A few years ago, my principal came to the grade level and asked what we thought about having a developmental first grade class. Most of the reactions were "Hell no!". But me, wanting to do something different, jumped on the bandwagon. And let me tell you, it really changed my life.
This was in about January when it was decided that I would do it. Mind you, no onw knew what to do or how to do it. Many years ago, there was a federal D-1 program, but it was way different than what I did. I had to start from scratch, as it wasn't recognized by the district. I didn't know really how to plan for that first year, but I did my best. I had a very poor student teacher towards the end of the year and I left him to fend for himself in the afternoons. At that time, I went to the kinder rooms and borrowed some of the ideas that they used. I made many a copy in those afternoons, trying to prepare for the next year.
Developmental first for me was taking the first grade curriculum and slowing it down, just a bit. I did this more in reading and writing than anything. That was where the kids struggled most. We went a bit slower with the reading, took our time blending words and learning sight words. We worked forever on writing a simple sentence with correct capitalization and punctuation. It was nice having all the kids at the same level, more or less, and working things together. And eventually, it clicked!
What I learned is that I couldn't have prepared at all. Thae first year, I picked my kids based on who the Kinder teachers told me needed to be in there. They didn't know any better than I did who should be there, so I went with their suggestions. After that, I learned. Out of my class of 20, I had 8 that eventually made it into special ed. Not what you want for a D-1 class. I learned.
I learned that the kids who benefited the most from a D-1 class were the kids who needed a bit more time, a bit more guidance in learning. They weren't "the dumb kids" or "the lazy kids". They were the kids who were forgotten in their kinder class. They were the kids who were too shy, too scared, didn't know English well enough or didn't have parents who gave a rats ass as to how they did. They were the kids who could learn and grow and achieve, just like the others. They were the kids who, when given a little more time, a little more attention, kicked ASS!
My first D-1 class was a learning experience for me. I had kids who sat and drooled all day. I had kids who didn't try or put energy into walking. It was tough. The kids who tried did well. The kids who didn't try didn't do well. And the kids who ended up in special ed, they did what they could. I feel bad, 5 years later, that I didn't do more for them. I did what I could. I learned. I learned that the druggie parents don't care and can't care. I learned that the parents who have other children in special ed just want this one to get in special ed, too. I learned the kids who want to learn, will, despite everything that's thrown at them. I learned that if your life is shit at home, school is the only place you want to be.
My next class was heaven on earth. Honestly, it was the best class I have ever had. I knew a little more in choosing my kids. Remember, I was choosing the lower kids in Kinder, not the best and brightest. I was able to make some changes - no one who is possibly special ed and no major behavior problems. It's hard to tell in Kinder if a kid will be special ed, but then there are those that you know will make it. Every year, there was one or two who ended up there after, but I tried. I also got away with having minimal behavior problems. Again, I got a doozy every year that wreaked havoc, but it was better than 2 or 3. For this class, I started out with most of my kids below a kinder level. No one was anywhere near knowing all their letters and sounds, much less blending words together. Some couldn't write their names yet legibly. But this group had the desire. Every one was willing and able to do whatever I threw at them. They were fiesty. They were serious. They were the best. And by the end of the year, 15 of my 20 kids were at or above grade level in all areas. Mind you, these were kids who the kinder teachers wanted to retain. These were kids that no one else wanted in first grade. And I loved them more than anything!
My next class was a bit more challenging. I had missed the first 2 weeks of school while on maternity leave. I missed that bonding at the beginning of the year. A few of them never got over the fact that their "first teacher" left them and I came in. I never did build that closeness I had with the class before. I don't know if I ever will again. And, I had more challenges this time, too. But, we made it through the year, no worse for wear, and the kids were just as prepared as they were before.
One colleague expressed his dislike for my class in stating that he thought I did my kids a disservice because I passed them on to 2nd grade. In the "old days", kids in D-1 went to 1st grade after. Well, my kids were ready to go to 2nd. And they did well in 2nd. I hope they are doing well now, in whatever grade they are in! I worked with my kids preparing them for 2nd, not first. For a few, they needed first to fill in the gaps. For others, they were ready to fly.
After my 3 years of teaching it, we had to lose a class at the school and I drew the short straw - literally. My D-1 class was handed off to another teacher (who got the big straw) and she didn't appreciate it like I did. To her, they were a bunch of low kids who didn't care. It made me sad. I was back at the school teaching a K-1 combo the next year and watched her work with the kids I hand picked. She didn't care for them the way I did and it showed. I actually got a student from her class who cried because she was so happy to be out of there. You have to want to do it for it to work.
I miss my D-1 class, but I am happy where I am. I like having a variety of student levels in class. I like working with the higher students and challenging them to see how far they can go. But then I think back to my wonderful class and miss what I did. But, I think I miss them and the students they were more than the actual teaching of the class. I am glad I did it. And maybe, if the opportunity comes my way, I may do it again. Maybe not.