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!