updates for 09.25.2011
First, I must apologize for my lack of blogging. It was on my to-do list for quite some time, but it had not made it to the top of the list until today... So to catch you up, I have been teaching 7th grade language arts for 4 weeks now. It has been the hardest, longest, most exausting weeks of my life. I have been busy (very busy) my whole life, but never ever have I been this busy. On the first day, I was greeted by 87 12-14 year old students, and I thought I was ready to go, but boy was I wrong. I taught my first week and did all the warm fuzzy things that I am suppose to do to learn everyones name and all that jazz. It was fine. My students seemed okay. I definitely had a few characters (not necessarily good or bad, but definitely characters). Then everything changed when I gave a little thing called a diagnostic. I gave my reading diagnostic which helps me figure out where my kids are as far as reading levels. The results were ASTOUNDING, shocking, mind blowing, and life altering. I was blown away. First block, I teach 24 kids, honors Language arts. They scored an average of 11.2. This means they are on an average of 11th grade reading level and they are 7th graders. This is great news I guess, but the reality is I do not know how to teach them. I was not an english major. These kids are basically as smart as me. I was immediately intimidated, and wondered how did they get so far ahead? Second block, I teach 19 kiddos, standard language arts. They scored an average of 5.9 which means they are below a 6th grade reading level. This means they are about 1 year behind where they should be with some kids scoring as low as 3.2. I felt confident that I could change them. I could teach them. These are the numbers I was coming to Charlotte to fix. Kids who slowly fell behind in a HUGE school system. I can teach them I thought. Minus their chatiness and occational hormones which give me an extreme headache, I enjoy their company. This is what I was expecting to come here to find. Third block is my planning period which basically means I run from meeting to meeting or copier to copier for 90 minutes until my next group comes to room 228 at 1:40. Fourth block is what gets me the most... I am greeted by 29 scholars. 15 of whom are "special education" or EC as we call it in NC. I can handle this I remember thinking... The remaining 14 are low level readers or ESL (English as a second language students). Their scores scared me even more than my first block. Their average score was 2.9. This means that I have students who are on a THIRD grade reading level and they are in the 7th grade. Holy smokes... One young man is a .6. This means that he is on a KINDERGARTEN reading level. I honestly looked at him and said oh my goodness, we have a lot of work to do. So, now I hope you can see why I was swamped the past few weeks. I am trying my hardest to learn as a go, and teach all students exactly what they need. It is my hope that at the end of the year, each student will grow at least 2 years in reading. This unfortunately means that many of my students will still be behind at the end of the year. But, I must do what I can now. I must hope that I will be the first teacher of many who asks the question how did you get here, AND most importantly is ready to change the path that they are on. I know that all of my students are the same "kind" of student, and my first block is lightyears ahead while my last block is lightyears behind. How does this happen... This should not happen. All student should have the chance to be lightyears ahead, but this is not the case. Because of what I have seen in the past 4 weeks, I have great conviction that I can AND MUST reach each one of my students. They need me, and most of all I need them to know that this is the job I am sent here to do.
Me: “Chicos, how do you expect to become bilingual and biliterate if you aren’t immersed in the language?”
Spanish III girl: “Profe, we aren’t even literate.”
So, yesterday (Friday) was the day when all of the classroom switching was going to happen. We weren't allowed to tell the kids what was happening (a bunch of teachers were switching rooms and the kids were getting new teachers) until the end of the day when the school would send a home a letter to parents and a copy of the kids' new schedules. All of the teachers who were moving rooms got subs for the day, so that we could start moving our rooms (remembering of course that we couldn't talk to the students about what was going on). My students and my sub had class outside in an unused trailer classroom for the day. Of course no actual learning took place, since there was a sub and all the chaos of moving outside (with no explanation of why). The classroom I was moving into had students in it all day, so I couldn't actually get moved in. I spent most of the day hiding in an office preparing for next week. All day, we had been told that updated student schedules and parent letters would be distributed during our 1/2 hour homeroom time during 6th period so that this information could be included with the handouts and flyers that students always get during this period on Fridays to take home to their parents. However, all of this stuff apparently wasn't ready by then, for some reason. So we started distributing the new schedules during 7th period. However, when the schedules printed, they were categorized by homeroom. During 7th period, students are not in their homeroom (they are in their 7th period class) and people in the same homeroom don't all have the same 7th period class although many do. It would have been possible to distribute the schedules to 7th period teachers and then do a few switches for the random students with different 7th period classes. This is tricky, since once students schedules have been updated with new teachers, it is impossible to determine their current teachers, so it is hard to actually figure out where they are during 7th period in order to give out the new schedules. This would have been tricky, but still doable. However, the schedules didn't even print based on the students' current homeroom clusters, rather the schedules printed based on students' NEW homerooms starting next week. So, for example, for the students in the class that was getting split up, 1-2 of these students are now in each homeroom in 7th grade. Their schedules were given to their NEW teachers in a stack with all the rest of their students. Thus, the students who were switching to entirely new classes would be the ones who didn't get an updated schedule. I eventually just printed a list of these students and asked the secretary to print off each of their schedules individually and I ran around as buses were being called at the end of the day to get these schedules in kids' hands. There are several kids who still don't have updated schedules. Monday morning will be crazy. This is further complicated by the fact that students have lockers inside their homeroom, so all of the students in a new homeroom will have to go to their old homeroom to go to their lockers until the school can figure out when and how to actually do locker switches.
Here is a situation where two pieces of public policy that were both well-intentioned and well-thought-out create a toxic situation when combined. According to federal No Child Left Behind policy, when a school doesn't make Adequate Yearly Progress for a couple of years in a row, students at that school are given the option of transferring to a "better" nearby school. While my school has been consistently improving across the board for several years now, the improvements for a few subcategories of students have not been sufficiently large to meet the requirements of AYP for the past couple of years. Thus, students at my school were given the option to transfer to another school. Students found out about this option a few weeks before school started. In my school district (which is huge and covers the entire county), the very reasonable policy is that the number of staff members a school is allocated depends on the number of students that are enrolled there. Schools make enrollment projections and staff the schools accordingly. However, this year, those projections were made before a bunch of students transferred out of our school due to AYP, so were were overstaffed this year. A few staff members offered to be transferred to other district schools that needed additional people. However, our school is set up in "teams" of four teachers each of whom teaches one core subject. The same 4 classes of students rotate between those four teachers during the day. So if there is suddenly 1 fewer teacher in 7th grade (as was the case here), one team has be set up so that each teacher teaches 3 periods of their main subject AND 1 period of the subject that used to be taught by the missing teacher. This requires that all teachers are certified to teach two subjects (and that all 3 teachers in the team are certified in the same particular subject--the subject that used to be taught by the teacher that left). For example, if a science teacher left, the other 3 teachers must all be certified in science so that they can each teach one section of science. However, most of the time when a teacher leaves, the other 3 teachers in the team aren't all certified in that teacher's subject, so other teachers in the building have to be rearranged in such a way that the team that ends up with a missing teacher has all of the other teachers certified in that subject. In this case, in order to get this set up properly, this required moving 3 different teachers to other teams and 3 additional teachers to start teaching at least one section of a second subject (a few of whom teaching subjects they really don't like). A total of 12 classes of students will all have at least one different teacher (and for one homeroom of students--an entirely new set of 4 teachers on a different team)....and this is only the effects due to one of the switches happening in the building, there were a few additional switches all happening on Friday. Teachers and students are understandably unhappy about all of the switching. A few very good teachers who were affected by this are particularly upset. People have even mentioned trying to switch to another school next year. Parents are going to be pissed off that their kids unexpectedly got new teachers--7 weeks into the school year. Overall, this greatly decreases people's perception of the school, and with lots of good teachers talking about leaving, this will probably have negative effects for a long time. As a sidenote, I am one of the teachers who is switching classrooms and students. While it is a pain to redo my entire classroom and meet 100 brand new students and parents, I am actually thrilled that I get to essentially start over and this time not make all of the newbie mistakes I made at the beginning of the school year that dug me into some holes. We'll see how it goes....
Overheard during Guided Practice R.: "I'm totally looking up Mr. K on Facebook." I have started writing this entry five or six times since last Friday, only to be thwarted each time by a sudden onset of writer's block or severe exhaustion. However, now that it's been two weeks since my last post, I feel like I'm due for an update, well-written or not. So please bear with me. A lot has transpired since September 10, not least of which includes my Algebra 2 students taking their first unit exam. The average across the three blocks was 56%, which, considering the level of rigor of the exam (mostly graphing and free-response questions from the Regents) and my students' diagnostic scores, is not great, but not terrible either. However, I know that we have a lot of work to do to meet our first big goal, which is that all students will be able to achieve 80% or higher on the end-of-course assessment. I also know that we have a lot of work to do to get ready for college- and career-level math (which, after all, is the point of that first big goal). That's why I was so excited when J., one of my struggling and less invested students, declared to the class that 56% was "nothing to be proud of" and that they would have to work harder to meet their goals. I was also excited when a few students finally began taking advantage of my offer for afterschool tutoring and remediation, and a few others told me that they would cancel other obligations so that they could come in next week. I really hope it all pays off on the next unit exam. Last week, Providence Public Schools assigned each first-year teacher an "Induction Coach," who plays a role similar to that of the CMA or SMT at Institute. My Induction Coach is a lady named Mrs. T, and she taught ELA at my school for many years before joining the central office. During one of our ODCs (they're not actually called that, but Institute has made me acronym-happy), I found out that her husband is a minister at a local Pentacostal church. Since then, most of our conversations have focused on God and our reflections on the Word. Even from the limited interactions that I've had with her, I've discovered that Mrs. T is a model of godly stewardship and trust in the Lord—a real-life version of the first two servants in the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30). Case in point: on one particularly trying morning when I couldn't find my cabinet keys and consequently couldn't set up my projector, Mrs. T (without being asked) located an unused projector in the library and brought it to me, saying that she had prayed to be able to help her first-year teachers that morning and was overjoyed that God had given her a chance to do so. I, in turn, was rendered speechless, both by her ability to procure a projector so quickly and by her selfless attitude of service. It is my prayer that I too would be able to find that much joy in serving my students, despite all the struggles that come with being a new teacher. After all, as Mrs. T reminded me later that day: "they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." (Isa 40:31) Although most of my days are still filled with teaching-related business, I've recently been able to find time here and there to do little things that I enjoy, like exercise, read books for pleasure, and, believe it or not, catch up with the news. Yesterday, I read an article on Reuters that completely blew my mind: evidently, physicists at CERN have measured the speed of certain particles—namely, neutrinos—to be faster than the speed of light. Now, just because I majored in astrophysics during my undergrad years does not mean that I am an authority on all things science. However, I have learned enough to realize how important of a discovery this is, if the data is indeed correct. To put things in perspective, all of physics for the past century—from the building of semiconductors, to the development of the laser, to the functioning of GPS devices—has been based on the assumption, postulated by Einstein, that nothing with mass can exceed (or even reach) the speed of light. This assumption, while bold for its time, has been tested and proven again and again. So you can imagine why the discovery at CERN has been met with such widespread shock and skepticism. Yet, if the discovery proves to be accurate, there will be a part of me that is entirely unsurprised. Acknowledging the existence of dark matter and dark energy, scientists like to say that humans understand about 4% of the universe. Yet, if the universe was created by an eternal, perfect, omniscient God, then even 4% seems like a stretch to me. Indeed, if the universe is God's handiwork, then it is a miracle and a blessing that we can even begin to comprehend it. I am reminded of Isaiah 55:
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.Perhaps the most amazing part is that this God of the universe, whose ways and thoughts are higher (much higher) than my ways and thoughts, loved me enough to die for me and bring me into fellowship with Him. How incredible and humbling! How liberating and empowering! Perhaps the angel of God was not being hyperbolic when he said to Mary that "nothing will be impossible with God" (Lk 1:37). Maybe, just maybe, God is strong and gracious enough to carry me through this whole teaching thing. Praise Him.
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