Friday, December 18, 2009

Holly Jolly Holiday Program

A few days ago, I went to my school's Holiday Program. I remember singing in my own school's Holiday Program in 5th grade. I was extremely excited to see my kids performing and enjoying themselves. Since I was technically on my Winter Break, I was not delegated to supervise any students or direct any parents to the gym...I was able to just sit down and enjoy the show. I say this like I didn't go down to my room at all to help out with organizing, getting props ready and making sure everyone got down to the gym at the appropriate time....just couldn't help myself!! I think the two highlights of the entire program were the Alvin and the Chipmunks performance. There are three brothers who are in 2, 3, and 4th grade who played the roles of Alvin and his brothers. They were absolutely could tell they really put a lot of work into perfecting their parts! They were great!!

The second highlight was during the 5th grade performance. They were signing the Jingle Bell Rock song and towards the end, 3 of my students grabbed toy guitars from underneath the risers and started rocking out...seriously!! One was doing the classic move when you get on your knees and bend backwards. Another one was doing scissor kicks in the air!! It was incredible!!

I was not around for all of the planning, rehearsals, and other preparations that went into making it a success, but I absolutely enjoyed the was a treat to see my students having fun putting on a great show!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Change- Hopefully for the Better

I have been reflecting a lot on what I want the classroom environment to be like in the Spring when I student teach. Luckily, the nature of my program is such that we have a vested 'ownership', so to speak, of the classroom. My CT has told me that when I take over in January, I will be calling the shots. We differ in some of our philosophies about instruction, discipline, etc. There are some things that do not work for me in the room. Below are some of my thoughts on one of the behavior management techniques that my CT uses that do not mesh with my own philosophy: An explanation of how it works and how I want to use it differently when I am teaching.

What I See:
 Number System: When a student misbehaves, they are usually given one verbal warning. Any other misbehavior after that initial warning, students are given a number. The numbers range from 1-4.
o 1 = Not showing respect for themselves, others or property.
o 2 = Not following directions, which includes being off task and talking.
o 3 = Disruptive- out of seat, loud noises, bothering other students, etc.
o 4 = Not prepared for class, missing homework, books, notices to be returned, etc.

 There is no set amount of numbers that students get before a steeper consequence is implemented.
 At the beginning of the year, we would send out a behavior report every Friday informing parents on how their child behaved throughout the week. Explanations of what each “number” meant were included with the report and it had to be signed by a guardian and brought back on Monday.
 By about October, we were not sending out behavior reports any more
 The idea of getting a number really has no impact on student behavior. One of the consequences of getting multiple numbers throughout the day is making a phone call home for students to inform parents about their misbehaviors. This is done in front of the whole class during instructional time.
 I have had trouble with this system because my CT does not have a standard set of numbers that a student must get before a phone call is made. I also do not like that phone calls are made during instruction time and in front of the entire class. It embarrasses the student and kills time that could be spent teaching. I don’t feel like this method does anything to correct and resolve poor student behavior…it simply dishes out a what the teacher feels is a punishment, but what the students just chalk up to another part of the day.

What I Want to See:

Since this is not my own classroom, I understand that I can not just say “out with the old and in with the new”. I have given a lot of thought to how I can reconcile her inefficient system with my desire to correct behavior, not to punish, and to maintain student dignity and respect. Since students are already used to the number system, I would like to maintain it. I would like to establish a limit to the number of numbers that I will issue out before further contact is made with parents/guardians or administrators. This is how I see the number system in play: A student incessantly talks when lining up and walking in the hallway to specials, lunch and the restroom. The first time the student does not follow the expectation of no talking in the hallway, I will tell them that they have a number 2 because they did not follow the expectation of no talking. I will tell them that I know they can do better and expect them not to talk in the hallway. If this behavior continues, I will tell them that they have another number. I will also talk with this student about what unacceptable behaviors I have seen and ask them what we can do together to make sure that it does not happen again. For example, does she need to stand somewhere else in the line so she isn’t tempted to talk, if I give her a silent signal when she is talking, will that help her to check her behavior? After we have this discussion and agree to whatever steps we have talked about, hopefully the behaviors will be changed for the better. If after this second step, the student is still not following directions, they will receive a third number and either a phone call will be made by me sometime throughout the day to their guardians or a note will go home with the student explaining their behavior throughout the day, to be signed by guardians and brought back the next day.

This is not set in stone, so to speak. I don’t know if it should be after the third or 4th number that I call/write home. If I refuse to use instructional time to call parents and I along with my school administration are against sending students out of the classroom unless safety is in question, what will happen with the students who continue to misbehave after their 3rd number? Will I continue to use down time to conference with these students, only to spend even more time after school calling home or writing behavior reports? These are some of the kinks that I haven’t worked out yet but I’ve still got a little time to figure it out before I meet with my CT. I’m trying to flesh my thoughts out as much as possible so she understands my rationale for amending the current system.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No Laptop = Accomplishment

Wow, it has been a crazy few days for me!! On Thursday night, my computer ‘caught’ a virus and died on me! I had never had a virus on my computer before so I started freaking out, which is a typical reaction for me when facing an unfamiliar crisis. So, I took it in to a computer shop to get repaired on Friday and I got it back today. That makes a whole 4 days with no computer….and let me just say it was the longest 4 days of my life!!!! The first couple of days were the roughest because I seriously did not know what to do with myself without my laptop. I am ALWAYS on my computer when I’m home. If I’m doing homework, watching TV, talking on the phone, eating….I’m always on it! I soon realized how much time I wasted on sites like Facebook, YouTube, and incessantly checking my emails when I know that I probably don’t have any!!! I decided to take the incredible amount of free time that I always wish I had and do some things that I have been wanting to do.

Early this semester, I blogged about filing away my lesson plans, handouts, and other teaching resources acquired from my classes. This summer, I organized the papers I had into a system that works for me. So, this weekend, I decided to file away all of the lessons, reflections, and other resources into my expandable file folder. It took about 3-4 hours to get everything organized and put away, but it is all done!!!

I also took time this weekend to read 2 new books that I bought. They are not any of the ones I mentioned in one of my recent posts….I got a B&N gift card for my bday and of course I had to spend it. I didn’t feel so bad this time because I actually read them!! The two books are Literacy Work Stations: Making Centers Work by Debbie Diller and Discipline with Dignity by Richard L. Curwin, Allen N. Mendler and Brian D. Mendler. I bought these books because I have been thinking a lot about what I want to do differently in the classroom when I take over and the major themes are discipline and work stations. I have an incredibly challenging class of students and I feel like the classroom management system is very ineffective in managing behaviors. I haven’t exactly figured out how to talk to my CT about amending the system. I don’t want to abolish hers (even though I won’t use it in my own classroom), but I want to tweak it and make it fit with my own style and philosophy. Any suggestions on how to have this discussion with my CT??

In regards to work stations, we use them during Guided Reading, but they are pretty pointless. My CT has the students either work on a reading assignment that she was not able to cram in during reading or work on a math review/introduction for the lesson in the afternoon so she won’t have to do it in the afternoon. This is great when our students need the occasional additional intervention for a specific topic, but not every day. Diller’s book, to me, is geared more towards the primary grades, but I can absolutely adapt it to fit my 5th grade classroom. In the paraphrased words of Debbie Diller, a literacy work station is an area in the classroom where students “use instructional materials to explore and expand their literacy”. I feel like in my classroom, it is used as a glorified study hall. One of my goals for next semester is to incorporate literacy work stations into our Guided Reading block and give my students an opportunity to work independently on meaningful work to practice what has been modeled by the teacher during instruction time. How are you using literacy work stations in your classroom??

I plan on writing more explicitly about the new things I want to implement in the way of discipline....stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's My Birthday!!! is my birthday!!!!!! Woo hoo!! Many people usually get all excited about there birthday celebrations, but seeing as though for the last 5 years, my birthday has always been during finals week, I'm usually never doing much celebrating on the actual day. I figured with me being at school, class, and work all day until 6pm, it would be more of the same but I could not have been further from the truth!!

Today, my CT sent me on an errand to make a billion copies. I was a little irritated that she wanted me to do this during the middle of the reading block, but I didn't make a big huff about it. When I got back, I was greeted by a "Happy Birthday" from the entire fifth grade. The other class came in when I left to go make copies and they put the finishing touches on their birthday cards they had been working on since yesterday...yes this means they had been keeping this secret from me for an entire day and a half!!! I was almost moved to tears when every single student got up to give me a hug and their card! My CT and the other student teacher both gave me small gifts. This was a day I will never forget! The students and staff were so sweet...I really felt special today!

I think the thing that really put me over the edge was that one of the students who gives me the most attitude every day in the after school program was unbelievable affectionate, kind, and respectful today. I cannot even count the number of hugs I received from her today!! I made sure to thank her for each and every hug she gave and told her how much it made my day!!!! Just when you start to wonder if there is any hope left, a breakthrough happens right before your eyes!! I absolutely love teaching and the impact you can have on a student that you don't even think is listening to I love teaching!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It Feels Good!!

Today is my last day in 8th grade. This experience started off rocky, but has evolved into a learning opportunity and a chance for me to grow personally and professionally. I went in this morning to talk with the principal and thank her for allowing me in her building to gain experience with the Middle School level for the last 6 weeks. I really feel that even though there were bouts of tension with the CT's, things have turned around and I have been able to grow from it.

Anywho, the principal told me that she has been impressed with my performance and would love to have me in her building next year!! She said she has heard nothing but great things about me in the classroom. She told me that she would prefer to have me at her school next year, but at the very least, in district. "We need you around" were her exact words. Imagine my jaw hitting the ground, because that is just about what happened!!

WOO HOO!! I could barely contain myself! It feels awesome to know that even when the situation seems rough, people are still out there watching and taking note of the good work you are doing. My talk with the principal has opened my eyes to how important it is to stay positive and optimistic because you never know what the outcome of that mental shift may be. I definitely plan on staying in communication with my CT and the principal at this school. I don't think I see myself working in that school, but I know the experiences I have had there will lend themselves to many more opportunities in the future.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Yes, it's True: I'm a Bibliophile

I had a wonderful break at home with my family. I didn't do any homework...I don't really have a lot of it, but I'm so used to working all the way through break that not doing anything made me feel like a slacker! I don't think I've mentioned this before, but perhaps my favorite place of all time is Borders. I love to read, but I think even more so than that, I love to buy/collect books. Yep, I'm an addict. I buy more books than I know what to do with! I get a rush with every book I pick up and and carry to the counter. My pocketbook may not feel this same rush, but whose asking my pocketbook anyway? So, the 3 books I bought this weekend bring the grand total of books I need to read to about 7. They are as follows:

- Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Letters to a Young Teacher by Jonathan Kozol
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
- Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage by Paulo Freire
- Young Gifted and Black by Theresa Perry, Claude Steele, and Asa Hilliard III
- Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom

The problem that persists is that I am eager to read these books, but whenever I have a free second, I am more inclined to pick up the remote control and channel surf than devour these books that I have been dying to read. Odd, I know, but it always happens that way. Hopefully during Christmas break, I'll be able to turn over a new leaf!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Watch What You Say

So here’s a funny story…today was hat day/crazy hair day at the middle school. Most of the boys wore hats and the girls wore crazy hair. It took incredible control for me not to ask each person who passed me with a hat on to take it off…guess it’s the teacher in me! Anyway, my Language Arts noticed one of the girls in our 1st hour class looking sad. She asked her if everything was alright and told her to smile because the week was almost over. My CT then took a glance at her hair and said, way to show your school spirit for Crazy Hair Day! I’m not even gonna lie, it did look pretty darn crazy! After getting a stone cold look from the girl, my CT asked “You did your hair like that for Crazy Hair Day, right?” The now furious student replied “No, I did NOT do my hair like this for Crazy Hair Day” and stormed off. Lesson learned: never make a comment about a student’s hair if you do not know for sure the reason it was styled that way!!!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wrong again!

My CT in my Spanish class was out all last week, and consequently was unable to complete my Field Experience Evaluation. I talked to her today while the students were taking their Spanish test and asked if she could fill it out at whatever time was most convenient for her. She decided to fill it out during class and discussed it with me when she finished. She checked high marks for all areas except: “Written communication is free of grammatical errors” and “Displays positive interpersonal skills with staff”. WHOA!!!! WAIT A MINUTE!! These are among the many thoughts that flew around in my head in a span of 15 seconds. I had a look of wonderment on my face so she decided to explain her rationale.

The lower mark for written errors was because I do supposedly do not use standard script when I write on the board. By this, she is referring to the fact that I write my lower case “a” like it is printed here on the computer rather than how it was taught in kindergarten. Now keep in mind, in all of the in-service and orientations I have been to this year, no one has ever mentioned to me that writing in script was mandatory, but maybe I dazed off during that talk. My 5th grade CT, who would be more entitled to make this critique than this lady, never talked to me about this and I wrote on the board every day! I guess my frustration stems from my belief that how I write my a’s in 8th grade is of very little overall importance. To me, they should and do know that there are at least 2 ways of making this letter and both should be able to be recognized. I would say my CT made this critique because she didn’t have anything else to comment on, but boy was I wrong!

The second critique she made was of my interpersonal skills with other staff. I asked her to clarify what she meant by this because I was totally flabbergasted!! She told me there was one instance. At the beginning of the year, there was a team planning meeting. The interns expected we would discuss the goals and mission of the team and what the expected of us. Instead, we were welcomed with about 120 manila folders and 120x4 progress reports which we first had to alphabetize, then stuff in their appropriate folder- all while the CT’s explained to us that this is what teaching is. Mind you, I have already spent an entire quarter teaching, meeting with parents, conferencing, grading, filling, organizing, decorating, etc. My CT refused to let me get involved with the students (which is the heart and soul of teaching), but instead put me in teacher boot camp with filing and alphabetizing for conferences that I would not even be attending!!! Any who, the system of alphabetizing that my Spanish CT wanted me to use was incredibly complex. Call me slow, but I just didn’t get how she wanted me to do it. So I simply and what I thought was respectfully said “I don’t really understand how to do it this way, so I’ll just use my own system”. All of the papers got alphabetized and filed without a hitch. I thought education was distancing itself from the “there’s only one way to figure this out” mentality…guess I was wrong again! This CT never made any reference to me about my tone or disrespect any day during the 3 weeks since this meeting, but clearly she was bothered by whatever did or did not exist in my comment. I think it was very unprofessional for her not to address this issue to me when it happened, but then turn around and write it on probably the only evaluation I will have from her during this experience. I’m trying to focus on the positive comments she made (my great enthusiasm, preparedness, and eagerness to teach), but I just find my self sweating the small stuff.

Tomorrow is my last day before break!! I teach Language Arts all day tomorrow so I’m pretty excited about that! I am leaving the stress of my evaluation ordeal write here on this post…I feel a huge weight lifted off already!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Broken Heart

Today was a rough day at the after school program. When I arrive at the school, I go around and shake hands, hug, high five every single 4th and 5th grader. I believe that the power of the "touch" is incredible. I know that many of my students do not get this at home so I make sure that I do this every time I see them. Well, it seemed like things were going to go well today, but that soon changed. No sooner than we made it to the room to begin the study hour did one student start in with the problems. This students has been talked about frequently in my blog- one of the boys who gave me a very, very difficult time at the beginning of the year, saying he did not want to be in my class and he hated coming to school because he wanted to be with the other teacher...remember now? Well, this kid has occupied a special place in my heart...he is as sweet as pie and acts out in incredible ways because he is starving for attention. His home life is horrid and whether negative or positive, he'll take what he can get.

Well, he is actually in the other 5th grade room for homework hour but today he kept getting up and coming into my room. The rule is that you stay in your room unless you have permission to leave, which he clearly broke. While in my room, he was bothering another student. When he was asked to stop, he refused. He then replied to the student he was bothering "Shut up or I'll stab you in the eye with a pencil". I think it is pretty obvious that this kind of talk is not okay. Threats are not tolerated by any means in our school so I had to write him up. I felt bad afterward because this was his second write up, which means he is suspended for a day from the program.

I say I felt bad because I feel like he is always punished for things beyond his control- his home life. He cannot deal with the fact that he is one of 9 kids all living in the same home with a mom who has other priorities that often bump her children down on the list. He battles for attention at home and he comes to school and feels like he has to do the same thing. I know he had to be dealt the consequence that came with making a threat, but my heart aches for him because I know he is crying for help. I just don't know what I can do to help and make a difference. I do all I can to encourage his positive behavior, build confidence in his academic abilities and what he has to offer the world as a beautiful person. Since I cannot go in and wave my magic wand in his home and make things better, what other options do I have?

Update on 8th Grade

Things in 8th grade have been progressively getting better. My CT actually speaks to me now in words other than 'hello' and 'goodbye'!! She takes initiative to explain to my why she does things in the classroom in a particular way. I was able to teach in the Language Arts class all day last Tuesday. It was a lesson on immigration and it went very well. The students responded positively to me and even knew my name!!! It was great for the students to actually see me in front of the classroom, rather than just hanging out at the table in the back of the classroom. I did a spur of the moment activity with the class in which they all shared 1 sentimental item they would bring with them if they emigrated to another country. The students LOVED it and I got to learn quite a bit about them in the process....including the fact that one of the 8th grade girls has a baby!!! She said that she would bring her son with her to the new was a very awkward moment....I guess it was a good thing she wanted to bring her child??!!?? Anyway, this experience was fantastic! I was a little nervous at first, but it all felt natural after a while. Unfortunately, that was probably my only and final day of teaching in Language Arts...the students are doing a novel unit and they spend ALL of their class time reading because she does not assign reading for homework. Take a second and think about how awful it is to sit through 4 hours of either the teacher or the audio recording of the book, each and every day that I am in the classroom.....SNORE!!!

I have been teaching often in Spanish. My CT and I have been alternating days; she teaches the first lesson to class A and I teach the same lesson to class B. She has been gone all week for jury duty (from which I thought teachers were exempt) so I have been teaching all week!!! Clearly, this has pleased the substitute teachers to no end!! I try to speak as much Spanish as possible, as immersion is the only true way to learn and understand a foreign language. Contrary to what my CT in this class thinks, the students catch on quickly. I think they feel a huge sense of accomplishment when they can figure out what I'm saying without me translating for them....LOVE IT!

Word on the street is that both my Spanish and L.A. CT's have expressed to my coordinator how great of a job I am doing in the classroom and how impressed they are with my ability to deliver instruction and connect with the students....YAY ME!!! Even though they don't show it all the's good to know they're thinking it!

I only have 6 more days left in 8th grade (even though those 6 days stretch all the way until the week after thanksgiving). Even though most days I am not involved in any of the instruction in the classroom, I sit in the back and take notes on what I observe, would or wouldn't use in my own classroom. As miserable as I was the first few weeks, I decided that I would still try to take away as much as possible from this experience. As tough as this placement has been, I am still totally open to teaching in a middle school so I have to be proactive in learning as much as possible while I'm there!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Behaviors Gone Wild!

I know, I know....second post within 30's just that a lot has happened over the last two weeks!! I was talking to my CT at my 5th grade school a couple of days ago. She works at the after school program too, so we get to chat and catch up on things. She told me that at the 5th grade "Data Day" meeting, she learned that the scores, particularly reading, of our students had plummeted since the beginning of the year. Students who had been our highest achievers had dropped from 144 wpm to 100 wpm. From what she told me, the tone of the meeting was one that pointed the finger at her and her instructional strategies. It was more like a "what the heck are you doing in there?" kind of attitude. They just couldn't understand why this would be happening. My CT discussed with the group that there is nothing different that she is doing now, compared to what she did during the 1st quarter. The thing that is different now is the out-of control behaviors in our classroom. The other teachers suggested other behavior management strategies for my CT to implement, but she has tried all of them.

I guess I am torn on this situation. I do not agree with the "dependence" for lack of a better word, that my CT has on worksheets and teacher-directed instruction. What I do know is that the incredible amount of behavior problems that we have in our classroom impeed and cooperative learning, "out of the box" experiences that we try to implement. Right now, they cannot handle it. I'm sure you're wondering, okay, how bad can the behaviors be? Well, the group of teachers that work on class lists decided to put the most challenging students in 5th grade in our classroom...why? Because they felt like my CT could handle it. Well, sure, she could handle them, but when you put all 12 of them (literally!!) in a classroom is almost impossible to manage. During this second quarter, behaviors have started to escalate. Even with having conferences with each student, discussing behaviors with their parents, writing them up, suspending them, offering incentives or rewards for good behavior, and more, we still have the same problems. My kids are GREAT kids and they bring me so much joy! I look forward to seeing them everyday, not matter how off-the-wall their behaviors may be. Learning is being affected by their poor conduct, but what do you do? The other 5th grade class does not deal with these issues because they do not have the behavior problems that we the way, this 5th grade teacher was on the committee that worked on the Class List!!!

I guess I just want to know if any of you out there have lived through a situation like this? I am not in the 5th grade class right now, but I am getting nervous because when I come back in January, I can only imagine what I will be walking in to.
I want to know what strategies other educators have used to get control of behavior problems so that true learning can actually take place.

Teaching Outside of the Box's been a while!! I have been SWAMPED with lesson plans and papers for my methods courses. For the last 2 weeks I have been working on an Integrated Unit for my Capstone class....I decided to do it on the Mexican Revolution. It has been a ton of work and I am hoping to be done with 90% of it after today. This assignment has been very hard for me...everything I have learned about education has been about connecting all of the content areas. In many of my classes, we have discussed the problem for students that arises when they only learn math during the math period, science during the science period, and so on.

I am absolutely in agreement that the content areas should be integrated whenever possible, so students can see that the subject matter does not exist in isolation. However, perhaps the most difficult part of all of this is that I have seen little to not content integration in my experience thus far. How can this even happen, when you have pacing charts telling you what and when to teach, you have literacy and math blocks that must be totally uninterrupted minutes of math and literacy instruction? I feel like the reality presented to me throughout my schooling is NOT the reality that I am living now! Doing this Integrated Unit has been very tough for me because I have been thinking "inside the box" for most of this's been hard to come out. However, as I am planning these lessons, I see how AWESOME it will be when I actually teach it next semester!! The learning activities that I have planned (re-enactments, biome dioramas, Mexican Hat Dance Performance, Cooperative Learning Activities) will totally draw my students into the learning experience!!

When I take over my 5th grade classroom next semester, I want to have an "outside of the box" frame of mind. The amount of worksheets that my kids get every week is SICKENING! I understand that there is a time and place for them...but that time is not every day for every subject!! It will be difficult and require a lot of time to plan, but providing my students with rich learning experiences and a variation in learning activities will only enhance what they learn in my classroom!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

We Don't Know Everything

So, this past Thursday and Friday I went back to my 5th grade class for Parent/Teacher Conferences. After all of the intensity that built up from stories from other teachers and student teachers, I very relieved to to find that none of the horror stories came to fruition. I enjoyed meeting the parents of the kids that I spent so much time with. Most of the parents that came in were totally concerned about how their students were doing in our class. They were eager to find out what they could do at home to help their student academically and/or behaviorally. Of course, the parents of the 2-3 students that we absolutely needed to meet with face to face did not show up. We even tried to contact them for a phone conference, but still no luck. I guess we'll keep trying with them.

Throughout my student teaching experience so far, I have been amazed at how much can be going on with a student and you never know until they or someone else tells you. An example of this is a student named "Cory" in my class. He is a sweet, hard working kid that is the lowest performing student in reading and math in my class. My CT and I have been mystified as to why he does not receive any special education services....he is that far behind. We still don't know why he was never recommended for testing, but during conferences we found out from his mom that a very devastating event happened in his family 3 years ago....his father was brutally murdered. This would put Cory in 2nd grade. From what his mom says, he never really grieved...just held it all inside. My heart aches thinking about how hard it must be for him every day knowing that his father was taken away from him. His 3rd and 4th grade years were spent moving from school to school. In spite of all of the chaos he's had in his life these last few years, he is focused, respectful, and determined to do his best. If we could give A's for work ethic, this kid would have a report card full of them!!! Even with all of the things going on in his life, he never showed it. Every day I see him I make sure to give him an extra hug and an extra word of encouragement....his strength pushes me to give my best- always!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

8th Grade Horror

So....I've started my second placement in an 8th grade Language Arts and Spanish class. All I can say is OMG!! The last two days has absolutely been the most dreadful experience ever!! There are about 6 interns from my program at this middle school and all of the CT's except for one treat us like the scum beneath their toes. All we do is push papers all day and work on our work from the methods course we're taking. The CT's do not interact with us at all and it is almost like we are a burden to them or something. Not to mention, I have had almost ZERO interactions with the students because all I do is sit in the back of the classroom! Thank goodness I get to leave that heck hole and go back to my 5th graders a few days a week for the after school program!! Since I consider myself to be an optimistic realist, I know that these teachers really don't want us around, but I am HOPING that by some miraculous event, things will get better. Oh, did I mention that the Spanish teacher knows exactly NOTHING about the Spanish language??!!!!! AAAAAHHHHHH!!! Okay, I know that not everyone who teaches a foreign language has majored in it like I have, but geez, to say you only took 3 courses in college 10 years ago is really sad. To top it off, she gets all flustered when she says something in Spanish when I'm in the room so she refuses to let me say anything in Spanish...I think it's because she doesn't want to look bad. That is definitely not my style and I would never make anyone feel like that. These teachers see no place for us in their classrooms and let me tell you, I'm not feeling much like being there either!!! Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Math Lesson = SUCCESS!!!

Friday October 23 was my last day in 5th grade for another 6 weeks. I will be moving to a middle school to teach 8th grade L.A. and Spanish for 6 weeks...excited and nervous all at the same time!! I will still see most of my 5th graders each week at the after-school program but I will definitely miss being with them during the day!

Well, my CT has been under-the-weather for a couple of weeks now and at lunch to go to a much needed doctor’s appointment. Since I had planned to stay for the whole day anyway, I just told her that I would teach math that afternoon. As much as I wanted to do it, I was terribly nervous on the inside. Math has been the subject that I feel the least comfortable with teaching. I always feel like I need to prep more for math than any of the other subjects and even after much preparation, I still do not feel prepared to teach it so I usually just walk around and help students while my CT teaches. Anyhow, the topic of the day was problem solving, an area of difficulty for many of the students. Since I knew I was nervous and the kids did not want to touch a word problem with a 10 foot pole, I pumped myself up, had a ton of energy and made the students active participants in the lesson. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many of them engaged in the lesson at once. I think for a split second, they actually enjoyed problem solving with word problems!!

This experience taught me two very important lessons: one about myself and one about my students. In regards to myself, I learned that preparation is the key to confidence. Before my CT left, I looked over the math lesson in the teacher guide, reflected on the problems and solved them on my own. I thought about the points of the problems that would not make sense to the students and how I would make it clear to them. Taking this time to become familiar with the topic helped me when I was in front of the class because I knew what I was talking about. I knew where I wanted the students to be at the end of the lesson which made actually getting them there a whole lot easier!

In regards to my students, I learned that they model the energy and enthusiasm that the teacher has for the lesson. When I told the class that we were going to work on word problems, I cannot even count the number of sighs and moans I heard!! However, when I started talking about the problem with incredible energy and excitement, the students sat up and paid attention to me. Initially, it was probably because they were trying to figure out if I was half-crazy or not, but eventually I think it was because they were involved in the task of solving the problem. Another thing is that students need to be validated, especially when dealing with a topic that is often challenging for them. Students would volunteer to share an answer and if it happened to be incorrect, I would praise them for trying and working hard on it. I would ask them to go back and see if they could figure out where they went wrong in the problem. When the students heard my praise, even if they had the wrong answer, they still felt like they had something to offer. I think this increased their levels of confidence ten fold and also helped them to be more critical of their solutions and the steps they took to find the answer.

I want to go forth in teaching with the same enthusiasm and confidence that I had today. Everyday may not feel as great as Friday did, the students may not behave as well as they did on Friday, but the students deserve to get my best every day. It is all worth it to see students who normally do not share their thinking at all, feeling comfortable and confident to do exactly the opposite. Energy is truly contagious; when the learning experience comes alive, everyone is able to reap the benefits. This day taught me the incredible influence that I have on my students. At the end of the day, one of my students asked me if I like math because I seemed so excited when we did the problems together. Even though math is by far my least favorite subject, if I can convince my students that I love it, I am absolutely doing my job!!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sticks and Stones

Something happened today that was one of the most hilarious yet saddening events of my life!! In the afterschool program, the other student teacher and I had devised a plan for splitting up the rather large group of students. I think I spoke to this in a previous post, but for whatever reason, the students never want to be in my room. I honestly think it is because of my no-nonsense approach to classroom management. If you are doing what you should be doing, we will have the best time, but if you are not it won’t be that way at all. If you can’t show me that you can handle the responsibility that comes with being a 5th grader, than you cannot enjoy the things that responsible and respectful 5th graders enjoy.

Back to the story…so we came up with a plan so that the students that were with me one week would rotate to Miss S’s room and her students would then rotate to my room. We put them on a 1 week rotation so we wouldn’t have to worry about students asking us everyday if they could be in her room; everyone would get there chance.

Well today was the day that our classes were supposed to rotate. Before we left to go down to the classrooms, the coordinator of the program came to us with a “revised” class list that he created. He wanted to split certain students up and also to put an end to the ingenious rotation plan we created. As soon as he said that, Miss. S and I knew that this was going to get real ugly!!! So we had my CT, who also works in the program, announce the changes. We didn’t want to have anything to do with it! She is a tell-it-like-it-is kind of lady, so she wasn’t to concerned about their reactions. She called one group of students, the ones that would be in my classroom to line up at the door. Then she struck the knock-out blow….she told them they would all be in MY classroom!!!! AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!! You would’ve thought they found out they were being shipped to the moon! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such long faces before in my life!! So while the students in my room were in deep mourning, the students in Miss. S’s room were having the celebration of their lives. They were bragging to my kids like they just swept the opposing team in the NCAA Championships!! INCREDIBLE!!! This was hilarious, but I’m not gonna lie, I felt kind of sad too! The reaction that these kids had to being in my classroom; the huffing, puffing, and stomping down the hallway along with comments like “I don’t want to be in your room”, “Man, I’m not coming back to this program if I have to be with her!!” in addition to a few tears, really made me feel bad. I have never said a mean or cruel word to these students, so to hear these comments dished to me, I was hurt.

I have high expectations for my students…end of story. I wish they didn’t dread being in my room, but it is what it is. They know that when they come into my room, though, that I am totally committed to making sure they understand the content, become more responsible and are socially and emotionally well. If this happens to exclude them liking me, oh well. It has really taken me 7 weeks to utter those words and actually mean it. I still get sad when I hear the discontent some feel, but at the end of the day, I know that I my goal is to give them what they need. Their words may hurt sometimes, but as long as they don’t start throwing sticks and stones at me, I’ll be good!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I'll Be There

During the afterschool program, the students spend the first hour working on homework. Since there are so many 5th graders, we divide them up so that each room has half of the 5th graders. This particular day, the students in my room were working on publishing a writing piece so I was pretty busy setting up the computers while at the same time helping other students with their math homework. Kate, a student working in the other room, came over and asked me if she could read her fluency piece to me. In a sort of flustered state, I told her that she could read with me once I finished setting up the computers. So, she was just standing around in my room, and I encouraged her to go to her room and work on something else. I told her that when I finished, I would go over and get her. Time passed by and I completely forgot to go over and get her. Since she was not in my room, I couldn’t use her face as a reminder to go and assist her.

This was a very difficult situation because I know that Kate really wanted to read to me. She has been encountering a lot of problems with peers talking about the way she dresses and acts. I have made it a point to be there for her and encourage her to be comfortable with who she is and what she wears. Because of this, I think she has connected with me in a way that she hasn’t with other teachers. When I saw her at the end of the day (before even realizing that I had forgotten to read with her) she looked at me and had a very sad look of disappointment. It did not register with me why she looked so sad, but looking back, I know it was because I let her down. This situation was very upsetting to me. The next day, I approached her and sincerely apologized for forgetting about her. I explained to her that I was not trying to blow her off. I told her that on Monday, if she wanted to read with me, I would make sure that it happened. She gave me a hug and said it was okay and she wasn’t mad. She had an enormous smile on her face and happily walked back to her class.

I can see how some would think this situation was insignificant. It wasn’t like I flat out lied to Kate or forgot about her because I was surfing the internet or chatting with the other student teachers. Even though the reason why I forgot about her may be “valid”, the disappointment that Kate felt was also valid. I believe that Kate’s desire to read with me went beyond her wanting to get done with it so she wouldn’t have homework. I think it was her reaching out to me and in this case, I let her down. I’m not being harsh on myself; I just want to set a standard for meeting the needs of students beyond instruction. Furthermore, even when I do get sidetracked (which will more than likely happen again), I understand that I cannot be above apologizing and protecting the feelings of my students.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Takin' Over!!

I know it's been a while since my last post, but I have been SWAMPED!! I'm not writing much because I have to do this stupid project for my methods course and on top of that, looking over lesson plans because my CT is sick and will be out tomorrow!! YIKES!! This will be my first take-over and I'm scared stiff!! I have a lot of issues with behavior in my class and that's when my CT is still in the same room!! I am doing my best to be optimistic and positive about tomorrow but I must admit I've got butterflies! Now, I need to get find the strength to focus on my methods work so I can finish it and make sure I'm ready for tomorrow!! Wish me luck!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Finders Keepers

I feel like many of my posts are focused on the challenges of teaching…so I’m going to add a touch of comic relief!

This actually happened to me a couple of weeks ago, but it is so hilarious that it warrants being posted for the world to read. In our guided reading, our class was reading a story called “The Pumpkin Box”. The character in the book liked to dig for things and one day he dug and found a time capsule. My students were to think about a time when they found something (relating their personal experiences back to the text). One student said they remember when they found a toy that they had lost. Another student remembered when she found her mom’s keys. And then there was “Daniel”!! Daniel explains a time when he found….wait for it….a BILLION dollar bill!!! So, of course, my CT and I thought did not really focus too much on this because clearly he didn’t find a BILLION dollar bill. But that was his story and he was most certainly sticking to it!!

Daniel said that he found the BILLION dollar bill outside somewhere (he forgot where) and he gave it to his principal. By the time he got to this point in the story, the entire class was in an uproar- “You’re telling a fib because there’s no such thing as a BILLION dollar bill!!!”, “You must mean a MILLION dollar bill!” My CT and I tried to get him to fess up about the validity of his story, but he was about as adamant as someone who was telling the truth!! If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve believed him!!!

So when things in the classroom get tough, think about how much easier your life would be if you were the one who received a BILLION dollar gift from a student!!! I don’ know about you, but I’ve got my fingers crossed!! Who needs the Lottery when you can have a BILLION dollar bill!!

Stop Picking on Me!!!

There are two students (one boy- “Luke”and one girl- “Melissa”) in my class that are perhaps the most stubborn and rebellious students I have ever worked with. They are frequently engaging in behavior that does not coincide with the expectations in the classroom or school. With the majority of students in my class, when they are being disrespectful or disruptive, I address it and they correct the behavior. With these two students, every situation becomes an argument or a challenge. They never accept responsibility for their actions and have, on numerous occasions accused me of “picking on them”. They defy the warnings that I give them and consciously choose not to replace the poor behaviors in an attempt to challenge my authority (my hypothesis). Once I “make them mad” it is a lost cause for the rest of the day

Melissa and Luke have had a profound impact on the classroom dynamic and my teaching. When they refuse to work, they make it seem like it in our class you can do whatever you want, and when you want to do it. Luckily, the other students haven’t modeled this behavior yet. It isn’t fair to the other students that they have to work, even if they don’t want to, but Melissa and Luke can work when they feel like it. When working in small groups, these two students frequently refuse to cooperate. One two separate occasions I have gotten so fed up with their poor attitudes that I have sent them back to their desks. I was spending so much time getting them back on task that I was neglecting the students who were taking care of business. So, what purpose did that serve? Melissa and Luke just went back to their desks and doodled, distracted others, or whatever else they felt like doing.

They have also made me question whether or not I am targeting them throughout the day. I also feel weary of enforcing consequences for their misbehaving because of the drama that ensues each time I ask them to correct their conduct. I hesitate to say that I am afraid of them because I am not. I guess I just feel like they are going to be defiant no matter what, so why even bother I know this is not the mentality I should have, but I do not know what else to do. . I sometimes feel like I am arguing with my little sibling or cousin, but I still end up “losing” in the end. I talked to my CT about it and she said that in no way am I targeting Melissa and Luke. Oddly enough, she does not encounter the same attitude that I get with these students. As I discussed with the two students myself, if every time I look up you are doing something you should not be done, I cannot be picking on you. You need to correct you behaviors so that I am not always seeing you misbehaving. I also make it a point to praise these students when I see appropriate behavior. I tell them that I love how quietly they walked in the hallway or how patiently they waited for me to come around to assist them. Even with encouraging positive behaviors, I still have not made any headway with decreasing the amount of attitude I get throughout the day on most days.

The disrespect that these students show me almost on a daily basis is not acceptable. As frustrated as I get with them, every interaction I have with them, I am conscious that I am not holding grudge or being mean. Every time we cross paths, I want it to be a new start. Unfortunately, these two students won’t let that happen….at least not yet! For next week, I want to have a one-on-one talk with the students. I would make sure, though, that it did not seem like I was targeting these students. I want to highlight positive behaviors that I know they have shown in the past. During this meeting, I will also talk about negative behaviors I have seen as well. I would present students with behaviors they’ve exhibited and ask them to think about why they may have gotten a number and what they could have done differently. My ultimate goal is for the students to walk away knowing that I am not picking on them, but that they are responsible for their behaviors and must face the consequences of them. Maybe we could right up an agreement that says what the students will agree to and what I will agree to. In this agreement, I would also clarify what will happen if students do not hold their end of the deal. This is just one idea, but whatever I choose, if it does not work out, the next step will be having a nice sit-down or conversation with their guardians because their negative attitudes and behaviors cannot continue.

I could also take this situation and create an opportunity to confer with each student briefly to discuss great things I’ve seen them do and maybe some things they can commit to working on. After these conferences, I would maybe have the class right down some things that they think I could work on and turn them in to me. I want them to know that I am not perfect and even teachers have things we need to work on. The ultimate goal is for students to understand that anyone can improve their behavior or attitude at any time, but only they have the power to do it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What a Waste!!!!

First, I would like to thank everyone who has commented on my posts! Your insight is welcomed and I have learned so much from what you all have said to me. I am growing and becoming a better teacher with each passing day and you are helping to make that even more profound……THANKS!!

Well, now for our regularly scheduled program….the realities of teaching!! Okay, so today was a pretty good day, the usual challenging students were still at it, but it was overall a good day. There was, however, something that happened today that made me wonder about its effectiveness. Let me explain. A student from a 4th grade class was misbehaving in his classroom. The class as a whole was out of control because there was a substitute for the day. This student, who I’ll call “Joe”, was totally acting out. Early that morning, my teacher extended an option to the sub that she could send any unruly students to our classroom. Guess who came to our room after lunch….yep, it was Joe! The sub entered our classroom and asked (a.k.a. insisted) that Joe spend some time in our room because he was not behaving. The student came into our room and my CT told him to sit in a chair in the front corner of the class.

The student spent about 20 minutes just looking at the walls and I asked my CT if she wanted me to work with him on his assignments or discuss his behavior and what he could do differently next time. My CT told me no because he needed to sit and think about what he did. She felt that if he sat there long enough doing nothing, he would not act in such a poor manner again because he wouldn’t want to sit and do nothing. Joe ended up spending 1.5 hours sitting, not engaged in any learning, conflict resolution, or behavior modification.

Basically, I think this was a complete waste of time!! All it did was make the student even more upset and his time just sitting around did not do anything to discuss and modify his conduct. Joe was also a cross cat. Student (reason why he left our room after 1.5 hrs) and is probably at an even greater loss by not being in class to learn the material.

I don’t think this situation was handled well at all! Students need to be called out on their behavior, but they also need to talk about the consequences, and what they can do differently the next time. If these types of discussions do not take place, I do not feel like students are held accountable for their behaviors or given tools to improve. I feel like even when a student misbehaves, they still need to be valued. Today, Joe was not treated with respect today. I feel bad for him, but I know if presented with the situation when I am teaching, I will do things differently.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Survival of the Fittest Teacher

I will officially consider today the most challenging day of my student teaching experience!!! I was so flabbergasted by the behavior of my students that I am STILL at a loss for words! Where do I even begin???????

I started to write about all of the things that went wrong today but I am not going to do that. I have vowed to try to be as constructive as possible and I want that to continue. Please know, however, that I have done my fair share of venting today, so I am not keeping everything bottled up, only to explode soon after! So no, my students did not follow directions today, nor did they respect each other, do their homework, or walk quietly in the hallway. But, at the end of the day, I love them to the moon and still want only the best for them. So, objectively looking at the chaos that was my day today, I feel like I did contribute to some of the madness. I believe that even though students are responsible for the behavior, teachers can contribute to problems in the classroom by having a short fuse, not implementing immediate consequences to poor behaviors, antagonizing students who need to be left alone because you want them to cooperate on your clock, and the list most certainly goes on. Below are the things that I want to work on to maintain more control of the classroom, respect student space and needs, and maximize the time spent learning:

- Don’t argue with students…..poor behaviors=negative consequences…end of story. I feel like I spent way too much time today arguing with students about whether or not they were actually doing what I “accused” them of doing. Assuming students understand expectations and resulting consequences, there is no need to debate whether or not it was fair or why they are in trouble and “Billy” isn’t.
- Praise those students who are taking care of business. Today, especially, I know these students were overlooked because so much time was spent dealing with the students who behaved poorly. I do not want to help create an atmosphere that inadvertently puts value and attention on inappropriate behaviors that are in no way deserving of it.
- One thing that I want to CONTINUE doing is discussing the day’s behavior with students. When there has been an issue with behavior, I always try to talk to the students about what I observed and ask them to tell me what contributed to their unacceptable behavior today. I focus on positive behaviors that I have seen in the past and want to see every day instead of the negatives ones. Most students are usually receptive to this and seem to appreciate that I want to understand why their behavior changed instead of just judging them as “being bad”. There are a couple of strong-willed students who refuse to talk to me and/or get very defensive during this time , so I have learned to wait until they cool down and are ready for a constructive dialogue.

At the end of the day, I can say I survived the most challenging day yet!! I am glad this day is over with and am ready to get back in there and start fresh. New day = new start. I can’t lie though, I am so happy that I have my methods courses ALL DAY tomorrow (never thought I’d say that). A break from the kiddos gets no complaints from me! I will see them for a few hours at the after-school program, but that will be a breeze!! Oh wow, and Friday is a school improvement day so no kiddos then either….I might just miss them by the time Monday gets here!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tattle, Tattle, Tattle-Tellers

Frequently each day, I have students come up to me and tell me that someone cussed at them, some hit them, someone stole their mechanical pencil, or something to those effects. Some appear to be serious while others seem to be simply trying to get attention. Either way, in most situations, I did not see what happened.

This type of “tattling” is becoming more and more prevalent. It usually happens like this: “Lisa” gets in trouble by me for throwing a pencil eraser across the room. As I am reprimanding her, she tells me that “Mike” threw something at her too. Sometimes, it isn’t even spurred by a specific event. For example, “Tony” may come up to me as we are in the process of lining up for Specials and say, “Mark” hit me. These situations seem minor and more like he said, she said, but they have been causing a little frustration for me because I do not know what I should be taking seriously. How do I decide what is worth reacting to and what is better left ignored? What I fear is that I may choose to ignore something that is actually a valid concern and a student suffers because of it. Furthermore, if I choose not to ignore something, how should I respond/what should I say to that student? Do I even have the right to call them out if I didn’t even see them do anything? Overall, I have been casting most complaints to the side as “tattles” and honestly, I believe they are. I just wish I could refine my discretion as to what is serious and what is not.

I am certain that I will encounter more pressing issues in my career as a teacher. However, this is a situation that if left unresolved can really disrupt the classroom dynamic. I want my students to know that if there is a problem they can come to me and I will demand that they are treated with respect. On the other hand, my students need to understand that we do not have time to tattle. I also want to help them see that the more they come to me about insignificant things, I naturally grow less likely to believe them when there is truly something serious going on. I believe that part of my responsibility as a teacher is to help students learn to self-assess the situations in which they find themselves and determine if it is really worth bringing to my attention. Most times, students are capable of handling the situation without the intervention of a teacher. For example, if someone is bothering “Tony”, he can kindly ask that person to stop tapping their shoulder/stop humming, etc. I am aware that if I am having trouble knowing how and when to respond to these situations, my students almost certainly are too. I am committing myself to making sure that both I and my class have the tools needed to make the best decisions in these situations.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sick of Complaints...So I'm Complaining!!

Okay, so I need a place to vent and I couldn’t think of a better place! It has nothing to do with my school, CT, or students. The issue is with my cohorts in my year-long student teaching program. I feel like this is the whiniest group of girls I have ever worked with!!!! They complain about everything from the new math curriculum (which I think is quite wonderful!), our methods course work, our methods textbooks, having class in the morning, having class in the afternoon, reflections, reflections, having classrooms in which some students do not speak English at all, and the list most certainly goes on. I guess my frustrations stems from the belief that as student teachers, we are professionals. I understand that sometimes you just want to get things off of your chest, but when every meeting turns into a total bash about some aspect of our experience, it starts to get a little old.

One of the most annoying points of complaint comes from one girl who is so upset that she got a new student from a French-speaking country in Africa and speaks no English. First off, she refers to him as the “African kid”!!! I’m sorry, but that just sticks out to me as totally offensive…how about using his name or saying the new student?? Just a thought. Anyways, she talks about how frustrating it is that he doesn’t understand anything, doesn’t know how to walk up the stairs or in a line for that matter. I wonder if she has ever stopped to think that maybe his life experiences in his home country did not lend themselves to walking up stairs or walking in quiet lines not touching the walls or talking. Just a thought. I just feel that as educators, we have to be tolerant and understanding of experiences that differ from our own. It doesn’t make us stupid or incapable of learning, it simply means we have a different wealth of experiences to bring to the table. I did speak up a little, but sometimes you just can’t win. Ignorance is bliss for far too many. I do pray that they get it together for the sake of the children; they cannot afford to be exposed to such narrow-minded views.

Based on these last few weeks, I know it will be a long year. Hopefully the constant complaining and inability to accept the diversity of learners is not contagious. To make sure I don’t catch this virus, I am committed to reflecting on my own beliefs, comments, and practices and making sure they exhibit the compassion and desire to make change that dwells in my heart. Maybe my peers will be infected with those instead!! Hopefully that turns out to be more than just a thought!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Real Life Behavior Management

While working on math with a small group during our intervention block, I had 2 out of 4 students that quickly became complete uncooperative. “Jeremy” was fine at the beginning. He was finished answering the problems early. He tried helping one of the other students but grew frustrated because they were not “getting it” quickly enough. “Jeremy” then started distracting other students by talking to them, he was drawing all over his worksheet, not responding when I would call on him, and simply not cooperating when his cooperation was needed. “Phillip” soon followed “Jeremy’s” lead. Out of nowhere, Phillip starts giving me attitude when I call on him. He completely ignored me when I would ask him a question. Eventually, I got fed up with their antics and demanded that both of them return back to their desks since they obviously did not want to cooperate. They both stomped off, snatching papers and pouting all the way back to their seats.

This was a very difficult situation for me. I ended up spending more time trying to get them to focus on the material than I did making sure that the math concepts for clear with everyone. Because I wanted to make sure that everyone benefited from the small group work, I think I put up with their behavior for longer than I should have. This impacted the students because the other two students who were working diligently lost valuable time with me. Also, Jeremy and Phillip got the attention they were looking for, but in the process sent me to a level of frustration that I had not experienced so far in the two weeks of school. I was mad at myself that I neglected the other two students but also irritated that I was not able to successfully get Jeremy and Phillip back on track.

I have now been exposed to the reality that students do not always want to work when and how I want them to work. Looking back, I think that Jeremy was off task because he was bored with the pace of the small group. He is one that takes a little while to understand a concept but when he gets it, he gets it. When seeing that he understood what he was doing, I should have had something else lined up to keep him occupied and challenged. I think he was subconsciously trying to tell me he needed something else, but I misread what he was doing. I later talked with him about his behavior and explained to him that if he is frustrated, upset, or even bored, he needs to let me know because otherwise I think he is just misbehaving. He was very receptive to my suggestions and I think going forward, both him and I will be more aware. Phillip on the other hand, would not even make eye contact with me afterward. I know he is very stubborn and holds grudges for about as long as he can. I just understand now that he is a follower and will behave as others are if he sees it gets them attention. Perhaps the most important thing I have discovered is that there must be zero tolerance for misbehaving because the learning experience for others is compromised. I can stop thinking about what more could have been accomplished in the group if I didn’t spend half of the time trying to get the other two on track. Student learning is my first priority and I will set the expectation that unruly behavior is not going to be tolerated. I also want students to know that it is their responsibility to communicate with me how they are feeling because I cannot read minds. I think that by establishing those expectations, I will hopefully be able to ensure that learning is taking up the majority of the time in the classroom.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mistaken Identity

There has been one reoccurring situation that bothered me at first, but now I’m just trying to let it go!! It’s not an issue with the students, but rather almost all of the staff and parents. So what am I talking about?? The following statements should make it a little clearer:

- Excuse me, you need to be in line! (Gentle push to help me get into line)
- We do not talk in the hallways, young lady!
- Oh my goodness, you mean you’re not one of the students?!

In a nutshell, everyone seems to mistake me for one of the students. Now I thought my professional dress and my “teacher demeanor” would help me stand out a little more but obviously I was mistaken. I know I’m only 5’2’’, 115 pounds, but gee wiz, people, clearly a student would not be walking through the hallways with a clip board and high heels!!!! At first it bothered me, but now I just try to take it as a compliment to my apparently youthful appearance!

I will NOT be played for a fool!!!

Today, my eyes were opened to the true knack for manipulation that just about all of my beloved 5th graders have. I didn’t see it before but it is quite clear to me now. Whenever my students want to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, get something from a back pack, etc., they will almost always ask me and not my CT. Why is this so, you might ask?? Well it is absolutely because they know she will say no and I probably won’t!! I can’t count how many times I was asked those very questions this week and the naivety of the new young teacher in training feel for it every time!! I would think, “Oh, it has been hot, maybe she will pay attention more if she gets a drink” or “I would rather he go to the bathroom in the bathroom and not in here”. Both of those rationalizations are valid but very unlikely to happen (at least with my kids!).

So, the culminating point of these schemes was at the end of the day when I gave a student permission to get a drink of water (quickly, of course!). Well, my CT didn’t hear me tell him he could go and when she saw him in the hallway she gave him a hard time. His response was that I told him he could go and that if he wasn’t supposed to she needs to talk to me because I told him he could. My CT snapped back at him that she didn’t care what I had told him because he knows better. Drinks are only done during breaks and no other time and he was wrong for having the nerve to ask me when he knows the expectations.

I felt bad at first because I had, indeed, told him he could go but that feeling soon dissipated!! He knew exactly what he was doing, as did all of the other students who played that game with me!! It’s a lot like what kids do at home….you know, asking Mom if they can play on the computer even though they know Dad told them no because they lost that privilege for a week!! My 5th graders scored points in the game for this week, but I can guarantee you I will NOT be played for a fool next week!!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

First Week

Even though there is still one more day left in the week, I think it is safe to say that I survived the first week of school (hopefully I won’t regret saying that later!)!!! I am more tired than I ever thought I could be…but other than that I have basically loved every minute of it. I honestly don’t know how people who traditionally student teach in the spring make it without seeing the beginning of the year. There is so much crucial information about the students that is gained during the first few weeks and I feel so blessed to be able to experience it all… I am so grateful for this year-long student teaching experience!

Oh, where do I even begin????! Well, we have 18 students in our class and were “given” the most “difficult” students in 5th grade. My CT is known as the classroom management guru so they felt that if anyone can whip them into shape, it is her. This scared me at first, but I now understand how great of an opportunity it will be to work with students who will help me work out the kinks in my own behavior management strategies.

So, here are some of the experiences I have had during this first week:

- Beginning of the Year Staff Meetings
- Grade Level Planning Meetings
- Lunch in the Teachers’ Lounge
- Before School Meetings with Parents
- Learning how to meet the needs of a student with Autism
- Fire Drills
- Assessing Oral Reading Fluency
- Small Group Instruction
- Doing After-Lunch Read Alouds
- Repeating my directions 1,000 times over
- Getting students caught up when they come in 1 hr. late for two days straight (important factoid: the student lives directly across the street from the school)

Today, we had a problem with a class bully talking about other students, in particular one girl who is overweight. Well, word got back to my CT and she has absolutely ZERO tolerance for bullying. She confronted the bully and let him know that his behavior was unacceptable. She then asked him if his mom was home. Now, at this point I’m thinking that she was going to make a phone call home. But ooooooohhhhhh no……she said “Okay, let’s go!”. The “let’s go is referring to going across the street (literally) to his house to talk to his mom face to face. I don’t know who was more surprised: me or the student!!!! Well, we both walked him to his house and my CT explained the problems we’ve had with him. She gave him “the look” so we knew everything was out of our hands from that point. After I got over my shock, I realized how great of a move that was! Going to his home showed him that what happens at school doesn’t stay at school and that there is no approval of such hurtful behavior. Even though I see the power in what my CT did, I don’t know if I would’ve had the guts to do that!!! That’s okay though, I’m only 4 days into this whole “real teaching” thing but I’m definitely learning the ropes!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The beginning of it all!!

I know it's been a while but I have been moving and getting things together for the incredible year ahead of me!! On 8/18 I came into the classroom to set up at 9am and I ran into my CT in the parking lot. I helped her carry some materials into the classroom. We ended up not being able to come in on 8/17 because she had to go out of town for a funeral. I didn't think a day would make a difference but boy was I wrong. The 5th grade class next door has an intern too and their class looked AMAZING!!!! They worked all day on the 17th and got a bunch done. I was a little disappointed that I wasn't able to come in then too but oh well, there wasn't anything I could have done about it.

The theme with both 5th grade classes is Hollywood. Both CT's came up with it and really went all out with decorations. most of the stuff they said they got from party stores and teacher supply stores. Since we didn't have anything prepared, we brainstormed some ideas for our bulletin boards:
Presenting Coming Attractions: Welcome bulletin board outside of classroom
Hollywords: Word Wall
Lights, Cameras, Read: Reading Corner/Focus Wall
Wall of Fame: Student Work

I'm jumping all over here but I just want to list some of the useful tips I've learned so far!

- Use fabric to cover cork boards instead of paper b/c it's more durable and reusable
- Use borders to cover up gaps in butcher paper/fabric along the edges of the board
- Even if custodians say they cleaned the desks, that doesn't mean they did!
- Keep an eye on your belongings b/c some teachers think that when your stuff is not physically in your room, 1st come, 1st serve rules apply!!

This post only scratches the surface of what I have experienced after only 3 days into it all!! More posts to come!!!

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Blog Background

So, I have officially spent the last 2 hours changing the background of this blog. I have seen so many cool blog backgrounds and I have always wondered how people got them because I could never find them under the "Layout" settings on my Dashboard. I now realize that that is because many people go to other sources to get those backgrounds. I went to The Cutest Blog and the Block website. After trying about 10 different backgrounds and even more font color schemes, I think I have settled on a good one. I am quite fond of the blues and pastel colors. I like it, but I want to make sure it is not to overwhelming or boring for viewers/readers. If you like it or think I should make yet another change, please feel free to comment. Thanks!

Update on Contacting CT

Thanks to everyone who gave me advice about calling my CT. I didn't call her today because she actually responded to my email!!! Basically, she doesn't know when we can start working in OUR (I love that she referred to it like that!) classroom yet. She is talking to the principal about it and as soon as she gets a date, she will let me know. She also made it clear that I should not hesitate to call her about anything, which of course made me feel relieved!! I offered to meet up for coffee or lunch some time before we start setting up the classroom as a way to get to know each other a little better. Hopefully she'll be okay with that. I will definitely post any other updates!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Random Thoughts about Student Teaching

I have been writing down my thoughts about student teaching, my role in the classroom, and general thoughts about teaching. My CT encouraged me to do this and it has been a great process for reflecting on my expectations for this experience. I plan on looking back at these ideas at the end of the school year to see what has changed or stayed the same.

* Where do I want to be in the room?
- I do not really sit much when I’m in the classroom. I feel more comfortable and relaxed if I can move around the room. I would love to have a desk area at which I can organize my materials/planner/papers. This desk area does not have to be big at all; just large enough for me to keep my things organized and possible sit down and grade papers if I need to. I would like for my desk to be located in the back of the classroom so that I can see all of the students and not take up room in the front of the class. As long as I can have a good view of the class, that is fine. Like I said, I don’t think I’ll be sitting much anyway!

* What do I see as my role in the classroom?
- I would like to have a very involved role in classroom instruction, management, design, etc. I absolutely respect that this is your classroom first, but I would love for you to think of me as a colleague. I understand that I have an immense amount of knowledge to gain, but I also have much to contribute as well.

- Any grading, lesson planning, parent contacts, teaching that I can be a part of…bring it on!! I know that during the first few weeks, I want to learn as much as I can about how to run a classroom, but I definitely do not want to spend the entire first semester just sitting in a chair taking notes.

- I want the students to know that I hold just as much authority as the CT does in the classroom.

- I want to be able to model some of my CT’s teaching attributes while developing my own teaching style too (even though I know the last part will take quite a while).

- I want my CT to trust that I will give my all with every task that is presented to me

- I want to learn how to balance between being friendly and being friends with students. This is one of my biggest fears….being too nice to the students and them not respecting the authority I have as a teacher.

* What are some beliefs/ideas I have about teaching?
- Children are not out to get us…many times when they act out, there are much larger issues at work than the fact that I didn’t let them listen to their IPOD in class!

- Teaching encompasses much more than content; as stressful as the job may be, I believe that I will be much more than a teacher. To some, I will be a mom, counselor, social worker, etc. This is a task to which I am fully committed.

- Each day should be a blank slate (as difficult as this will probably be in real life). Leave the baggage of the previous day/period behind. Children are entitled to a second, third, fourth, and fifth chance because they are worth it. There will be a time when they get older when no one will give them a second chance. I figure they should take all they can get now!

- Clear communication of expectation is key. Problems result when students don’t know what/when they need to do something. There should be no guesswork involved in what takes place during the school day.

- Parents are very important in the educational experience of the child. Parents should be visible and encouraged to participate in the classroom in whatever ways they can. Even parents who were high school drop outs have valuable knowledge that they can share with their children and the other kids in the classroom.

- Students should not be punished or disciplined. I believe instead that there are behavioral expectations and there are positive and negative consequences that come along with maintaining those expectations or choosing not to.

- Rewards are okay every now and again, but I am a firm believer in intrinsic motivation. The true challenge for teachers is not how many pizza party’s students get for turning in their homework but how engaged and interested students are in our lessons. If they are not….we can forget about them turning in that homework!

To Call or Not to Call

As I inch closer to the start of student teaching, I feel like I need to contact my CT and find out when she plans on getting back into the classroom. I am sure that it will probably be within the next few weeks or so, so I really want to make sure I am available. The thing that I have been going back and forth about is whether or not to call her. I sent her an email but I remember her telling me that she does not check her email often during the summer. So, she did give me her phone number and told me to call her about anything, but I guess I’m questioning whether she really meant that. It’s not that I don’t think she was sincere, I’m just apprehensive about calling her on “her own time” and her possibly being too busy to talk to little ol’ me. The anxiety I feel is definitely not unique to this experience- I get nervous when I’m calling my own grandma to ask a question!! I guess I just want to know whether or not it is okay to actually call her about meeting up before school starts, working in the classroom, etc. I just don’t want to step on her toes before we even get into the classroom!!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friendly but not Friends

Yesterday I was browsing the internet for blogs about student teaching. As I inch closer and closer to this anticipated moment, I am trying to soak up all of the tips and inspiration I can get!! One of the common threads throughout the tips for student teachers was the importance of being friendly, but not friends with the students. I absolutely understand this piece of advice because if students think you are their friend and not their teacher, the only result will be TROUBLE!! I had never really given the difference between these two relationships much thought before. In fact, the more I thought about this advice, the more trouble I had between determining what makes them distinct. I feel like deep down, I WANT the approval of my students. I want them to like me and I want to like them too. But I think that what this should translate to is wanting the respect and admiration of my students and me giving them the same back. They may not like me, but as long as I am treating them with respect and helping them to succeed as students and as individuals, it really doesn’t matter. So to help myself have a little more clarity on this issue, I compared and contrasted the characteristics of a friend and someone who is friendly.

- Talk on the phone together
- Go to movies, out to eat, shopping
- Confide in each other
- Know you inside and out
- Argue
- Gossip
- Travel together
- Trust each other
- Earn the title of being a “friend”

Friendly is
- Greeting people when you see them
- Helping someone when they need assistance
- Doing kind deeds
- Respecting others for who they are
- Smiling
- Saying nice things to others
- Openness to communication
- Approachability
- Even-Temperedness
- Patience

Although there are some traits that overlap, I think the distinguishing qualities are quite apparent. I can absolutely be friendly with my students without becoming friends. I know if I my best friend was not doing her homework and I said, “Now, friend, what should you be working on now”, I would probably get an eye roll and an “I don’t feel like doing it now. It’ll get done when it gets done”! I know that there is not a whole lot that I could say back to my friend about this situation, but this type of response would be totally unacceptable coming from my students. This whole “friendly but not friends” approach is all coming together now, but I know that it will be even more of a challenge to actually put it into action!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Idle Time = Losing My Mind

Well, it has been quite a while since my last post and frankly, it's because I just haven't had much to blog about. I am sort of at an eventless period right now (which I'm sure I will be begging for here in a couple of months!!). I have packed up everything that I am not using right now in preparation for the big move. In packing up my room, I have found that I have a serious problem with buying books. Out of the 6 small-medium sized boxes I have, about 4 of them are full of books. I have textbooks, picture books, leisure reading books. Although I have read many of them, there are certainly a number that I have not gotten to yet! That's okay, though, because as long as I have them I will be inclined to read them (who's to say whether that will be tomorrow or 5 years from now!).

Aside from the packing, there isn't much going on. I've been trying to "take it easy", which is quite the daunting task for someone who is always on the go! I am trying to make the most of it, but as "nerdy" as it may be, I am itching to back into the grind of school, lesson plans, and kids. All of this idle time is driving me crazy!! Half of the time I just want to take naps all day to make the day go by faster. Although the "laid back" approach to life is needed every now and again, I know that a 3 month break is about all I can stand!!

As it gets closer to me moving and beginning my student teaching experience, I will aboslutely be blogging more often. With my first day of work in the classroom beginning on August 19th (orientation!!), I am only weeks away to starting what could quite possibly be the most hectic time of my life so far...let the good times begin!!!!!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Is Standardized Testing Creating Criminals?

As I perused the CNN website to soak up the big headlines around the world, I came across an article on the WSB-TV (based in Georgia) website. The title of the article was- “Principal, Assistant Principal Arrested in Cheating Investigation”. The title alone intrigued me, so I read more. In a nutshell, the principal and assistant principal allegedly altered students’ answers on a state mandated test. The school was audited by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievements in Georgia because of an unusually large number of eraser marks on the tests. The higher scores achieved by allegedly altering the tests helped keep the school from failing to meet the state standards.

After picking my jaw up from the ground, I began to wonder if this is to what it has all come. Are educators and administrators under so much pressure to meet standards that scores must be altered? What lesson does this teach our students about integrity and honesty? I am not the biggest fan of standardized tests but I hold much value in the integrity that all educators in the field should have. If you have a problem with the test, work on fixing it rather than scheming to get around it! How does one motivate students to do well when their own principals go behind closed doors and change their answers? What I would really like to know is who you think is at fault here. Is it the administrators for forging scores, the students for not doing well on the test, the education system forcing accountability, etc? Is the accountability movement breeding criminals!?!?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

You'll Sleep When You're Dead!

Call me a nerd (and trust me, many people have!), but I have been trying to do everything I can to get ready for student teaching. This 3 month period before school starts in August is beginning to feel like an eternity!! I know I should be cherishing every second of mindless free time that I have, but urge to “get ready” is about all that is keeping me from busting! I have been organizing the teaching materials I have accumulated over the last 4 years, been catching up on my readings and blogs that deal with education…as you can see I’m trying to make sure all of my bases are covered!!

Well, the most recent addition to my self-established “student teaching readiness program” is my conversion to “Early Rising”. By early rising, I mean starting the day before noon! I was never one to actually sleep that late but I most certainly wouldn’t be up before 10am! Nonetheless, I know that as a teacher, this will more than likely be a thing of the past. So, I have now committed myself to getting up by 6:30 am every morning. Although I am only 2 days into it, I have found that there is actually quite a bit that can be accomplished because I am adding a few extra hours to my day: working out, praying, reading, and NOT RUSHING TO GET READY IN THE MORNING!! I’m not even going to lie- it has not been easy, but I really think that getting up earlier will help me to be an even more productive person and make the most of every second of life. One of the best gifts I can give my students is to be healthy, happy, and full of life- I think this early rising thing my be exactly what I need to round of my holistic approach to student teacher readiness.

I end this post with a quote that I have heard many times before- “Don’t waste time sleeping; you’ll sleep when you’re dead!”

- I never really believed this quote to be true…in fact, I’m not sure if I even believe it now! Hopefully, writing it here will move it a little deeper into my spirit. Well, I think I’m going to go to sleep now….6:30am is going to come quickly!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is There a "Best Way" to Organize??

At the beginning of August, I will be moving to another city, the one in which I will student teach for the upcoming school year. I am soooooo excited about living in a new city, but now I am navigating through possibly the most dreaded aspect of moving- PACKING!!! I know I do not move until August, but I do not want to be a last-minute packer. I want to have time to sift through everything I own and make sure that I’m only bringing what I need (even though it seems like I need EVERYTHING in my apartment!!). The first stage of packing has been to organize all of my books, notebooks, and folders and handouts that I have saved from my instruction courses. After beginning this daunting task, I have realized that I saved basically everything!! This, of course, is a double-edged sword! I have an unbelievable amount of material to sort through, but I also know that there is quite a bit of useful information in there somewhere.

So, to make a long story a little shorter, I am now faced with a dilemma: now that I have weeded out all of the unnecessary material, what is the best method of organizing what I decided to keep? I have lesson plans, graphic organizers, test writing tips, information on classroom management, handouts on the Big 5, and other classroom-related materials. I think my organization will go in one of two directions:

1. Organize based on the course in which I received the info (ex: C&I 232- Urban Education, C&I 222- Reading Assessment, etc)

2. Organize based on topic/theme (ex: Comprehension, Fluency, Classroom Management Strategies, Writing)

I definitely think I’m leaning more toward option #2 or organizing based on topic/theme. Although this seems like it will take the most time to organize, I think it will best serve me in the end. If I organize based on the course, I will still have to sift through that specific course material to find the graphic organizer that dealt with Comprehension. I’m sure these are not the only two ways to organize material, but they are about all I can come up with!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Frustrating Situation

As a reading tutor, I have encountered various ranges of reading levels and abilities. However, recently I was faced with one of the most frustrating experiences. I was tutoring a student who will be entering 3rd grade in the fall. She is one of the most adorable kids I have ever worked with!!! She smiles from ear to ear, is full of energy, and appears to get great pleasure from reading. In conducting my assessments of her reading ability, I had her read books that were of different levels. She did a great job with all of the books, reading with great expression, pace, and self correcting. My conclusion was that she is a great reader, but could work more with incorporating multiple cueing systems when decoding a word. So, why is this situation frustrating?

The child’s teacher, during the recently completed academic year, suggested that she be retained due to a deficiency with reading. WHAT???!!!!?? This did not register with me because I couldn’t see how a child who reads so well could be told that she did not know how to read. I also learned that she was even recommended by her teacher for Special Ed. Services….how could this be??! The questions that I have asked myself over and over again are what did the teacher see that I didn’t? What other factors could be affecting her very distinct performances with me and with her former teacher? Could the classroom environment, instability at home, disinterest in the texts being read in class have played a role in her supposedly poor reading ability? As I prepare for student teaching, this situation has really opened my eyes to the dilemma that teachers face. There is no one observation or assessment that should be the determining factor for labeling students as under-performing. I am not trying to undermine the knowledge of her teacher, who obviously has more experience in the classroom than I do. I am, however, concerned with the effect that a failure to assess the whole circumstance has on the child. What if she had actually been retained but really shouldn’t have been? What effect would that have on her socially/emotionally/academically?? These are some of the questions that are plaguing my mind right now. All I know is that children like this one need to be able to trust that the teacher is advocating for their success and well being at all times. If this is what her teacher was really doing….KUDOS to him/her! However, if not, this shows that there is still more work to be done. This experience has pushed me to critically analyze what I can do to make sure that I am assessing the WHOLE child and keeping in mind the various external and internal forces that may be impeding a student’s success at reading?? How do I make sure I am advocating for students and seeing the best in them at all times?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

So....What Are You Gonna Do??

Perhaps one of the most exciting times for me during my college career has been during the last few months. Within this time frame I have learned not only what school I will be doing my student teaching at, but also more about my cooperating teacher, school principal, and the overall school demographics. My biggest priority during this process was making sure that I was placed in a school of economic and academic need. I feel that all too often, these schools are forgotten about, to say the least. I have talked to many peers who would rather go back to life in the ‘burbs and teach at the “better” schools. I guess one could say, “to each their own”, but it is this very notion of running away from the children who need quality teachers the most that keeps them from becoming one of those “better” schools!

I am in no way placing blame on those who would indeed rather go back to the schools to be closer to their families, but when will we start to put human needs over individual preferences? Even in the stereotypical comfort of the suburbs, there are often schools of need located minutes away in the nearby urban city. So, I ask, why? Why do some see the dire need of certain students and turn a cheek in the other direction when it comes time to apply for jobs? Is it the students, parents, or neighborhoods? The students we work with cannot help into what SES they are born, nor can the dictate where they live or who will raise them. Why are some educators content with perpetuating the cycle of educational inequality by widening the gap between students who have access to the best of the best and those who are constantly given less than? Again, I understand that there are different factors that may motivate someone’s decision to work in a more affluent area. However, from interactions with my fellow pre-service teachers, I understand that many of those influences are based in a fear of the unknown, an unwillingness to see that even “those” students need good teachers too, a dangerous ignorance to the fact that educational disparities are not the fault of the children or parents but rather the institution of education as a whole.

We cannot continue to punish the students for a system that they did not create. We may not have created it either, but as adults, we all play a major role, whether we acknowledge it or not, in the continuation of this system of disadvantage. The question is…what will YOU do to make a difference? Even if you decide to work at a school that is not struggling academically or economically, your support is still needed to help other schools, teachers, and students who may not have what you do. We do not live in a bubble and our actions much show the compassion and concern that we have for other educators and students all over. I know I am young and lack much of the experience that many of you out there already have. However, if I have already started thinking about what I can do to make a difference, I know you can too! We’ve got a lot of work to do….so let’s get to it!!