First Day of School Quiz - Year Six

This will be the sixth time that I'm giving a 'First Day of School' Quiz.


I've had a tough time these past two years setting up the questions. Since I've moved to middle school, my schedule has a few kids in my Math block as well as my Science block.

Essentially, I see the same kid twice in a single day.

So I have to make two sets of quizzes. Some of the questions I don't change because I feel like every student of mine should have to answer.

Anyway, the last question is still always my favorite. They give a written response to this prompt:

If Mr. Arakaki wanted to be the best teacher you've ever had, what would he need to do?

Here are some of the ones that caught my eye.*

"He should let us go on faceBook. To tex on owe Phone."

"giveout treats - especially chocolate and pickles."

"Decorate your classroom a bit more."

"To be the best teacher I would have, you would have to be like the cool teacher not strict or mean. But strict When you need to be. When I think of a cool teacher I think funny, and nice. I like when my teachers help Me When I really need help, and they are not tough on me. I also really like the kids of teachers that pushes us to do more and get our work done, it helps me as a student when I have teachers like that."

"First: do not git in fights or do bad thangs. Do not be strike be nice. Don't let us melt in her. Don't give us to much homework. Thats what you should do to be best teach."

"I Thank you should do math with food because. I thank it would be fun and make us want to learn"


"Basically, tell some jokes and thats about it." 

And one of the students included this awesome note:

"Thanks Mr. A! The apples you like are called Pink Lady. I'll give you seeds some time so you can grow your own apples. At least two, so they can pollinate each other!"

There aren't that many things that I've done every year that I've taught, but this is one of them.

*To preserve authenticity, all responses were typed out exactly as I could decipher.

A "cool" teacher

There's less than a week of school left and the students in my classes have been working (surprisingly) hard on their independent science presentations. Most of the class knows what they should be working on and what to do next, so it gives me time to check-in with each student throughout the block.

Today, I checked in with a student whose topic is space stations and the impact they've had on scientific research and space exploration. After conferencing with him on what he was working on and some places where he could improve, I started to leave to move onto the next student. As I began to walk away, the student next to him says it.

"You're a cool teacher."

I really don't like hearing this from students. I really don't. It bothers me. A huge part of me does not want to be known as a cool teacher and would rather simply be known as a great teacher.

The student stared me down and obviously wanted me to respond. Unfortunately, I couldn't think fast enough to reply any other way. I said what was on my mind.

"I'd rather be a great teacher."

We engaged in a little discussion of what I felt the difference was and he tried to understand. I did my best to explain that even though I'm glad he enjoys my class and thinks the activities and lessons we do are fun and says it's his least boring class, I would rather him leave my room having grown as a learner, creator, thinker and individual.

Blank stare...

And then I was floored.

"You mean like how we don't ask you questions that we can answer ourselves?"

Oh, happy day.

Moving to Middle School

It's already May and I haven't blogged at all this school year. It may or may not be related to this being my first year teaching content in a new grade level and at a new school. After teaching fourth grade for two years and two more in fifth, I moved on.

6th grade. Middle school.

For some reason, the past few weeks have been finding me frequently reflecting on the past few months. Perhaps it's all of the questions that are asked during the last quarter of the year.

"How was your year, did you like it? Do you miss elementary school? Are you going to come back next year? What sections do you want to teach? So, what do you think of middle school?"

It's taken some time to sort through all of it. Most of the reasons that influenced me to take this current position no longer exist or apply. The complicated part is that there have been new factors which have been introduced during this school year that invite me to stay.

I've been pushed to really examine what I want to do, where I want to be and what direction I want to head.

Need to figure this out. It's time.

Better Days

I've been having some truly great days recently. I can't seem to make any connection as to why all of a sudden the upswing of things. Here are the Facebook status updates that I had posted:

from Tuesday, November 1, 2011:

Had a great day today! Started with choir (we did "All These Things I've Done" by The Killers), executed a great writing lesson, book group time, switched 5th grade classes for Social Studies, had lunch with grown-ups today, introduced complicated volume problems, started a new read-aloud (the great "When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead), wrapped up a history chapter with my class, hung out with Mr. Zickrick and his boys, went to Odyssey of the Mind practice with five great students and then drove home on 287 at 20 mph in the crazy snow. Now time to catch up on TV!

from Thursday, November 3, 2011

Today was one of the best days of the school year! Drove through crazy spooky fog to get to work on time, let my kids in early so they wouldn't freeze, did a reading inventory for the whole class, progress monitored all of my kids (except two), reestablished our reading goals and incentives for 2nd quarter, introduced a new prewriting organizer, taught Mr. N's class about "encore", found one of my kids using his organic fruit lunch as a weapon, practiced order of operations, held book groups, introduced european routes of exploration, experienced "first come first served" with halloween candy, redid a bulletin board, picked up Zickrick to get some fuel, school paperwork, hanging with friends, X Factor, and hopefully I'll get to start reading "A Wrinkle in Time" since I am racing a student who is already forty pages in.

I do want to rehash a few more specific things from today. I assigned a writing prompt today, "Why I Like This School", and had my class develop this piece independently, to assess their writing procedures. I didn't give them any other direction or instruction.

After about fifteen minutes, one of my boys (DM) raises his hand to ask "Is this good?" like he always does. I try to not give him false praise, but rather focus on the effort that he has put into it. I tend to respond, "I don't know, what do you think?" But today I didn't. He wanted me to read it right away, and since he was one of the first ones to complete it, I decided I could entertain him and read it.

I skimmed it and I found that I was listed as one of the things he likes about school. I love this kid. He's also a normal boy, and he included playing football at recess and his friends among his other reasons.

Fast forward to the end of the day, I'm releasing all of the kids to go home. Most of the kids get picked up by their parents and a few ride the bus. Normally, it's a mad rush to get out of the classroom and leave the school, but today, after excusing everyone, DM didn't leave. He usually meets his first grade brother outside my class, but said that since it was cold today (it was pretty cold today) that he would wait for him inside.

Well, he's messing around inside with another one of my students, and I tell him he better hurry up because his little bro is probably waiting outside in the cold. DM disagrees with me and insists that he's not there yet.

So I open the door, completely expecting him to be standing right beside my door, shivering in the cold. DM was right. No one was there. But I could see him on the approach. Once his brother gets to my room, I let him in since DM is still inside, not leaving.

And now I've got both of them, the two brothers in my room with a few other students still cleaning up to go home. Now DM's mom picks him up to go home and she's always on time, waiting in their car along the pick=up/drop-off curb. So now that his little brother is here, I'm insisting they get going because now their mom will be waiting.

Dom doesn't get up to leave. In fact, he says, "I don't want to leave. I want to stay with you."

This kid is ridiculous. Sweet, but ridiculous. So I tell him, "Um, no. Your mom's waiting for you guys!"

So then I open the door to walk them out and guess who's waiting outside my door? It's their mom! =) Man, did those boys move fast.

Now, even though mom probably was wondering what was taking them so long, it does give me that much needed affirmation that I'm creating a classroom where my students feel safe and comfortable and happy.

The first quarter of the year is now two weeks past, and most of those days ended with me frustrated and disappointed with myself. During this second quarter, instead of staying up all night thinking about all the negative things and failed lessons from that day, I am trying to focus on any successes and any positive instances from my day.

This has been in my mind all day, and it has been good.

Planning ahead

Even though I can spend a good chunk of time planning out my lessons, activities and goals for a day of school, a tiny change in events can throw everything out of whack. At least I'm now a day ahead in my detailed planning.

The morning was supposed to look like this:
- A.M. Stuff (Morning warm ups, jobs, announcements, etc.)
- Music
- PE
- A birthday snack
- QuikWrite
- Reading Logs
- Blogs
- Social Studies Reading
- Interactive skits

I had everything planned out and I even checked in with my coteacher yesterday to solidify our plans. It was supposed to be such a great day with everything ready to go.

Then, the change of plans.

Now, I'm normally a pretty flexible guy, don't get me wrong. And I wasn't upset at all that our schedule had changed. It just proved to me that even though I can plan everything out, I also need to be MAJORLY flexible to the mood and state of my class in the moment. To the last minute changes that end up creating non-profitable teaching moments.

This year, I've decided that I am going to try something new. I am not going to plan more than a day or two out in advance. In the past, I've always planned out a whole week ahead, but this year, I find myself constantly rewriting plans and scrapping them anyway. What I've planned wasn't working.

I needed to throw out my plans and just prepare myself for options. Prepare myself for variety. That takes a lot more time, but in doing so, I'm being more available to my kids and I am able to find out where they want to go next and see how I can redirect them to their true learning target.

Anyways, after everything on the schedule, the only thing we missed out on was our Social Studies activities, and the kids didn't really mind that at all. Flexible. Me and the kids.

Also - check out my post on 'How to Post' from my Monroe5A blog.

Taking it to the next level

We're already in the fourth week of school and I am stuck. My class is great at following directions, just not right away. They are great at showing me respect and giving me their attention, when they know I am asking for it. These are just a few things that are holding us back from taking off for the rest of the year.

It's the processes and procedures that have yet to be solidified.

I thought I had tried everything that I've done in the past three years of starting with a new class. I thought we had discussed, modeled and practiced enough to get things set into our minds. But yesterday I had my first meeting where I had to be gone for the entire day and request a substitute for my classroom and I was worried.

Now, in the past, I've always been apprehensive about getting a substitute. It was mainly because I really didn't like being away from my kids. Also, I'm not a big fan of writing out lesson plans and prepping everything for someone else.

But this time, it wasn't any of those things. I was concerned that my class would not be able to hold it together. That they wouldn't meet expectations without me there. And that my sub would walk out halfway through the day - my first sign that we probably needed more discussions, models and practice.

Last year, our building piloted the CHAMPS program, so I dug out my book and started reading. It's a rather large book (fivehundred&two pages), and I believe it's arranged foundationally, so it's not like you can skip around and not miss anything. I am going to see what I can find to help move our class forward.

Things I will be looking for:

• Ideas on how to bring the classroom together during/after an activity. (ex: attention signal)
• What's going on with kids who appear unmotivated to attempt a task.
• Varieties of positive reinforcement for boys.

My legs are so sore

..and I know the reason why. It's because today was my first day back at school after having ninetysix days off. Seventysix of those days were spent in Hawaii, waking up at five to go running, walking to work by seven, clocking out around ten, then sleeping til the late afternoon.

Spending all day in a warm hot room with twentyfour other bodies (sweaty, smelly bodies if youre there after lunch) without a true teacher's desk makes for a lot of walking and on-your-feet-ness.

I love this feeling, though, the strain in my legs. I love not having a teacher's desk to sit at, because now when I think back over the things I did today, I either spent it walking around the class, weaving in and around my students' desks, catching glimpses of their creativity (we did a lot of drawing and coloring today) or standing beside them trying to learn a bit more about them, while also attempting to crash through the "untouchable teacher" facade.

Interacting - that's how I spent the entire day. And it was a great first day back to school.

5th Grade final projects

About three weeks ago, I intro'd this project to my class. Typically, I've had students write letters to the incoming 4th graders (or in this case, 5th graders) giving them the in's and out's of that grade. Since I've (sort of) looped with this group of kids for the past two years, I wanted to do something different. Also, I gave them that same assignment a year ago and I'm not a big fan of repeating lessons with no adjusted purpose.

Enter my brilliant idea. I told the class that their end of year project would be creating a book, "How to Survive Mr. Arakaki's Class". That way, I can keep them every year, no matter what grade I'm teaching. Also, they'd be working in groups (maximum of three) or in pairs or flying solo. They'd create an expository text based on their experiences in my classroom over the past two years.

It was an awesome idea and the kids took it to the next level. Naturally, they created covers and title pages and drew pictures to go along with their writing, but then they started incorporating the non-fiction text features that we've studied this year. A table of contents. An index. A glossary of terms that Mr. A uses on a regular basis. (At the start of the year, I say "rubbish" when I'm referring to trash/garbage, but no one really knows what I'm talking about) Maps and diagrams of the classroom layout. They included all sorts of things.

The project was successful in allowing the students to create their own books in whatever pairings/groups they wanted and utilizing their non-fiction expository writing skills to explain information. They also had a lot of fun coming up with ideas.

Here is one of the pages that I found on my laptop from one of the groups.

Things That Annoy Mr.Arakaki

1. Psychopaths
Save it for P.E

2. Unicorn dances, Unicorn marches, Unicorn discos
It is on May 10. Celebrators: Jack, Piccone, Ririe

3. Kids who are cocky
Like when you think you all that like some people.

4. When the interactive board does not work
Whatever you do, don’t press the red button (I’m talking to you Ririe)

5. When kids just mess around
Like people that don’t pay attention, but get attention.

6. People who like to talk loud
Those that only have one volume (Piccone, Ririe)

7.The writers of this book
(Jack, Ririe, Piccone)

8. Tapping attention wanters

I really appreciated all my students' creativity. Hopefully I'll have time to share other sections from the other books. I do want to share a bunch of them on here.

(added later)

How to Get on Mr. A’s Good Side

Truthfully, the best way to get on his good side is to be yourself. If you act like someone else you probably won't get on his good side. You also don’t want to be any of the things on the 'Things that Annoy Mr. Arakaki' list. Don’t cuss, like @#%&! You need to pay attention to Mr. A when he is giving directions. Don’t act like you're all that. Knowing him will also help. If you follow all these rules you most likely get on his good side.

(added even later)

Things that Annoy Mr. Arakaki

1. Tapping - It is annoying to Mr.Arakaki and if you ever feel like tapping you should tap on your leg.
2. Talking While He’s Talking - That really disturbs him and it also distracts your classmates.
3. Fighting with friends/classmates - It makes him very sad to see classmates fight, so when you guys go to 5th grade, please don’t make him sad.
4. Don’t cuss - He really dislikes that. If you have something to say, think what it is before you say it.

It's amazing to me that they know so much about who I am as a person.


Yesterday (Sunday) I went into my classroom and was planning on getting organized and prepared for the upcoming week. Instead, I spent the next six hours rearranging furniture and cataloging my books.

I generally rearrange student desks/teams every quarter, but this time I didn't stop with the kids' desk. I traded in my "big" table for a skinnier one and finally moved in the shelf from the room next door that I was using. I set up my five-armed lamp and moved some book shelves around, too.

[Insert new classroom pictures here]

There was a part in my room where the book shelves blocked a small area out of my sight, and one of my students has been drawn to that place in the past few weeks. So I knew I had to address that issue. In doing so, I found that I needed to reorganize my classroom library due to the vast amount of new books I had collected since the start of the year.

[Insert new bookshelf pictures here]

When my kids arrived today, I had them all sit on the rug. I didn't pay much attention to where I positioned the kids, so I knew I had some tweaking to do before they settled in. After a few minutes of assessing who was seated with whom, I moved a few students next to friends so that they had the opportunity to be with buddies before we got into testing season where everyone will be their own island for two weeks.

In going along with the new room, we proceeded to take the rest of the morning to clean out all of our subject folders and desks. It was a good process for the class, and I think it got them feeling refreshed.

We threw out old papers and failed ideas. Students relived 100% spelling tests and found long-lost library books. One of my kids found a cutie that was given to him on Halloween. It was pretty gross.

Although it took a good chunk of our morning, we still found time to do our Math Fluency progress monitoring before heading off to Art.

***This blog post is part of my new month's resolution to tweet and blog more***