Practices in Pedagogy

"To Teach is to Learn Twice Over"

Archive for the tag “Reflections”

Weekly Reflection 6 (February 13th – 17th)

This week was interesting, to say the least. Due in part to exhaustion, another in part to stress, and mostly due to a nasty stomach virus I picked up over the weekend, I missed FOUR whole days of class. Therefore, most of my time this week was spent either in bed or the bathroom. I missed my school, my students, and most of all, the feel of teaching. And because of this, I did a great deal of thinking. I thought about many things concerning education… why the achievement gap is so large… why the drop out rate in America is climbing every year… what would need to be done to “fix” our public school system… what I could do in my classroom (once I finally got back in it) to make a difference in the lives of my students. But most of all, I thought about assessment. Although it sounds like a random, insignificant thing to be thinking about while you’re suffering from nauseas pain, it actually proved to be an incredible topic to distract myself from my misfortune.

Before I came down with the virus, I took two class sets of Unit 3 Post-tests home with me to examine and grade. Looking over the post-tests, I came to realize two priceless facts: students DO in fact learn something in my class and assessment is the foundation for a solid classroom. The former was more of a surprise to me than the latter, as I often am my own worst critic. I have been telling myself ever since I got into the classroom that I am not doing a “good enough” job. I constantly see things I could have done better, I become overwhelmed when I ask my students questions they should be able to answer and they sit there with blank stares, I even remind myself daily that I am very inexperienced, very raw, and very untrained. All of this to say, I was delightfully surprised when I saw the vast improvement in knowledge, comprehension, and skill my students displayed on their post-tests. I continually found myself in amazement when comparing a student’s work on their post-test to that of their pre-test.

For example, look at this student’s pre-test in these five links:

Austin- Pretest #1

Austin- Scanned Pretest #2

Austin- Scanned Pretest #3

Austin- Scanned Pretest #4

Austin-Scanned Pretest #5

 

On the question portion of his pre-test, Austin simply states the obvious. He is definitely able to identify the surface issues of the nonfiction piece. But the purpose of this assessment is to see how well the student can think and develop deeper ideas about a given nonfiction text. Austin struggles to do so. He points to the surface topic on question #3–writing about how the article is on, “alcohol ads and young people”– when in reality there is so much more going on in the article. On question #4 he only draws on his own personal opinion for his reasoning, rather than pushing his thinking to a greater, more universal frame. Finally, he doesn’t even attempt to answer questions #6 and 7, showing us that either he doesn’t know how to “dig deeper” or that he ran out of time. Either way, we see Austin struggling to get beyond the surface elements of the nonfiction piece. This is also evident in his notes/annotations. They are short, simple statements rather than complex, deeper thoughts and observations. Questions are asked, but he does not attempt to answer them. All in all, Austin’s ability to read the text, annotate it, think critically, and articulate his ideas in written form are all at a basic level, at best.

However, now look at the same student’s post-test in the following four links:

Austin-Scanned Post-test #1

Austin-Scanned Post-test #2

Austin-Scanned Post-test #3

Austin-Scanned Post-test #4

 

Drastic improvement! In the question portion of his post-test, Austin not only identifies the surface elements of the article, but also attempts to go beyond them! He can not only identify the groups at conflict with one another, but also dig deeper into each group’s motivations, fears, needs, wants, and goals. Question #6, in particular, showcases Austin’s development. His response is thoughtful, well articulated, and attempts to dig to the bigger, deeper issues at work in the article. As he begins exploring how society should solve this conflict, and all conflicts for that matter, he displays a keen ability to think critically about the article he has just read. In similar fashion, Austin’s annotations/notes also speak volumes of his development as a reader/thinker/analyzer of nonfiction texts. He writes all over the article, asks questions, attempts to answer questions, makes comparisons, identifies, labels, and digs deeper to universal issues. All in all, we can clearly see a dramatic amount of learning and growth from pre-test to post-test.

Obviously, I cannot take full credit for this wonderful growth. For one, I am not the only teacher in the classroom. Two, I did not force Austin to work hard, to practice, to constantly be improving his critical thinking skills, and to put in the energy craft a more effective ability to write analytically. No, I did not do ANY of this! HE DID! He was in charge of his learning, HE took ownership over his education, and HE was the reason why he succeeded. But I can say with confidence that the assessment I gave him in this unit allowed him, and I, to see his dramatic improvement. Without a pre and post-test, Austin and I would not have had this tangible proof of just how far he has come in his learning.

This fact reminds me of SPU’s Principle “P3,” which states, “the teacher candidate practices standards-based assessment.” The use of a standardized pre-test offered me the opportunity to inform my own teaching. I was quickly able to recognize–by Austin and many other students’ tests– how much time and energy my class would need to devote to improving annotation skills and critical thinking abilities. Therefore, we spent many class lessons reading, annotating, thinking, and writing on nonfiction texts. We studied mentor texts, we discussed, we practiced over and over again, and we worked tirelessly to improve these deficiencies. So when I handed out the post-test and saw the drastic improvement, I was clearly able to see the fundamental necessity for standards-based assessment.

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Weekly Reflection 5 (February 6th- 10th)

As Andrew (I will be using a pseudonym for the purposes of this reflection) walked into class Tuesday morning this week, he immediately called out, “Yo Mr. T! How you be?” He then proceeded to strut right up next to me, raise his arm, and attempted to give me a “cool” handshake like he does with all of his friends in the class. I stood motionless, held by an overwhelming confusion as to what to do next. Questions raced through my mind… Should I go for the handshake? Should I ignore it? Will Andrew still “like” me as a teacher if I don’t shake his hand? If I do go for the handshake, will I fall into the “friend trap” that so many young teachers find themselves in? What will the other students watching us think of me? Am I supposed to be a friend to these students? Are teachers ever supposed to be friends to their students? Am I supposed to be “cool” or “hip” or “young”? Or should I avoid these things, and concentrate on establishing myself as an old, rigid adult?

This is just one tiny example of the endless array of situations and internal dilemmas that I am constantly struggling with throughout my weeks as a student teacher. The sheer truth is that I am 22 years old. I am eight years older than my freshman students, and only four years older than my senior students. Yes, of course I have graduated from high school, and left my high school self in the past. Yes, of course I am nearly graduated from college, and already feel as if I’ve mostly progressed away from college life, and into a life extremely similar to that of an adult. Yes, American society does tend to label me an adult—mainly because of the fact that I am older than 18 years of age—and that is something my students cannot say. But in all honesty, how much does any of that really matter? When it comes down to it, I am still left utterly speechless by situations similar to the one between Andrew and I.

After multiple nights spent in frustration and anxiety over how I should be portraying myself to my students, I finally discovered some clarity. The SPU Principles of HOPE actually speak to this very issue! Principle “E3”, which states, “Teacher-candidates exemplify an understanding of professional responsibilities and policies,” discusses how student teachers must function with maturity and professionalism in the classroom. Simply put: even with an intern’s desires to make friends with his/her students and promote a communal, easy-going environment in the classroom, he/she must always keep the responsibilities of the profession in mind. After reading this, I quickly realized the significance of my internship was not on whether or not I could be a friend to my students. Rather, my duty is to serve them to the best of my ability as a teacher, and a teacher only. I must put aside my yearning to be liked and focus all my attention on being the best professional I can be.

Handshakes are fun. Nicknames are entertaining. Heck, even jokes or funny stories have their place. But these things do not make a person a good teacher. Reflecting on some of my favorite teachers, I recognize the fact that I enjoyed their classrooms not because they were “cool” or “hip,” but because they knew how to create organic, meaningful learning experiences for me. Yes of course they established an amazing rapport with me—some of the times even through nicknames and jokes—but the relationships created were used to better and more effectively teach me. They were always friendly, but never my friends. Yet, I never once for a second doubted their love and affection for me. They never gave me “cool” handshakes. Yet, I always knew they were super cool. In everything they did, they were professional. And I always respected and admired them for it.

In fact, it was precisely because they treated me with such maturity that I felt more appreciated as a growing thinker, learner, and student. I was never talked down to, nor did my favorite ever attempt to engage in conversation with me as if they were in high school. Far too often teachers patronize their students. With condescending remarks, a student feels belittled and insignificant. I never once doubted my abilities in the classrooms of my favorite teachers. But I can definitely remember classrooms of other teachers where I was constantly talked down to and treated like a kid. And guess what I became… a kid! I acted immaturely because I was treated like an immature child. I acted incompetent because I was treated as such. In retrospect, and at times during my adolescence, I know this was not the right behavior. I know that to become something you aren’t because you’re frustrated at your teacher is never a wise decision, but I could not help it. I loathed being treated in such a way. This relates heavily to SPU’s Principle “H5”, which says, “Teacher candidates honor student potential for roles in the greater society.” Those teachers that became my favorites were individuals who chose to treat me as an adult. They constantly reminded me of my important in the future of the future; they repeatedly pointed out the fact that the youth of the world are often the ones who change things; they always showed me just how much potential and power I had. And I loved them for it! Because of this encouragement, because of their belief in me, I consistently sought to be a better student. I worked tirelessly to outperform my peers and myself. Very truly, I became a better thinker, learner, and person.

We as teachers can never doubt our influence. With an air of professionalism and maturity, students will believe in themselves. When students believe in themselves, there is no telling how much success can be achieved. In the future, when confronted with situations like the one I described at the beginning of this reflection, I will seek to treat my students as if they were adults, not kids. I will avoid worrying about being liked. I will avoid worrying about being “cool.” I will instead strive to carry myself with professionalism and maturity. This will not only better my teaching, but also my students’ learning.

EDU 4250- Pedagogical Reflection

Malcolm Little, known by most as Malcom X, was raised in Harlem. I was raised in the suburbs of Vancouver, WA. Little was often hailed as a “model schoolboy” throughout his early academic years, displaying a wonderful joy and enthusiasm for life. I was a carefree, easygoing troublemaker in my early years. Little was told by a junior high school teacher that he had no chance of becoming a lawyer—a dream of his at the time—because he was black, and black people supposedly “had to be realistic” (49) about their occupational possibilities. I was told that I could one day become an incredible teacher. Little responded to his news—his unfortunate, new knowledge about the realities of life for a young black child—with a tragic plunge into a life ruled by drugs, hustling, gangs, and crime. I responded to the supportive encouragement I received by working tirelessly to improve my intellectual self. Little went to prison; I continued to go to school. While in prison, Little discovered a passionate love for learning and leadership. This new knowledge led to his being freed from prison and eventual rise to prominence among the African American population of the day. One early morning I was frantically woken by my mother and told to pack my things, as we were moving out of our house because my dad had lost it by gambling away all of our money. A couple days later, my mother and father filed for a divorce. This knowledge led me down a path of frustration and self-doubt. Little continued to rise in influence, power, and fame. I began a long period of avoiding my schoolwork, slacking off, and breaking any relational bonds I had at the time. Shortly before his death, Little traveled to Mecca and was immediately touched by a peaceful, humble way of life. In a series of several experiences throughout early high school, I was forever changed by the love and affection of my Savior, Jesus Christ. Little’s anger diminished; my self-confidence returned.

In no way, shape or form, am I suggesting my life should be seen in the same light as the legend of Malcolm X. He was simply a genius, I am but a simple man. He was intellectually gifted, passionate, influential, and a brilliant leader of his people. I have yet to do anything of any real circumstance in this world. My point in the above paragraph is not to advocate for my comparison to the great Malcolm X, but rather to point out how everyone—no matter their background, upbringing, or experiences—undergoes a series of transformations. Jane Roland Martin, author of Educational Metamorphoses: Philosophical Reflections on Identity and Culture, argues these transformations, these small or large educational experiences, are the foundation of our personal, social, and intellectual development. She asserts, “Throughout history and across cultures education… has changed the way we humans walk, talk, dress, behave, view the world, and live our lives. In other words, it has utterly transformed us” (1). Malcolm X experienced four of these transformations; one in his development into a model schoolboy, one as he fell into a criminal life on the streets of Harlem, one in rise to a infamous, influential leader, and finally one in his discovery of a humble, beneficent faith. I experienced several as well, including my life as a young troublemaker, development into a driven student bent on becoming a teacher, fall into shame during my parent’s divorce, and rise to a passionate, confident follower of Christ. According to Martin, education serves as a “powerful maker and shaper of human lives” (2).

As part of Martin’s exploration into how educational metamophoses “make and shape” our lives, she discovers that we must abandon two common assumptions: education resides only within the confines of a school and education necessitates improvement (48). Personally, this first thought is rather significant. Although I am ashamed to admit it, when I used to imagine education, my mind immediately leads to school. However, lately my ignorance on this issue has become quite apparent. My first few weeks in the classroom have served as a constant bombardment as to how my students are not simply blank sheets of paper when they arrive at school each day. Each student comes to school with backpacks filled with cultural backgrounds, identity issues, past experiences (good and bad), personal bias, unique personalities, relational concerns, painful memories, happy memories, emotional inconstancies, and varying socio-economic backgrounds. To assume that these students are only going to learn from what YOU teach them that day is simply ignorant. We as teachers must respect the significant educational experiences that occur outside our classroom. On the second day of my internship, a young female student announced her homosexuality to me during passing time. She then went on to describe how her ex-girlfriend had attempted to commit suicide the previous evening, and how she was leaving school to be with her partner at the hospital. Clearly, this student was learning much more about life from what was occurring outside of my classroom, than inside of it. Citing  argues, “Schools can make people dependent on school without really educating  Somehow my lesson on Sophocles’ character development in Oedipus Rex did not hold a candle next to the raging fire of fear, regret, relationship issues, and identity complexes burning within that student. I walked her down to the counselor’s office to then be picked up and taken to the hospital, and have never regretted my choice. I know that if I had simply understood education as schooling—if I had ignored the true, applicable learning experiences life presents everyday outside of the classroom—I would have failed that student.

The second assumption about education Martin argues must be torn down is that education necessitates improvement. As Malcolm X’s experiences in junior high school with the “realistic” teacher clearly portray, education does not necessarily lead to improvement. By being told he should give up on his dream of becoming a lawyer, by experiencing that painful bout of education, Malcolm X’s life was immediately led down a road paved with pain, crime, and prison. Martin explains it much more clearly: “Malcolm’s metamorphosis into a hustler was not brought about by a wave of a wand or the administration of a drug… it was due to education in the broadest sense of that term… that acknowledges that education can be either educative or miseducative” (49). In similar fashion, learning of my parent’s divorce lead me to a dark place of shame and frustration. Simply put, education cannot only lead to a life enriched, but also a life worsened.

So what does this information mean for teachers? Should these broken assumptions and new ways of thinking undermine our passion and commitment to teach? No. Never. By reflecting on Martin’s ideas, along with our own experiences in the classroom, we must never forget that teaching is a fragile, sacred art. As sculptors carefully, painstakingly form beautiful statues from rocks, so to must teachers sculpt. We, like the sculptors before us, must see our students for the potential they possess. We must see them filled with a potent power to transform, and be willing—in insatiable courage—to support their transformations. With love, affection, understanding, and patience, we must see to it that the transformations we encourage be ones of improvement. With a continually widening perspective, we must see to it that we support our students’ education outside of the classroom. With constant reflection and refined thought on the complexity of students’ identity formation—from gender to ethnicity—we as teachers must always respect our students as individuals, and treat them as such. In all that we do, we must always remember that life is simply made up of a series of educational metamorphoses, and that the decisions we make as educators will undoubtedly affect the lives of our students for years to come.

 

Citation:

Martin, Jane R. Educational Metamorphoses: Philosophical Reflections on Identity and Culture. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. Print.

Weekly Reflection 4 (January 30th-February 3rd)

“A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.”

– Thomas Carruthers

 

The above quote was on my heart a great deal this past week. I am now well into my internship, and am still trying to discover my true role in the classroom. My four freshmen classes are fast-paced, organic, and daunting. I never know quite what to expect when the 9th graders file into my classroom—they continually, blessedly surprise me! And as these little nuggets of bewilderment have kept things fresh in the classroom throughout each and every period, they also force me to slide into an authoritative figure much more than I would like. I completely realize this is just part of the learning experience, and that this is all part of my being “baptized by fire,” as my mentor teacher so eloquently puts it. But I still cannot shake the concern that as I continue to grow into a frame of discipline, I am falling farther and farther from being a supportive, loving mentor. As a young, often overwhelmed student teacher, what should be my role in the classroom? Authoritarian? Coach? Is there such a thing as a happy, productive balance between discipline and facilitation? Or is such a thought more fantasy than reality? Carruthers, an extraordinary educational theorist from the early twentieth century, explains the role of the teacher simply: to provide the opportunities for students to learn how to learn, thereby making himself/herself unnecessary. Clearly, he points to the fact that teaching is a progressive experience. Teachers must start with control and authority, but then must steer their classes in such a way as to provide students with an increasingly aggressive role in the classroom. As students discover their own affection for learning, as well as acquire the tools that promote learning on their own, the teacher steps back. It is at this point in the process when true, organic education begins. And when such an experience takes shape, discipline—at least direct regulation and punishment—is extraneous. Therefore, ideally, the more I can plant seeds of interest in the hearts and minds of my students, the more I can hand them the “reins” of the classroom, the less I will have to worry about being a figure or pure discipline. After reflecting on these thoughts and participating in countless discussions with my mentor teacher, I decided to experiment this week.

On Wednesday, I planned a lesson for my 12th graders [with the thought that if it worked with Seniors, I would then try it on the 9th graders] that was designed to promote independence and student ownership. Occurring on the very day we began reading the next play [Pseudolus] in our Drama Unit, I created a contextual lesson introducing Roman Comedy. Students were split into heterogeneous groups based on their grade in the class thus far, and tasked to read an article and become “experts” on it. These articles were all short (on page or less), focused on one aspect of Roman Comedy (Author’s biography, Theater structure, musical involvement, Greek influence, etc), and relatively accessible to their literary minds. After becoming experts on their article, the groups were then disbanded and new groups were formed. Each of these groups consisted of one member from each of the earlier groups, thereby allowing each group to possess an “expert” on every article read that day. The students then spent the rest of their time teaching one another, by taking turns sharing their expertise in their respected topics. All the while, I avoided the front of the classroom; instead, I wandered the room eavesdropping, answering questions, and simply observing my students learn from each other. It was truly a wonderful, enriching experience.

The lesson spoken of above was based on two Washington State Reading standards: 2.3 and 3.1, as well as the SPU Principle “O.” Reading standard 2.3 details how students should “read to learn new information” and reading standard 3.1 explains how students “expand comprehension by analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing information and ideas in literary and informational text” (Copied directly from the OSPI Website: www.k12.wa.us/). Students were undoubtedly reading to learn new information, as barely any of them had a remote idea concerning Roman Comedy, let alone detailed contextual information. Simultaneously, by requiring students to become experts in their contextual topics through close reading and group discussion, their comprehension was expanded. My commitment to aligning this lesson came directly from SPU’s principles of HOPE. Specifically, principle “O” was one of the most contributing influences in the development of this experimental lesson. This principle focuses on “Offering an organized and challenging curriculum,” and as I strived to create a lesson plan that not only aligned with state standards, but also challenged students to become experts in new, diverse contextual topics related to our unit, I feels strongly I satisfied this principle’s expectations.

Upon reflecting on this lesson, I am relatively thrilled with its implementation. I thought the students were interested throughout the entire period, they taught one another with respect and enthusiasm, and the general flow of the lesson was actually really healthy. After assessing the students in our next class session, I also discovered an exciting fact: THEY LEARNED SOMETHING!!!! All of these factors lead me to believe Carruthers was onto something when he described how unnecessary the teacher should really be. If students are engaged, challenged, and provided the tools and opportunity to facilitate their own learning, amazing results can occur! My favorite aspect to this whole experience was the fact that I was rarely called upon to act as a disciplinary. Because students were interested in their own learning, my role was simply aiding those who needed it and making sure everyone kept an eye on the clock.

The one reservation I have, upon looking back at this lesson in retrospect, is that students need to be notified of what exactly will be expected of them BEFORE they begin the activity. About halfway through the lesson—just before the first groups were disbanded and the new groups were formed—I had to interrupt the class and tell them exactly what they would be doing in the next round of discussions. This was unfortunate, mostly due to the fact that it interrupted students’ conversations and learning. So if I was to teach a lesson similar to this one in the future [which I believe I will be doing with the Freshmen next week], I would undoubtedly tell them everything they need to know up front.

 

All in all, I am pleased with my experiment. Obviously, everything did not go exactly as planned, but such is the reality of teaching high schoolers. My hope is that I can continue to reflect on Carruthers’ ideas—along with the countless other people I am being constantly mentored by during this lengthy internship—and learn more and more each day. Every mistake, every mishap, and every failed idea are simply lessons for me. And as I continue to work hard, walk humbly, take risks, and push myself, I cannot imagine my teaching not improving.

Weekly Reflection 3 (January 23rd-27th)

I am going on three weeks and still holding strong! This was an extremely eventful week for me, seeing as how I officially took over one class! From now on, I will be handling all aspects—planning, in-class facilitating, and grading—of our 12th Grade World Literature class! On top of this, I am taking a more central role in the other four classes (our 9th Grade Language Arts classes) as well, as I will now be the lead on all in-class activities from henceforth. I am so incredibly nervous, but I cannot help but be excited for this new opportunity to grow and learn. Our 12th graders are in the midst of a unit on Drama, just about to finish reading the ancient Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex and move on to the Roman comedy Pseudolus. Meanwhile, the 9th graders are in the final week of unit 3 (Exploring Non-fiction), and will be moving on to a unit on persuasive writing. It is a crazy time, but one permeated with excitement, enthusiasm, and intrigue.

Easily the two things that went best were the 9th grade group presentations that occurred on Monday and Tuesday and the Oedipus Jeopardy game the 12th graders played on Thursday. As part of finishing up our Non-fiction unit in the 9th grade classrooms, we decided to break the classes into groups of 3-5 and tasked the students to explore several newspaper articles recently written. They were given time in class throughout the last week or so to pick an article that interested them, read the article together, annotate and make notes on the article, and prepare a short presentation on several aspects of the work: the conflict, identifying the two or more groups presented in the article, each group’s motivations, each group’s goals, and a possible solution to the conflict (voting, forming a compromise, letting the government/judicial system make a decision, etc). All of this work was targeted at encouraging the students to think critically about the Essential Question of the unit: How do we as a society solve conflict between two or more groups? Although it took a great deal of time for the students to understand their assignment, their presentations were quite remarkable. Students who rarely talk in class spoke up and demonstrated a shocking level of understanding. Students who are usually a massive distraction in the classroom became their group’s leaders and were inspired to produce quality work. Apathetic students displayed engagement for the first time all year. All in all, it was a great experience!

Here below are a few videos of the group presentations to give you all an idea of the kind of work that was done:

*These videos are being uploaded as we speak… they should be up here soon!

 

The second thing that went so well this week was the Oedipus Jeopardy game we played on Thursday. This was a lesson I had wanted to create and facilitate ever since we started reading Oedipus Rex. I recognized through our classroom discussions that my students were more interested in games and competitions than in lectures. I noticed they loved when we did interactive, creative lessons rather than lectures. So in accordance with SPU’s Principle P1 (Practice intentional inquiry and planning for instruction. Teacher-candidates plan and/or adapt standards-based curricula that are personalized to the diverse needs of each student), I went for it! I created a Power-point Presentation jeopardy game, and planned the activity on a day before a formal test, so as to utilize the game as an engaging, productive review for my students. Students were separated into groups based off of skill level and understanding of the play thus far, and then competed to win prizes by answering trivia questions about the play.  Some of the questions were easy and straightforward—in order to assess whether or not the students had been keeping up with the reading over the last two weeks. Other questions were deeper and more complicated, so as to assess whether or not students were thinking critically about the themes, characters, modern day relevance, symbols, and tragic elements of the play. And, as expected, the students LOVED it! They were energetic, engaged, and competitive. They answered questions with eagerness and sought to demonstrate the work they had been completing over the last two weeks. All in all it was a wonderful, productive experience!

Here below is a link to the Jeopardy game I created for the 12th graders:

Oedipus Jeopardy!

 

The only aspect to the week that I wished had gone better was my confidence in front of the classroom. Although I do not think it is noticeable to anyone else beside myself, I am always nervous in front of the classroom. I love every minute of it—cherishing the opportunity I have to work so closely with the future generations of this world—I cannot help but worry I am not doing a good enough job. I want every week, every day, and every single class to be a rewarding experience for my students; therefore, I think I put a great deal of pressure on myself. And although I highly doubt this will really ever change—because I believe a healthy level of nervousness shows just how much someone cares about what they are doing—I would like to work on this in the future.

Weekly Reflection 2 (January 16th-20th)

We are now in the second week of my internship, and what an interesting week it’s been! First and foremost, we had a total of one day in the classroom this week. Due to the fact that Monday was an unpaid furlough day for teachers—and Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were cancelled due to a snowstorm—there was barely any time spent in the classroom. Yet, I cannot say I did not learn anything this week. In fact, I learned a great deal about teaching.

First, teaching is unpredictable. I had no idea there would be any snow this week, let alone enough to cancel pretty much an entire week of school. Nor did I know that when students in your classroom look out the windows and see snow falling, they abandon any notion of learning and become crazed beings bent on chaos. Nor did I Nor did I know that even if students are allowed to go home due to an impending “Snow storm of the century,” teachers are not nearly as free to escape. Nor did I know that Seattle roads are unfit for any form of snow and ice, and when a 1999 Volkswagen Passat (A car owned by yours truly) attempts to drive home from work it can easily find itself in a ditch somewhere out by the SeaTac Airport. Nor did I know that a teacher’s job is never done, even when not in the classroom. Who could have predicted any of this??? Therefore, I must assess this week as invaluable to my understanding of the teaching profession.

Second, department meetings are… interesting. On Tuesday—before any evidence appeared of the snowstorm—the 9thGrade Language Arts teachers met to discuss their plans for the next unit of the curriculum. After introductions and initial catch-up, we began to read through the unit plan already written up by the district (My high school functions out of District Frameworks/Curriculum). While reading, we talked about the main objectives and goals for our students, focusing on how this unit (Unit 4: Persuasive) looks to utilize three different phases: reading/immersion, drafting, and revision/editing, in order to introduce students to the art of persuasion. We then moved on to easily the most fascinating portion of the meeting: Adult learning. During this experience, the teachers themselves are led through an example mini-lesson from the unit they are about to teach in order to understand what will be expected from their students. We were guided through a persuasive work by the department coach, then we had a long discussion about what persuasive techniques were used, what the purpose of the work was, and what kind of audience for which the work would have been effective—all objectives our students will be required to accomplish in this next unit. It was a difficult, unique, and engaging experience, and I feel strongly that I now have a better grasp as to what I will be teaching my students in the coming weeks. The final portion of the meeting consisted of some cooperative planning. We discussed some ideas for possible mini-lessons and classroom activities that would be particularly effective in this unit. And although many creative, diverse ideas were produced in this time, the harmony of our team was decimated. Teachers fought for the mini-lessons they wanted to teach, argued over which activities should be done and which should not, bickered about specific students, opened up about their opinions of past units, and so much more. It was truly a learning experience for me! This experience reminded me of SPU’s Principle E2, which states, “Exemplify collaboration within the school. Teacher-candidates participate collaboratively and professionally in school activities and using appropriate and respectful verbal and written communication.” As I sat there beside a handful of teachers arguing for at least an hour, I reflected on the fact that even within our arguments–even within our disagreements and disputes–we were undoubtedly working for the benefit of each and every one of our students. Obviously, every meeting cannot be perfectly harmonious because every teacher has his/her own distinct style, but at least we were talking to each other, expanding our understanding of the curriculum, learning from one another… all of this will only lead to the improvement of our instructional abilities. Collaboration, even at its most war-torn state, is STILL collaboration! And when teachers talk and learn from one another, the students are truly the ones who will benefit the most!

The third and final thing I learned this week is the importance of flexibility in education. We were supposed to finish up a unit this week with collecting essays and having the students complete a post-test. Instead, we did not accomplish anything. We are now forced to push all of our plans back an entire week. If my mentor teacher and I are flexible, we can still find success despite this huge setback. If we are not flexible, we are in deep trouble. I’m learning, quite clearly in fact, just how important it is to take everything in stride. The more you let the minor setbacks affect your instruction, the less you will truly be able to impact your students. Therefore, I want to put it upon myself to practice and improve my flexibility in the classroom. If I can do this, I think I can be that much better of an instructor for my students.

Weekly Reflection 1 (January 9th-13th)

Wow! What a week! Late nights eclipse to early mornings; preparation progresses to improvisation; the lofty castle of expectations I falsely built quickly burns down to a hard reality. The chaotic frenzy of joy, stress, smiles, laughs, tears, and everything in between commences. Simply put: student teaching has begun.

 

What went well this week?  Not much. Although I am slowly become increasingly more proficient at knowing what to expect in the classroom on any given day, I still feel out of place quite often. I started the week with feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and fear. And not surprisingly in the least, I am still anxious, insecure, and afraid as I look back at the week in retrospect. Oh how unprepared I feel! No amount of textbook reading, lesson plan writing, classroom management techniques, or public speaking activities can adequately prepare a person for teaching! And even though this fact continually slaps me across the face throughout the week, I feel strong. Strangely, I am at peace amidst this chaos. This is not to say that I have everything figured out, or that I am remotely close to becoming a successful teacher, but rather to suggest that this week has undoubtedly proved to me that teaching is for me. I have been laughed at. I have seen 2 students break down in front of me. I have even misspelled—publicly—the grand and intricate word of “Suppose.” Yet, even with the laughter, tears, and humiliation, I know that I am where I am supposed to be. My constant shortcomings have endeared me to my students, and I passionately feel our rapport has never been stronger. In taking everything in stride, I have consistently proven to them just how committed I am to their education; therefore, I cannot help but count this week as a bona fide success.

What did not go well? Pretty much everything! Being as this was my first full week in the classroom, I definitely have room to grow.  I took attendance and facilitated small class discussions in all four of my freshman classes—both relatively manageable pursuits. Yet, I struggled even to do those successfully! While taking attendance, I butchered name after name. While facilitating discussions, I lectured more than anything else. It seemed like no matter what I attempted to accomplish, I was met with some form of failure. I’ d like to see myself take on more and more responsibility quickly—thereby making this internship a true example of what I will be doing for the rest of my life—but in order to do so I must improve! Hopefully, I will master taking attendance and facilitating discussions, then I can move on from there.

 

I learned a great deal this week. I learned that writing on an “ELMO” is tough work! An ELMO is a document camera that allows students to see a teacher writing on a piece of paper at the front of the classroom through the use of a projector. Here’s a picture of one: http://www.google.com/imgres?q=elmo+camera&um=1&hl=en&safe=off&client=safari&sa=N&rls=en&biw=982&bih=651&tbm=isch&tbnid=AIsZ9OlqkqZjsM:&imgrefurl=http://salestores.com/elmo1304mode.html&docid=banhl3kerO5YzM&imgurl=http://salestores.com/stores/images/images_747/ELMO1304.JPG&w=500&h=412&ei=zY8lT6CFF4fkiALxzJTTBw&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=110&vpy=151&dur=1181&hovh=204&hovw=247&tx=136&ty=160&sig=109300555113718522879&page=1&tbnh=147&tbnw=178&start=0&ndsp=15&ved=1t:429,r:0,s:0)

Above all else, I have learned that teaching is intuitive. When a teacher is continuously confronted by new obstacles, distractions, and interruptions—as all teachers are—he/she must learn how improvise. Teaching “on the fly” is an art form and something that must be mastered in order to find success. Even though my mentor teacher and I had planned out every lesson minute-by-minute, the days never seemed to go according to plan. On Monday, one of our students got into a fight during lunch with a student from a different class. On Tuesday, two students from our senior world literature class—who are recently engaged—broke up. Wednesday was relatively uneventful, apart from the fact that roughly 90% of our students did not do their homework in preparation for the lesson. On Thursday, we had planned on hosting group presentations in front of the class, except that only ONE group (out of the 27 groups we have in total throughout our four freshmen classes). Friday was just Friday—students were ready for the weekend and did not want to work. All of these complications ruined our planned lessons; therefore, we had to improvise. Although I have only been in the classroom full-time for a single week, I can expect this will be a common trend in high school classroom. Stephen Hurley, a writer for Cooperative Catalyst, writes,

“The most powerful stories of teaching that I carry with me are stories of improvisation: times when the lesson plans written the night before were put aside in favor of a learning opportunity that presented itself, quite unexpectedly; times when the emotional climate of the classroom called for a response that wasn’t part of any script; times when the urge to go deeper resulted in us tossing aside the schedule placed on the board at the beginning of the morning” (Teaching as Improvisation; May 11, 2011).

Obviously, teachers must ALWAYS prepare to the best of their ability any time they are in front of students. To do otherwise shows a lack of professionalism, enthusiasm, and respect for the art of teaching. However, I can agree with Mr. Hurley in that some of my favorite experiences in the classroom came from organic learning opportunities—times in which the students’ current wants and needs presented a chance for a teacher to step beyond the lesson plan for the day and truly teach from their experiences. So even though we as teachers must constantly plan, prepare, and structure our lessons as intentionally as possible, we must also be prepare for the unexpected. We must always seek to remember that learning is not about standards, test scores, and GPA’s, but about the students themselves. When students are given the space to grow into their own unique, beautiful, freethinking selves—when students discover their own love of learning—our education system has succeeded.

 

To read more from Stephen Hurley, follow this link: http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/teaching-as-improvisation/

Reflection on Methods Lab and HOPE Standards

My methods laboratory experience has been a truly educational opportunity. Even going once a week has proved to be fruitful! While reflecting on the Standards of HOPE and how they are being implemented in my methods classroom, I am torn between distinct truths. On one hand, my mentor teacher does a fantastic job of respecting student diversity (Standard H) by utilizing a variety of ethnic authors in our class readings, as well as being careful in leading respectful, tolerant discussions in class. She also practices effective teaching (Standard P) in the sense that she always has a lesson planned and prepared. She is organized and always makes sure to have everything set up for teaching before she actually teaches. My mentor teacher also undoubtedly exemplifies true service in the teaching profession (Standard E) by being a sincere, kind hearted instructor who is constantly seeking to serve her students. However, I strongly feel the curricula she is forced to teach is not nearly as challenging and effective in promoting student engagement (Standard O) as it could potentially be. The school that I intern at has just recently put into motion a district-wide curriculum that, in my opinion, is as restrictive as it is beneficial. The curriculum is comprehensive; therefore, teachers are required to follow unit and lesson plans almost word for word. So even though this has many benefits—consistency in each department, organization across the district, and an easy way to assess each teacher (if his/her class is on track with the curriculum, then he/she is doing well)—I still am struggling with it. I struggle with the fact that the curriculum forces teachers into a box. They are not allowed to take risks, to be inventive, to try things that may not work, or even to be original. Everything is regimented. So when it comes to the standards, I do not feel my methods classroom offers a challenging curricula. I can only hope that with more time, I may see that the benefits of this comprehensive curriculum outweigh the restrictions. However, I must wait and see!

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