Eighty-Six Things I Learned at P.S. 86 by Hallie Fox

Eighty-Six Things I Learned at P.S. 86 (Hallie Fox)

This guest post is written by Hallie Fox, who taught in a Bronx (New York City) elementary school–P.S. 86. She was a student in my Fall quarter seminar on “Good School and Districts.” For a final reflective paper, she attached a list of what she learned while teaching at P.S. 86.  I was struck by three things in reading the list. First, how complex and totally absorbing is the daily life of an elementary school teacher. Ssecond, how important local knowledge is for a teacher to survive and thrive, and finally, a sense of humor is vital to teaching and learning.

I am Hallie Fox – Ms. Fox to most at PS 86. I taught 6th grade inclusion my first year and had a class of 26. My co-teacher and I survived the year together and then went our separate ways. For the next two years I taught 5th grade self contained (12 students in a class) and worked with a wonderful woman (my paraprofessional) Ms. Cintron. PS 86 serves about 1,800 students from preK-6th grade and is about 95% free and reduced lunch. While there, I also coached the running team and planned international and outdoor trips for 5th and 6th graders. I have a MA from Hunter College in Elementary Special Education and a BA from Middlebury College in Political Science.Although I loved teaching and learned more from my students than they’ll ever know, I am pursuing a degree in Policy, Organization, and Leadership studies at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education.

86 Things I Learned at PS 86.

  1. Be the first class down at fire drills
  2. Take the stairs not the elevator; it does get stuck and your kids will have no teacher
  3. Know Maria (payroll)
  4. Avoid Dunkin Donuts
  5. Speak powerfully – yell only when it really counts
  6. Don’t make promises you can’t keep
  7. Keep your lap-top over the summer (getting it back the first few weeks is a loose term)
  8. Have Jerry’s Number programmed (IT)
  9. Make Normal Fuentes (or another 30 year veteran) your best friend
  10. Ask for help from people you trust; don’t always take their advice
  11. Know the janitors
  12. Talk to your AP (Assistant Principal) first before the Principal
  13. Work after-school and on Saturday tutoring sessions
  14. Participate wisely in grade meetings; try to not look bored
  15. Take any chance you get for PLCs (professional learning communities) and group planning
  16. Accept that bus duty is not fun
  17. Have calming routines in place in the morning and after lunch because your kids will be wild
  18. 2 lines, quiet in the halls
  19. Be out of the room during prep (if you actually want to use prep)
  20. Be at work the day before every break
  21. Independent reading should not be 45 minutes – that is not teaching
  22. Homework systems count – they are always accountable
  23. Ask the [math/language arts] coaches for advice – that is their job
  24. Assess often and COMMUNICATE to students
  25. Long-term plans. Enough said.
  26. Be flexible
  27. Give students choice within reason
  28. When meeting with School Based Support Team – be on time and be loved
  29. Bathroom breaks and snacks mid morning are key
  30. Eat breakfast no matter what
  31. Attend all social events
  32. Request preps after 8am
  33. Adjust, readjust, and then adjust again the math calendar
  34. Do read-alouds that you enjoy (Roald Dahl!)
  35. Make science and social studies fun!
  36. Have class celebrations with parents (!!)
  37. Speak Spanish
  38. Befriend the librarian
  39. Create centers and use them!
  40. Small groups as often as possible – they work!
  41. Don’t talk AT them, talk WITH them
  42. Keep intro to new material (INMs) short
  43. If it doesn’t work, try again in a new way – improv. is key
  44. Use every minute – even if that minute is one dedicated to laughter
  45. Don’t assume your SMART board [interactive white board] works
  46. Don’t assume copiers work (or printers…)
  47. Send attendance on time
  48. Plan field trips (and invite other classes!)
  49. Call home often (with good and bad news)
  50. Stay late… when it counts
  51. Always have an extra desk in your room – you will get another kid
  52. Try not to wing it… but if you do, fake it well
  53. You can’t teach with a hangover
  54. You can’t teach with a fever
  55. Share yourself with your students
  56. Encourage them to share themselves with you
  57. Keep students for lunch and prep for FUN too!
  58. Buy munchkins for Saturday school (this contradicts point #4 but buy munchkins anyways)
  59. Read with students – “independent” reading is hard
  60. Reader’s theater is fun and kids love it! Have them even write their own!
  61. Phonics intervention actually works and can be fun
  62. Don’t let bad habits go unattended (like not doing homework or asking to use the bathroom every time you start a math lesson)
  63. Be tough
  64. Expect the most
  65. POSITIVE praise – we like it as adults and kids need it.
  66. If one doesn’t get it, don’t give up
  67. Know all the counselors, social workers, psychologists’ numbers – cell and office
  68. Keep tantrums to one student, not 12
  69. Notice patterns
  70. Pencils – have LOTS
  71. Pencil sharpeners – have a system
  72. Team Marble Jars are a great management trick (but follow point #6)
  73. Try a “Scholar Dollar” system (points for behavior, hard work, and right answers – kids get “checks” they cash at the end of the month at the scholar dollar store which sells lunch time with teachers, pencils, granola bars, etc)
  74. Monitor computer time (CoolMathGames is not actually math)
  75. Update student work regularly
  76. Don’t have a teachers desk – if you do, don’t sit at it – be with your students
  77. File regularly to avoid professional development day pile ups the day before report cards are due
  78. Always have cash
  79. Make sure your students feel important – love them
  80. Field day? Participate with spirit!
  81. State tests are terrible. Make test prep a game, keep it short, think strategies not reading lessons.
  82. Careful with manipulatives…
  83. Take a breath before you explode
  84. Find laughter, every day
  85. Allow time for kids to be kids
  86. Blank slate every morning!

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