Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Muddiest Part of the Lecture

Yesterday, I gave my students notecards and asked them to write down anything about the lesson they did not understand. "Anything," I said. "I'll answer them tomorrow." When I got the cards back and looked through them I was extremely pleased with my delivery of the lesson. No one needed any clarification on the actual objectives. The question were mostly centered around other things presented in the lesson. Here are a few of their questions:

"Who won the fight?" - Just to clarify. The story we read is called "Amigo Brothers". It is about two boys who grew up together and were best friends. Both boys were boxers and they found out they would have to fight each other to become champion and enter a tournament of champions. The boys fight, but it does not say who won. So my answer was: "The point of the story is not who won, but the fact that their friendship was strong enough to sustain the competition."
(Note: They still wanted to know who won.)

"You said that both sports have four periods. How long is the period in football?" Another clarification. In my set, I asked the students to write down how football and basketball were alike and how they were different. My answer was: "I have no idea, but I will look it up for you." I was later told that it is either 15 or 20 mins depending on the level.

"When will we ever use this?" My answer: "When you go in the shoe store and you see a pair of Jordan's and a pair of Iverson's, how do you decide which ones to buy?" After the ensuing argument about why one was better than the other, I pointed out that they had just-without thinking-used the skill that we'd learned the previous day. The students responded with a resounding "O".

"I don't get how to use transition words?" My response: "You and your mother just pulled out of Pizza Hut and you're heading down Jackson Ave. to Wal-Mart. You decide that you want Wendy's to eat and ask your mother to get it. What does she do before she turns?" After several very weird answers, one child responded, "Put on a turn signal." Pleased," I exclaimed, "Right. That's exactly what transitions do. They are the signals that let the reader know where you are going next."

I think that the questioning technique works in its own way, but I do believe that you have to have the time to address some of the weird questions that you will get from students. I found that they asked about more basic things rather than the higher level thinking questions I hoped would arise.

Self Evaluation of Student Teaching

As I sat down to watch my videotaped lesson, I felt extremely nervous. I had never seen myself on video teaching before. What would I look like? How did I really do? Was I successful in getting the information across to the students?

After watching the tape, I was amazed at the job that I did. I really looked like a teacher. My words were clear and concise and I spoke in a very well projected "teacher" voice. The objectives were clearly written on the board along with the date and my name. Students used a graphic organizer to get put their thoughts down and then write a paragraph from it. The planning of the lesson was great. Transitions aligned and I felt it moved the way it should've.

I feel that my strengths included:
* asking each student a question. The entire class had to participate. No one student could answer for the whole class everytime.
* delivery. It was obvious that the students understood the material.
* tying the lesson to a previous concept. When writing their paragraphs, the students had to employ the concepts they'd learned in previous lessons.
* movement around the room. I passed each student's desk about 5 times during the lesson.

I feel that my weaknesses were:
* stating the objective. I did state the objective, but it was later in the lesson than it should have been.
* hand movement. I use my hands to talk. I think that it could possibly be a distraction to some students.
* favoring certain students. I noticed that I tended to stand more on the side of the room where the students I knew would participate and let them began the sharing. I would then bring the other students in. I need to try to equalize my focal points.

All in all, I feel that it went excellent. It was great to actually be able to see how the students really respond and to see myself teaching a lesson.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Reluctant Disciplinarian

The Reluctant Disciplinarian is an easy read and a good resource for teachers.

It was good to hear another teacher's mishaps and discouragement during their first year. It reaffirmed some of the things that I saw during my first year.

#1 Professional Development is worthless. I have not been to one yet (and I have been to many) that was worth the time it took to think it up. I went to one where all they told us was how to use the textbook. It was March. I'd been using the textbook for almost a year. Anyway, how hard is it to read?

#2 Most classroom management techniques are learned not taught. I went to the Mark McLeod workshop on classroom management. His ideas were great until I tried them. Some worked and some didn't. Mostly, I learned to adapt whatever I got from other teachers and make it my own. The best classroom management is learned from the mistakes that you make.

#3 You have to like your students. As I stated in my earlier blog. It wasn't until I learned to like my students that I began to like my year. Disliking the students only makes it harder to go to work and it's hard enough as it is.

#4 Threats do not work. Kids are smart. They soon learn that you either won't make good on them or you can't make good on them all the time. At this point, the tables will turn on you.

#5 More often than not when you send kids to the office there will be no result. Administrators are busy and the last thing they want to see is the students. (Yeah, I know they are supposed to be there for the students, but then why would they need you.) More often than not, they will ask you to deal with it. Pick your battles. Do everything you can in the classroom. You will need the administrators for major infractions and they are much more receptive if you aren't sending kids to them every day.

#6 The teacher look that older teachers talk about works. I mean it really works. But you have to master it. You have to practice and practice.

#7 Lastly, DO NOT TEACH SUMMER SCHOOL. Been there done that. The money looks good, but when August hits and the school year begins, you will wish for that time you spent working. Teachers get the summer off for 2 reasons: they deserve it and most of all they need it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Flood

Now I know how Noah felt!!!

O.K. I am not fresh out of college like some of the MTC people. I have been living in an apartment now for 2 years. Although that may not seem like a major thing to most of you, I will tell you that going from an apartment to a dorm is a huge culture shock. Simple things like taking a shower, now take an extra 5 minutes of preparation. I miss my appliances, especially my microwave and fridge. Plus, at home I can watch all the TV I can stand without fuzz. These things are simple, but important. So is proper plumbing.

Tonight, I found myself standing in the hallway with other MTC females watching the waters rise. I felt like Noah looking out of the one window on the ark and asking his wife, "Will it stop?" We watched as dirty brown water came slowly inching down the hallway. It laughed at us as we put towels in front of our doors and then it crept right in without regard for our property or feelings. It meandered further and further down the hallway as we watched helplessly from our doors.

The RA tried to make us feel better and the maintenance men made jokes, but nothing could prevent the immediate displeasure of the residents. Even more galling was the maintenance men saying that this brownish-yellow water filled with clumps of some unrecognizable substance was "water from a busted pipe that has dust in it". Yeah right!!!

Suggestions came from every direction. "Can we mop it up?" "Let's build a dam?" "How about using a push mop to push it the other way?" Soon the realization came that we were helpless. As we impatiently waited for UM's custodial crew, I came to realize that we were at the mercy of these men who had to get up from their beds to come clean this mess and apparently they were in no hurry.

Finally, the hall was cleaned and the floor seemed to return to normal. Everyone retreated to their rooms and closed their doors hoping that they were now safe from the intruding waters. However, I'm quite sure that we will all remember the night the water came.

Student Teaching

I guess since I have been teaching for a year, I look at things a little different than most MTC first years. Most of the things that we discuss or go over, I have already experienced. However, I have found the student teaching experience amazing.

I never had the opportunity to really watch someone else teach in my subject area for any length of time. I had to rely on my knowledge and the little help I got from my mentor. I did well, but I was always wondered what other teachers did to make language arts fun and interactive. Now I know!! My regular classroom teacher, Ms. Barnes, is amazing. She has given me numerous ideas and resources which I will definitely use next year. It is so amazing to see her take a worksheet and make it interactive.

Having a good teacher to watch makes a huge difference in what you can do in the classroom. Sitting down in the classroom with someone teaching you how to teach isn't as effective as experiencing what someone else is doing. As they say "All good teachers steal."

I have learned so much this summer by observing another teacher. It is definitely one of the things that I will treasure from this program.

Monday, June 06, 2005

I was not alone

As I listened to Dr. Burnham talk today, I realized that I was not crazy nor was I alone. The feelings of fear, dread and anger that he talked about today really hit home with me. I felt as though he was taking my journal and reading it out loud.

Let me back track. This will actually be my second year as a teacher. My first year (last year) took me to highs and lows that I NEVER imagined. I remember on my first day, the principal gave me what seemed like enough paperwork to eliminate a small forest. Then told me to get my bulletin boards up. (Which is something that no one ever talks about.) All types of things that had nothing to do with classroom management or teaching and learning were bieng thrown a me with no guidance whatsoever. I was overwhelmed and the students had not even arrived yet.

Then they did!!! Oh my Lord. The place was in chaos because the schedules were not right and so they had to redo one for every student. So for the first week, the principal said, "Don't teach. You'll only have to do it over when your new class arrives." For two entire weeks we did busy work. The students knew it didn't mean anything and so did we. It was a disaster.

I remember during those first weeks and for months after, calling my mother (a 3o year veteran teacher) in tears. "It is not supposed to be like this. Why is this so hard?" I wanted to quit, but she would calmly say. "Just wait. It'll get better." It did not. I was so stressed out by the end of the first nine weeks that I had to take 3 days off. I was so frustrated and I was mad.

I was mad because, my administrator was no help. You could send kids to the office, he would send them right back and they would laugh at you. I was using a school model on which I had never been trained and constantly being fussed at because I wasn't doing it correctly. My first nine-weeks district scores were so horrible, I felt that I was doing a disservice to the kids. I hated teaching and I was miserable.

And so it went until October when my perspective changed. I had been assigned the job of assistant girl's basketball coach. The head coach was running the after school program and therefore was never at practice. Here I was a new techer and coach and I was alone. I had no experience, so I enlisted the help of an uncertified assistant who probably knew more about coaching every sport, than any of us combined knew about coaching one. He taught the girls everything, but he taught me more. I learned to be more patient and to set realistic goals for my team. I learned that I was human and imperfect and accepted that. Most of all, I learned to care. I feel in love with each and every girl on that team. I learned to respect them and they learned to respect me.

I guess the love that I had for my girls carried over into the classroom. Teaching became easier. I listened more to my students and they realized that I cared. They worked harder for me and I worked just as hard for them. I stopped crying every night and started buying treats for the students. I began to have fun teaching and they began to enjoy learning.

Don't get me wrong. Everything did not turn perfect. The administration was still lacking. I just learned to do my job and let the rest handle itself. The students still misbehaved. I just learned new ways to manage them. And some days I still went home wondering why I took that job, but then I'd see the lightbulb go off in one child's mind the next day or my team would dump the Gatorade on me and I'd remember. Most of all, I realized that I really did love teaching.

I've always wondered if anyone else felt the same way I did. Did any other teacher go one in tears or was it just me? Had anyoe else felt the same way those first days and months of school when it seemed as though all the other teachers were breezing along. Now I know.

Thanks so much, Dr Burnham for the talk. It feels so good to know I was not alone.