Saturday, March 20, 2010

Debbie Diller Delight

I enjoyed my first day at the Illinois Reading Council Conference. I planned out my day the night before, but I had no clue how intense and exciting the day would be. I attended four different workshops: one on teaching reading as a new teacher (pretty dull; all presenters did was read from the PowerPoint) and one on Guided Reading (which was actually pretty practical). The highlight of my day was the afternoon because it was a DEBBIE DILLER afternoon! I attended another workshop during her first morning session, but I made sure to go to the first one after lunch. The workshop was Spaces and Places, based on her most recent book about organizing the classroom for effective learning. My student teaching program provided me with an opportunity to set up the classroom at the beginning of the year, so it was nice to have some working knowledge of classroom arrangements.

One of the most interesting pieces of advice that I plan to use in my classroom is the importance of setting up specific places in the room in a specific order: whole group, small group, classroom library, writing station, word wall and other stations, classroom math corner, and portable work stations (in that order). The absolutely last things she said teachers should organize are student and teacher desks. Diller believes that desks are not the optimal learning space for students and should be used primarily for independent practice work, not for whole-class, small group teaching experiences. She also said that the “teacher desk” is a magnet for “visual noise” (clutter). The teacher desk should not take the prime position in the classroom.

I always thought it was best to get the students’ desks situated first. However, after hearing Diller speak, I am thinking more about my use of desks and the message that sends to my students about learning. My students do spend the majority of their time at their desks, restricted from natural, fluid interactions with their peers. When I have my own classroom, I want to create an environment of collaborative learning and one that values the knowledge and experiences of each student. I would love to see in my classroom the whole-group learning space on the carpet, where students can be closer, feel more connected and more engaged in the learning experience. This does not happen in the classroom that I am in now, but Debbie Diller has given me a vision and a plan to put it into action.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Improved Relationships

Lately, I have been struggling with some of the same disruptive behaviors as I have been since the beginning of the school year. One thing that has changed for the better is the dramatic decrease in blatantly disrespectful attitudes. This is coming particularly from two students: Sarah and Patrick. Until the last 3 or 4 weeks, I had nothing but confrontation with these two students. If I said anything that they did not want to hear, I would be on the receiving end of total defiance and disrespect.

As of late, however, things have changed between us. They are by no means angels, but I think the way in which we interact has changed. I have been working more on using ‘choice words’ and not engaging in arguments with students about their disruptive behavior. I have also done more to get to know them as kids outside of the classroom. I attended Patrick's basketball games and practiced with Sarah after school studying for the Spelling Bee. These two students now handle my redirections of their behavior more maturely and respectfully. They both give me hugs throughout the day and greet me every morning. We all have our ‘slip ups’ occasionally, but for the most part, I think we are on the upswing! I hope it only gets better from here!

It is my goal to continue to work towards breakthroughs with a couple other challenging students. I understand most teachers probably won’t have ‘breakthroughs’ with all of their students, but I feel like it is my responsibility to put forth my best effort to make it happen for each and every student.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Letting Go

After being observed for my read-aloud lesson on Diary of a Wimpy Kid today, I am inspired to implement some of the suggestions I received today about releasing control and responsibility for learning to my students. I have talked with my students numerous times about how important it is for them to take responsibility for their own learning. It is up to them to learn what information I am teaching them. I understand that when I teach, I do most of the talking and work. I think a part of me doesn’t trust my students to learn what I want them to learn without me giving it to them. In internalizing some of the comments from my evaluation today, I am thinking more about how to shift the role of ‘teacher’ on to my students.

Relinquishing a little bit of my control of teaching my students has the power to incredibly enhance the confidence and learning experiences for not only the children who become the ‘teacher’ but also for those receiving the information they provide. In order to make this happen, I need to think about what it is that I want students to learn and how they can learn it without me giving it to them. It will take much thought, effort and training for the students but the end result is one will ultimately benefit my students.

Do you have any tips about how I can build more autonomy in my students? How can I deal with not hearing my voice so much?!!? Thanks!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Positive Energy

My CT was out today, so we had a guest teacher in the room all day. The first 15 minutes of the day went incredibly well. After that is was all downhill from there. Their behaviors were not anything out of the ordinary. There were chatty students, disrespectful students, and everything in between. The guest teacher in the room is someone who has been in our class several times this year. She knows the students and the students enjoy having her in the room. It was great to have another teacher in the room who was totally engaged in helping the students and being another set of hands for me. When my students worked in small groups on a review packet for their Math test, she moved around from group to group as I did to check in with students and help them understand the concepts. It was one of a few times that I felt like I had support, even though she is still in school to become a teacher too!

At the end of the day, after we were both stressed out about how rowdy the kids were, she told me something that is still resonating within me. She said that as challenging as my kids are, she has lived through worse. WOW! I knew that someone out there somewhere has a bunch of kids more challenging than mine, but it was very encouraging to hear her say that. It really made me take stock of the beautiful minds and charisma of my students that makes me smile every day when I walk through the doors of my school. I appreciate my students and I know that I am a better person and teacher because they are in my lives.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lunch Time Drama

There was an “episode” today involving me, my CT and my class. There was no confrontation or anything like that, just simple repetition of what is the norm. The difference this time that abut 5 other teachers were able to see what I experience day in and day out. So, today during lunch, I finished eating early and decided to go back to the classroom. I was planning some interventions for Math dealing with elapsed time. I talked to my CT and told her I wanted both of us to pull a group right after lunch as a review of the concept. My CT was still in the lounge when I left. Well, the bell rang signaling the end of the lunch hour. I naturally assumed that my CT would pick up the kids, seeing as though I was working in the classroom and she was in the lounge which is literally about 50 ft from where the students line up outside. So, I continued working in the classroom, getting things ready for the Math intervention. Our students always take a restroom break right after lunch. So 10 mins after the bell rang and no one showed up at the door, I assumed it was just taking a little longer. Well, about 1 minute later, the office called down to my room to inform me that my students were still waiting to be picked up from the playground.

SERIOUSLY??!!! I was livid!! Yes, I could have walked down to get the kids, but I am so frustrated with always having to be the one to drop what I am doing, while she always gets to enjoy extra leisure time. The positive of this whole situation is that the principal, secretary, and parent educator were privy to what happened today and were actually quite upset that it took place. I hate that my students had to stand and wait for their teachers to show up, but I felt like I needed to take a stand. The crazy part of it all is that my CT did not even bat an eyelash at the situation; it was just business as usual. I will take this situation and chalk it up to another lesson learned.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Job Fair

Today was the huge Mid America Job Fair at my University. My student teaching coordinator made a huge deal about this Job Fair and even brought in the assistant HR director to one of our seminars to give us some tips on how to stand out. I had big plans to spend yesterday preparing for the big day but those were foiled because I was sick! The bug came out of nowhere but I felt absolutely miserable all day. Fast forward to today....I feel better than I did yesterday, but still not 100%. Either way, I had to pep myself up for the Job Fair. I met with 5 districts and one of them was the district in which I'm student teaching now. I felt fairly well about 2 of the 5 districts, and totally uncertain about the other ones. It was difficult to read their body language.

After spending half a day at the Fair, I am still left feeling up-in-the-air about my job prospects. I know it's still early and I also know that most districts don't know what they can offer yet in lieu of the economic hardships they face. I plan on emailing some of the HR directors I met with today to thank them for the opportunity to meet and learn more about what their district has to offer new teachers. My reasoning is by putting my name out there again, they may be less likely to forget about me. I don't know if my logic is sound, but that is what I'm thinking right now. Do you have any tips on how to go about pursuing a position with a district outside of simply submitting my application? As always, all suggestions are welcome!!!