Yesterday we concluded our two week study of Virginia in my first grade classroom. Since Virginia does not follow the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we have our own social studies standards to follow.
The student will demonstrate skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision making, and responsible citizenship by using and creating graphs, diagrams, and pictures to determine characteristics of people, places, or events to support an understanding of Virginia history.
So, in our school, we split our time like this. 120 minutes for literacy (if not more creep in because I love a good writers workshop), 60-90 minutes for math, and 30-45 minutes for Science or Social Studies. Due to this small chunk of time dedicated to content, we have to switch off weeks and what we are teaching. For example - two weeks of Science, followed by two weeks of Social Studies. Rinse and repeat.
My proposed 5 week study of Virginia was cut down to two. I wrote that as if someone forced me to do it to make room for Science, but let’s be real. I made SO much time for Science.
Anyway. It’s Virginia time in our class. I think they can tell Social Studies isn’t my favorite thing to teach because we have this cheer we do before Science class. Imagine you’re at an old timey baseball game… Ba, ba ba ba, Ba, ba ba ba, Ba, ba ba ba, BADUHDUHDUHDUUUHHH - SCIENCE! I get to do all the lead up, and the kids get to scream Science. It’s pure gold.
VIRGINIA. This unit baffled me. I’ve been living in Virginia for 4 years now and know nothing about this state, other than its a heck of a lot prettier than Maryland, and just makes DC look like a crumpled napkin (Can you tell how much I am enjoying teaching in a state?). It’s time to plan for this unit, so my first grade teacher friend down the hall and I go to the bar literally three minutes from school, order up two plates of fried plantains and a margarita. Then we get to planning.
How are we going to make Virginia relevant, interesting, and meaningful to first graders? Not just Virginia as a whole - but the economics and geographical analysis of Virginia. Then, we did the panic-y teacher thing where we went to TeachersPayTeachers.com. We bought some ridiculous flipbook for like, two dollars and patted ourselves on the back. Basically, this flip book took a week of our lives and was a giant coloring sheet for the children. Circle the state of Virginia. Color the state bird. Color the dogwood tree. It took us all of 15 seconds after hitting ‘purchase’ to realize that this was absolute trash.
Then we ordered burritos.
We decided the next two weeks would be like, a gentle introduction to Virginia studies. After looking at the planning and pacing guide, we realized that we will be hammering this topic in all year. Cue a sigh of relief. We decided to do symbols for a week (listen to the cardinal sounds, watch videos of dogwood trees blooming, make all the symbols out of clay and aluminum foil). We even had the children recreate the Virginia state flag. If you have never seen this this, it’s a mess. Try explaining that Sic Semper Tyrannus means “thus always to tyrants," and our flag is literally representing the downfall of the king. Now, when it comes time for me to teach about the king and why people came to Virginia in the first place - I am going to lose my mind with excitement. Think of the historical acting! Anyway - the kids dressed in towels and pretended to step on each other to create this flag. It was a solid end to week one.
Now, week 2 we decided would be all about touching on the culture of Virginia. Panic. TeachersPayTeachers. STOP! We looked at what other teachers had done - Virginia clothes, Virginia food, Virginia customs.
What does ‘Virginia clothes’ mean? What does ‘Virginia food’ mean? 1 in every 12 people in the state of Virginia has come here from somewhere else - be it another state or country. This realization was big for us - so we spun this second week as like, cultural diversity celebration week.
Virginia clothes day? Make paper dolls to show how you want to dress, or how you see others dress. Make clothing that you see your families wear. We spent so much time braiding paper hair, it was incredible. The kids were talking about what their moms and grandmothers wear; talk about cultural integration.
Virginia dancing day? Yeah, we made that up. BUT, we taught the kids the Virginia Reel, and had a whole first grade version of it down the side walk. Have you ever helped 20+ 6 -year-olds into a square dancing formation and taught them how to do-si-do? I have never sweat so much during a lesson.
The culmination of this awesome week was the Virginia Feast. I googled traditional Virginia foods and was given the list of: smoked trout, watermelon soup, boiled peanuts, oysters. So I sent that to the families, and also mentioned that anyone who lived in Virginia and eats food is eating Virginian food. Bring WHATEVER to the feast - we are all Virginians. When planning this, I was really breaking my elbow to pat myself on the back for planning something that was culturally relevant and the children would really remember. (I still remember the tea party my first grade teacher threw for us when we finished reading Beatrix Potter).
So yesterday, during my planning period, I have the realization that there is a lot of food. Not just a lot of food, but like, an amount that rivals Thanksgiving at my parents house. Kids kept bringing in bags in the morning, and I was just so happy to have participation in this event that I didn’t think twice. Then, the feast prep settled in. I looked at the clock - 1:45! What had I been doing for 45 minutes?! Why did I wait until NOW to start?
I ran into the classroom (I was down the hall because Spanish is in our classrooms on Friday) and all the children start yelling at me. I grab all the food and try to run. NOPE. Thanksgiving amounts of food. So I run away after a few quick hugs, and go to the office. It is there I steal a cart clearly labeled “THIS CART IS PROPERTY OF THE FRONT OFFICE.” and proceed to run down the hallway with it. I load up the cart while the children are “oooooh” and “aaaahhhh”ing, and I go hide in the copy machine room.
The copy machine room is a cozy, carpeted room, that is rarely empty. We do a lot of copying at our school, but it’s the only place with a free table and no children present. I have to stop here to say, that although I was stressed about feast prep - I was smiling the whole time. I have never had a classroom of parents who so generously chip in for my wild ideas. When I started ripping through the packages of food I was overwhelmed with the time and thoughtfulness put into the feast - homemade apple crisp, peach cobbler, watermelon soup, smoked trout, and more. A parent had taken the time to buy Virginia ham, and roll it up into individual bites for the kids. I think these parents understand what I was trying to do.
So it’s 1:57 pm, I have pimento cheese up to my elbows and I just ripped apart an entire smoked trout. I smell. I have defiled this copy machine room and everyone who walks is has reminded me that some children don’t eat meat. That’s what an informed consent is forrrrrrrr…..I sing song as I rub cheese across my browline.
I haven’t even touched the baked goods at 2:01, as I run back to the classroom with a three tiered cart of treats. The children start screaming and I remind them that our feast is after recess. I take them outside, and deliver them to another teacher and sprint back into the building to finish this prep.
Table cloths? Nope, I forgot. Use the giant Virginian flags the children made last week? YEP.
One of my parents must have realized what type of operation this was and packed me about 100 individual serving cups. THANK YOU. I ran around the room serving cobbler, pie, muffins, and more to every single plate. Guess how long that takes? 25 minutes?!
I run back to recess, the children run to me. They know what time it is. I don’t have to blow the whistle twice. We basically sprint through the hallway back to the classroom.
Once settled into the carpet, we begin with the tasting of new flavors. First the pimento cheese. I say it, and no one raises their hand for a taste. No. No way. So I start rattling off a flavor profile like I am some iron chef presenting to Simon Mujumdar. “If you are a fan of the common nachos, or enjoy a nice bubble of cheese on your pizza, then this is for you. A thick, cold….goopy...cheese, the color of the sunset has been paired nicely with a…. Salty crunchy cracker.” No one moves.
“The cracker tastes like….a potato chip?”
Everyone raises their hand.
Next, I start to detail Virginia ham. It didn’t go as well.
“If you eat meat, this is for you. Today it is served cold and in a cylinder form for easy digestion. It is pink and brown….and salty.” Literally the children just stared at me. Have you ever hand entire circle time just stare at you, with no facial expression? I repeated, “Its meat. Do you eat meat? Try this.”
They screamed about how much they like meat.
We finished, of course, with the smoked trout. I told everyone I wanted them to at least smell it. The faces. The faces were like something had died and they were forced to hold it. Or like I asked them to pick up a used tissue. It was a mixture of sadness, confusion, and disgust.
Then I yelled, “DOESN’T IT SMELL LIKE THE BEACH?!?”
The entire class ate trout yesterday. I kid you know. One kid yelled, “it tastes like hotdogs!” Kids asked for seconds and thirds of trout.
The feast was incredible because I have an incredibly supportive community. I am pretty sure the dad who made the smoked trout told his wife that the teacher asked for smoked trout, so he haaaaad to go buy a smoker. I think this because the child told me his dad’s been working on this all week, and he’s excited to find out what all the fuss is about. I can only imagine the time, trials, and effort that went into the trout, as well as all the other dishes.
I came home last night exhausted, smelling like a trout. This start of the school year has been incredible, and draining. Balancing PhD life with teacher life is a wild adjustment. I have even started reading research to one of my kids during choice time and she just nods her head along while I try to sort another progression of research theory. I feel like this process so far has been like our smoked trout -- I heard the idea and convinced myself that I had to do it, was cautious at first, but now have like fully committed to eat the trout. Each week in class my professor is helping me unpack a new idea is like someone across the room yelling, “it tastes like hotdogs!” It gets me to buy in, and now - I am doing something I have never done before. I am synthesizing research and writing a proposal. I feel like my first graders - trying something new for the first time. Needing modeling, encouragement, and positive framing to get them to take the leap.
That’s where I leave this blog post - comparing my PhD journey to a first grader eating smoked trout.
Enjoy the visual.