Friday, September 03, 2004

Family Day

I spent much of my free time during the last few days planning Family Day. Our tradition is to end Student Orientation with some kind of lunch for families, but this year we had to take the event out to the schoolyard because we don't have a space large enough in our part of the building for 200 students and their parents. I worked with my principal and one other teacher to plan the event; they coordinated food while I coordinated activities and set up a schedule.

I over-planned for activities; we had drama games, basketball, knockout, dodgeball, steal the bacon, relay races, freeze dance, chess, double dutch, and face painting. My schedule was pretty elaborate, dividing the day into activity periods so that children could participate in more than one activity.

Last night, the other teacher who was working on this event had a major family emergency, so he brought the supplies he'd purchased to school and then my principal drove him to the hospital. That meant that the morning was a bit crazy. I helped answer the office phone, ran around gathering first aid and sports equipment, and then recruited a team of eighth grade volunteers to help set everything up. When we got downstairs to the schoolyard, my principal was setting up the food with several parent volunteers. These parents made sandwiches constantly for three hours!

The students came down a little later, and I explained the activities to them. After they dispersed and started playing, I realized that they were happy and didn't necessarily need to switch activities in a structured way, so we scrapped the schedule I'd made and allowed them to flow between activities whenever they wanted to. I'd been concerned about some activities being too popular and some kids getting left out, but it didn't happen that way. I taught a group of seventh grade girls how to play four-square, and they seemed to be having fun with it, so I left them to it and circulated among the activities, making sure everything was going smoothly.

For the first half of the morning, my principal was upstairs selling uniform shirts to parents, because the secretary who had been handling that was also absent today, and an unexpectedly large number of parents showed up to buy uniforms. This meant that parents, teachers, and students kept coming up to me with every single question! I felt a little out-on-a-limb for a while - I would field questions gamely, but I hadn't really intended to be in charge of the whole thing. She came back downstairs and seemed to think everything was going well, so I relaxed a little. We also had an hour or so of anxiety when we ran out of bread with only 130 sandwiches - not even enough to feed our students, let alone their siblings and parents. One of the parent volunteers ran out to buy more bread, and in the end we were able to feed everyone with sandwiches to spare.

Interacting with parents has never been my strongest skill as a teacher. I am pretty quick at learning my students' names, but I have a terrible time remembering which parent is which, particularly because I see them so rarely. Still, it was great to have parents of our seventh and eighth graders come up and greet me warmly and enthusiastically -- and I am making an effort to remember who is who and take time to meet the new parents.

At the end of the day, I lined up all the students who were still there along the schoolyard fence for "one last game," and then had them walk in a sweeping line across the yard, picking up trash. Although they did not all participate in good faith, we left the yard pretty clean.

Everyone seemed to have a good time, and I am really proud of the way my team pulls together when unexpected problems arise. We were unavoidably shorthanded today, and had to wing it on a number of things, but the bottom line is that we made it work.

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