This year I am trying something (else) new.
Actually, I'm copying off a teammate.
Instead of folders, binders, or spirals, I am requiring composition notebooks.
The notebooks will live in the classroom so they can't get lost.
Last year, my teammate tested the system we will both use this year.
The notebooks will have a table of contents and two sections: Notes and Journal.
She chose this simple system on the assumption that simple would be easier to implement.
It seemed to work.
And, so far, (the last six days), it seems to be working for me too.
I have had the students write a journal entry and place three or four items in their notes.
Hopefully, with two teachers using the same system, we can hold each other accountable (or at least she can hold me accountable).
But this story isn't really about the strategy.
This story is really about the students.
Students received my syllabus in class last Monday.
It included the supply list.
Unfortunately, composition notebooks are NOT on the district supply list.
The supply list provided to all the local stores weeks in advance.
The one we, as teachers, only get to provide feedback for, and that only once every few years.
Because composition books are not on the public supply list, I was prepared for some issues.
When composition books were on sale for $.50 each, I bought about 60.
Then when I ran out the first day, I found them still on sale and bought another 30.
I'm out again.
I gave students until Wednesday to get one, but I also gave them a couple of less stressful options:
1. Buy one from me for $.50.
2. Trade me another item (binder, spiral, folder, etc.) for one.
The thing I insisted on was that they have it Wednesday so we could set them up.
Digression: The set up was awesome.
Now, don't get me wrong, organizationally, none of this was my idea.
The thing that was my idea was how to use card stock to make both a pocket and two tabs for every kid...and get four kids to one sheet of card stock.
Card stock is expensive.
But it makes it easy to color code tabs by section.
And it is much sturdier than post its or construction paper.
Anyway, I spent hours thinking about and researching paper pockets.
Finally, by actually cutting up several sheets of paper, I figured it out.
I divided a sheet of card stock in two down the middle of the long side and cut it in half.
I drew a line about two inches in the 8 inch side to make a big rectangle and a long skinny rectangle.
Then I bisected that large rectangle into two triangles.
Next, I divided the last two or so inches and drew lines to make 4 small rectangles.
This means that each sheet of card stock provided 4 kids pockets and tabs.
I drew the pattern on a sheet of white paper with a Sharpie.
I photocopied the pattern onto the card stock.
It worked so well.
In less than 15 minutes, every kid had a pocket and tabs set up.
The pocket is simply a triangle taped into the lower outside corner of the front cover.
The kids LOVED it.
I mean, it is rare to see them so excited about something so small.
One kid asked me why no one had thought of this before, which made me feel pretty smart.
Simplicity is a beautiful thing.
Okay, digression over.
On Wednesday, a lot of kids were well prepared.
They either had a comp. book, a trade item, or fifty cents.
And a lot were not.
Instead of letting them sit there wasting time and hoping they would get set up later, I issued IOUs.
Each class, I had between 3 and 10 IOUs.
Honestly, I didn't and don't expect those IOUs to be honored.
The payment is not important, being set up to participate in class is.
But these kids surprised me.
One young man chased me down during lunch as I was walking down the hall.
He handed me two quarters saying "I found money in the bottom of my backpack I didn't even know I had."
Then he smiled shyly and sped off to lunch.
How sweet is that?
The next day, without reminders or prompting, fully HALF of my IOUs were paid at the start of class.
I was astonished...and surprised, grateful, and very proud.
The thing that really got my heart though, was the kid who handed me a dollar.
I reached for my HULK piggy bank (decorated in Sharpie with book & reading "tattoos") for change.
Before I could even grab it, he said "Oh, no, no, I don't need change. I want to contribute the rest to your room or to pay someone else's IOU if they can't afford it."
He said it quietly and without any pretense, but maybe just a hint of nervousness (that single glance over his shoulder to see who was listening said volumes).
I had to temper my desire to thank him loudly and profusely with the knowledge that too much public acknowledgement in front of his classmates might embarrass him.
So I thanked him a little less effusively than I might have liked.
He seemed to appreciate my choice.
Without further fuss, he retreated to his seat.
Really? How kind, and thoughtful, and mature, and sweet was that gesture?
I assume I must have made a pretty positive impression on him.
Kids aren't generous with teachers they don't like or they think don't like them.
I think I make a pretty good first impression on most kids.
They call me "a good kind of crazy."
It sure is nice to have that assumption confirmed.
What a great start to the year.
Not only is the system I copied off of my team mate working.
Not only did I find a clever and inexpensive way to set up their notebooks.
Not only did a huge number of kids remember and pay an IOU I kind of forced on them.
But somebody was kind enough to just give me an extra fifty cents in case someone else couldn't.
That is a lot of good things.
I have a lot to be grateful for and a lot of reasons to think this is going to be a good year.