With skill and nuance, in the midst of persistent questions and comments from 6-year-old minds, this first-grade teacher balances curriculum demands, classroom management and school district benchmarks. She makes it look easy and fun, but this is a finely choreographed lesson plan in action. Welcome to a day at Jameson Elementary School in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.
Ann Marie arrives in her classroom to lay out materials, organize and catch up with co-workers.
Eighteen students enter from the playground. One points out a loose tooth, others stash their jackets and backpacks. They grab crayons from their cubbies and start drawing. One boy wonders out loud what today's letter is for the mystery phrase on the board. When they guess the phrase, they get a prize.
"Does anybody have any notes from home?" asks Ms. Ouellette (she repeats this multiple times throughout the morning).
"Do you need paper, Noah?"
Over the loudspeaker comes a request for extra pumpkin stickers. Ms. Ouellette goes to search her desk.
"Raise your hand if you're having lunch from school. Anybody having just milk?"
"Anybody bring back picture money?"
She tells a girl with a pretend pink cell phone to put it away.
The students make a line in front of the pencil sharpener. Ms. Ouellette states that she is the pencil monster.
"Ms. Ouellette, you got a haircut."
"No, it's just straight today instead of curly."
As they sharpen their pencils, one shows her his art-work and says, "I made a pattern."
"You did, you made a pretty pattern," she replies.
One boy shows up with a pencil already sharpened. "Does that look sharp to you?" she asks.
She starts to clap. "That means ‘Eyes on me, please.' You have 1 minute, 9 seconds to put your stuff away safely." The children start the countdown. Someone hands her their artwork. "Thank you, it's beautiful," she says.
"Ms. Ouellette, what's the letter today?"
Each aspect of Ann Marie’s lesson plan addresses a key piece of curriculum such as pre-math skills, modeling appropriate behavior, classroom management, listening skills, oral language development, vocabulary development, pre-reading and pre-writing skills, memorization, phonics development, developing quality workers, fine motor skills development and working as a group.
Morning Meeting (Ann Marie's favorite part of the day)
They sing a song: "This is the way we start the day, first we smile and shake a hand, so early in the morning..."
"There should be no talking right now. You need to control yourself. I'm asking politely."
At Morning Meeting, they take turns in the circle, greeting each other and shaking hands. "Good Morning, Jordyn," Desiree says. "Good Morning, Desiree," Jordyn says. Then he picks someone else; everyone fidgets until it's their turn. They continue to greet each other until Livia, Marcus, Nicole, Jason, Timmy, Aries, Adam, Noah, Katra, Meghan, Scott, Delaney and Mackenzie have all greeted and been greeted.
They gather for calendar time to go over the date. "I'm looking for a few good listeners to take over the calendar job," Ms. Ouellette tells them.
Later, she pulls out the weather graph. "How many more days was it sunny than cloudy?"
"Thank you, I'm talking, you're not. Jordyn, I need your eyes up here."
She brings up the morning message on the easel board. With a pointer, she goes over the words. "Happy Wednesday! Today is the 17th day of school."
"What words have ‘s' sounds?" She circles those with "s" sound on the morning message.
"Joe has something he wants to share that he's been saving."
"I love my mom and dad and my other mom and dad and I love me."
She teaches a song called "Two Little Apples."
"What words do you recognize?"
A few minutes later, they sing their beloved standby, "Fries and Ketchup."
As Ann Marie says of the commitment required, “It’s more than a career, it’s a lifestyle.” Believing that teachers play a key role in what kind of person these students will grow up to be, she says, “If you can hook them and be proud of what they did – even if it’s just one paper – there’s a ripple effect.”
She transitions by kneeling down to their height. "You're in a cave with a dragon at the end, and you need to get to your seat without waking the dragon up."
Once they're back in their seats, she hands out an assignment. Using the designated signal, they each raise a hand when they're ready to be quiet.
She goes over word families and word endings that relate to the assignment, then walks around the room as they complete it. "Is this your best work?" she asks one child, a question she will ask several times throughout the morning.
She kneels down next to a child who seems confused by the assignment. She stays there while he finishes the assignment, asking him to be patient and listen to her as she explains the word endings again.
She gives the handwriting lesson with the help of an overhead projector.
"Scott, put that down, you're taking part of my teaching time."
"It's really important to let them know what's appropriate right away and to model good behavior. They're learning not just knowledge, but how to be good students," Ann Marie says.
"They all need you at once and you need to teach them how to wait. About halfway through the year, they learn to wait," says Ann Marie. "Getting them to slow down is huge, because they want to be the first one done."
The job requires her to be not only a teacher, but a mom, executive decision maker, nurse, secretary, filing assistant and planner. For this, she needs energy and confidence. "You have to be in control," she says. She also needs a good voice: the first few weeks of school she goes hoarse.
In today's assessment-focused world and No Child Left Behind, Ann Marie says it's a balancing act to fit everything in - to meet the national standards and the district benchmarks. Another big challenge is parents who you don't hear from or see, she says.
The oldest of five children, she grew up in rural Ashland, Maine, in a small school district. As a child, she used to make her brothers and sisters pretend to be in school in the summer. "I'd ask to borrow lined paper from my teachers," she recalls. Because of her background, she loves the small, cozy feel at Jameson School.
Snack time. She tells them that the quietest table will get snack first.
"Who borrowed my pencil that is now on the floor?"
"Wish me luck, Ms. Ouellette." (Child is about to peek inside their snack to see if they got a prize.)
"My straw broke."
"Will you open this please?"
"Tim, you need to apologize to Delaney."
"Ms. Ouellette, I remembered to bring my pencil sharpener."
"Can you pick up the pretzel?"
"Tim, do you have a sweatshirt?"
"Adam, you may line up. You need to push in your chair."
She goes over the number of whistles they must listen for when it's time to come in from the playground.
Outside, she breaks up a fight, as one student pushes another. "Is that the way to solve the problem?" she asks.
Her homeroom goes to art class. She uses this time to squeeze in phone calls to parents, check e-mails from parents, photocopy and correct papers.
The class returns from art class and she begins a unit on the five senses, centered on apples.
"I really like how my blue rhombus table is so quiet." (each table is labeled a different color and shape.)
She goes over a graph on how many teeth the class has lost.
Health lesson with Wuzzy the Bear.
Lunch and recess.
At lunchtime, Ann Marie reviews what worked and what didn't, often writing down notes. "You can't predict the day," she says. "You have to be attuned to what's happening, to know when an approach isn't working. Like today, I could tell auditory wasn't clicking with a kid. You have to think so fast, and you can't learn that in college. I got an amazing education at St. Joe's, but you also develop your own style."
What makes a good teaching moment? "When I ask something familiar and they all listen and raise their hands ... and then I ask them something hard. It makes my day when I see a kid ‘get' something."
She fondly recalls Dr. Marshall's children's literature class at Saint Joseph's. "She really transferred passion about reading. If nothing else, I want kids to enjoy the story I read to them that day, because reading is the basis for everything," she says. "Dr. Marshall and Dr. Lemke were big influences, because of their passion and devotion," she adds.
Ann Marie also liked the variety of internships she got through her education major, where she experienced settings in first grade, third grade, middle school and alternate education.
She passes out folders with materials for parents. To get the students' attention, she whispers, then quietly describes the Scholastic book order process.
Math lesson. She gathers them in a circle and asks each child to put one shoe in the middle. They sort shoes by kind and by color. Then they count them.
Read Aloud time. She reads "Ruby's Wish" to the class.
Drop Everything And Read time. Kids look at books or read on their own. She hands out stickers for getting settled quickly.
Dismissal. Says goodbye to everyone, one by one. Hugs offered upon request.
At the end of the day, which can mean 4:30 because she stays to clean up the classroom, she heads home, where she sometimes takes a nap. Before dinner, she does her prep for the next day. On Friday evening, she does her planning for the next week. Then, there's the work for graduate school....
Editor's note: Even though the children are adorable and mostly well-behaved, it's exhausting to experience the classroom firsthand. By 2 p.m., I was ready for a nap.
Each aspect of Ann Marie's lesson plan addresses a key piece of curriculum such as pre-math skills, modeling appropriate behavior, classroom management, listening skills, oral language development, vocabulary development, pre-reading and pre-writing skills, memorization, phonics development, developing quality workers, fine motor skills development and working as a group.