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.