Category Archives: Education

Culmination

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Reader’s Workshop is in its very last few days. We’ve pre-assessed students, taught specific targets, post-assessed and built projects. We’re now displaying the projects in the library.

This unit has been a very interesting journey, and I feel as if I have really learned a lot as a teacher during the ride. I definitely know some of the things I did well (creating engaging lessons and allowing students to do as well as read), as well as the things I didn’t do so well (not to rush through lessons so much, work at being more organized for myself so as not to appear so scattered). And I know what I would do differently next time in my execution of the teaching part (More structure during group discussions? More involved lessons toward the beginning of the week?). I even have a vague idea of what I might change for next time (Should I be more involved in group discussions, or leave myself out of the equation? Maybe students should have a more defined assignment to bring to group discussions, much like Literature Circles?). I haven’t graded the assessments yet (Patti and I are grading them together to ensure continuity in grading), but I will be curious to see if the work we did in class changed students’ understanding and synthesis/evaluation of the subject matter. I’m really hoping that it has, but it is the first time this sort of thing has been done at the secondary level in this school with these students. So, in my opinion, any growth is encouraging.

In general, this year has been a tremendous learning experience for me. I’ve learned a lot about teaching, a lot about learning, and a lot about myself–strengths and weaknesses included. I know what it means to have integrity in this profession, and while I don’t profess to know everything about teaching or even my subject matter, I know my learning curve next year won’t be so great. I have no delusions of grandeur—that I am the best teacher to ever hit the classroom, that I am better than my peers, etc. But I do know that I work hard and that I am confident in my abilities. Much more so than when I began this year.

There are several things I want to focus on for year two of teaching (like securing a job, first of all!): classroom management, organization, streamlining classroom practices, parent contact and connections, and especially reaching my students on a more in-depth level. I also want to learn more about socio-economic factors, diversity as it pertains to the classroom and community, and I want to find ways to bring community aspects into the classroom (including community service, social kindness and developing a sense of global awareness in my students).

I’m going to be reading some books over the summer to give me some ideas and tips for going about remedying some of these problem areas (suggestions are welcome!), but teaching is always fluid. There will always be things on which to improve and room for growth. It’s part of why I chose the profession I did—because being a teacher requires being a lifelong learner.

Social Responsibility?

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This week, there is a story in the news about Pennsylvania teacher, Natalie Munroe. Munroe, who teaches high school, wrote blogs over the course of several months about her students. While she didn’t use names, she was not particularly flattering in the way she portrayed them. For the story, go here: http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/16/teacher-natalie-munroe-defends-blog-comments-about-whiny-students/?iref=allsearch

As a result of her blog rantings, Munroe has been suspended and may actually be fired. My thoughts upon finding out about this were several: first, is what she said really grounds for firing her; second, should this even be an issue; and third, is my blog something that might put me in the same position?

To address the first question, I can see both sides of the coin here. On one hand, what she did was highly unprofessional. She spoke ill of her students (whether naming them or not) in a public forum, even if it was blocked. The internet is public. There is no privacy, therefore no one should believe that they have the right to expect it. On the other hand, one could bring into the account her first amendment right to free speech. One might argue that teachers are role models, whether inside the classroom or out, and should portray themselves in public as if they are constantly under the eyes of students. But that also brings into question whether a teacher ever has the right to let down his or her guard. This is quite a conundrum, and one on which I feel unprepared to make a judgment.

Why is this even an issue? I think that, because it was something posted on a public forum, it makes it accessible to students. Now, you could argue that we are far too worried about political correctness in this day and age, and that it is playing a major role in the position the district took against the teacher. I mean, what district wants parents and students speaking out against an action of a teacher? But is this really a hill the district wants to (proverbially) die on? It seems to me that suspending this teacher is more a preemptive measure to avoid backlash from the community than it is to make a point.

This happening does not sit well with me. First, maybe the teacher is in the wrong, morally speaking. Maybe it was not the best decision she could have made, to speak publicly about her students. But she is entitled to say what she thinks in her own personal blog, on her own time, away from her school. It makes me wonder whether this might happen if she worked in any other profession. If she were a plumber and spoke badly about her clients, would she be suspended? Maybe. Maybe not.

This is definitely something that makes me wonder about my own blog. I have gone back to read everything I have written thus far, and it seems to me that, although my blog is geared toward the educational system, overall it is aim at my own self-analysis and not about my students. My focus here is about my own growth, not about complaining about my students.

It seems to me that it is a poor carpenter who blames his tools. Much like it is a poor teacher who blames the lack of learning or poor behavior on her students. Perhaps if her focus had been inward, she may have found a way to be less frustrated with what was going on in her classroom. Maybe she should have reached out for help within her school, rather than rant on the internet. Talking only gets a person so far. At some point, there needs to be some action behind it.

Apathy and the American Teenager

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Apathy, the absence (or sometimes suppression) of emotion, passion, or excitement.

Teenagers are an interesting breed. They are drama; raging, fiery balls of hormones. They’re up one minute, down the next. Whoever said that menopause was the most hormonal period of a woman’s life has never been fully acquainted with the mood swings of a teenage girl. Yet, in all of this drama, emotion, and excitement lies a walking contradiction. Though there are exceptions, I have noticed a trend toward the apathetic in my classes.

I work hard to make my lessons interesting, engaging, and fun for my students. It’s a lot of extra work, but it is so much more appealing (to me, anyway) to do something creative and from an interesting point of view than to regurgitate information from a book. Not to mention that when a student engages with the text and has to do something that interacts with the material, they learn more by default. But lately, my students are ASKING for book work! This tells me that there is a fundamental issue here. Why would you want something to be boring? The answer, it seems to me, is that students don’t care. They would rather not be bothered to make the effort.

But this problem goes deeper than that.

Not only do students not care about doing something interesting to engage with the text, they are used to having everything done for them. While speaking with some colleagues about this problem the other day, the matter of concerted cultivation came up. Concerted cultivation can be described as the act on the part of parents of involving their children in so many extra-curricular activities that all other parts of life are overshadowed by these things. For instance, soccer leagues, baseball leagues, figure skating, etc. While extra-curricular activities are important, there needs to be balance in the life of a child. As a teacher, I often hear from parents that students are unable to do their homework because they have some sort of activity after school. Since when did these activities become more important than a child’s education?

I believe that another issue leading to the apathy in American schools is that of discipline. Students come to school with little of it. Parents expect that school is the place where their children should be taught not only how to read, write, and do math, but also where we should teach morality. My question is, what exactly is the parent’s job in this figure?

Now, I’m not a perfect parent. I’m not even close. But I also recognize that it is my job to make sure my children know right from wrong, know how to respect the people around them, and understand that what they do as children can affect the entire rest of their lives. For some reason, though, this is not getting through to kids the way it used to. They have had everything handed to them, have never really had to want for anything, and now want their education handed to them as well.

This is not a blanket statement about every teenager. There are some still engaged, still wanting to learn. But this is an observation I have made about the teenage population at large, and I am not alone in it. There is so much more I could say, but I don’t want to write a pages-long diatribe about the dire state of America’s youth.

What are your thoughts?

Of Journals and Other Things

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This semester might just be awesome.

I love the new class of seniors so far. They seem to be a lot more laid back, and less laden with attitude than the one class who just left me. I know as a teacher I tend to be rather sarcastic, and some classes don’t really respond well to that. These kids seem to. That’s a good thing.

I started a new journaling project with all of my classes today. It’s one that Patti does as well, and was kind of inspired by the Freedom Writers’ Diary. Check out the Freedom Writers at: http://www.amazon.com/Freedom-Writers-Diary-Teacher-Themselves/dp/038549422X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296509603&sr=1-1

My students get 10 minutes every day. They come in at the beginning of the period, get their journal from the rack, and just write. About anything. It can be nonsensical, it can be lyrics, poetry, even illustrations. So long as they write. No one reads it (except, occasionally, me) and they can use it as their own space to vent/be creative. So far, I’ve not had even one complaint about it. They all seem excited about the idea! However, it’s only day one.

Today, my juniors are beginning a month-long persuasive writing unit. Patti and I planned it together, and it will be awesome. We’re beginning with a crayon activity where they have to persuade the Crayola company to keep their crayon color. So far, it’s gotten a good reception and the kids are enjoying writing about something fun.

The senior classes have begun an introductory activity. They’re making a culture bag. This assignment requires them to think about their own personal cultures and to draw them inside an outline of a bag. I’ve heard from other students that they are excited about this, so that seems to be going well.

I’m excited to see how this semester ends up. I think there is some potential for great things. I’m already fired up!

Teaching Can Be a Cruel Mistress

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I’ve been up since 6am… on a Saturday morning. I’ve trekked over to PLU for a debate tournament and am spending my day with some of my students. I love doing this, and they are so fun to be around. But I think I may have over-committed myself this year.

I don’t think I would change anything about the course the year has taken, but I sometimes feel that I don’t have the proper amount of time to devote to each activity I’ve taken on and the amount of planning it takes to be a first-year teacher that I should. And I also worry that I am not spending nearly the amount of time with my family that I should either. I miss them a lot right now, especially Toby. We go through several days where we barely see each other.

I can honestly say I have learned much about myself these past months. Coming into my teaching position, I had never taught high school. While kids in high school are a bit different than junior high, they essentially need and want the same things: acceptance, understanding, and acknowledgment. I love this age. Sure, there’s the drama that comes with high school, but when you look past that, you find some really interesting people in the making. Coming into my job, I thought that they would all be completely apathetic to me and not give a damn about anything I say. And I also have to confess that I worried incessantly about them laughing at me about my weight. There are some who talk about me behind my back, but overall, they genuinely seem to want to know me. And I would even venture to say that they embrace my quirkiness, my excitement, and my creative ways. For the most part, anyway.

I’m taking this rare opportunity for down time to sit and do some planning today. It’s so hard to do it at home because there are various distractions, and if I do it at work I end up there until 7pm every night. Of course, I end up there that late a lot of the time anyway. I like what I do, though, because I always feel like there is something more to learn or do or figure out. It’s never dull, it’s always a challenge, and I always want to know more. Not everyone can say that about their career, can they?

Anyway, this was one long ramble, but my brain is kind of on autopilot right now.

More Management Issues

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Classroom management (of course) tends to be an issue for me, as it is for every new teacher. I am finding that the more my classes have me for a teacher, the more often they misbehave or are off-task.

Yesterday was a particularly difficult day for me. My morning class was rather non-responsive, and I felt myself being more negative in direction than I generally am. I tend to like to focus on positives, because I don’t think anyone really likes to hear what they aren’t doing right all of the time. However, yesterday I found myself constantly telling them that they need to listen, they aren’t paying attention, etc. As a result of my direction, I could feel the class slipping away from me. I find that, in general, I am harder on my morning class than on my afternoon one. I have thought about what the reasons for this might be and what I’ve come up with is that I am intimidated by a select few students that ruffle my feathers a bit. Consequently, I am over-compensating.

In the afternoon, I was observed by my university supervisor. I have to say, first off, that I really appreciate her visits. I don’t look at them as another way the university is grading me, but as an opportunity for an outside opinion of what happens in my classes. I welcome her observance. Anyway, the afternoon class was the complete polar opposite of the morning. They were noisy, off-task, impossible to bring back together, and I was very close to losing my patience with them. My university supervisor noted that toward the end of the class, I began to get a bit stressed with them. I agree; I was having an impossible time getting them to pay attention to me. We were beginning a new activity that required a lot of instruction from me, and had many steps to it. While I feel like the students executed things well, it’s the talking over me and over one another that I couldn’t handle.

After the school day ended, my supervisor gave me some really great tips on management. While I loved what she offered up, it was actually what I brainstormed with my mentor teacher that ultimately gave me the idea of what to change in the room and with myself to get the attention I want from my students. So, starting Monday, I will have a classroom meeting with each class, and introduce a new plan. Each day, two students (one on either side of the room) will tally every half hour. They will be looking for students that are on-task, have been respectful, and have raised their hands to speak. At the end of each class period I will place a star on a chart for the daily 5 students that received the most tallies. At the end of the week, there will be a reward for those that have done well.

I realize that this system doesn’t take into account those students that will not buy in to the idea. Unfortunately, there will still have to be some students that choose to make me write them up. However, I’m fairly confident that for most of my difficult students, it will only take one write-up to change their attitudes. I hope I’m right about that.

So, today I went to the teacher supply store and purchased everything I will need to implement my new management plan. Now to get it all ready. Update coming soon.

Discipline, Dealing, and Diplomacy

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Today was a very interesting day. I have learned a lot about discipline, dealing with parents diplomatically, and school bureaucracy all at once!

I have a student who constantly tests limits with me. He often refuses to work when I am teaching and he is outwardly disrespectful in class. Today, he decided to see if I really meant it that he had to be attentive during class presentations. He tends to blurt out whatever he is thinking whenever he wants, and today was no exception! He was talking over the presenters and I asked him to stop twice. Then, he decided that it would be fun to wave his arms around over his head while another person was presenting. I asked him to please go out into the hall until he could compose himself.

He went, and I waited through another presentation before going out there to check on him. When I went out there I asked him if he was ready to rejoin the class without being disruptive, and he said that he wasn’t. I told him to take a couple of more minutes to get his bearings and then to come inside.

Well, when I went back inside, he decided it would be fun to turn circles in the hall, waving his hands above his head. I ignored him, thinking that he was just trying to get attention from me. Then, he put his face up to the classroom window and mouthed profanity at me. At that point, I had no choice but to write him up. Now, I’ve never had to do this before, and I really didn’t want to. But it’s school rules.

So, while the rest of the class went to a spirit assembly, I talked to the student and we went to call home. This is where the diplomacy kicks in. We called his mother, and when I explained what had happened to her, she got angry with me. She told me that her son had never before been any trouble in class (which I find very hard to believe) and that it must be something I have done. I assured her that I had only reacted to what had happened on the student’s end and that I had given him several chances to be an active part of the class. Then I let her know that he had been written up and that she would need to sign and return the form. She told me that she would sign it only if the student’s story corroborated with my own. I also told her that he would have detention the following morning, which is the time the student chose to serve it. She got angrier and assured me that she would be calling me once she had spoken to her son. I offered to let her speak with him over the phone, but she declined. I ended the call by letting her know how to reach me and to please contact me if she had any more questions.

This entire scenario really bothered me! When did we get to the point where teachers are to blame for student behavior? When I was a kid, if I had gotten in trouble for doing something at school I would have been nailed for it! But now, the student decides to make a poor choice, and the parent blames me? It’s ludicrous. I am further reminded that there is a social shift happening (that has been happening for decades) in the way kids are parented. Parents no longer trust and respect that educators are doing their best. This bothers me on a level I can’t even express.

Anyway, I digress. The student will be coming in (I hope) to serve his detention tomorrow morning, so we will see if his mom chooses to contact me about it. I almost hope she does. It is an interesting social experiment, to say the least.