Category Archives: Interpersonal Skills

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.

Collaboration and the New Teacher

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I believe that it should be mandatory for every new teacher to collaborate with a more seasoned one. Honestly, I believe that every department should work together and collaborate as a unit. This is not always a feasibility, unfortunately. But this post is not about department learning communities. It’s about collaborating with another teacher successfully.

When I first began the year, I felt overwhelmed, underachieved, and that I was largely failing as a teacher. Often, I didn’t know what to say, how to present it, or what activities might engage students the most with the material. Upon reading this comment, I’m sure you are saying yourself, “Shouldn’t she have learned that in college?” Well, to a certain extent, I did. But teaching is not something you do one time and then you know it.

Like every art, teaching takes practice–and mentoring, modeling, and apprenticeship. Now, this is something that is not necessarily easy to come by. A lot of districts have a first-year mentoring program, but the one I work in cut that last year due to budget shortfalls. At the beginning of the year, I felt that I could have really used that program. I tried to compensate by trying to find help within my department, but nothing seemed to stick. Everyone else is busy with their own classes. They needed work time to work on what they needed to be doing, not hand-holding the new kid.

I floundered for several weeks, trying my best, feeling like I couldn’t ever get the material I was teaching across the way I should be. I did have some help here and there from a couple of other teachers, and also from the curriculum specialist, but I also knew I needed to find a style that felt right to me.

I began to talk to the other teacher in my department who had been hired the same time I had. She had an interesting take on the material we were working with, and did things much the way I knew I wanted to do them but never really knew quite how. So I began watching her. And then emulating. And then we began to work together in our lesson planning. Honestly, I feel for the first time like I have found my stride. I am lucky to have found someone so compatible with me, but compatibility is not the only factor here.

My experience thus far tells me that this is something every new teacher should get. Without the help of this teacher, I would feel like a colossal failure right now, but I don’t. I wouldn’t say I feel completely successful yet, either. But I definitely think I have more of a handle on teaching, classroom management, and just generally being at ease more because of the support I’ve gotten from this one teacher. It’s a feeling every new teacher should have.

What do I mean by collaboration? Well, my new friend (we will call her P, for the sake of anonymity) and I have been planning out our classes together. This saves us more time, because we put our heads together and only have to plan one class instead of two. It also saves money, since we are sharing a lot of materials. Collaborative planning makes it easier as well. Because there are two minds looking at something, mistakes that might have been made by just one of us are avoided because we have a built-in proofreading system! Another important aspect is that we know what our students will have learned across the board when they come to us next year (at least I will, since I also teach seniors). Not to mention the fact that it is so much more enjoyable to work with a friend than by yourself.

Why would you not want to collaborate with your peers? Some find that collaboration takes away the autonomy some teachers like to have in planning. Some feel that having to cultivate a collegial relationship is just too much effort, and some don’t like to have to have regular meetings. Collaboration can be tricky when you don’t have a meeting of the minds. But there are so many benefits that outweigh the negative aspects that it seems silly not to want to work in a collaborative manner with the other teachers in your department.

Facing the Music

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Today has been an exercise in patience.

The day started with my leaving early for work to stop at the grocery store in order to buy some foods that Ancient Greeks might have eaten. I struck out trying to find fresh figs and pomegranates. So instead, I gave up on the pomegranates and found some dried figs. I also picked up some feta and brought some Greek olives from home to let them try.

I got to school and began preparing for the day when I got a message to go to the office. It turns out that one of my students had talked to his grandfather (who is his guardian) about the project he turned in the day before. The project was a small poster on a Greek god or goddess that had been assigned to each student. This student chose to do the poster on a very large piece of poster paper. When he brought it to show to me, I told him that his poster looked beautiful, but asked him if he remembered what the size requirement was. He told me that he never heard anything about what size the poster was supposed to be, but it was explained several times throughout the course of 3 days.

Well, this student went home and told Grandpa that I said nothing about his project but that he did it wrong. So, the meeting in the office was about how I am making this student feel inferior and that he can’t do anything right. I assured his grandfather that that had not been the case, but he told me that I was wrong and that if I was going to be that way with students I shouldn’t be allowed to teach (Cue big sigh here). He then proceeded to tell me that his grandson was teased and tormented by his classmates and that during band class, other students were hitting him with their instruments. I let him know that I would make sure to bring that up to the band teacher.

I chose not to say that this student’s behavior invited torment. He often seemingly begs for other students to pick on him. I’m not always sure how to handle that, but luckily he will be moving into a more intensive program at the semester. I hope that helps him with some of the social issues he seems to have. He has a lot of other problems going on at home and he could use a boost right now.

The rest of the day was just as problematic.

I pitched my new incentive program to my morning class and they were apathetic to it. They don’t buy in, they don’t care, and it’s evident that they do not see me as an authority figure. I’m giving it until the end of the week and if they are still not into it, I will have to try some other measures next week. I had hoped not to resort to negative reinforcement, but unless I can come up with another plan, I have no other options for that class. They talk over me constantly, and I can’t seem to get their attention. This has a lot to do with starting off on the wrong foot, I think.

In contrast, my afternoon kids are really into the star student thing, and they are excited about potentially getting a reward at the end of the week. They are making an effort. We talked a lot about making our classroom a community and they are really taking that to heart. Interestingly, having the same talk with my morning kids had zero effect.

It seems like I am complaining a lot today. It’s been a rough one for me, and I came home and slept for a couple of hours. It amazes me how much student teaching takes out of me. In reflection of the events of the day, I think this is just a difficult week. I honestly had not anticipated transitioning into student teaching being this hard. Perhaps that is my own hubris, or my ignorance in never having been in this position before. But the rest of the week has to be better. I’m determined to be good at this. I just don’t feel it this week.

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.

Musings & Appreciations

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There are several things I really appreciate about my mentoring teacher. Although she and I may not always see eye to eye, there are quite a few things that she does which I feel are beneficial to my own learning.

First, I appreciate that overall, she is patient. Today, during our planning period, she reviewed the way I chose to grade an assignment. She read the student’s work, assessed that I was grading it a bit too harshly, and gave me some tips on how I can better gauge how a student has performed the task at hand. She even went so far as to correct another student’s assignment with me. After we discussed that, she gave me some ideas for how I might have better conveyed the lesson, since it was evident that I somehow missed something in teaching the lesson. Almost every student didn’t understand or didn’t follow directions, which is a sure sign that they didn’t understand what it was I wanted from them. She gave me some different strategies to try in order to increase student understanding. I appreciated most how she wrote on the board some ways I might have students set up their writing.

Another thing I really appreciate about her is that she is not the least bit bothered by the idea that I might be changing the flow of the classroom with regards to conventions, routines, and daily expectations. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. She is encouraging me to implement my changes in small increments. This way, it won’t be quite as much of a change for students when I am teaching full time. I would like to try going about the way students turn papers in differently. The way she chooses to do it is a bit too chaotic for me, and I need a little more structure and sequence. Also, I would like to post for students a report of how they are doing (much like the one Audrey told us about during Methods in the Fall). I am hoping this will reduce the amount of student questions about grades on a daily basis. While I know she is skeptical about the way I’d like to try (she’s done it before with little success), she’s supportive in letting me try it.

I appreciate most of all the latitude she gives me in letting me teach lessons. She doesn’t just hand me an assignment, and then tell me how to teach it. She gives me the basics of what we need to teach on and then sets me loose to make a lesson myself. Sometimes she gives me guidance about what our objective is in teaching the lesson, or what I may be missing in my interpretation of it, but she never tells me what to do. I really appreciate that. I feel that I need that latitude to learn for myself.

While I know she and I don’t always have the same idea about things, and we are very different people, I can be grateful for several things she says and does. She is generally not effusive in praise, she can be kind of stand-offish, and sometimes I feel like I am not included when we are in meetings with her peers, but the interpersonal communications between us are usually meaningful and I learn every time we talk.

Growing Pains

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I am having a difficult time with some things right now. I’m struggling with some confidence issues, some basic classroom management issues, and I am feeling like there are some integral parts of teacher education that I am somehow missing. Teaching has become a bit of a struggle. And then to top it all off, I have homework, lesson planning, and a thesis to get off the ground. The next few months may not be pretty.

Ever since coming back from Winter Break, I seem to have lost my confidence in my teaching abilities. I second-guess myself, I am self-conscious, and I feel like I can’t seem to get anything right. It’s frustrating. I think there are a few reasons for this. The first one, I think, is that I spent so much time doing a lot of teaching last semester and then took a sizeable break. In the two-week break, I had a lot of down time and spent almost zero time working on my lessons or anything. I needed the break, mentally and physically, but I should have tempered that need with some lesson planning as well. It has created a very large gap in where I should be at this point. I know my cooperating teacher notices, which makes me feel even guiltier. She told me this morning that she thinks we need to go over my lessons before I teach them more carefully. She’s right. I think we probably should have been doing that all along. Another reason I am having issues is that I feel like I am unable to really implement what I want to accomplish in the classroom. That’s partially my own fault for the inability to bring across what I want to, and partially it’s my inexperience (which might play into the former part). I also think that it has a large part of my reticence to view the time I am teaching as my time. To clarify, I am not quite feeling as if I make all of the decisions regarding teaching these students, and in effect, I am not. I still feel the need to check in while teaching, to make sure I am doing it right. I need to trust myself more, perhaps.

I want to make the classroom a meaningful and thought-provoking place for the students I am about to inherit for a couple of months, but I am still grasping at straws as to how to do that. I often feel as if my mentor teacher is not truly working toward meaningfulness, but is giving the students busy work. Much of what the classes have done this year has been successful, but I wonder how much critical thinking is really occurring. And the big question here is how do I make every assignment an opportunity for critical thinking?

I have a general idea of what I want my classroom to look like, the logistics of things, the norms I expect of students as a community, and who I want to be as a teacher. But I am faltering at the implementation of these things. I hesitate to try some things because I worry about the buy-in factor with the class. After having been in the same room for four months now, these students have set expectations already. Will they balk if I implement new ones? My mentor teacher has been teaching for 16 years, and it’s her strategy to fix issues as they come. She doesn’t have norms written anywhere, posted anywhere, or referenced for students. But they do know what to expect from her. That is not a strategy that will work for me. I know that as a new teacher, I will need to be more direct and clear about what I expect and when. But how do I go about doing that without alienating the entire class? I am still figuring that out.

There are so many social dynamics in a classroom that I never realized, having always been on the student side of the room. The class appears very different from the teacher side. Not only that, but there are a lot of social dynamics I have to adhere to in regards to my colleagues and mentoring teacher. I truly have to relearn how to interact with others.

<<I want to preface this long paragraph that follows with a caveat. Although I am in effect complaining about what is missing from my education, I realize that learning these skills falls to me. I understand my own responsibility and accept it. I am merely trying to come to an understanding regarding what I feel are the gaps in my own education, and working toward filling them.>>

As far as my own teacher education goes, I am feeling a few pieces missing recently. I am concerned that I haven’t had enough nuts and bolts education (i.e. EALRs, GLEs, teaching practices, classroom management).  Although I did have a unit on classroom management last semester, I feel as if there is so much more to know. I guess I was hoping for some models in action of classroom management to compare and contrast for my own personal edification, but maybe I missed that. I feel that in my methods class, I really needed more instruction on the various methods we read about, rather than other students teaching the material. I understand and appreciate the pretense behind having us teach each other, but I really would have benefited more from the professors giving more guidance on it. The technology class was really a big source of frustration for me. I think I could have gotten what I took away from it in a 4-hour workshop. I still don’t know how to work a smartboard, am still learning how to work a document camera, and found the assignments we were given to be relatively useless. Perhaps that is a scathing review of it, and maybe I misinterpreted the purpose of what the class was supposed to be about, but the majority of the candidates know how to use much of the things that were taught. I would have liked to have opted out of it. I guess I am feeling that I need more critical thinking and more in-depth instruction of my own. Although the focus of the program is to encourage me to think in terms of a teacher, I am still at a point of needing guidance. More critical thinking and in-depth analysis of teaching and the practice thereof would make this experience more meaningful to me.

I am trying to make an effort of reflecting more on where I am at mentally and emotionally. I’m also trying to reflect more on why I feel the way I do, and the processes of what I am doing. I hope this can be another start to this blog.

Apprehension

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The beginning of the school year is fast approaching. While I am really enjoying the break from college classes and school in general and have been doing a lot of things I enjoy, I am really anxious about the new year.

I have so many questions. I have so many worries. What if the kids hate me? What if I am not as authoritative as I need to be? What if it completely shows that I have no idea what I’m doing? What if I don’t know as much about my content area as I thought I did?What if my cooperating teacher doesn’t end up liking me? What if the rest of the teachers hate me?

It’s funny, because my daughter is going into junior high this year, and she’s been asking me all these same sorts of questions. It just serves as a reminder that no matter how old we get, we always have anxieties and insecurities. I told my daughter that she just has to be herself and to wait and see how everything goes. I should probably tell myself the same thing, I guess.

After hearing some horror stories from students that were in the past cohort before mine, I guess I’m a bit overly-sensitive about school relationships right now.

This week is going to be a busy one, though. Monday I have a class on grading. It’s generally only attended by certificated staff, but I was offered the opportunity to go, and I think it might be beneficial. Then Tuesday is the district convocation, a staff meeting, and Open House (my first chance to meet some of my students!). Then Wednesday is District Day. I know that all of the teachers in the district go to it, but I’m not sure what else happens there. I’m excited for it, though. Finally, Thursday is Building Day. It will be my first chance to meet some of the other teachers in the building that aren’t in the humanities department. Friday is a day off, but the following Tuesday, school begins!

Although I’m really apprehensive, I’m excited about what is coming. It’s the first wave of realization of my lifelong dream. It’s so close and I really feel like I’m ready.