Paperwork Mountain

May 2, 2010

So instead of trying to dig myself out from under this enormous mountain of paperwork that’s required for my teacher prep program, I decide to update my blog. Oh the choices we procrastinators make… But really though. This stuff is killing me! It seems more and more apparent that the work of a teacher is about 10 percent teaching and that other 90 percent is made up of lame stuff like paperwork, drama/politics at work, discipline/management, etc. etc. Ah well – that 10 percent is worth it.

Sorry this is such a quickie, but my paperwork burden beckons…

I’ll leave you with a couple interesting links: – Nice blog from a North Carolina first year teacher – has some good tips and tricks – Some of you might have seen the article on a Mount Holyoke professor whose been teaching 2nd graders in Springfield philosophy – this is a neat wiki page done by Wartenberg that has some fantastic book modules for guiding philosophical discussions based on children’s books And, finally, a more depressing note… shame on Arizona for so many reasons



April 11, 2010

Oops… how many weeks has it been since I last updated?? Terrible. How anyone blogs consistently while also maintaining a teaching job amazes me. Props to Y’ALL.

Me on the other hand… I won’t even try to summarize everything that’s gone on over the past few weeks. It’s been a whirlwind! I officially began lead teaching, which meant that my cooperating teacher just sort of handed it all over to me and said, “I’ll be in the library if you need me!” It’s gone really smoothly though – no major catastrophes. And honestly, it’s all felt very natural and normal for me. I think teaching at Breakthrough has really made this transition into “normal” teaching very easy. It’s not a new thing for me to plan a dozen lessons for the week. It’s not new for me to be the only adult in the room.  I think if I had not had my experiences at Breakthrough, this would be a much more overwhelming situation. Just another reason why I love Breakthrough so much – I owe that organization A LOT.

This is the last week before spring break, and everyone has gotten WILD. The boys have gotten much rowdier, often getting up and walking around the room or hitting/jumping on each other playfully. The girls have gotten much more talkative and chatty. All of the normal “threats of punishment” seem to have lost their effectiveness. It seems crazy that we expect twelve year olds to stay seated and quiet for so many hours each day! I’m worried because this upcoming week we have a few more things to get through (Reconstruction unit, first half of a math unit, finishing up a novel), and I think it’s going to be a struggle to keep everyone focused. I’m trying to find opportunities for lessons to be really active and physical, but there are some things that just need to be quiet and seated (book discussion, reading). It makes me think about something I heard Lisa Delpit say once during a lecture that we should have middle schoolers all working on farms. Even though everyone laughed when she said it, she was quite serious and explained that it might be more developmentally appropriate for middle schoolers (and perhaps for other ages too!) to be outside, learning about science from watching their crops grow and taking care of the animals, writing about their experiences and drafting up proposals for money/farm policy, learning about the history of the land and the community in which the farm is situated, doing the math to figure out how much land to allot for each croup and how much the materials will cost, etc. I think there’s a lot of value to experiential education, but as I’m now student teaching, I’m seeing that there’s not much opportunity for it. Some might argue that it wouldn’t be very practical to train students in the skills of farming, and maybe there’s some truth to it. Maybe it would be better to immerse students in the skills of the 21st century – engineering, designing technology, communicating through various media. Regardless of whether you would argue that kids need to be programming computers or milking cows, the way that school works now doesn’t allow for either kinds of experiential education.


March 7, 2010

It’s been a tough week. I subbed on Wednesday, and the kids were pretty crazy. I left work that day feeling unsuccessful, a first for this student-teaching experience.  Does classroom management ever get easier? :/

I’m also sitting here feeling completely stuck in my unit planning, like stranded-on-the-side-of-the-highway-with-a-flat-tire-and-no-jack stuck. I’m designing a unit about the Civil War, and I spent a lot of time last week thinking through the big ideas and essential questions of the unit (using the Understanding by Design template). It was such an exciting process, and it felt so productive! But now I’m trying to figure out what I will use to assess the students’ understanding, and I just can’t think of anything. UbD describes using “performance tasks” to allow you as the teacher to authentically assess student understanding. I think performance tasks are really effective, but I honest-to-goodness can’t figure out how to plan one! I’ve spent hours scouring the internet, trying to find a performance task that someone else has used to assess their students’ understanding of the causes of the Civil War, and I can’t find a darned thing! I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like I’m going in circles, not making any progress. I’ve put it aside for now, and I hope a little time away from it will help me to recharge my creativity and patience!

UbD – in Real Life!

February 28, 2010

Just spent my ENTIRE day trying to plan a unit on creative writing and a unit on the Civil War, and I gotta say that I feel really accomplished. I’m making a real attempt at incorporating the principles of Understanding by Design, and I think it’s paying off. I spent most of the day thinking through the enduring understandings, essential questions, and desired knowledge and skills. I haven’t yet dived into planning the activities for the unit, but I feel like now I have a compass to guide me through that part. I admit, UbD has given me my fair share of headaches, but now actually getting to apply it – it’s starting to make sense. I feel like a lot of teachers already incorporate principles of backward design into their curricula, so it may just come naturally to some folks. But, being a newbie, I think it’s been really helpful for me to explicitly learn about all the different steps and components.

Last week in the classroom was great. I’m getting close to the kids, and we’re establishing a good relationship. I have so much fun with them – I’m getting to know all their little quirks. They always make me smile. Even though they can frustrate me sometime, I don’t feel like I’ve ever gotten really upset or super-frustrated with them (at least not yet anyway). They’re responding to me and listening to my instructions, so it’s nice to feel that I’ve viewed as a figure of authority in the classroom. I think a lot of that has to do with the groundwork that my cooperating teacher has laid with creating a certain kind of classroom environment. I wish I could’ve been able to spend time in a classroom right at the beginning of the year to see how teachers set the groundwork for the year and set a tone in the classroom. I think that beginning of the year is so important, and I hope that I’m able to use it next year to create a classroom environment that is engaging, challenging, fun, supportive, safe, and all that other good stuff.


February 9, 2010

So, today my poor teacher left me a groggy message at 6 am informing me that she had caught a nasty bug and that she would be calling in sick. Meaning: I’m on my own today!

So, 12 hours later… I am wiped OUT. In all, it was a good day. The kids were really whiny about their math work, and I’m not sure how to handle it. I hate that they are unhappy doing their work – I want them to enjoy it (Probability can really be fun, I swear!). So, I don’t know if I need to take another look at the plans for the next few days and see if I can make it more fun? A review game of some sorts?

Also, being on my own today I got to really swim through lots of classroom management issues. Our most boisterous students were particularly restless and disruptive today (substitute teacher + possibility of a snow day tomorrow = lots of energy and chaos at school!), and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. I tried to give them very firm, explicit directions to stop their off-task behavior (this tends to be effective for my mentor teacher). But, it didn’t really work with them. I think part of it might have been that I wasn’t enforcing any sort of punishment, which I think I just need to clarify with my teacher. But, I also think that it might not have worked because it just isn’t really my style. We talked about this in class tonight: if you want classroom management to be effective, it needs to reflect your personality, your strengths, your style. Not every management technique is going to work for every teacher. This puts the student teacher in a strange place because you want to stay consistent with your mentor teacher’s system for the kids. At the same time, it feels awkward to try to emulate a style that isn’t natural to you. I’m hoping with time I’m able to feel out what my own management style is and reflect on the most effective management techniques that stay true to who I am.

Fun math for the day…

February 8, 2010

I’m making a pizza for dinner, and I looked in my fridge and found ten different toppings that I could put on my pizza. But, I only want to put three toppings on my pizza because I like to keep things simple. How many different combinations of 3 can I make out of my 10 options?

Have fun!

<will post answer & steps later this week 🙂 give it a try though!>

Another week!

February 7, 2010

Just finished up another week student teaching, and I’m still happy as a clam. I’m really loving being in a 6th grade classroom, especially with such a wonderful teacher and awesome kids. I’m slowly becoming part of the classroom community – kids have started asking me questions on their work instead of just asking the teacher, they will listen when I make an announcement to the class. It was strange at first because it’s not my classroom, and it takes a little time getting used to the classroom norms. But, I’m getting acclimated, and I’m starting to feel at home there. I’ve taken over all the little classroom management things that go on (read aloud in the afternoon, daily quick edits, etc.), and I’ve taken over teaching MATH. Of all things for me to dive into! But, it’s been going really well. We’ll be wrapping up a unit on probability this week, and I’m feeling more and more comfortable each day. I’ve had to relearn lots of new stuff (I can tell you what the difference between a combination and a permutation is!), which I LOVE. I think that’s one of my favorite things about teaching a 6th grade class that is still in an elementary school. I’ve learned so much content in the past few weeks!

One of the things that I’m having a hard time with is figuring out discipline. My teacher is so good, and she’s able to be very firm and direct in her instructions to the students, but she also has a lot of fun with them. I’ve seen teachers who are too meek to set students straight when they’re out of line, and I think that can be really detrimental to a classroom when there aren’t any boundaries or structures in place. But, on the other end of things, I’ve also seen teachers who are just straight up mean, embarrassing and humiliating kids who are misbehaving. My teacher seems to have found a nice balance that works for her and works for her kids. She will call kids out who are off-task or misbehaving, which at first felt weird to me (I’ve been told to praise publicly, discipline privately). But, she doesn’t single kids out – she’ll set the “good kids” straight just as fast as the “bad” ones. She’s very consistent, which I think is the most important thing. I’m still trying to feel out my own discipline style. It’s just hard. I want the kids to have fun with me, but I also want them to know that I mean business when I tell them to do something. I think the key is being consistent and real with the kids. It’s going to be something that takes a while to develop.