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Did You Hear That? A Day in the 4th Grade


From breakfast to dinner, Kevin Casey of ACE 20 reflects on the experiences (and sounds) of a day in the life of an elementary school teacher.

6:12 a.m. After dragging myself out of bed and showering, I silently take my seat at the kitchen table with my bowl of cereal and sliced banana to catch up on NPR. If she's not there already, my housemate Mary joins me with her Greek yogurt and prayer card.

Every morning we sit in the same seats across from each other. We eat in silence, not saying a word-it's too early for either of us to engage in conversation. Her presence is enough, though: a reminder that as challenging as my day may be, I have my housemates to support me when I get home.

7:50 a.m. Sacred Heart begins each day with an assembly in the parish center/cafeteria. I head straight there from overseeing the car drop-off line, a job that gives me the unique opportunity to interact with students of all grades. What's the best way to get a kindergartner to go straight into the school building from his vehicle without stopping, you ask? If you think of a strategy, let me know.

Assembly often includes special presentations, but always entails a daily reading and responsorial psalm, the Pledge of Allegiance (when was the last time you said it?), and our school mission statement. Finally, once each class is in a Spirit of Excellence line, Sister Mary Ann leads us in Sacred Heart's core beliefs (complete with hand motions!).

8:45 a.m. By this time, the 4th Grade Explorers are well into their daily math lesson. This week we have been practicing our strategies for solving multi-digit multiplication problems (i.e. 37 x 64). Each math lesson usually includes direct instruction, individual practice, group work, and pair-shares.

In a classroom of 30 students, one-on-one attention can be tough; often it's while students are practicing the content of the lesson-either individually or in groups-that I get a chance to meet with struggling students. I've found through pair-shares, though, that fellow students can be the best teachers, as can be heard from students working through the traditional method of multiplication.

9:15 a.m. We always begin religion class with some form of prayer, and usually students share special intentions they have before we begin. This practice not only gives students the opportunity to express themselves and voice their concerns, but it also provides me with a window into their lives outside of school.

The neatest part of this practice is when students pray for a peer's intention days after the petition was originally voiced. While I never know what the intentions will include, the most common ones involve friends and family.

Bonus! 10 a.m. On Wednesdays we have our all-school masses, and by this time they are just about wrapping up. When you're an ACE teacher, you often find yourself filling random roles within the school, despite a lack of qualifications.

For me this means conducting the choir, which translates into showing up to Mass on Wednesday with no prior knowledge of any of the music and moving my hands the best I can to the notes (Which hand do I use? Depends on which isn't tired!). Fortunately, Mrs. Gibson is a stellar music teacher, and I just let my hands follow her lead on the piano. Apparently I'm a pretty good actor (as far as looking like I know how to conduct), but I'm quick to note that all the credit for the choir's beautiful sounds actually goes to Mrs. Gibson, the musicians (some students, some staff), and the 3rd — 5th grade singers.

12:54 p.m. Recess. If there's any part of the day during which a teacher has to be ready for anything, it's now (i.e. What happens if a squirrel falls on one of your student's heads?). I've discovered that real-life recess isn't completely different from my favorite childhood cartoon, Recess.

While Sacred Heart may not have a middle school student named King Bob, my class' recess does consist of various groups. You have the taggers, gymnasts, football players, drawers, swingers, and those I've affectionately dubbed "the imaginators." I've even managed to get exclusive information on the imaginary world the four imaginators enter once recess begins.

2:16 p.m. Most of the afternoon is spent on Social Studies and science. This can be a tricky time of the day for a teacher: some students seem a bit lethargic after eating and exerting energy at recess, while others are amped from the food and fresh air. With the end of the day so near, this is also a very quick-paced time.

Yet, as always, instruction must go on! So I begin pulling out all of my ACE-certified teacher strategies: call-and-repeats (Scholars?!?!?), verbal attention grabbers (GASP! Look how cool this is), bodily-kinesthetic movement ("I need every to get up, walk in a circle, and then sit down."), and perhaps even some unexpected accents. Consequently, it is often at this time of the day that I am reminded I'll pull out any stop to keep my students learning. (My apologies for the singing)

6:17 p.m. When I finally get home, I'm usually mentally exhausted and chances of getting any work finished before our 7 o'clock community dinner are slim. Fortunately, this is where community members (aka friends who have also spent the day managing and bestowing knowledge upon mobs of students) are quite beneficial in helping to blow off some steam.

For example: a given evening might include Kaleen preparing community dinner in the kitchen while Ealish reads nearby. Jordan, Alex, and I have just watched the end of the Bond movie Sky Fall. Rather than simply watch something else while we wait for dinner, we go into Bond mode ourselves: Alex and I with the community Nerf guns, Jordan with the inflatable parrot. The next twenty minutes include hardwood-floor slides, behind-the-couch dodges, and sneak-attacks that scare Ealish and almost take out Mary, who has just gotten back from her run.

I'd share sounds from this situation, but some things you just have to experience for yourself