Student teaching, rewarding though it is, ought to come with a warning label. CAUTION: May result in extreme exhaustion, disorientation, and quickly vacillating emotional highs and lows.
As we pre-service educators embark into our clinical experiences, we are filled with righteous ideas of our profession’s nobility and the many ways we will affect positive change. We are crusaders and idealists, brimming with enthusiasm and hope. Surely, we can single-handedly vanquish student apathy and serve each of our students with equity and care! We will make them love Shakespeare; we will demonstrate the casual poetry of the quadratic equation!
In short, we are dangerously green. (more…)
Although graduation has come, I have remained with my cooperating charter school. As I am writing, I am on a train leaving Seattle headed toward Portland with 23 middle school students and five other adult chaperones. The trip was part of our community-based urban studies unit.
While the Space Needle, ferry ride, and EMP were great, it was an experience that happened on our last night, in our closing circle, that was the proverbial cherry on top of an amazing trip, that I will never forget as an educator. The entire group gathered in the community room of our hostel with the doors closed and did “Rose & Thorn,” a team building activity where everyone gets to share a high from the trip (rose) and a low (thorn). After the sharing, everyone had an opportunity to say thank you to someone else. The activity ended up involving much more than that!
A teacher with me put it best when he said that every teacher dreams of creating a comfortable community environment in their classrooms where there is a mutual trust and vulnerability among all members, and the class resembles that of a family. The two amazing teachers that I have had the opportunity to learn from have accomplished just that. It was like I was on a trip with 28 of my friends. Words cannot express what happened in that room that night…but, I will give highlights. Tears filled the room as the seventh graders said thank you’s and goodbyes to their eighth grade friends who are soon leaving, and the eighth graders responded in turn. As one young man, who is regarded as the “rock” of the middle school, began to cry, the tears spread throughout the room. Like, when dad cries, everyone else follows suit. (more…)
The last time I shared with you dear readers, I was deeply immersed in reacquainting myself with high school culture. As I said before, the experience, both being new to teaching and rising early in the morning, was a shock to my system. Since, I have adjusted to my new early-morning schedule and have left what had become the familiar foundation of high school to the often warbling ways of the middle school.
I remember the first conversation I had with an inquiring person in reference to my teaching pursuit:
Person: “So, what do you want to teach?”
Me: “English and Social Studies.”
Person: “How nice… what grade level are you thinking?”
Me: “I think I would be a great fit in a middle school.”
Person: “Middle school?! I could never do that! No way.”
This is an exchange I have encountered many times since. So I have been left questioning myself: “Why does the mere mention of middle school carry such a stigmatized reaction?” (more…)
As part of my student teaching experience, I am teaching a unit on world religions with a focus on the Abrahamic Faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). From this, we are narrowing in on the conflict in Israel and Palestine and examining conflict resolution. We are then exploring how this can be tied into Romeo and Juliet (the other unit I am teaching) and the feud between the Montagues and Capulets.
With that being said, I felt compelled to write about an experience I had while teaching this unit that I found to be unique to the type of school I am teaching at. During our examination of the beliefs and practices of the Abrahamic Faiths, I arranged a field trip for our class to visit the places of prayer and worship of these faiths. We visited a Jewish synagogue, Islamic mosque, and Eastern Orthodox Church, and religious leaders in each very graciously hosted us.
Throughout my teacher training program, I had visions of beautiful, engaging work samples. I would teach my favorite novel using every technological trick in the book; I would use music in class every day; my classroom would float around on a magical cloud of academic fairy dust. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my seventh graders barely knew how to use spell check, let alone write a topic sentence. Culture shock was quick to set in. I had assumed that I wouldn’t have to teach basic skills. After all, didn’t they take care of that in the seven-and-change years of school they had before I came on the scene?
Turns out, they did, but ever-changing young brains aren’t quick to retain organizational skills and linguistic conventions. My cooperating teacher reminded me that we will spend most of our careers re-teaching things that they have already learned, especially at the middle school level. My students are a great bunch, and they can remember everything about LeBron James and L’il Wayne, but trying to get them to hold onto what goes into an annotated bibliography is like trying to stuff a sock in someone’s mouth.
I recently went back to high school—this time as a teacher. While many of the strategies we use in other grade levels are still highly effective with this age group, here a few tips to take with you should your find yourself back in the belly of the (teenage) beast.
1. Dress to impress. When I was in high school, there was never any doubt as to who was a teacher and who was a student. The style (or lack thereof) of clothing of my high school teachers was a stark contrast to the styles of the students–and it’s not that they dressed professionally: they dressed “old.”
While leggings, mini dresses and lace-up boots (don’t get me started on UGG boots) might be both comfortable and attractive, they don’t do much to lend credit to you as an authority figure.
In reflecting on my practicum experience at the high school level, the one thing that stuck with me above all else did not involve grading, lesson plans, or even classroom management. It was something that went beyond the curriculum and beyond the standards. It was something that even in my relatively brief teaching career will forever change my own perception of myself as an educator. It was a connection. A connection between a teacher and his students, which, in turn, fostered a similar connection between the teacher and his students’ parents—a mutual respect that blossomed through the desire to go above and beyond.
As I sat in the classroom, anxiously awaiting my opportunity to sit-in on my first parent-teacher conference, a myriad of thoughts swirled through my mind. What if they ask me how their son is doing in class? “Why is my daughter scoring so low on your quizzes, and what are you going to do about it?” or “my Johnny is not being challenged in your class.” Granted, I was only observing, but what if? In reality, this was most likely going to be a fairly dull two hours with discussions about absences, missing assignments, and low test scores. I was sure there would also be highlights about aced quizzes, perfect attendance, and “what a joy Lucy is to have in class.”
“Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
‘Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain’t been there before.”
― Shel Silverstein
I have officially been observing and teaching in a high school classroom for nearly three weeks now. I have to say, despite the fact that I rise much earlier in the morning, have upped my daily intake of strong black coffee, and find myself struggling to remember what I should do if technology fails me (this happened while conducting a poetry lab and I couldn’t for the life of me get Pandora to operate at the “music station”) or kids become rambunctious; I feel surprisingly upbeat, optimistic and excited to get in front of the classroom and teach.
Observe other teachers.
Good or bad, in your content area or out, at your grade level or not, observing other teachers is the single best way I invigorate my teaching practice. After a particularly disastrous transition from rural Mississippi to Oakland, California, I dedicated my prep period once a week to observing strong teachers around the city. Someone, somewhere, was teaching my students successfully, and I was determined to find them and learn what worked. These observations helped fine-tune my practice by showing me ways to use time effectively, give regular student feedback, and improve my classroom management. Sometimes my only take-away was “Well, I’m definitely not going to…”
Read a book.
Not an education book, though. A book about leadership or psychology or time management. Teachers are leaders and we should investigate [at least some of the] literature available about motivation. From Carol Dweck’s Mindset and Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers to Stephen R. Covey’s The 8th Habit and Robert K. Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel when trying to motivate ourselves and our students to achieve excellence.
Emotional. Inspirational. Exhausting. Invigorating. And most of all, OHHH SO MUCH FUN! These are just a few adjectives that describe my first week as a substitute elementary school teacher.
Emotional: The week started off with heart-breaking news. One of our first grade students had fallen into the Clackamas River over the weekend while playing in the snow with her parents and siblings, and was missing. Search and Rescue teams were scouring the water and surrounding area searching for Vinesa with no avail. Teachers and staff were notified, and the district’s “Flight Team” was already stationed at the school to help students and staff cope with the devastating news. No words can describe the atmosphere at the school that week. Although I never had the opportunity to know Vinesa, I did have the privilege of working with her older brothers and sister, and mourned for the family’s loss. No teaching prep class or book can teach you how to deal with the death of a student and the ways in which it impacts the classroom dynamic. The teachers at Mill Park handled the situation with tremendous sensitivity and professionalism, and demonstrated the great necessity of having close, open and trusting relationships with students. Although the event was horrific and heart-breaking, it was important to maintain a sense of normalcy and security throughout the week for the students in the school. The school will continue to deal with the loss in a myriad of ways, and there will surely be waves of emotions to follow. (Side note: If you’re interested in knowing more about Vinesa and ways you may be able to help her family, please visit http://www.helpfindvinesa.com/)