Saturday, June 24, 2006

Summer School Reflection

As I reflect on my time in Holly Springs, I believe that my students and I have gained a great deal of knowledge and a lot more discipline.
Students: The summer began with a class of seven girls. A day later, six more arrived. The next day still more arrived. This continued until we reached our total of 22. This number seemed a bit high for a summer school class, but we made it work.
The students were surprisingly well behaved and I kept my foot on them for the entire first two weeks of summer school. After the first week, we began to have a better repair and learned to trust each other more. Several students did act out and phone calls were made. IÂ’ve probably saw more parents in the first two weeks than I saw during my whole first month of school. One eventually had to be expelled. All in all, I think they werenÂ’t a bad group at all.
They also really had a thirst for learning. I noticed that if you gave them anything remotely interesting, their eyes were glued to you from start to finish. They would often be almost jumping form their seats to answer a question. They even completed homework. Their ability level is much higher than my students so teaching them was much more fun.
Administration: The principals seemed very nice. I had a long conversation with Mr. Chase about the changes he would like to make to the school. He really wants to make a difference for the students. Ms. Gibson was lifesaver. Without, she and Joe, the school would not have been nearly as effective.
Building and Grounds: The building was probably the most well-kept school IÂ’ve ever seen. The cafeteria was clean. The bathrooms had tissue and there was no water on the floor. It is obvious that the staff and students take great pride in the building.
Worst Thing About Summer School: My biggest regret is that I donÂ’t feel that I was at my best. I began summer school already exhausted from the regular school year. I left work on Wednesday, only to drive to Oxford on Thursday. The precarious planning I did on the drive up were not nearly as good as my best lessons. The added pressure of deadlines for online classes, success stories and evaluations were gripping me tightly. I believe that I could have been more productive than I was with my students and mentees.
Best Thing About Summer School: I really enjoyed being with my MTC peers. I think that working with a group of people who all truly want the same thing of the students makes a big difference. We all held each other up when we were about to break. interactionsions really made a difference.
Thoughts for the future: The non-mentor second years should be given more responsibility. They have too much free time. Each classroom mentor needs at least 25 mins of break time when they completely turn over to first-year instruction. Joe will need an assistant (MTC person) if he is going to run the school and do observations each period. He is really doing the job of two people.
Final words: I really enjoyed my summer school experience. I had opportunitynity to make a difference in the lives of students and help new teachers in the process. Great idea.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The class of 2005 B.K.A. the lab rats

One of the required blogs asked us to write about our biggest challenge during our first year of MTC, but what about our second year. The Class of 2005 has become the MTC guinea pigs. If you want to know if something will work, just try it on us. We have on most occasions taken the matters in stride believing that it is all for the greater good of the program. Let’s just see how Teacher Corps has changed.
*We have now instituted a summer school where the 2nd years act as mentor teachers and the first years complete their student teaching. This will take place in Holly Springs and we will be bussed to the school during the summer. This is in place of the previous Oxford summer school students teaching for the first years and the 2nd summer classes for the 2nd years. Because we are not taking the required classes as previously scheduled we are now taking an afternoon class and an online class in addition to preparing lessons and mentoring. Workshops have been added to the 2nd year schedule.
*There are no more Friday lunches for the first and second years. Now you meet with them on the bus ride to Holly Springs.
*Dr. Sullivan is retiring.
*The Class of 2005 will be given laptops to use during their last year of teaching. However, these laptops must be given back before graduation. The rumor is that the class of 2006 and all the following classes will be given laptops that they can keep.
*Joe Sweeney Class of 2005 is now doing the summer evaluations. The evaluation sheet has changed.
* The blogs now have a 350 word count requirement. (This is pretty hard for me.)
*The class of 2005 will take two classes this fall instead of one and there will be seven instead of 5.
*The final portfolios are now being done electronically.
*You don’t get your t-shirt until the second summer.
It may not seem like much, but actually the program has been completely revamped. Hopefully, the changes will improve the quality of the program. Still I wonder what we will say at the next reunion.

My Favorite Student

I know that you are not supposed to really become attached to your students, but that is one of my flaws as a teacher. Each year, there is at least on student I adopt and they become like my own child. For the past two years, there has been one student. Her name is Caitlin*. She is light brown skinned about 5’6”, with short brown hair which she keeps in a ponytail. Caitlin* just finished eighth grade at age 16. I taught her for two years and coached her for one year. She is a moderately outgoing person, who likes boys and sports. I quickly learned that she is very self-consciousness. During one of our first encounters, I asked her why she wore huge t-shirts with tight fitting jeans and she explained that her breasts were too big and the kids teased her about them. We talked about the situation and discussed why she should be proud of her body regardless. What I soon realized was that she had never worn a real bra, but only sports bras. Another co-worker and I got together and took her on a shopping trip to Victoria’s Secret where we had her fitted and purchased several items for her. The next week at school she wore a cute little tight fitting shirt. I was very proud of her for becoming proud of her body.
The thing that bothered me was that her mother had not taken the initiative to do this for her daughter and I began discreetly nosing around in Caitlin’s* business. I soon learned that her mother had five children all younger than Caitlin*. Her mother stayed away from home a lot and son Caitlin* had essentially become a mother figure to her sisters and brothers. She was responsible for cooking, cleaning, bathing the crew and getting them dressed for school. She waited with them at the bus stop and then walked the 5-7 miles from her school home because she usually missed her own bus. When she decided to get a job at the local McDonald’s, her mom required her to pay the rent. After realizing all that Caitlin had to endure, I took her under my wing. She has now become like a daughter to me and I am very glad to see her grow and progress into a beautiful young lady.

New Beginnings

For the upcoming school year, I plan to revise one of my rewards systems. Last year, I created a bulletin board called “Class Stars”. On that board, I would put certificates for good behavior, perfect attendance, highest test average, most hardworking, most creative and student of the month. The certificates would stay on the board for a month, and then I would take them down and give them to the students. The students all loved the bulletin boards and would have a fit each month when the certificates changed, if their names were not on the board. The problem which arose was that there were not enough months or certificates and many students who deserved to receive one did not because time ran out. I also realized that once the certificates came down from the bulletin board, those students could not be recognized again that year and therefore didn’t strive for that privilege form that point on.
After thinking about the problem and conferring with another teacher, I devised a new and improved way to get the same results. Next year, instead of the large certificates, I plan to use small bulletin board stars. On each star, I will write the student’s name and the reason they received the star. I am also creating new categories such as caught being good, caught doing a good deed, great organizer, and teacher’s helper. With the new system, a student can receive a star at any time. Students can receive multiple stars.
I’m also changing the student of the month set-up. The student of the month will be removed from the bulletin board and placed above the dry erase board. It will become a profile instead of just a certificate. The profile will include a framed picture of the student, their hobbies, books they’ve read, their favorite movie, etc. All the students will receive a medal which states that they are student
In May, the 10 students of the month will be given a party and during that time a student of the year will be announced. The student of the year will receive a plaque or trophy and a small gift.

Biggest Challenge

My biggest challenge during my first year of MTC was class on the weekends. I would leave work on Friday exhausted, go home and throw clothes into the car and begin my trek to Oxford. Well, this is how the fall semester began. As the year continued and my activities picked up, the drive became less and less desirable. First football season got underway. My fiancée coaches, so I would try to attend his games before I left. This would usually put me in Oxford around one in the morning. In October basketball season began and I was coaching a game on Friday nights, often taking a bus ride back to Jackson, waiting for all the girls to leave and then going home and packing clothes to make the trip to Oxford. This became too tiresome and I started driving up on Saturdays. After I complained enough, my fiancée began making the drive up with me. This helped a lot.
The thing that was most problematic was how tired I would be in class on Saturday. Generally on the break, I would trek to the gas station and buy a four-pack of Red Bull which kept me awake for the rest of the class.
Another thing that was difficult was that I couldn’t spend time with my son on the weekends. He was already with my mother all week and there was no feasible way for me to make the drive here and then make another two hour drive to Noxubee County and back to Jackson and be rested enough to be effective in the classroom on Monday. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty about the time that I was missing with my son. Although I realize that this was what I signed up for and the classes were the most basic part of the agreement, that knowledge didn’t help me when I was dreading making that drive nor did it help me explain to my son why I couldn’t come to get him.
Hopefully, this fall will be better. My son will be in Jackson full time and will probably even come to some of the classes with me. Since we only have the fall classes, the schedule should lighten the burden between the Friday night football and basketball games and the drive up. Either way, I see the light at the end of the tunnel and it is called graduation.

Five Pieces of Advice

During the last two years, I have had the opportunity to learn many things. So many people will talk about rules, procedures lesson planning and such things, but my advice is much more practical. There are dozens of things that I could share, but here are five:

1. Leave it all at the bottom step. There will be many days when you will be frustrated, overworked, unprepared and generally exhausted. The day’s problems will seem so overwhelming that you can’t let them go. Whatever you do, don’t take it home with you. When you leave work, leave all your problems and worries there. Don’t concern yourself with what the crazy principal did or what the disrespectful student said today. Tomorrow will be a better day and there will be new things to worry about. Go home and relax. Read a book, watch CSI, knit, or anything that relaxes or calms you. Call your best friend and talk about the weather or spend time with your husband/fiancé/child. Whatever you do be sure that it is something relaxing and fun.

2. Become a pack rat. When you enter your school, you will probably have nothing. You may have to generate your own worksheets and tests or a veteran teacher may feel sorry for you and give you things you can use. Keep everything. Find some way to organize the worksheets, put your lesson plans in a binder in order, put all the workbooks on a shelf. If you move take everything. If you change schools take everything. At some point, you will need those resources.

3. Have fun. Teaching is a wonderful experience. Learn to have fun while you are teaching. It will become infectious and your students will begin to have fun. The more fun your students are having the more they will participate and the less behavior problems you will have. By the way, lectures are not fun. They are necessary, but keep them short and sweet.

4. Participate in extracurricular activities. I’ve learned more about teaching, leadership and dealing with students from coaching than from any class or day in the classroom. It gives you the opportunity to let your hair down and it does the same for your students. They are much more at ease and are extremely receptive. You may think that you don’t have time, but make time. This will be the best experience of your teaching career.

5. Fall in love. Love your students despite what they do. Love your administrators despite what they say. Love your fellow teacher despite how they act. Without love there is no enjoyment.

Who Moved My Cheese

My administrator is addicted to this educational practices video called “Who Moved My Cheese”. In the video, there are two mice. Both the mice live in a maze. The two mice have a large amount of cheese and so they sit contently eating when they want to not doing anything to replenish the supply. Each time they find more cheese, they eat and then continue looking for more cheese. Soon the two mice who had cheese run out. The leader decides that he will wait right where he is. He is sure that new cheese must come soon plus he is afraid to step outside of his box to try something new. Both mice begin to starve and the second mouse finally decides to strike out and look for new cheese. The leader refuses to go and stays despite his friend’s warning that if they don’t do something they will starve to death. The mouse strikes out, but does not immediately find any cheese. Still, he continues to look. Soon he arrives at a place where there is more cheese than he ever dreamed.
The basic theme in this little self-help video is that a person should not become complacent in their current situation. Just because you are where you want to be right now or you are satisfied with your current status, don’t think that you can just sit around and things will continue to always be the same. You must always strive for something more than what you already have. A person should never be afraid of change. Change is a fact of life and it will happen no matter what you do.
A good example of this is the upheaval of the teachers in my school. The principal decided to change up the teams, move teachers to different rooms, and even switch teachers to different grade levels. We were extremely upset at even the notion of such a thing, but there was nothing that we could do about it. Soon, we realized that the change was inevitable and it was possible that we had become too complacent in our current situations.
My administrator is definitely not the best and he has made us watch this movie a dozen times but the message is always clear.