Category Archives: Management

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.

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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.

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!

The Lowdown

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OK, so it’s been months. Last time I left you, dear reader(s), I had just gotten a new job with the Bethel School District. I was set to go to Orientation, and ready to begin my first week of school.

Since then, five months have passed, and I have learned A LOT. A lot about teaching, about teenagers, my peers, and most of all, about myself. So, I’ve been teaching 3 classes of Communication Arts (English) 11 and 2 classes of Communication Arts 12. Two preps, but a lot of work! So far in my CA11 class this year, I’ve taught units on The Crucible, Frederick Douglass, narrative writing, and Edgar Allan Poe. I loved teaching The Crucible and the narrative writing unit, but I would have to say that Poe was not my favorite. Luckily, it’s been discontinued for next year. It was meant to be the summer required reading for all juniors, but none of them really read it. So, I ended up teaching it the first few weeks of school. Douglass was interesting, since I have been working with another teacher. She gave me an amazing project to use as we learned about slave perspectives using Douglass, Sojourner Truth, the Underground Railroad, and slave music. My students really liked the culminating project we did.

In my CA12 class, we have worked on The Importance of Being Earnest, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Things Fall Apart, and A Modest Proposal/Gulliver’s Travels. Earnest was another instance of summer required reading where the students didn’t do the work and we ended up having to teach the entire text. I’ll have to do that again in the coming semester. Much Ado was a complete disaster. My first foray into teaching Shakespeare was not what I had hoped for, that’s for certain. I started with an introductory piece to teach them about Shakespeare’s life. They were bored. Then, I had them work in groups and rewrite scenes from the play. This might have been alright, except I think I jumped the gun. We probably should have finished reading the play first. Macbeth wasn’t much better. Mostly because I misjudged my time and ended up having to just show the film. I hate that. Things Fall Apart was ok, I guess, but I really hate that book. I mean, really.

I think that the thing that made this past semester the most challenging was the behavior issues I experienced with one of my senior classes. First, there were about 12 kids in the same class who had no business being together. Putting all of them in the same class created a difficult situation. And I felt very unequipped to deal with the attitudes, smart mouths, and apathy. There is one particular girl who made my life over the last few months a living hell. I never realized that one kid could have the capability of doing that. And what amazes me is that I allowed her to try my patience that way. I’ve never let a kid get to me like that before!  I feel as if I definitely earned my stripes this semester.

So, looking ahead. I am so thankful for this job. Even after the stress of last semester, I have an administration that really looks out for me and backs me up when I need it and a couple of good friends at work to vent to when the need arises. I am excited about this coming semester especially because of some great work my friend Patti and I are doing. We are working on teaching our junior classes together, and we even ended up with the same plan period! She has been a godsend to me this year, I don’t know that I could still be sane without her help.

Anyway, that is about all my brain can handle for the moment. I will try to be a lot better about updating, and explaining more about what’s going on. I have so much more to talk about, just not tonight.

Debate tournament in the morning at PLU. Fun times, teaching. 🙂

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.

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.