. Then I’ll take my chances with a fresh class in the fall.