Tag Archives: reflection

perception of myself as a teacher

perception

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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on blogging – part two

 

Making my writing public, so that the world knows what I have to say about education, schools, learning, and teaching has helped me grow as a teacher. It has also shown me how little I know. I’m on an island in the middle of my classroom, while there’s a world out there with teachers that have taught thousands of students, and combined, millions, if not more. I’m struggling to teach eighteen and to make it count.

 

Teachers have commented and liked (!) my blog. I’m sure they understand I’m a beginner, but their comments and likes make me feel like I’m on the right track. Occasionally, I comment on a blog (see: Cliff Mass) that incites the teacher passion I have within, because something was wrong on the internet! I got fired up, blogged, commented, shared, talked, and got more and more people incited, all because someone wrote something on the web.

 

To feel that power, and intensity, the hive gathering on its prey, to speak truths, undoubtedly unperturbed by his position, by Mass, I say blogging is here to stay. Do I not sense that there could be moments where hours are not kind, and words do not flow like wine? Constant blogging, setting aside that brief moment to write something that I myself do not have time to read, and then gather more information whilst waiting for my morning java? How do I take it, that these teachers pour their very souls thereunto the world, their students, and the community? How can I not partake?

 

These posts, here and here, show my growth as a blogger, because they started a conversation. The latter post is the infamous Cliff Mass response, and the former is the trend in finding out what the students are learning, and how do we know. I don’t think anything though could top the Mass post because the conversation crossed over (to Mass’ blog). My comment can also be found on his blog.

 

Outside my cohort I have received comments here, of which I have also commented outside the cohort.

 

Blogging, onward!

 

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what are they learning and how do you know?

what’s going on?

 

Is this, perhaps, the most important question for new teachers? Not only are the students are learning, the teacher must have verifiable proof that they are learning. It seems like it would be useful to think of teaching like a scientific experiment. What am I teaching them? What is the procedure? What observations and data do I need? Was my lesson good?  Continue onward!

 

Now that I am left to my own devices while my master teacher is off on an adventure, I need to be really serious about how I know the students are learning. Glazed over looks doesn’t count. Nodding heads doesn’t count. Projects count. Writing counts. Discussions? They help to inform, and there are standards on speaking, but for math, science, etc. I need more varied data.

 

This week I’ll be teaching a little of everything. I’m still teaching my SS unit dubbed American Foundations. I’ll be teaching small groups literacy. I’ll be teaching math (and observed again!). I’ll be doing morning and afternoon routines. By golly, I’ll be doing almost everything, but that’s just the way the week will work out. For SS, last week I collected good data using a MCT and discussion. That will help me plan this week. For math, I’m a little lost because of the week on/week off schedule. What are we learning? Geometry. What exactly? I’ll find out. For literacy, we’ll be following a direct instruction model with a gradual release of responsibility. That means the students will have to show me (written?) that they can do the task (drawing conclusions). It’ll be a busy week, especially with finals. I’ll just have to take it day by day.

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how much do they really understand?

 

I have been teaching a new unit as of late on the foundations of America (as I called it). It covers the American Revolution and slavery and everything in between, and it’s really tough.

 

I just had my first formal assessment from my field instructor. While we didn’t have time to finish our conversation, one point that stuck to me was whether I had considered teaching junior high, or high school for that matter. While command of the subject on my terms was fine, the students, in her educated perspective, weren’t grasping the concepts the way I was teaching them. I was teaching them with high expectations, very high. And they are a high achieving classroom, of that there’s no doubt. Where did I go wrong?

 

Along with teaching the social studies content i’m also doing a read aloud of the book Chains. The reading level, while accessible, is difficult because of one main factor, context. I don’t mean student context in this case, but an historical context. There is so much going on in this time period. The unit I’ll be teaching spans 8 weeks of our time (4 weeks my time) and decades of the most pivotal moments of history.

 

How do I make slavery accessible? How do I get students to really truly understand the extent and brutality and systematic dehumanizing of generations of different peoples?

 

One thing that I will say worked in class (and agreed upon by the field instructor) was I had everyone line up in a row, and to go to one side of the room if they strongly agree, and the other side if they strongly disagree. They could stand somewhere in the middle if they felt that way too. I asked a few decent questions, but one really stuck out.

 

Was slavery good for America?

 

Every student went to the “strongly disagree” side of the room except one student. I asked her why slavery was good for America, she answered that America wouldn’t have benefited from free labor to build such a strong economy (I’m paraphrasing, what she said was better). Slowly students crept towards her. We were having a real discussion of slavery amid all the confusion.

 

We have time. I have time. But the confusion is good ways. I told the class this is a difficult topic. It’s difficult for adults. The students are doing great. I need a lot of work though. I need to find ways that send a spark into the discussion, trying new tactics, strategies along the way. I need to understand as I want the students to understand.

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grades (inside and out)

As I’m learning to be a teacher, I have been paying close attention to formative assessment and true growth of students. I was reading this blog post and this one where a teacher teaches that learning is the goal, not grades. It’s so important in the classroom to create the concept that we are here to learn. It’s beyond amazing – but there are a lot of forces against this idea.

Parents put a lot of pressure on their students and teachers so that they get the best grades possible. Yes, parents I have talked to have been very concerned about their child’s learning, but up there is grades. It’s the starting and ending point for many parents, and eventually that gets instilled into the children’s minds. The students stress and grub about grades.

I have been grading a lot lately, and got my first taste at grading backlash. I’m still getting better (and more consistent at grading) but I have flaws (I am human). Even with rubrics it seems like points here and points there are dangling on a fence, and I have to tip them in the right direction. This is difficult, and the students find it difficult.

And there’s been something going on internally as well. I still care about grades. Really I do! I’m still in school – teachers are teaching me to be a teacher. So much in what I do is to see that that number followed by a decimal point and a zero. If it’s a 4.0 I’m relieved, anything lower and there’s a tinge of stress. I’m really trying to fight against this programming in me. Learning should be the focus. It’s what I tell my students. How do I tell myself that?

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Only you know what to do

Being a teacher is hard work. You’ll work evenings, nights and weekends. The time with the students is too little, the time is too little, the circumstances are too large and energy is something that mostly the students have (sugar + caffeine is a PED that’s necessity in ed).

 

Which brings me to this, an article from Education Week about staying sane as a teacher. I came up to one of the last lines after reading through the advice — “Only you know what to do.” Advice is tricky as so many people (me included) are set in their ways. There is a difference between teaching and advising (the latter is for the counselors, the former, well…).

 

The advice in the article is grounded in experience. But one person’s experience is different from another – and so it goes. A lot of what I have been learning in my education program  stresses student data and connecting with other teachers, but the other two points are little more salient.

 

I once imagined myself, as the author did, going into a school akin to Beirut in the ’70s or Detroit now and being this amazing teacher and changing the world there. I could do that, or I could just teach whatever students I end up with. It doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from, every student, rich or poor, needs the best chance to succeed. I can still make a difference anywhere I go and hopefully make the world a better place.

 

And on the last point – enjoy being young. I am still young(ish), but I am married now, and within a few years a few kids. I have always found time in the past to enjoy life, even now with school, and school, and school, I still find joy in the little things. I have the energy now to be in an environment that requires that energy (though it will take the aforementioned coffee).

 

Note: This is probably my most disorganized blog post. But this is a blog, so, yeah.

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by the book

I was teaching another math lesson – being a substitute of sorts for the day. Simple enough, just do what’s in the book. It’ll make things easier.

 

Lesson books are dry – even when they have voice (still trying to figure that out, perhaps another topic). Somehow I have to say the words that the book says and the kids will (magically) say what the book says they will respond. There also be several moments to tell them to be quiet, and not very much time for them try and formulate what you’re trying to say. I don’t have a problem with direct instruction – and I’m not more experienced as a teacher than the writers of lesson books or curriculum, but I have instinct, and I have some training.

 

Instinct took over. The lesson seemed to go better. Just start teaching! (I thought) We started exploring several things at once, after all, this was the culminating topic of the unit. And we were on a roll. Then time nearly ran out, and we hit a snag. I wasn’t able to explore the final part – perhaps the most integral part of the topic. Everything else was going smoothly. I had flow and the students were responding. Everyone was talking, thinking, and learning. But I ran out of time.

 

I didn’t follow the sequence. I didn’t do the steps. I didn’t follow the timeline. Response here and response there. But they learned something. But I missed something. I didn’t prepare for this lesson, and thus didn’t see (or didn’t know) what would be the most challenging part – at the end.

 

Is it time to follow the book? Is it time to plan? Stepping in for the moment in someone else’s classroom, there might not be a choice. But there might still be room to make it my own.

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finding the time

Somehow time really flies in schools. I was told “there’s always enough time for what’s important,” but I’m beginning to think there’s “there’s never enough time to scratch the surface.”

 

There’s a debate (somewhere) about whether we want to cover more ground (broad) or less but more solidly (depth). It appears that in schools, it’s often not that much content and not very in depth. There’s about four hours or real learning time in a school day, subtracting for lunch, recess and other specialists (there’s learning there).

 

Sometimes you want to explore a subject more deeply – but then time runs out. Math and reading/writing take an insurmountable amount of time – and they’re required for good reason, but even in those subjects, time is fleeting. With standards and test looming, it’s up to teachers to cover everything the best they can, but that can be to the detriment to real learning. Sometimes there are things that the students are on the cusp of learning, but need some real world hands on experience. Sometimes they get that – but usually at the expense of something else that would be invaluable.

 

So, maybe we can mix every subject at once. Math with social studies, science with art, technology with writing. But’s it’s never enough time. But that’s more down to the fate of being human. I don’t know if I’ll have time to learn five languages, live all over the world, become the world’s greatest teacher, chef, writer, husband – and someday father, and open an awesome sandwich shop. I’ll just have to make time for the important stuff. Sometimes that’s everything.

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A look back and a look forward

I have had a month in my placement – and now it’s off to another.

Looking back at what I have written – the optimism was so high. That optimism is there – but now is where the real work comes in. Day in and day out in the classroom requires much more than the most wonderful theories – it requires of what we (should) be preaching to the students – hard work. It’s also a time commitment. Looking back at one final paper I picked out a few points:

I had said that I would be “walking into the classroom with a new weight of responsibilities…” and I was right about that. Aside from the actual teaching part, there’s paperwork, creating the classroom, creating folders, notebooks, stuffing envelopes, arranging chairs, talking with other teachers, planning (so much planing), communication with parents, finding materials and supplies, and finding time (or a helper) to put it all together. It seems as if there’s an endless supply of tasks. Many of them seem insignificant – but they are all the foundation to make the best possible learning environment. It should be seamless when the student walks in until they walk out.

One student asked, at the end of my last day, when I was describing school and being a teacher,

“Teachers have homework too?”

Yes, students, yes they do.

But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else in the world. The more I read, the more I see, the more I hear, the more I want to be a teacher. At times, I feel like I’m already there.

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