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Learning Letters: The Sound Game

27 Mar
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Turtle, banana, jingle bell, pencil, fish.

 

Freestyle is becoming more interested in letters and words. I try to point out letters wherever we see them (every time she sees the box of Cheerios she always points and says, “A, B, C” now!). I’ve also been calling her attention to words in books by running my finger under them as I read and sometimes she does it too as she pretends to read by making up a story based on the picture!

In Montessori, letter sounds are introduced first. This is better preparation for reading and writing. Letter names are introduced later (and from what I’ve read/heard, most children do not have any trouble or confusion with this). Freestyle knows the alphabet song from the children’s programs that we’ve attended and from me singing it to her, but recently I’ve been trying to sing the sounds to her instead. (I remember being so impressed that my Montessori trainer could do it so quickly! Now I can too! Go me!)

So, I decided to introduce the Sound Game to her (note: this wasn’t in Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years. I found this exercise on infomontessori.com.). The Sound Games are a precursor to the Sandpaper Letters.

 

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Freestyle asked, “Me eat b-b-nana?” 🙂

 

The Sound Game

(This is just what I did after some time of pointing out the first sounds of different things in our environment from time to time. A proper introduction and detailed description  of all six Sound Game presentations, including the purpose, age of child, and control of error, available here. )

 

Materials:

Mat

Tray

Few objects around the home that begin with a single letter sound (blends such as shoe and stick are more complicated and should be introduced later)

What We Did:

1. I told Freestyle that we were going to play a game.

2. She unrolled her “work mat” and got a tray.

3. We went around the house and I asked her to look for specific objects that I already planned to use and knew where to find. We used a turtle figurine, banana, fish toy, pencil crayon, and a jingle bell.

4. Returning to the mat, we set down the tray and I asked Free to set out the objects in a row.

5. I asked Free to name all the objects and I repeated it, putting an emphasis on the first sound. “Yes, that’s a f-fish. Do you hear the first sound of the word ‘fish’? It’s ‘f’.” I was careful to say only the proper sound of the word (just the “f,” sounding like a quick puff of air) and not drag it out so that it sounded like “fuh” (incorrect).

6. After she heard all the first sounds of the objects, we started our game. I would ask her to give me the object that started with a specific sound. We went through all the objects.

7. She seemed ready to finish the game after we did it once (I could tell because she started rolling around on the ground and then wanted to ride on the work mat like a magic carpet!), so we stopped. Later, however, we did play again with different objects.

 

We’ll repeat this again and I plan on using the infomontessori site as a guide to continue with the rest of the Sound Games. It’s a great site and I added it to my list of Montessori resources.

 

Gather ’round, kids, to hear a tale…

26 Feb
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Snowprints!

 

The King and The Tax Collector 

There once was a king who ruled over a large kingdom. He was a goodhearted fellow who grew up within the palace walls, never wanting for anything. The king was kind and treated his people well and all who knew him, loved him.

The king enjoyed the people’s adoration and would generally grant their requests without hesitation. He would throw large parties, hand out gifts, lend and give without thought, and did what he wanted when the mood struck. The king was young and unpredictable and fun.

Now, the king’s tax collector was a shrewd and careful manager. She did not shirk her responsibilities and expected a timely collection of the people’s taxes. The tax collector made sure everyone knew when the taxes were due and how much they must pay. She would arrive at their doors exactly on the day that she had promised and did not accept excuses for late payment. The tax collector was firm and consistent and yet undeniably fair.

At first the people resented the tax collector’s strict ways and grumbled about her amongst themselves. However, they became accostomed to following her hard and fast rules and soon enough, all prepared their taxes on time. Eventually, the tax collector found that she never had to chase down late payments nor did she have issues with the people because everyone knew what she expected and followed it because they knew that there were consequences for not doing so.

 

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Random photo without context time!

 

Years went by. Instead of grumbling now, the people were prepared for tax season and handed their taxes over promptly. Many would even hand them in early. They developed a respect for the tax collector’s ways because they realized that she was fair, not cruel.

The tax collector was soon able to relax in some ways while trusting that the taxes would be collected in whole and on time. If someone wasn’t able to pay in full, she would take into consideration his or her payment history and allow the occasional late payment (though followed up consistently!). The people understood if a grace period was granted, it was an exception and they were grateful. The tax collector found her work becoming easier and more pleasant, as the essentials of her job were taken care of and she could now stop and have time to exchange pleasantries with the people, building up good rapport and relationships with them.

Meanwhile, the people had developed an indifferent attitude towards the king. They knew if they didn’t do as they were asked, he would be lenient. He thought he was being kind but his ever-changing stances and lax attitude about everything was confusing.

The king decided that in order to garner respect, he would try being strict. He began issuing harsh orders and when people did not comply, the king grew angry and doled out punishment after punishment, no matter how small the transgression. The people became confused. Then they became upset. They felt the king was being unfair and soon the people revolted against the king and demanded that the tax collector, who was always fair and did as she said, be the new queen.

The king, fearing for his life, fled the kingdom. The tax collector accepted the people’s wishes and established a functioning social democracy, serving as its first leader. 🙂

The End.

 

Story retold by Montessori Motherload. Original source unknown.

(If you know where this story originated from, please let me know! I have been looking around for it but can’t find it!)

 

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

– Les Brown

I heard of the story of the king and the tax collector during my teacher training (I guess that piece of paper didn’t survive my two moves since then!). It was during a session on classroom management. There were three lessons that I got from this story that stayed with me:

 

1. Start off with firm expectations

Most teachers will tell you that they are much more strict (strict as in firm, not as in unflinchingly mean!) in September, sticking firmly to the classroom rules and not wavering from their expectations. As the school year goes on, they will know that they can be more flexible in certain situations.  As in the story, it is much easier to start out with firm expectations and then loosen up when routines are set and the students understand the rules and rhythms of the classroom. Starting out without clear expectations and then try to become stricter later just doesn’t work.

Real-Life Classroom Example 

In my first year of teaching, I didn’t know that I should establish clear expectations on how much work should be accomplished. I was in an idealistic Montessori mindset that the students will love(!) work and do as much as they possibly can in a day for they just love working with the materials so darn much. Each student works at their own level and at their own pace, so it’ll all fluctuate but somehow come up roses in the end!

Yep, so that didn’t work out so well. By October, I could clearly see that some of the students were definitely not working as much as they could have and were not putting in 100% effort. I was teaching Upper Elementary at the time, so by then most were not in the eager to please teacher mode any longer and were much more interested in developing their social lives during class time!

I had to take the problem by the reigns when it got really bad but by that time, it was as if I was late for a race that had already started. It was difficult and I regretted not having those firm expectations in place right on day one.

It took me a couple of years to learn how to really apply the lesson from the story to the classroom, and when I did, I found that the rest of the year went much more smoothly after all the rules and routines were established and the students knew what was expected of them. I found this method especially helpful when I started in a new school or when I was supply teaching– it’s so much more effective to say no if you’re not sure of the usual routine and then later being more flexible with them, than to say yes, find out that that’s not how it’s done, and then have to backtrack. At that point, the kids will have figured out that you’re not sure what you’re doing and you’ll be running two steps behind them from then on!

I think this absolutely applies to the home as well.

I am finding that it is easier if I say no or restrict something for Freestyle at first and then later gradually easing up on that rule once she understands that it is an occasional treat or rare exception to the rule.

For example, I really tried to avoid giving her sweets for as long as possible. Juice, candy, and chocolate are obviously not nutritionally necessary (though super delicious as her hypocritical mother with a sweet tooth knows!), so we just avoided it. Let me tell you, it can be hard to stand your ground when everyone else is having chocolate cake and you are not allowing your 15 month old a piece because you’ve already said no.

Today, Freestyle does have the occasional chocolate (though I am still avoiding candy as much as possible and politely turn down grocery cashier’s kind offers of lollipops at check out!) and definitely has some cake or pie for dessert when we are out for dinner with friends or have company. She has developed a sweet tooth like her mother but seems (knock on wood) to understand that it’s an occasional treat.

Now, I’m not saying that what I’m doing is the “right” way to go about handling sweets for kids. Absolutely not. It’s just what I believe is best for my kids, that’s all. However, my point is, if I had allowed Freestyle to eat chocolate and candy and drink sugary juice all the time and then suddenly, in a health-conscious guilt moment decide that NO, she eats too much sugar and is never allowed to have it again! Well, that would be a pretty tough habit to break and this inconsistency would be very confusing and unfair to her.

 

2. Set clear expectations

This is pretty much an expansion of the above. The tax collector in the story made sure that the people knew her expectations and what the consequences would be if they did not follow them.

In both the classroom and home, knowing what is expected of you is important for children. It makes them feel safe. When I was teaching, I made sure that the students knew the expectations in different situations (work period, lunch, recess, field trip, etc.) and just as importantly, allowed them to practice (what do you do when you need help, saying hello and thank you to to the bus driver, etc.).

Real Life Classroom Example

It is not uncommon for Montessori schools to receive positive feedback about student behaviour during field trips. I have gotten many compliments on my class’ behaviour while we were out throughout the years. I can’t take full credit since their Toddler and Casa teachers worked very hard to establish Grace and Courtesy!

What I did do, however, was make sure they knew what to expect on the field trip. We would talk about the expectations when they arrived at school that day, what they had to bring, how they must behave on the bus, how they should comport themselves when we arrived at our destination, what to expect during the program, and so on.

We would sometimes practice by role playing. For younger children, we might practice “getting on the bus” and saying hello to the bus driver while looking her in the eyes. For older children, practice might mean thinking about what they would say or do if they were sitting beside a person who was homeless on the subway (I’ve taken my Upper El students on the bus and subway for a couple of field trips downtown).

Real Life Classroom Example

I think the best compliment that I got was during a trip to see the King Tutankhamun exhibit at the ROM. My group was just exiting the actual exhibit when two older women stopped me.

Woman #1: Excuse me, we just wanted to say how well-behaved your kids are!

Me: Oh! Thank you. That’s so great for them to hear. (Turning to students) This nice lady complimented your behaviour. Isn’t that nice of her?

Students: Yes! Thank you!

Woman #2: What did you do to prepare them?

Me: (Not understanding her question) We did some research projects on King Tut, read books about his life as a class, we did some Egyptian art…

Woman #2: No! I meant how do you prepare them for the trip? Their behaviour?

Me: Oh! (Thinking) Well, they are expected to behave appropriately and we usually practice and discuss it before the trip.

Woman #1: Well, they’re just wonderful.

Me: Yes, they are! 🙂

I was particularly proud of my kids because I remember that for that trip, although we did go through the expectations as per usual, I remember that I didn’t go into them as thoroughly because it was a trip closer to the end of the year and I assumed that they knew them already. And they did! I have more stories like this one, and I think it’s just a testament to Montessori’s emphasis on Grace and Courtesy and overall respect for others.

I should also add that while you are setting the expectations, you will also need to establish the natural consequences that will follow if those expectations are not met. That might need a whole new post!

 

3. Say what you mean, mean what you say

This goes hand in hand with the first two lesson. The people respected the tax collector because she did exactly that. This is so important to remember when teaching young children. Being consistent can be difficult at times, but if you stop just once, just remember that it’s supposed to take 21 repetitions to make something into a habit and you have just broken that chain and have to start again at repetition #1!

It’s so much easier to just give in, but it is worth the trouble!

Real Life Classroom Example

One thing that I always told my kids was that if I said no, I mean no and they shouldn’t keep asking because I wasn’t going to change my mind. Next time you are about to cave, just remember this:

Student: (Asking for something, doesn’t matter what. Anything. Everything.) Can I, Mrs. MM? Can I, Can I?

Me: I don’t know, can you?

Student: (Rolling eyes because they get that a lot at school…and probably at home!) Okay, may I?

Me: I already told you no and I am not going change my mind, so stop asking.

Student: …Please?

Me: Do you do this to your mom/dad?

Student: Yep!

Me: (Laughs) Does it work?

Student: Yep!

Trust me, that is pretty common! And though it is frustrating to keep repeating yourself when staying firm, it’s worth the effort when the kids realize that you say what you mean and mean what you say!

Exactly what EVERYONE wants to read about!

28 Jan

 

And by “everyone” I mean “no one” except parents of toddlers (and maybe not even them!).

Freestyle has been out of diapers (during the daytime) since she was about 18 months. Yes, there have been accidents here and there, but on the whole she has been pretty successful in this area.* I also shared what worked for us here.

HOWEVER, one thing I didn’t really realize that she wasn’t truly using the toilet by herself. What I had been doing was going with her to the washroom and helping her up on her stool, pull down pants, and wipe. That is not really independence, is it?

I didn’t really notice this until…I was on my own for the first time with both girls (Biker had gone back to work after the three weeks) and I was breastfeeding Real Baby when suddenly I hear Freestyle saying, “Poo poo! Me poo poo!”

Oh…crap.

Literally.

 

Tangent #1

They say that children may regress in certain areas of development when a new baby arrives, and I found this to be true with Freestyle. Right before Real Baby was born, Freestyle was sleeping very well on her own (finally!). However, once Real Baby arrived on the scene, sleep went out the window for every member of the family, including Freestyle! (She is slowly getting better now.).

With her toileting (not sure if that’s a word, but I’m going with it!), Freestyle started having more accidents about a month before Real Baby’s birth and a month afterwards. I am just going to chalk it up to knowing that something was about to change (before) and then adjusting to having a new person in the house (after). It’s three months later and Freestyle is back to normal now. She doesn’t wear diapers for her naps now and is dry afterwards about 90% of the time. Woo hoo! Now let’s just see about her nighttime diaper… 

 

Anyhow, after that eye-opening incident, I have come to realize why the lessons in Casa albums have SO MANY STEPS! Sweeping with a broom has about 20 steps or something! I get it now. There really are a lot of steps to do a simple task, we just don’t realize it because we’ve done it thousands of times and we don’t have to think about it.

 

Tangent #2

(Whenever you’re driving, do you ever suddenly look around and realize, “Oh, how did I get here?!” because all the minute tasks of driving a car has become so instinctual? If yes, that’s totally what I’m talking about. If not…excuse the living Chinese lady driver stereotype here!)

So, after some thought (and many just-didn’t-make-it-in-time accidents) and practice, here are the steps that are involved in going to the washroom all “by ma-sef” in our household, at least (at the moment, Freestyle is about 2.5 years old).

 

Going to the Washroom Independently

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This is an older photo. We don’t use the kid’s toilet seat pictured above anymore. My fears that she will fall into the toilet have all but disappeared! Progress!

 

Prepared Environment: Stool(s) (not that kind!) for the toilet and sink, toilet lid is up and seat is down (there have been times when she just didn’t make it because there wasn’t enough time to lift the lid!), soap and towel at reach.

 

1. Turn the light on by climbing onto the stool to reach.

2. Get up onto the stool in front of the toilet.

3. Turn around and pull down pants, then underwear.

4. Sit onto the toilet and do your business.

5. Stand and wipe self, front to back (working on this!). I will usually help with this after she’s had a turn just to make sure it’s all clean!

6. Pull up underwear, then pants. (We’ll have to work on pants with buttons and zippers later.) Get off the stool (sometimes she reverses this step).

7. Flush (though we are trying the whole “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down” thing if it’s just us in the house).

8. Climb up the sink stool and roll up sleeves.

9. Wash hands: Rub soap on hands for at least 30 seconds (singing “Happy Birthday” or the alphabet is what I suggested to some kids in my class), making sure to scrub the front and back of hands and in between fingers and thumb. Fully rinse off all soap. Dry hands.

10. Turn light off.

 

Things we had to constantly practiced before she could do all those steps on her own:

  • Getting up and down a stool. 
  • Pulling pants and underwear down and putting them back on.
  • Lowering self onto the toilet seat. –> In public washrooms, I will usually hold onto her so she doesn’t have to hold onto the toilet seat or walls…shudder.
  • Tearing off only a couple squares of toilet paper. –> Took many tries and many unrolled toilet paper rolls!
  • Wiping(!) properly–> Still practicing this one! 
  • Turning on and off the tap (so only a small amount of water is running and it’s warm/cool…we have the kind of tap that rotates, so it was a bit tricky for Freestyle to learn to move it to the right temperature and water pressure!)
  • Using the soap pump and pumping out a small amount of soap.
  • Washing and drying hands thoroughly.

 

Any sage toileting advice for toddlers?

 

Learning to Glue (Mess-free!)

24 Jan

Freestyle has recently been very interested in learning to use scissors and glue after using them at the drop-in school program that we attend. Since they were set out and ready to go, I didn’t do a sit-down formal lesson on scissor use (definitely not necessary to do this for everything a toddler needs to learn, I feel!). I just showed her quickly how to hold them: thumb in the smaller handle hole and her pointer and middle in the wider one (though she is using three fingers right now…is that normal because their fingers are so small? I wonder if I should correct it or let it be for now).

I also made sure she knew how to carry them if she needed to: close the scissors and cover the outside of the blades with your hand, keeping your arm stiff while pointing the handles of the scissors towards the ground. She still needs reminders with this one! It is unsettling to see her walking towards me with them open in her hands!

For gluing, I liked how the Casa students in one of my old schools were taught to use white glue and taught Freestyle that method. I liked how they did it because it was neat and efficient– the child doesn’t end up using gobs of glue and turning their work into a wet and wrinkly mess. I remember when I was a kid, I didn’t like using white glue because it would make the paper wrinkly. When I was in elementary we used  glue sticks more often and I liked how much neater it was, but I do think that white glue is easier (thought messier) for younger kids to use.

So, without much further ado…

 

How to Neatly Use White Glue for Preschoolers 

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I don’t have any post-its at home right now, so I just used yellow construction paper and tape for show.

 

Purpose: To learn to glue neatly and efficiently. A skill that will be used over and over for crafts and school projects! Fine motor skills and precision in movement will be used.

 

Materials:

White glue

Glue mat (an old placemat works well)

Post-it notes

Flat, rounded toothpicks (I couldn’t find any so picked up these bamboo cocktail forks to use for now. They’re large and easy for Freestyle to hold.)

Paper

Cloth (to wipe up glue mat)

 

What to do:

1. Have all materials ready on a tray . Ask your child bring it to the table.

2. Either have pre-cut paper (or other easy to glue items) ready, or have your child cut up some paper to glue (if she already knows how to use scissors).

3. Set out the glue mat and place the page that she will be gluing things onto on the mat. Stick a post-it onto the top right-hand corner of the mat (or left-hand if she is left-handed!).

4. Show her how to squeeze a small amount of glue onto the post-it. (That’s the beauty of using the post-it…your child will have to learn to only use up the small amount that can fit onto it!)

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5. Show your child how to use the toothpick to take a small amount of glue and dab it onto the corners of the piece of paper that she wants to glue onto the page.

6. Turn the paper around and press the corners onto the page!

7. Repeat!

8. Dispose of toothpick and post-it after the activity. Wipe and dry glue mat before putting it away.

 

Go further:

Here’s a great post about using glue with preschoolers on the Teach Preschool blog.

 

Happy New Year!

3 Jan

My Montessori-related Goals for 2013

  • Devote more time in researching, creating, and presenting Montessori lessons to Freestyle.
  • Research, create, and present Montessori Toddler lessons to Real Baby.
  • Continue reading up on Montessori, current educational best practices.
  • Make a list of materials that I will need for first year Casa work. Write a letter to send to my family and friends asking if they have any of these items to donate to the cause!
  • Look into a Casa albums to purchase.

Learning by Moving: Shapes

13 Dec

Other than naming them for her or pointing them out once in awhile, I hadn’t really sat down and presented Freestyle with a lesson about shapes. Freestyle knows circles, square, stars, and hearts just through everyday osmosis.

Taking advantage of the gorgeous day outside and the generosity of my neighbours’ for allowing us to deface their side of the driveway, I took Freestyle out for a “shape game” that would reinforce her knowledge of these shapes as well as give her an opportunity to kinaesthetically “experience” the shapes.

With sidewalk chalk, I drew a large circle and square, using a rake to help me make the looking shapes. It makes for a decent driveway ruler too.

 

To draw the circle I marked the centre with a dot and then kept the end of the rake on it while I moved the rake around in a circle, making marks as I went. Then I connected the marks. You could also use some string and have someone hold it in the centre while you move the other end around.

 

Shape Game 1: Running Laps (Circle)

We ran around (well, I walked quickly as I had Real Baby strapped to me in the carrier) and around and around…and around and around…and around! I chased Freestyle around the circle and then she chased me. Once in awhile I would emphasize the word “circle”: “Let’s run around the circle. This is a circle.”

 

Shape Game 2: Circling the Square (Square)

We walked and ran along the sides of the square. As with the circle, I’d say and emphasize the word “square.” I have to say, however, Freestyle much preferred the circle to the square! It’s more fun and easier to run around a circle than a square, I suppose!

To draw the square, I marked the centre again with chalk and then placed one of the rake there while I moved the other end to mark the four sides. Then I used the rake again to draw the sides, using the marks as a guides.

 

Shape Game 3: Circle or Square? (Both)

I would call out one of the shapes and Freestyle would run and jump into the middle of the shape. This one she liked too, especially when I would repeat the same shape to try to fake her out!

 

 

I wish there was room to add a triangle, but maybe next time! If you do not have a driveway, you could try a school playground– they may have a four square square and/or a basketball court with a circle on the pavement.

 

 

 

I Have Confidence in ME!

27 Sep

 

(Listen to this while you read this post!)

 

My first couple years of teaching were rough. Though I had a lot of experience running children’s programs, being a child’s primary teacher– the adult who sees them 8 hours a day for a whole school year and is responsible for their education– seemed so daunting.

The thing that I was most worried about was classroom management. While I enjoyed my teacher training, I don’t believe that we were adequately prepared in this area. Then again, a lot of classroom management is really learned “on the job.”

I know that I can’t be the students’ friend, to establish the routines and be clear and firm in my expectations for the first month, to be consistent, etc. etc. All of this completely made sense to me and I scoffed at the thought of other teachers making these mistakes, knowing that I never would.

Ha.

Ha ha.

 

 

 

I think I practically made every rookie teaching mistake in the book. I was tired and frustrated and didn’t get a lot of (useful) support from admin (who assumed that I was fine since it was, on the surface at least). It was a tough first year because, well, it was my first year teaching and the environment in which I work wasn’t particularly…healthy. Out of the five new teachers (this is in a small school), I was the only one left by the end of the year who didn’t quit or get fired. So make your own assumptions about that.

I remember that I dreaded going to work every day, and started to feel anxious every time we got off the highway and I knew that I was approaching the school. I would keep The Sound of Music soundtrack CD in the car and blast “I Have Confidence” on repeat for that last 10 minutes of the drive. Sounds silly but it actually helped! 🙂

 

“I have confidence in sunshine!”

Photo Credit 

 

Even though I felt so beaten down and like a failure, I decided to stay one for at least another year. I felt that I needed to redeem myself to the students and their families and also to prove to myself that I could do it. I had a year of teaching experience behind me and a new admin member became a source of inspiration and support that next year. By the second year, even though I think I did much better and had more support, I still didn’t think it was the right place for me and found a job at another school.

 

Taken during a field trip to the zoo.

 

I stayed there for a couple of years, teaching Lower Elementary. I enjoyed it much more because I believe I’m better suited, personality-wise, to this age group and it was bigger school so I could talk with other teachers teaching the same age group (my old school only had one classroom of each level) and share ideas with them. There was an admin team member who specifically supported the Elementary program and I felt that I had more autonomy in the classroom, which also helped.

I know that the quitting rate in the teaching profession is very high within the first five years of working and apparently a lot of that comes from lack of support from administration.

If you’re a new teacher, my advice would be to ask for help as soon as possible. Don’t worry about looking “weak” or “incompetent.” I found that it’s better to ask a lot of questions upfront and get it right rather than “wait and see” if the issue will work itself out and then have to ask for help when the problem is bigger than before! I think admin would appreciate this as well because they do have a big job and can’t be everywhere at once, so they may have no idea that you’re struggling. I know that’s just common sense, but I found it very easy to forget once you’re actually in the situation!

Remember that of COURSE you’re going to make mistakes. Everyone does. Just don’t be too hard on yourself but also work extra hard to correct them and strategize ways to prevent it from happening again. Like your students, you’ll be constantly learning.

 

Hope springs eternal, right?

 

In a recent Canadian Family magazine article, a teacher who won one of their Great Teacher Awards, Janet Shillinglaw, was asked what she would tell her young self if she could go back in time. I loved her answer:

“Be acutely aware that you will be part of the life story of every child you teach. You will have membership in a privileged group of people who will shape how the children in your care see themselves and their places in the world. Stay the course! Act justly and walk humbly. Live your careers with the goal that, at the end of it all, you will know that you were good to children, good with children and good for children.”

Isn’t that great? I will definitely remember that in mind when I go back to teaching in the classroom!

 

All the best to the teachers beginning a new year!