updates for 08.28.2011
Well, teaching is quite the emotional roller coaster. Many times this week, I felt like a terrible teacher (and in a few cases, a terrible person). A few times this week, I had a good moment really connecting with a student or seeing a lightbulb come on in someone's head (but those were few and far between). The students have been doing relatively well on their exit tickets, and most of them did OK on our first unit test which they took on Friday. Almost all of my students now have textbooks (hooray!), the school has finally activated the gradebook software so I can finally start entering grades (hooray!), and I finally got the scores from the math diagnostic that the students took the first week of school (hooray!)....but the information I got only contains the percentage of questions each student got right, without actually telling me which questions those were, so that information is not very helpful at this point. Last month I sent an email to register for classes for my certification program. One of the classes had a limited number of spots, so when I didn't hear anything about getting into that class, I assumed I hadn't gotten in. Then, on Tuesday, I got an email from the instructor saying she was looking forward to seeing me (and the other 19 people) Wednesday evening for our first class. The class runs from 5:00 to 10:00. I have students in my room until 4:30 everyday, so that doesn't really give me time to eat dinner (or do anything else whatsoever that evening). While super long, the class session did actually end up being relatively helpful and informative. On Wednesday morning, I got an email from my assistant principal saying that all teachers would be required to submit our records of having talked to every parent in our homerooms (to remind them that their children are loved at our school---so they don't transfer to a "better" school under NCLB) and that these lists would be due on Thursday....which would be fine, except that I had just found out the day before that I would have to be in that evening class all night on Wednesday from when school ends until it is too late to call people. I had previously called about 2/3 of my homeroom plus about 20 students from my other classes, but there were still a handfull of homeroom students I hadn't called yet. I decided there was no way to call them that night, so I just printed out my call list and turned it in missing those last few names. The next day, I found out that one of my homeroom students was transferring out. It was one of the students whose parents I hadn't called yet. : ( I feel bad both because I hadn't called that family, but also because the student and her parents apparently felt like she could get a better education from someone other than me. ...not that I disagree with them about that. Over these first few weeks, I have felt mediocre at best and certainly not "transformational" which is my job according to TFA. While my students do feel (physically) safe in my class, I don't think they feel emotionally or intellectually safe, yet. Most of them definitely don't feel excited to come to class both because my lessons haven't been consistently engaging and because I spend a sizable amount of time each class dealing with discipline issues. The main problem I have is that I can't get the whole class quiet long enough to be able to start handing out consequences to individuals who start talking---when the whole class is talking, I have no good way of handing out consequences. I think sometimes people start talking because they get bored, but then other people start talking, but then the class slows down since I have to spend time dealing with the talking, which causes other people to get board, which escalates the problem. People also keep being added or withdrawn from my classes. It is hard to get to talk to those kids (or any other kid who needs to talk to me about something) since I need to spend all my time during and between classes making sure things aren't getting out of control with the rest of the class... On Friday, all of the 7th grade math teachers had all-day collaborative planning time. There were a few sessions led by administrators about various things to try to include in our lesson plans, and lots of time to work on the plans for the next week. Overall, this went pretty well. This collaborative planning day was the first time I have had a sub. All of the 7th grade math teachers scheduled the first unit test for Friday, since we would all have subs that day. I left a long, detailed note for my sub describing all of the details about how the day works (which I wish I would have known on the first day of school). I also recorded a video of myself telling the class that I would be back on Monday and giving them a few reminders for working on the test. I brought in my personal laptop (since I needed to bring my school laptop to the meeting) and hooked it up to the projector so that the sub would just have to turn on the projector and push play on the computer (and I left specific instructions on how to do that). I walked in at the end of the day after my meetings were over, and the sub said she couldn't figure out how to show the video. AHHHHHH! Oh well. In other news, I heard a rumor on Thursday which was officially confirmed on Friday that I (and all of the other TFA corps members) are getting a free iPad from Apple!!! Apple is donating them to us (and we can keep them)! They are trying to increase the quantity and quality of educational iPad apps that can be used in the classroom, so they are giving iPads to all of us so that we can figure out how best to use them in the classroom, give them some ideas, and possibly test out some of the things people have already been working on. This will probably improve student learning, but not necessarily in the way they intended (by using cool apps in the classroom), but rather just due to fact that they instantly improved morale among several thousand of the most stressed teachers in the country! I think this increase in morale will translate into a greater increase in student achievement than the actual use of the iPads themselves in the classroom. In other morale-boosting news: I got a card this week from the administrative assistant in the math department at my college wishing me well for the school year. I also got a call this morning from my 5-6 grade math teacher who provided some reassuring words and helpful advice. It is good to know that there are people out there who are rooting for me and my kids!
As an educator in Missouri, teaching in a low-income community school in an unaccredited school district (St Louis Public Schools), one of the lifelong learning topics I focus on is college readiness. We talk about four years of high school, followed by four years of college as a possible ticket out of poverty, and I try to emphasize the importance of a well-rounded high school education, with extracurricular involvement and hard work as a foundation for making this option a reality. Unfortunately, my students will likely be attending schools where students do not graduate in four years...<continue reading at North Park Street>
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a scathing rebuke of the recently passed “Facebook Law” in the state of Missouri. The law, sponsored by radical Republican State Senator Jane Cunningham, represents another example of Missouri’s ineptness in providing 21st century education. The law in all its overbroad and excessive vagueness establishes as criminal activity the use of social media and other forms of electronic communication between teachers and students (and former students). The Post-Dispatch article on recent developments was so utterly void of any quality information that it’s not even worth sharing a link, but Yahoo is on the ball covering teachers who are taking a stand for their first amendment rights. Echoing my own words from the prior post, the Missouri State Teachers Association has filed suit... <continue reading at North Park Street>
To my extreme relief, the first week of school is over. Two of my classes are going really well. And when I say really well, I mean REALLY really well: every child is meeting or exceeding both my behavior and academic expectations. The class is completely silent while I'm talking, kids are all seated and on task, and my students actually believed me when I said that I taught for five years in California before coming to DC. This is the "honeymoon" phase though, so lets hope I can maintain it! Two of my classes are not going well (with some kids already showing some disrespect or blatantly defiant behavior)...but these classes are still A LOT better than my best classes last year. I guess almost anything is better than last year. There was no school Wednesday because buildings were being assessed for earthquake damage, and now we are in the midst of the approaching hurricane. Oh my!
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" Matthew 4:35-41
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Psalm 19:1-4
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Psalm 46:1-3
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Psalm 107:23-30
I have been teaching for two weeks. My classroom ranges from students ages 8-11 that are at a reading level 4/5 (1st grade/2nd grade) and a math level of 4/5 (1st grade/2nd grade). This means that most of the students in my leveled classroom are roughly 2 years behind. (They should be at a level 7/8) Time for reflection. My students cry. A lot. They cry because they are hungry. They cry because I do not let them get their way. They cry when I make phone calls home about behavior. They cry when I make them do procedures over and over again until it meets my expectations.They cry because someone teased them, hit them, or stole their belongings. My students scream. A lot. They scream at each other. They scream in the hallway. They scream at me. My students fight. A lot. On average there are two to three fights in my classroom a day. So - how am I closing the achievement gap? Well honestly, I am not. For the last ten days I have not taught reading, writing, or arithmetic, but simply taught them how to walk in the hallway (which we still do not know how to do). Veteran teachers at my school tell me not to worry. They say what I am doing is right. They also share with me that if they were a first year teacher like myself they would have quit by now and are amazed that I am still coming to work every morning. I appreciate their support and advice, however, I want my students to move up a level every nine weeks. We need to get to work. This job is stressful hard demanding intense. I never thought it was going to be easy. I never thought that I was going to just snap my fingers and all will be better in urban education, but I never, ever thought that I would feel so inadequate. Regardless of my feeling of self doubt, I am bound and determined to see my students learn self discipline and respect by the end of the first nine weeks. When they learn these two skills, I have faith that I will help them alter their current educational path to one that will forever change their lives.
8/27/11 Why I LOVE teaching READING to SEVENTH GRADERS!!!! Fridays are going to be so much fun this year!!! Last year, they could've been, but I often would feel like we were behind and would not do the investment stuff. This year, I have committed in my head to plan out half of Friday as investment. I really think it will be worth it. So, this Friday started off in proper form. Every Friday, the first 10-15 (haven't completely decided yet) minutes will be independent reading. This gives me a chance to see what they're reading and ensure that they're reading and moving on. Since they don't have books yet, I had them read out of the textbook yesterday, finishing a story we had started on Thursday. One of my FAVORITE times with 7th graders is when they're engrossed in a book. They reach an almost trance-like state. I got them in, and once everyone was settled in quietly, I played some piano music on Pandora, and we all just floated away on the reading cloud of peace. It was beautiful, and I hated to pull them out of the reverie. Then, we did class jobs. Now, I realized after 1st period that I was crunched for time, but I still had each kid come up to receive a "Congrats!" letter for their parents. I LOVED it because it never ceases to amaze me how excited a 7th grader can get about being named "Light Master" for our first quarter. And the gendered reactions too. The boys get a huge smile, normally say YES, and sometimes jump out of their seats. The girls, ever dignified, I have to watch closely, because they have a flash of a smile that is quickly reigned in to prepare for their graceful receipt of their job. Then, we hoped our class gift. This didn't go quite as well as I envisioned, so I'll need to think of a different way to present it next year. I had wrapped the bookshelves and some boxes of books. The problem was, two of the boxes were empty b/c I had put the books on the shelves. I just wrapped the boxes to make it look nicer. I hadn't thought about when the kids opened them that they would be opening two empty boxes. Right, so most of the kids knew it was books, but some still had loud "aohhhhhhh, it's just BOOKS..." reactions. In one class I thought we got to a meaningful discussion about how books are gifts, especially the ones in our classroom library, but the other 3 not too much. Must think about for next year. After that, we did SPEED DATING - find your perfect book match! I taught them 5 different ways to look for their perfect match....through amazon.com "customers who bought this also bought".....lexile level, newberry medals, etc. Then, we started going through 30 of my best books, but not before I shamelessly read the intros from two murder mystery books - "The Graveyard Book" and "WolfRider." One starts off with a phone call saying "I killed Nina." The other starts off describing the murderer. A little gruesome? Yes. Effective? Heeeeeeeck yes. Those boys who are typically "psh, miss, I don't like books" were CLAMORING for that book, and the best part is.....I have about 10 copies of each of those books. Anyways, we speed dated for a little, but didn't have a ton of time. It was a little hectic, but they were for the most part talking about and asking each other to look at books, so it was worth it and exciting. Starting Monday they can check them out. Lastly, we did fireworks dragon, which is basically my star student of the week. I built it up, had drumroll, and all the winners were very excited. We ended with mystery envelope, which you are entered into if you had no issues with homework or behavior for the week. For the first week, the prize was choosing from a myriad of options, and I think most of the kids liked the options enough to try hard next week. *really really hope, since I'm expecting pushback to start next week* Anyways, it was a terrific Friday, my kids are already starting to grow on me.....oh one last thought. I'd heard before that every year you have the same kids, just different names. I think it's true. There are several kids I've already been like.....Oh, this is my new Jack. And eek, my new Cindy. I need to handle her with kid gloves so I don't screw up like I did last year and get on her bad side the 2nd week of school. It's interesting. I may also already have some favorites. Especially the kid who didn't realize the gifts were books and genuinely thought all week it was a personalized gift for them. He kept asking me, Ok miss, so we're opening it on Friday right? I can't wait to see what it is." It made me laugh a lot ;)
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