Friday, September 2, 2011

I'm still here...

Oh my, has it really been since May that I have posted? To my faithful followers (even you that lurk in abyss--subscribe already), rest assured that I will return very soon. Until then, enjoy your three day weekend safely, happily, and delighting in any and all the junk foods your heart desires!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lessons from a Talk Show Host

On May 25th Oprah ended her 25 year journey that undoubtedly inspired and influenced Americans and many worldwide. I must admit I jumped on and off the Oprah bandwagon at various points throughout those years. I looked into her books from the book club, I wished I could have been in some of the Favorite Things episodes, and, really who doesn’t strive to Live Their Best Life!

Oprah has mentioned several times that she always wanted to become a teacher and also admires the work that teachers do on a daily basis. Thanks to DVR, I was able to go through her final show and take away little nuggets that stuck with me. I can use them in the classroom and we all can use at some point in our lives.

#1- Do good and cause no harm: Oprah stated that in her beginning shows she had no plan or vision. She just wanted to do a good job and cause no harm. As a beginning teacher, or a veteran teacher at the beginning of a new school year, many may become overwhelmed. What if this happens? What about that? We may feel like we need to have all the answers. However, at the root of it all, we want to do a good job. Do the best according to your abilities. Seek out help from your colleagues; they should be more than willing to help. It’s a given that we would not want to hurt our students but we need to be conscious of our actions and our words so that do not have a negative impact.

#2- At times she was tired, but she showed up because her audience was waiting: There were times that even during my student teaching, that I became mentally exhausted. You can give so much wanting a student(s) to achieve. There are meetings, PDs, extracurriculars, assessments, emails to answer…Sometimes you may feel that there isn’t enough coffee in the world to give you the jolt you need. Yet, you show up! When you enter that classroom, you enter ready to inspire. Why? Because you have a class of students that deserve nothing less.

#3- Take responsibility for the energy you bring into the space: Oprah explained what she believes about energy and then showed a sign that hangs in Harpo studios displaying the above phrase. Anyone who stops by, or is there to give a presentation, should be held responsible for what they bring into the class. Teachers, this goes for you as well. Kids can sense your mood and attitudes. They can also feed off your energy. There are times when are frustrated or tired but when you see that even one student is enthusiastic to learn it will fuel your excitement.  

#4- Incorporate variety and complexity: Oprah was proud and gave praise to her producers and those who worked on the show for the variety and complexity they brought to the table every day. As a result, she made a connection with people from diverse areas and caused them to want to be/do/live/dream better. Teachers are always encouraged to provide variety in their instructional strategies, HOTQs, and HE statements. The goal is to be able to reach diverse learners in order for them to become successful. When it is coupled with a certain level of challenge, everyone rises to reach higher levels of accomplishment.

#5- Mrs. Duncan: Part of her final show was dedicated to sharing memories and giving honor to her favorite teacher, Mrs. Duncan. We can learn a lot from the “Mrs. Duncans” in our lives. Thoughts of our favorite teachers and their actions can be used as the influence that makes us want to become better teachers, better leaders, or better individuals in the world. An added bonus is that you may become a Mrs. Duncan to someone one day!

This final show concluded with no frills, no car giveaways, or makeovers; only Oprah speaking from her heart to the audience. While technology integration or even handing out a piece of chocolate every now and then doesn’t hurt (think “You get a Reese Cup! You get a Reese Cup!”-- you knew it was coming, right?), in essence all you need in your classroom is you; being yourself and teaching from your heart. Genuinely make a connection with your students and make an effort to engage them. In the end, you can be proud that you have lived your passion and “grateful for the opportunity” to have been a teacher.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Evolution of a Blog

If you’ve visited this blog at anytime during this year, you may have noticed that I’ve made a few changes. The biggest change has been the name. When I first started in January, it was simply to fulfill a grade as part of completing my MAT. Simply called “LaShonda’s Blog”; plain, no thought to it, and just titled so that I could be identified to receive my grade. That first post reflected my nerves about this new chapter and experience about to take place. Then I gradually begin to feel more comfortable in my new role. Each week I began to look forward to posting and expressing my thoughts and feelings. In the beginning, it was not open to the public and only a few people had access to what I had written. After a few encouraging comments and my increased enjoyment, I begin to think that perhaps I would open it to the public and continue on after graduation. I am still a young’un in the blog world so I still have a lot of growing and evolving to do.

I became a teacher because of my experiences as a student. I loved, and still love, school; honestly! I have a passion for education and continual learning. When I was in school, proudly toting my backpack and pencil box, classrooms still used a chalkboard. Not the whiteboards that are widely used today. I decided upon “At the Chalkboard” as nod to my time as a student and the great teachers I had. That’s where I learned it was okay to have the wrong answer but if I talked each step through I would get to the right answer. That’s where I learned to love to challenge myself. That’s where I learned it was fine to be nervous during public speaking because the person that was before me and after me were more than likely nervous as well. That’s where I learned to be organized, keep track of dates, and responsible for deadlines because my teachers wrote it all out on the board. I could go on and on. I’m sure you can come up with your own memories of what you learned at your class chalkboard.

What can you expect on this blog? It will consist of anything that has to do with the facilitation of learning, that makes you reflect, or to look at things in a different way. The best teachers are masters at this in their classrooms. However, it will be more than just the traditional shiny red apple, ABC type things. Come on you should realize by now that teachers are more than that. Some are accomplished singers, dancers, crafters, bakers, and artists. They ride motorcycles, they are sports fanatics (I mean like painting their bodies or naming their first born after a mascot fanatics!), and some may have an incredibly, outrageous story that you would not believe. I have found if the class prods them enough and promises to make brownies they will reluctantly tell the class. Okay back to the point--occasionally I will post things that spike my interest and that I think you will also enjoy.

So come back again and stop by often, join/subscribe, and feel free to tell your friends. More importantly, I hope you enjoy the time you spend At the Chalkboard!!!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Never Can Say Good-Bye…

This week I finished up my time as a student teacher at the Shelby Co. Area Technology Center. I want to give special thanks to Mrs. Wiley, the principal; Mrs. Hundley, my supervising teacher; as well as the students, faculty, and staff. They have all played a part in making this experience one that I will never forget.

Because of all the whispering, looks, and giggles from the students I had a thought that something was in the works for my last day. Not to mention a little slip-up from a sub that I overlooked in hopes to not ruin anything that was being planned. I was content with the Krispy Kreme donuts and other sweets from the beginning of the week. However, I was not prepared for the wonderful breakfast that was waiting when I arrived on my last day. I was honored that everyone broke away from their usual morning routines of getting the class ready for students in order to share the time with me. The assistant principal said grace over the breakfast and then gave a few words of blessing and inspiration for my future as a teacher. Then we all took a few minutes to sit down together, eat, and have a few laughs before students arrived. I will cherish that time because I know that it is rare.

Everything was sooo good!!!

Each class created their own version of a “certificate” and they all signed it. Then, before class was over, they took a group picture for me. As the day went on, individuals would stop by to say good-bye, give me a hug, and give me last minute advice or words of encouragement. I wish I had a voice recorder with me because some of it was so well said! Not the usual cliché statements but things that were actually meant for me. As I prepared for student teaching at the end of 2010 I had considered other schools; however, in many ways it has been confirmed that Area Tech was where I was supposed to be.

Some of the students strike a pose!!!

A few of the gifts and cards.
Even the KY Chapter of FBLA sent something!

When the last period rolled around, I experienced a wide range of emotions. Tic. Toc. 3:05. 3:10. 3:15. Finally…… the bell rang 3:20; signifying not only the end to the day but also of my student teaching. My supervising teacher looked over at me. “I’m not going to say good-bye because I’ll just cry,” she said. We hugged. I pushed in the chairs of the students that had hurried out to catch the bus. I turned out the lights to the classroom. I stood there, for the last time, with my supervising teacher as she locked the door. We walked down the hall together and reached the point where she turned to her car and I kept walking down the hall to get to mine. I couldn’t help but think of those dramatic and metaphoric scenes in movies. The master and student begin together on a long journey, and then eventually the student has to continue alone. I had spent these past several weeks learning from a master. Finally, the time has come for me, the student, to walk alone applying the skills that I had learned. Hmmm…sounds like a cinematic blockbuster. I’d go see it!

Shelby Co. Area Tech, I have had a wonderful time. I’ve learned. I’ve laughed. I’ve reflected. I’ve grown. In keeping with what my supervising teacher said, “I’m not going to say good-bye.” She had a saying that I like even better. So let’s just say, “I’ll see you again. If the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise!”

Shelby Co. Area Technology Center

Monday, May 2, 2011

¡Dos de Mayo!

Cinco de Mayo came a little early today at the school as we had a little celebration of our own. As I stopped by the teacher’s lounge to put my lunch in the fridge, the room was filled with balloons, donuts, breakfast casseroles, and other sweet treats. There were also pictures of the American flag and the navy seal emblem. I had simply assumed that everyone was in high spirits because of the events that had occurred late last night. Little did I know those pictures were just to disguise the fact that all the morning goodies were for me; celebrating my last week and for having a successful semester. I felt so special and I am very grateful. Then at lunch I had another surprise waiting for me. This cute pink bag!!!

What’s in the bag? Well it is a few little things that will make my first days as a teacher extra special. It isn’t so much the actual items in the bag but the added note that came along. It was given to me by one of the other teachers at the school who, along with the other faculty and staff, I have grown very fond of. A part of the note read, “Thanks for being part of our school family and bringing sunshine to our day.” It is hard to come in during a semester and feel like you belong at the end of those weeks. I am glad to know that I am considered family at the Shelby County Area Technology Center. Gaining members to an educational family that is willing to offer their experiences and resources to help me become a better that's something to celebrate!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Consider This

This week as the 3rd nine weeks come to a conclusion, there were a few examples of how we eventually have to face the consequences of the decisions that we’ve made. It is interesting to see how students, and parents for that matter, seem to show little interest in grades until the grade reports go out. For example, my ST had warned all year of the poor grades of this student. Emails, notes, and phone calls had been home but to no avail. This student had done well to make passing grades this nine weeks but it wouldn’t be enough to pass the class. The morning after grades went home, she received an email from a very unhappy parent wanting a conference. I was lucky enough to have my ST ask me and consider what I would say as well as how I would handle the situation.

Just as my ST had done, I would have definitely kept up with the past communication and grade records. What had me curious was the reasoning for why the parents seemed so interested and urgent in wanting to meet now. However, I always need to take into consideration the culture, home-life situations, and various other issues that cause people to react the way that they do. The fact that the parent was making an effort to take interest now is the starting point from which to move forward. In the meeting with the parent, it is important to listen. In chapter 11 of Love and Logic there is the discussion of clear thinking. When people are running high on emotions it is hard to get anything resolved. Anytime a person is operating in an emotional state, their thinking is distorted.  To have an adequate perspective of the situation, the author recommends considering an individual’s self-concept, having shared control, and presenting consequences with empathy. This means that we need to be careful not to have a person feel like they are being attacked, losing control, or not feeling validated. As a teacher, I can also feel this way. And what happens? If not handled properly, the situation can escalate in a negative way. It is human nature for us to want to protect ourselves.

The conference concluded and a resolution was found. The outcome called for the student to put forth an extra effort during Spring Break. Both the parent and my ST were happy with the outcome and both parties had their perspective understood. This may not always be the case. In the future I have to make sure that I come to situations thinking clearly and to not have emotions cloud my ability to reason for the best interest of the student.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's Getting Hot In Here

As with many schools, the heat and air is not controlled in each individual classroom. Either the heat is on or the air is on. You can’t control it depending on what Mother Nature throws at you during the day. In the spring it becomes particularly tricky because as students prepare for school, it is quite cold; however, as the afternoon rolls around, the mercury has soared to summer-like temperatures. As I’ve heard many times, “welcome to springtime in Kentucky!” Having grown up in the state I am very familiar with Kentucky’s spring but it has never been more obvious and clear to me than this week.

The beginning of the week posed a dilemma for me as a young teacher; more specifically in dealing with my last class of the day. By the time they enter the class, on any given day, they have each individually encountered a range of emotions that have a great impact on how the class is going to go. When we add in the exhausting heat from earlier this week, it almost became a disaster. I was trying to introduce new content to the students and I could tell I was in for a struggle. They did give an effort to pay attention but the heat was too much for them. The one small window in the corner of the room did little to circulate any air. Everyone was sweating and their faces were red.

As I’ve stated before my goal is to prepare students for life after high school. As much as I wanted to say, “Do you think your college professor will let you slack off because you’re sweating?” or “Do you think your boss will let you miss a deadline because the air conditioning wasn’t on in the office?” I had to remember, as much as I want them to learn, they are kids. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? I was in for a battle if we couldn’t get passed satisfying their physiological needs.

Instead of trying to force the new content on them, I let them know we would cover just one more point and then we would stop for a water break. After that they had to come back and begin any makeup work they had or they could review skills with the Excel Jeopardy. The next day we revisited the new content and continued where we left off. I wonder how other teachers handle similar situations. The teacher can never just stop the class, some form of relevant learning needs to take place. Yet, if the entire class is struggling, at what point is it appropriate to say let’s revisit this at another time?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

To Sir (William Haley), With Love

I came across a quote the other day, that if I were the type of person to get “inked”, as the kids call it nowadays, I would spend my spring break showing off my new scripted tattoo. Ha! Not really, but when I enter my classroom I will find a place for this quote. Similar to a business owner hanging the first dollar bill or the “champion” quotes that football players touch before they run out onto the field. This quote, the words and the philosophy behind it, will have a home in my classroom. The quote is credited to Sir William Haley, who at points during his career served as director of the BBC and editor of The Times of London as well as Encyclopedia Britannica. The quote is as follows:

“Education would be so much more effective if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they don’t know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.” –Sir William Haley

Wow, that is a mouthful! Yet, it is the truth! Thank you, Sir William Haley. Why did this stick with me so much? I’m not sure who to accredit my desire for learning. More than likely it was a culmination of all the teachers I’ve had in my life; the good and the bad. This quote pretty much sums up my philosophy on education. I don’t want the learning to stop once students have left my classroom. It should only be the beginning; merely the spark that starts the flame. For that reason, it has influenced the decisions I have made as a student teacher this semester.

As I begin Task J and reflect on my effectiveness, I thought about how easy it is to be stuck in a rut. Over the course of a year or so, some teachers accumulate a set of tests, assignments, and assessments. They use them year after year, and never give a second thought to how affective it is to student knowledge and skills. It is hard for us to take an honest look and say, “this isn’t working; how can I make this better?” What I like about this MAT program, which I haven’t heard about with other schools, is the many opportunities that require me to be reflective. Being reflective, and considering the data of my student’s performance, is something I plan to continually practice, and look forward to, year after year.

To close, here is a video sent to me via Facebook. I thought it was fitting for this post.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fringe Benefits

For the past week or so two of my classes have been discussing employee benefits that companies may offer as incentive to work for them. As a way to incorporate technology I had students to do an internet search of company benefits. They were instructed to find Fortune Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Companies to Work for 2011. They also conducted a search on the Ben & Jerry’s and the Google company sites to find the benefits given to their employees. At first the students were hesitant and really didn’t want to do the research.

In all actuality the activity was twofold. I did want them to find the employee benefits but I also want them to learn how to do research; digging for the answers, discovering new questions, and then digging even deeper. As a teacher, I want my students to be prepared for college and for life after high school. The answers will not always be given to us in life. It is up to us to seek out resources and investigate the answers. However, that is for another blog post perhaps. Let’s get back to the employee benefits…

It started with a spark. “Whoa, this company offers free art classes!” Then the comments and enthusiasm for conducting the research spread like wild fire. “Well, this company gives messages and yoga classes.” “That’s nothing; at this company you get free ice-cream!” As one student found and shared a benefit, the others became excited and tried to out-do each other with finding the best benefit. The point was to get students to think about more than just the salary but the total benefits (salary/wage plus any benefits) that the company provides.

Anytime I ask students to do something, I have already done it myself. If directions or the wording is confusing to me, then chances are it will be confusing to them. So of course, I have already considered the total benefits of my job; teaching. This week, I experienced two of the greatest benefits. First, it is the overwhelming feeling of hearing a student tell you, “Ms. Hardin, sometimes I get so frustrated with life, then I come to class and you smile at me. After that, I know things will be okay.” What do you say/do after that? Priceless! Secondly, after a seemingly never-ending, cold week, you walk into class and on your desk you find this….

To me, it’s a masterpiece! As a student teacher and future classroom teacher, I’d say corporate America can’t compete with benefits like this.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

One Step to Victory

This is just an update on a previous post that described the frustrations of students that seemed to get overlooked and, as I previously put it “fall through the cracks”. It was so refreshing to see a student get the help they needed and deserved. I must say that my ST is one persistent lady. We kept discussing the situation and trying to come up with ways that we could improve the situation. The student was acting out and we had finally figured out why; with evidence. We couldn’t get help where it should have come from, so my amazing ST came up with a solution. For now the student is only receiving help for our class but perhaps when others see the improvements in grades, more steps will be taken to find an overall solution. I realize my descriptions of what is actually going on are vague and I do apologize.

After just a few days, we were seeing results. I was so excited to see that after grading one of this particular student’s activities, they had received the second highest grade in the class. Since I have been student teaching their grades have been always among one of the lowest. As I was recording grades this week, you would have thought I had won the KY lottery jackpot! My excitement was not because our suspicions were correct and not even that the solution was working.  I was excited for the student; realizing that this is just the beginning for them and their educational success.

A section of Love and Logic had so much relevance to me after this week. The authors wrote that “misbehavior has a positive purpose”. When I first read it, I understood the point but in the back of my head thinking, “if you say so”.  As a new teacher, I thought that there was nothing worse than encountering misbehavior when trying to capture/keep the attention of a class full of students. However, we can’t focus and get frustrated with the misbehavior. Just as a doctor can’t successfully treat symptoms unless they know what the underlying sickness is. As teachers we have to get to the heart of the issue, not continuously deal with the surface behavior. I get it now. So, I guess I just took a step, too!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Something to Think About

Sitting down to write this post seemed very hard. This was a seemingly very long week and it was as if my mind had nothing left to give. This week, I realized that class management is a task that even a veteran teacher can still have trouble with. As I have spent another week working with new instructional styles and active engagement, it seems there is a thin line between being loud and rowdy and having fun while learning; especially if you are another teacher walking past your classroom. I know now to close the door as not to disturb others. Or perhaps, they were just jealous of all the fun learning taking place. Just kidding!

Not unlike other times, I had more questions this week. This semester of student teaching has certainly been a journey full of thinking and learning, and learning and thinking. How do you handle this? What would happen if this? At times I feel like a pest; however, my ST and the other teachers are great in answering questions and I know that I am there to ask and learn. If I had to identify any frustrations this week it would be when you come across a student that has, as they say, “fallen through the cracks”. I read somewhere, in reference to behavior, that people should not look at what was done, but consider why it was done. Recently I have been considering the reasons why students behave the way they do. What do you do when counselors say things are alright but you know something is not right? As a teacher, who works with the student every day, shouldn’t what you observe matter? You do what you can without it negatively affecting the other students but you still don’t seem to make any progress. Each day this week I would return to the class trying and thinking today there will progress.

As a child, I knew I always wanted to be involved in philanthropy. This week it became even more clear to me that while I am not giving millions of dollars, the profession I have chosen is certainly one where giving of your time, of your energy, of your resources, and of your heart every day can rival any monetary gift.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

The first full week of school we had was very tough. It seemed to never end and had everyone just a bit on the edge. Nevertheless, we all made it through and are now going into our 4th full week of school since being back from Christmas break. While I was glad to finally be able to get into a routine, the students seemed to complain a bit more and lacked the motivation to get work done. We were all just temporarily experiencing a bad case of the winter doldrums.

This week it has been absolutely beautiful outside. It warmed up and the sun was shining almost every day this week. Something about those first few hopes of the coming spring, especially after the winter we’ve had, that puts everyone in a good mood. Besides New Year’s and the often soon forgotten resolutions, glimpses of spring are also another time when people begin to think about fresh starts, cleaning up, or getting things in order. I am no different.

Thankfully, winter temperatures took a back seat this week. As the students began coming in to the class smiling and laughing just a bit more, the wheels starting turning in my head. Just as spring brings a fresh start, I also wanted to bring something fresh to the classroom. I want my students to enjoy learning so that it will be carried into their adult life. My week has been filled with studying and practicing strategies from Dr. Kagan. What an amazing set of strategies, techniques, and activities that are credited to his name. Fun (in the form of enjoyment of learning) can now be reintroduced into the classroom again. I have now taken over 2 Finance classes and 2 Keyboarding classes. Initially I was stuck in thinking that it would be hard to introduce some of the strategies in my Keyboarding class but the students have responded very well. Quietly sitting at a computer and typing activity after activity gets old very fast; and the students have no problem telling you. To be honest unless a test is in session, who would want to sit in a quiet class?

What I have noticed is that these new strategies are not only for the students but also for me; or any teacher. The movement, thinking, and excitement allow the students to become eager to learn more. As a result, I am energized to see that the students want to learn. It’s a wonderful cycle in that I can take that energy and use it to bring even more ideas of learning into the classroom. At the same time, students are eager to learn what’s next. In the end we are all learning and energized together. How fresh is that?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Getting to Know You

By now, the students and I are getting comfortable with each other. I have learned almost all of the names and for the most part I am no longer being referred to as “Ms. Ummm” or the “Black Girl”. Yes, I have heard that last reference whispered more than I liked but I do understand that is how some relate to me. Until those few students get to know me a little better, that is their point of reference—and I’m okay with that for now.

One of the things that I did miss about being at the ATC is the high school atmosphere. We are working with high school students but most of the activities are done at the main high school. Let me explain better what I mean. High school is a time for Pep Rallies, Spirit Week, Rivalry Week, Dress In Your Favorite Decade Day, and so on. Because Valentine’s Day is coming up, the high school sold roses and conducted the iFlirt activity. Students answered a series of questions and for $2 they were able to see what peers and celebrities matched their personalities. It was all in fun. The ATC is where students come to a class or two and quickly head back up the high school. In fact there is only one hall of lockers for students who come from other counties. Now, I understand that I am there to learn all I can about teaching but for me, knowing my students and developing a relationship is a big part of that process. All the extra activities beyond the lectures, the lesson objectives, and the assessments, are where a teacher can get to know a student even more. As a result, lesson planning will become even more effective.

I must admit that still trying to get the hang of things, along with the cold temperatures, has postponed my venture up to the high school; however, that will soon change. Happily, this week I felt that the students and I connected just a bit more. The Health Services department at the ATC had “Pennies for Patients” this week. Students were able to pay $1 for a length of duct tape to tape teachers to the wall. On another day, students could pay $1 dollar to throw a pie in the face of some of the teachers that volunteered to participate. In addition, we started a new unit called Conflict Resolution. My ST and I let the students teach parts of the class and we had some great discussions. They opened up and talked about some of their issues and as a class we were able to find real resolutions for student issues that were occurring right now. It had to be some of the best classes I have been a part of.

I know seasoned teachers that are able to observe students and can quickly pick up on characteristics and personalities that leave me thinking, “How did they derive that outcome from that little action?” I will probably get to that point some years down the road. For me, the experiences this week showed me just how important being able to connect through a change of pace in the class, or an activity outside of the classroom, can be to the teacher/student relationship.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Tale of Two Students

This week was a very interesting week. I wouldn’t say it was disappointing, but perhaps frustrating would be a better description. After my observation, I had tried hard to research, and ask for, ways to reach one particular student. My ST had struggled with them as well and we were both excited that once they warmed up to me there was a chance that some progress would be made. Unfortunately, I will not be a part of their progress. We found out that they were taken out of all of their classes at our school and moved into more remedial classes. I hope that they can receive the help that they need and deserve. After this, my mind began filling with so many questions. Based on the work they did attempt to start, it seemed they understood the material but what was keeping the student from finishing or even turning things in? Also, will they be one of those students that fall through the “cracks” or just keep getting passed on without their full potential being realized? In all reality this student may need more help than I am equipped to give at this time.

The next situation is on the opposite end of the student spectrum and in a completely different class. This student caught on to lessons quickly and participated in class discussions; just an all around good student. The class was working on business projects and this student was ahead of the game. They took work home, researched extra hours, and went above the requirements that were asked. In fact, they were on track to have their project entered into the FBLA competition. To the surprise of my ST, after class earlier this week, the student notified her that they were dropping the class. What? Are you sure? What’s going? Do you think you’re not doing well on the project? These were all questions that I wanted to ask. To put this situation in context, two students had dropped the class the week before. They were “C” students and simply told the teacher that they didn’t want to do the project because it was too much work. Wow, what a reality check for me. I would have never even considered doing such a thing when I was a high school student. How can the school even allow this; especially when the school year is more than half over?  So when one of the star students decides to drop the class, my mind again was filled with so many questions. I begin to think about how I would handle the situation in my classroom. I would definitely have to question my effectiveness of instruction. Would I let my frustrations get the best of me? Would I take it personally? I was raised to think that while I was in school, it was my job and you do your job to the best of your ability. If you find it challenging you don’t quit but ask for help.

My ST handled the situation but I did want to step in. I saw the potential. I thought about how proud the student would feel if they would have completed the project and maybe even placed in the FBLA competition. To be honest I could see the potential in all three of the students that dropped. Maybe I should have tried to say something or reach out to them. What I kept thinking about was if this would carry on into their adult lives. Would they quit every time things became a challenge? If they did encounter a challenge would they not seek help or push through it anyway? I can only hope that this was a case of senior-itis and that these were isolated cases.

As anyone who reads will see, this was a week full of questions. It was interesting to see the same actions in two students who look completely different on paper. A failing student that had a habit of starting projects then quitting and an “A” student that had seemed to work hard in the past but quit this time. In chapter 7 of Adrienne Mack-Kirschner’s book, she discusses the habits of the mind. She addresses the fact that habits are learned and can also be unlearned. One of my main passions for students is for them to become lifelong learners. However, that can only happen if their habits of the mind are nurtured and students given some responsibility for their learning. If they go to college, that responsibility is definitely placed on them. Will the first student have a teacher that will help them unlearn certain habits? Will the second student continue behaviors that will lead to negative habits that stop them from reaching their highest potential? Were they ever given the opportunity to take responsibility of their own learning? I cannot be sure. What I do know is that we should never be so quick to label a student as lazy. It is not always that simple or black and white.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Brought to you by the letter “C”

Remember as a kid, or in my case occasionally as an adult, those episodes of Sesame Street and their theme for the show? There little vignettes would be based around the number 4 or the letter P, for example. At the end of each episode a little announcement would notify you that, “Today’s episode is brought to you by the letter P.” Well, it seemed that this week was all themed around the letter C. More specifically, staying CALM and involving myself in COLLABORATION.

I’ll touch on remaining calm very briefly. Let’s set the stage. I’ve been mentally preparing for my first observation since the timeline for this semester had been posted. Cut to the week of the observation and I was going to tell the students the day before what was going to take place and so forth. When I wake up Wednesday morning, the day before the observation, what is posted across the television screen? Shelby County Closed! Yep, a Snow Day. In my mind it was the worst thing to happen but it turned out to be the best thing to happen. Things didn’t go exactly how I had planned. In fact, I left out a really cool activity that would have had the kids up and out of their seat. However, instead of thinking and over thinking the day before, going through each step of how I wanted things to go, I had no choice but to go into the classroom Thursday morning calm and letting things flow however they would flow. It was certainly a very “teachable moment”.

Collaboration was also a central theme for me this week. In preparing for class lessons, I tried getting as much feedback from my ST and other teachers in order to be better equipped for when I am on my own in my own classroom. What I also enjoyed was being able to meet and have dinner with my fellow classmates as we discussed our anxieties, stresses, frustrations, and also the joys of this journey. It’s good to hear that someone else is struggling in the same area. Sometimes you can beat yourself up with the “I’m the only one” mentality. On the flip side, it is also great to be able to receive/give advice on how to handle a particular situation. We talk about the Think-Pair-Share strategy for our students but I think about how teachers and educators can be uplifted, or how much more diverse and effective instruction could be, if the spirit of collaboration became a priority in our schools.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rookie Mistake

For the past week or so I have been grading student packets on installment loans. It is a significant part of their grade and my ST has been lenient in giving students class time to work on them. The stack of packets has been piling on my desk. Because I knew they would need them to study for midterms, which start on Wednesday, as I finished a group I would hand them out. I was excited about handing them out because it was also helping me put faces with names. My ST took me aside and said that in the future just make sure that I have all packets graded just in case students are tempted to cheat or “conveniently” place their packets where it is “convenient” for their friend/neighbor to see.

That was a great Aha! or Duh! moment for me. I mean, I know how creative kids can get when it comes to sharing answers/work. However, I just got over-zealous in receiving that satisfaction that I was actually learning students’ names. My ST and I talked about it and she said that over time you will get to know your students. There will be some classes where you have to keep all papers because cheating will occur and there are other classes where you know that the students won’t even think about doing such a thing. There will be some classes where you can step out of the class for a brief minute and other classes where you probably shouldn’t risk turning your back. It’s all just another example of how no two classes are exactly the same.

Lastly, one lesson from the reading that became relevant to me comes from Straight Talk for Today’s Teachers. The author discusses that the first hand up does not equate to smarter because there is not always a connection. Boy was she ever right! Sometimes the first hand up is not even relevant to the subject. As we were going over practice problems, I asked a question and one of the students who rarely participates had their hand up. I called on them ready for the answer and they ask, “Can I go to the restroom?”  I smiled and asked them to wait but inside I was really cracking up inside. It turns out they did know the answer but “other things” needed to be tended to first. This is also part of Teaching 101; you can’t reach a student unless there basic needs have been met.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Let's begin...

“Ahhhh! I’m student teaching this semester.” This was my mental exclamation as the day drew closer for me to begin this wonderful journey. I say this was my mental exclamation because I thought that if I shared my feelings then some would try to make me feel at ease by telling me how not to feel. Instead, I wanted to feel however I was going to feel and work through those feelings. Even the sub-title to this very blog is in reference to what some have told me about their own student teaching experiences. There is a line in the movie, Adventures in Babysitting (a classic in my eyes) that states, “nobody leaves without singing the blues.” This is how student teaching was explained to me by a well meaning individual. I’d say I have done very well working through my feelings. Yet, make no mistake, at the days leading up to my first day as a student teacher there were certain points where a Kathy comic, in one of her overwhelmed moments, would have been an appropriate description.

Although in the days leading up to student teaching I was a ball of emotion, all that changed the first day. I was anxious but for different reasons. I was anxious to get to know the students. I was anxious about how I would reach them. I was anxious to see how I would learn from the mistakes and challenges that would arise. I wanted them to like me, but I now realize, thanks to authors Fay and Funk, that what I really want is for them to respect me.

This initial blog may be a bit longer than the ones that follow but I wanted to take a brief moment to introduce you to my educational home for the next several days and weeks. The principal, my ST, and the staff at Shelby County Area Technology Center have welcomed me and made me feel so at home.

The classroom; quiet and still before students arrive.

Below is a picture of my desk. I’ve been busy grading papers. I’ve even had one incident of explaining to a student why they received the grade they did. It went well. One of my most “teachery” moments so far, happened when a student pulled up a chair and we worked through a few problems together. When we had worked through a few, they said those thrilling words that educators love to hear, “Oh I get it now. Thanks!”  I was thrilled to just have a student approach me so early in this process then to top it with that….awesome!

Don't worry no one sits in that desk in front of mine.
No squished students on my watch!

The past two weeks ended with my ST being absent. That meant it was me and a sub…on a Friday…with class after class of Juniors and Seniors already talking about prom. So here comes the test. Their main teacher, my ST, was gone; how much could they get away with? How would I react? Love and Logic discusses the “savings account approach”. Giving the students the ability to make choices over things and that when it is time for the teacher to need to make a necessary decision (a withdrawal), there is less resistance because of the deposits made. Today there was a lot of chit-chat going on with little work being turned in. So I started with the heat. Did they want it on or off? Then, you can either choose to work alone or in groups of no more than 3. The talking eased up. These are just small deposits but they are necessary if I plan to have any successful withdrawals.