Tag Archives: education

perception of myself as a teacher


In the beginning of the year, I gave off an air of confidence. I felt, without any formal training, I was a pretty good teacher. I wasn’t the best teacher. Over time, I started feeling like I was getting better and better. But being a teacher isn’t just teaching the content. There’s so much more to the classroom than that. It took a while, a long while, to fully realize what it meant to be a teacher. The philosophy of teaching seems to fall the wayside. It’s about procedure, organization, time efficiency, management. If you don’t have those qualities, you can’t just teach the lessons. And within the lessons, there’s so much more than the content. Is every student getting what they need? Do they know what they need to do, what they are learning, what’s the expectations, and how do they know?

My confidence in myself has dwindled as the workload has increased. Part of it is because I spend so much time planning for lessons; I don’t have the energy to think of everything else that makes a classroom run like a well-oiled engine. I’m burning all my gasoline before I start the day getting the basics done, I have a steering wheel, wheels, but the frame isn’t solid. The wheels fall off, but the gas keeps burning. What happened? You can’t have a car without all the little parts working in conjunction. The parts need to work in order, a complex algorithm of gears, on and off switches, individual functions, and emergency systems in place, an airbag in a final disaster.

I’m not trying to use a metaphor to get back into philosophy; it’s a way to look at my perception of teaching. I’m putting in the time and effort; there’s no doubt about that. I’m usually the first person at school – and the last to leave; and then still doing work until midnight. Lesson planning takes all of my time. My perception of having a curriculum has definitely changed. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of project based learning. I truly believe that it engages students in so many ways, that they really get to apply what they’re learning. They are doing learning, not just learning. Curriculum definitely has its advantages as well. It has all teachers on the same page; they aren’t just doing whatever they feel like (though standards also address this). It allows a lot of team planning (though so do projects). It (curriculum) is really useful to new/student teachers. Without literacy or math curriculum (and teaching three levels of grade standards), I’m exhausting all of my energy into research, planning, graphic organizers, practice sheets, etc. There are a lot of sources online, but it’s not always what my students need. I’d love to be like Ayers, and have a project where I learn along with the students. That’s a fantasy. Projects need to be done back and front before even presenting it to students. Then you can structurally guide the students to what they need to learn, and what they’re interested in.

How did the wheels fall of right before the finish line? Can I put the pieces back together? I need to ask for help. If I were writing a story, my character would have a huge flaw. He can’t ask for help. He bottles everything up, and tries to do everything himself. He collaborates with others, but never tries to hint at any weakness. His organization needs to be revamped. He needs to be more effective with his time. He needs to broaden his focus. He needs to see the forest and all the trees. He works hard, but he’s never had to work this hard before. It’s both physically and mentally exhausting for him. Things did come easy to him, for most of his life, and when they don’t; he does everything to hide that, but that all breaks down. And if we look at this like a story, we’re in the falling action. He’s been beaten up, and he’s down. There’s a nigh impossible goal he’s need to obtain. He needs to overcome all of his weaknesses. He needs to rise back up. Regain his confidence. Ask for help. Get the support he needs. Get organized. Look at the end goal, look where he is, and look at what he needs to do. He can’t just take it day by day, surviving on coffee and snacks. He needs a training montage with 80’s music so that when he faces what he needs to do, he’s ready. He’ll work harder than he’s ever had to do before in his life. He’ll sleep in the summer. He’ll show that as the days grow longer, his eyes grow wider, and he’ll strain against every obstacle.
Maybe it’ll end up like Rocky. Maybe he’ll do all this, and still fail. At least that’s how he feels. But what Rocky did something we can all strive for. He went the distance. And in that, he succeeded.

“Why do we fall? So we might learn to pick ourselves up.”

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high cognition; high participation




In the demands of a math class (or any class for that matter) I really want to push my students to work out new ideas. I wanted to draw them and release them with new ways to think about the world. I started with a worksheet and the steps to master the topic, but I had to make it worth my students’ time. I had a basic lesson plan that (for my field instructor) looked a little too by the book. I won’t lie, it was a pedestrian effort at first. I was tired, I had several other lessons to plan. I had a lot to plan. I had a lot of homework, but really, there’s no excuse.


So I went over the lesson plan again. And again. And again, again and again.


How could I get more students to participate, and have them actually have to use their noggins? Hand raising only goes so far. It has to be relevant to the lesson. Pair share (turn and talk) is better, but there isn’t as much accountability (until I have super teacher hearing). What to do?


This was a lesson on graphing on coordinates. In reality, as long as the students know the number line (or at least how to count), there isn’t much to graphing coordinates.


(x,y) (go over, go up) (run then fly) (etc, etc, etc)


I used the ActivBoard to get students up there working towards graphing points, then describing coordinates. I got most students up to participate, and held students accountable when they made mistakes (negatives were sometimes an issue). But I still wanted to get everyone up, but how?


I was thinking about the lesson all morning before the observation, and then it hit me. How do I get everyone participating? Make them the coordinate points! Make the room the graph. It would have the students apply their knowledge, superimpose it onto the room, and find their spots. It worked flawlessly. I could see (!) where everyone was in the classroom, literally. There couldn’t have been a better formative assessment. And then when there was a summative assessment on graphing a few days later, everyone got it.


(The launch for the lesson was pretty good too, it started with a talk about newton, dropping a baseball, students timing it, and putting those points on a graph and looking at its motion over time, cool stuff)

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i’ve got to admit it’s getting better


Like John T. Spencer was in his first year, I wanted some real assessments, or hard data. I wanted to know where every student was at. I did it with… wait for it… a multiple choice test. Yes, I used the dreaded, MCT (I don’t believe that’s a real acronym). I did it with a twist. The whole class took at the same time, using electronic voting, but then we talked after each question. In real time (and later in an Excel spread sheet) I could see who answered correctly, how long it took them, plus I could see as a whole class what was still stumping them.


I also made the test myself. It was only 8 questions, but I want them to be meaningful. Each question prompted a good discussion. A lot of the questions had more than one right answer, but I was looking for the best answer. Since this was still a formative assessment (the summative assessment will be a project), if I were to put it on a final test, the MCT would allow room to explain your answer.


The question that nearly everyone got wrong:


Slavery increased in America due to:

a. Demand for cheap labor

b. Introduction of guns as a trade good in West Africa


There were two other options, but I don’t remember what they were. Those two options caused all of the arguing. It’s where we spent most of our time arguing/discussing. Most thought slavery increased because guns allowed different tribes to capture more slaves, BUT only one student said that without demand from America, there would be no incentive to take slaves. Either way, this question could produce a hearty essay, even for someone in high school. I just thought it was amazing to see the detailed and inquisitive discussion from a single multiple choice question.


P.S. Why the raccoon? They’re my favorite animal. Plus, they’re really smart. They learn and apply new skills. They’re crafty. And they wash their hands. Who can hate on that?

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“fixing” bad schools


Usually headlines like The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools on the New York Times and other establishments are some long winded ideas from people who aren’t teachers, or who look at models that wouldn’t fit the whole country, but every once in a while, an article get it right.


It looked at a typical inner city, diverse, and poor community in Union City, New Jersey. The difference is that the school in question is not private, a lottery choice school, charter, but rather a public elementary school. The school has raised expectations, given oversight to teachers, valued early to late education, and looking at the student as a whole individual who needs cultivating. To some people, this may seem bizarre  dangerous, or unattainable country wide, but that’s wrong.


Already with the influx of teachers nationwide connecting to each other more than any other time in history (blogging, twitter, et al), common core standards being adopted, and a better understanding of what testing does and doesn’t do, schools have never had a greater opportunity to rise. Some of the ideas aren’t new, even perhaps a century old (Dewey), but a growing teacher community can start to adopt these standards together. Expectations need to raise. Critical thinking and higher orders of expression need to be cultivated.


I have been lucky to work in a classroom that gives me such freedom to teach – but still follow standards. It’s by no means a challenge to take the droll textbook and connect it to the lives of the students. Sometimes it’s challenging conceptually for both parties (teaching about slavery, number systems other than base 10, understanding what a hypothesis is and how to form one, determining theme, mood and tone) but the benefits are endless.



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hard work

It seems that the last few quarters were tough, mentally and physically. There were long hours, long drives, homework, schoolwork, work, work, but that was just the beginning. The work is only going to ramp up.


Looking at the base requirements for my teaching certification, I don’t need to do as much as I might have thought. I know the minimum isn’t going to cut it. I need to go above and beyond. It’s time to drink the coffee, espresso, soda, whatever to keep me going.


I need to start teaching more and establish myself in the classroom as a teacher, not a student teacher. It’s been a struggle with the inconsistencies of being back, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I need to be proactive and plan more.


I want to teach all day consecutively for a week. I haven’t done that since Korea, but the stakes are higher here, as there are more subjects to teach.


Since being back, I have done some observing and circulating around, but I need get out of the backseat. It’ll be a long climb up, but I have to do it.


Just this last week, I was doing a mini math lesson, and it was too much fun. As much work as it takes to be a teacher (and a new one at that), there is still so much joy. It’s so rare to find a job so creative, fulfilling, difficult, fresh and exciting.


It’s time to (insert metaphor here) and become a great teacher!

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a little too inquerious

My main placement teacher had a great idea for a lesson – give some students some primary resources and have the students be historians and do history! Great!

I planned the lesson well enough, spent a few hours looking for good sources over at the library of congress, worked up a lesson plan with multiple forms of assessment, differentiated instruction, and all that jazz. It was only going to be a short lesson, 30 minutes. I’d talk for 5 minutes, and let them go.

Sometimes, reality doesn’t match my imagination. I should have taken a picture of the exit slips (and their work for that matter) I had them do. Several students said it was the “worst lesson ever.”

The lesson started well enough, we did a preassessment of primary sources, what they’re used for, what a historian does, etc. They understood that. But then I told them they would be historians, and they’d need to construct and interpret items to make a visual representation of a historical event while answering the big idea and unanswered questions while looking for multiple perspectives… (OK, that was a run on sentence. The lesson was thirty minutes, with five minutes of talking and a lot of answering questions. The point is, I don’t think some college kids could do the assignment. Either I was too vague, or something else. And here I am, chattering away in these parentheses.)

Part of me thinks the students don’t think of me as the teacher yet. I need to establish that ASAP. It’s hard as a student teacher, because I have to defer so much, but it is possible.

Secondly, I could have planned the lesson better, predicted the questions they’d have. Though I did want the assignment ambiguous. I succeeded at that.

Thirdly, this was a tough lesson. It was just plain tough. A few students said they could have used more time. They needed to know directly what to do. A few students tore up their primary sources. Some hated the lesson. But the worst response I got by far was: “I don’t have an imagination.”

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on blogging

Informal blogging (writing), commenting, and connecting with other bloggers (people) has changed dramatically.


For those careful readers, it’s no surprise that this blog started for school as a requirement. The purpose of requirements on something like a blog is so that you learn its value. But that sounds like mandatory volunteering. Still, sometimes (definitely not all the time) certain requirements do turn out to become hobbies or a part of function to be human.


I like writing – even love it – but blogging was never my forte. Either I’d put too much thought in a post (that maybe 2 people would read) but burn out, or just never put any ideas down because they weren’t good enough. I think I have found a happy medium. I opened up my blog this quarter to the general public (and have got likes!) after I noticed that my posts weren’t just for “school.” My posts had some relevance to the greater community of pedagogical thinking.


Keeping my blog focused on education has allowed me to always be thinking about what to write. I take notes when in my placements and in class or simply just talk to other people. It allows me to formulate some ideas before sitting down and blindly typing whatever pops into my mind, like this post. I think my blog posts have been getting better over time, though every once in awhile the ideas just aren’t there. But that’s the great thing about blogging – getting ideas out (though you have to find that happy medium, I think 1 to 2 posts a week is that).


Recently, I have been getting a lot of comments. Part of that, is I keep the posts short, but not too short. 250 – 700 words seems good. Any less or more the post might be passed because there isn’t enough thought, or it rambles or turns into an essay. Keeping the topic short, and the idea clear and open seems to also work well. These two posts demonstrate that: A tale of two schools and finding the time.


A lot of comments on other blogs have been within the cohort, though I check the blogs on my blogroll periodically (reader) and try to stay informed. There is a lot of information out there. The river analogy is good, you just fill up a little as the river keeps flowing. There are a lot of good ideas, posts and blogs out there. I think starting with a little community already will help my blogging to grow. The responses within the cohort look like they are not only reading my comments, but responding to the comments as well, such as here.


I know I’ll keep growing as a blogger as this year pans out. It’s useful just to have a shared space to keep in contact with others going through something similar. It’s also a great way to build up ideas in a non academic setting. PHD’s aren’t the only people doing research. Sometimes research is looking at a new piece of research, and trying it out. Sometimes it’s reaching a challenging student in a new way. Either way, blogging is useful stuff – even when it’s a requirement.

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