Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Welcome to Denver

I set off for Denver on Friday afternoon, leaving Minnesota and traveling down 35 in the middle of high humidity, meaning the fog was so thick that I could barely see 1/20th of a mile at times. When I got to Des Moines, for my stop overnight at a friend's house, it was close to fifty degrees so the fog was nonexistent. That night, my roommate here in Denver, met me in Des Moines and we had a short night of sleep, because in the morning we left for Denver at 6:55 am. We awoke to an ice storm that turned into a freezing rain storm that was pretty nasty for the first hour and a half of driving. However, once we got to Guthrie Center, IA (about an hour west of Des Moines) the weather cleared up, it stopped raining, and eventually the sun even came out. From there on out it was just truck along Nebraska and then into Colorado. No major problems, the roads were completely clear, and the weather was nice and warm. We finally reached a point, about forty-five minutes away from Denver, when I could see the mountains again. They were silhouetted by the setting sun and the clouds around them. It was a beautiful sight.

We drove into Denver, with the help of a GPS, and found the apartment. From there we unloaded our stuff into the apartment and set off for Morrison, CO. That is where a family friend of mine lives and we were going to stay at there house for a few days. The apartment is located just south of downtown Denver, and just for the sake of education, my school is located about thirty minutes south of here in Centennial (which is really close to Littleton if you know where that is) and then Morrison is directly southwest of the apartment up past the first layer of mountains and up some very curvy roads. My friend's house is on a ranch and they have four dogs, five horses, a bunch of chickens, and one duck. It was absolutely gorgeous up there and we spent the first night just hanging out and getting acclimated to Denver, which means drinking lots of water.

The following day, Sunday, we spent sleeping in after our trek across the country and hanging out at the ranch. I read the first book that my students will be reading and spent some time just enjoying the beauty of Colorado. We had to go take care of some animals at a neighbor's house up the road and walked into an eight million dollar home. Kind of interesting to see what eight million dollars will get you in Colorado - let's just say a very beautiful home with an incredible view.

On Monday we decided that we should get some skiing in, since we are in Colorado and everything anyway. So we woke up early, packed our bags, grabbed our skis, and headed off to Winter Park. My roommate drove and I navigated our way up the mountain to the ski area. On the way we were stopped for something called "avalanche blasting," which was a new experience for me. That delayed our arrival at Winter Park for about twenty-five minutes, but we eventually made it, along with what seemed like half of Colorado. Needless to say, this is peak skiing season for these locations with all the families on vacation and such. So the lifts were packed. After I remembered how to ski, as it had been a year, it was smooth sailing from there on out. However, let's just say that after my first run it was reminded to me that I was at altitude (I don't think I have worked that hard in a long time). So my roommate and I spent the day on the slopes hitting a lot of runs, including Mary Jane (if you are a skier out there you'll know what I mean), and had a good time. Around four o'clock when the sun starts coming down we decided to call it quits, or rather I was so exhausted that I could not physically do another run, so we decided to call it a day. We then proceeded to drive back, in traffic, from the mountain to the ranch. There we picked up our stuff, said good bye for now (as it will be a great place to get away from the noise and craziness of the city) and drove back down into Denver.

Back at the apartment we arrived with a whole bunch of stuff in boxes. So we spent the better part of last night unpacking our stuff and going through check-in forms. We have a living room, small kitchen, small bathroom, and a bedroom for the two of us. It isn't very big, but at the same time we probably will not be spending lots of time here - or at least I do not plan on it. Needless to say we got the majority of our stuff put away and hit the mattress around midnight.

This morning, now Tuesday, we both intended on sleeping in a little, but to no avail. Between the time change, the not used to sleeping in, and the new environment we both woke up a little early. All is good though, I am adjusting to city life. We are next to a milk delivery truck location and behind a checker auto parts store sitting on the corner of a pretty major street. Needless to say we hear the traffic, the sirens, and the "loudness" of the city. This morning we start Wartburg West orientation and we'll even get to go downtown and explore the city a little. Then this afternoon will be spent hanging pictures, getting groceries, and working on some classwork that I need to get started on.

So all is well for now. I will be meeting with my cooperating teachers, the ones I will be working with at Arapahoe High School, tomorrow afternoon so that will be awesome. The rest of the week will be spent getting ready for class on Monday and getting adjusted to life here in Denver. We should have an enjoyable time and think I am finally ready for it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ten Days!

Hello and welcome to those of you who have just stumbled upon my blog!

This is a new adventure for me as I head out to Denver and want to keep everyone updated on my life while I am out in the west. This blog will be updated frequently, most likely daily, so make sure to keep coming back to check out what is recent!

I finished the semester on Tuesday and have spent the last few days getting ready for Denver. I leave with my roommate to drive out there on the 27th!

That means that ten days from now I will be in completely different environment.

Here we go...ready or not!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wartburg West Pre-Reflection

Before I head out to Wartburg West, I have to complete a reflection on the experience. I thought I would post my thoughts up here so that everyone reading could have a better idea of what I my situation is out in Denver and it will provide a little more background on the whole Wartburg West experience.

Ever since I started looking into Wartburg College, back in high school, I was really interested in an opportunity to study in Denver, Colorado for a semester. I knew that if I worked hard and got all the right classes taken before my senior year I would be able to actually, maybe student teach out in Denver. As I registered for classes with my advisor I told her that I wanted to go out to Denver to student teach. She has been more than supportive over the last few years as we have scheduled my classes out and gotten me prepared for the experience. I really want to go out to Denver for the urban experience of living in a city. I kind of live in a city at home in Minnesota, but I have never actually lived downtown. This will be an experience that allows me to do just that. In addition, I will be able to go up into the mountains and go skiing, hiking, and horseback riding. The opportunity to go to a place outside of the walls of Wartburg will force me to start the transition into life after college so that will also be a plus.

For those of you that do not know, the Wartburg West apartment complex is located in downtown Denver. It houses 20 Wartburg students ranging from social work majors that are completing their practicum, student teachers completing their experience, and business majors completing their internship experiences. It does not cost students any more money to go out to Wartburg West, although there is not a meal plan. Meaning that I will be cooking the entire time I am out there. That is a small price to pay for the amazing experience I look forward to, and know, that I will have.

This experience is new for me because I will be living in a new place, that is beyond my control, for only the second time in my life. I have no idea what type of place I am getting into, what Denver is actually like, how to get around, where to go for food, friends, and a good place to sit down and grade papers. It will also be different because I will be outside of my comfort zone by traveling to a new city on my own for an entire semester. Yes, I will have friends out there, but it's not like I will see them during the day like I do currently. I will be truly be on my own.

I had an experience similar to this last summer when I lived on the Crow Native American Reservation for three months. I went into that situation feeling very much the same thing I feel right now - apprehensive, afraid, excited, willing to learn, and overall maintaining an open mind. That experience had a huge impact on my life and I can point to many different aspects of my life that have changed as a result of that experience. My faith, confidence, willingness, and whole self seem to have altered because of that experience. It was extremely powerful. I honestly do not believe that true reflection can happen at the moment or right after an experience. We need to step back a few weeks or even months after an experience and really consider what changed, what we learned, how it really has had a lasting impact on us.

From my time in Montana I will bring my open mind, willingness to make a difference, and a knowledge that at some point we are going to fall. We need to be willing to make mistakes - especially when living in a big city. We will take a wrong turn, make a terrible dinner, not give the best lesson. But in the end, it will all be OK. Have faith in that fact and get ready to learn - that is what I will bring to the table.

I am anticipating for this semester to be very, very busy. In addition to living here in Denver and all the excitement that goes with that, I still have to maintain my apartment, go to school, take an extra class online, in addition to the class for Wartburg West, and finish my undergraduate research thesis. It will be very busy. Not to mention all the student teaching obligations, lesson plans, portfolio preparation, grading, and other experiences like dances, athletic events, school plays, etc. I can't wait to immerse myself in the AHS culture, but at the same time I have my own things that I need to get done while I am out there.

My fears include not getting a lot of sleep, which is not new for a college student - especially for one as involved as I have been for the past few years. Also, I want to provide quality instruction at all points. That does not mean that all the lessons need to be home run, A+ quality lessons, I just want them to be engaging and produce deep reflection and are relevant to students' lives. That may not be possible at times, and I have to come to grips with that fact. In addition, I have been placed with two amazing cooperating teachers. I do not want to let them down in any way. So I will have to deal with being my own teacher, teaching in my own style, and making the most difference I can in my fifty-nine minutes. That's the goal. I guess I also have a fear of not finding a job teaching during the second semester. With the hope and knowledge that He has my best interests at heart I put my trust in Him that everything will work out the way it is supposed to. My fear is dispelled.

The values and attitudes that I bring to urban life are loud noises, traffic, homless people, and lots of trash. Whether that actually will be true in Denver is yet to be seen. I just want to explore the city, enjoy being there for a semester, and have a good time being in front of the classroom. I really want to learn about how an urban city works together? There appear to be so many different parts of the city and different departments. Why can't everyone work together for one common goal? Make the city and the world a better place. Is that possible? Why not, especially in a large city? Some experiences I want to have while in Denver include going to an Avalanche game against the Minnesota Wild (hockey for those of you who do not know), go to a few urban, hole in the wall resturants, get into the mountains and go down a few of those black diamonds with confidence by the end of April, and have fun hanging out and being a cowboy living on the ranch during the weekends. That's what I want to do.

Hopefully, by the end of the semester I will have a teaching position somewhere in the United States ready for me to go. That means contract signed and super excited about the next stage in my life.

The community I am looking for with my roommate is a very supportive one where we can chat, talk, and do stuff together. From other Wartburg West students I want to be able to joke around and have a good time, but realize that as a student teacher with other obligations outside of school I will be very, very busy. So that means that my time spent in class and seminar needs to be respected. I cannot stand it when people teach and really have nothing to teach or do not really a point behind that class meeting or assignments to be done. I will communicate these expectations by being very motivated and really sharing my feelings with those around me. I feel like I am a very open person and will share my feelings if someone would like them shared. That being said, I will let other people know what is going on in my life. This blog is one way that I will do that.

Last Day at Cedar Falls High School

Usually when someone says the last day of anything we get this sad, heartfelt feeling inside of us somewhere, because we can probably sympathize with them in some way, shape, or form.

Well my last day of field experience before student teaching was yesterday. For the last semester I have been spending Thursday mornings and early afternoons at Cedar Falls High School with an amazing cooperating teacher. I have been working specifically with her reading enhancement students and a special power of the media class that is full of seniors.

Yesterday I taught her reading enhancement periods. Two classes of ninth graders that are struggling with their reading comprehension and proficiency skills. I have taught that class period before, much less I have taught many times before this field experience. For some reason though, teaching yesterday was special. It was a good lesson, a read aloud-think aloud activity where I read the students a section of something (could be a fiction story or a non-fiction article) and then they are given questions to consider and share their answers with the class as the reading progresses. It was, overall, a good lesson, but I faced what was probably a lackluster audience. They were not the most excited students, maybe the weather or something. What was important to me was not so much that I was able to get through the activity, but that I was able to combine all my previous teaching classes and experience into that one lesson. I was able to plan the materials, combine technology, make the lesson engaging, discipline, reading strategies, handle a class discussion (including off topic questions and comments), and was able to still allow students to grow without lecturing to them. It was a great culmination to everything I have learned over the last few years.

Wednesday I had my last 65 minute class period at Wartburg. It was a surreal feeling going to that class and realizing that in a few short weeks I will be out in Denver doing what I have prepared myself for over the last four years. At the same time, it will be an adjustment to my schedule and my life to be in the school all day. What an experience and I can't wait.

Yesterday, in addition to teaching, really confirmed for the hundredth time, or so it seems, that teaching and in a classroom with students is where I am passionate. Where I am able to "light up" said a fellow teacher who was watching me teach last week. I am comfortable, the students are amazing, and I am able to do something I love doing - teach.

Thank you to the teachers at Cedar Falls, especially Mrs. Paulsen, for supporting me on my journey to become a true student teacher next semester.

As I reflected upon leaving the school yesterday for the 20 minute drive back to Wartburg, I am ready. I have taught, done the whole get ready for teaching thing, been a teacher for short periods of time. Now I really feel that I am prepared, confident, and ready to step into a classroom full time on January 5th. That is a good feeling.

Last days are hard, but this one ended bittersweet.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Denver...Coming Soon!

Ok, so here goes...my jump into the blogging world. So I read an article that blogging is a dead form of communicating, that instead we should be using Twitter to send all our friends useless messages about where we are or what we are doing.

Well, here I am and I have to disagree.

For this blog it is my idea to post my reflections on student teaching at Arapahoe High School (AHS) throughout the winter term. I am so excited to start teaching on January 5th with my first class of 9th graders.

My daily schedule looks like this:
1st Period - Prep Period
2nd Period - Observe Honors English 9 or Plan with Kristin
3rd Period - English 10
4th Period - English Literature
5th Period - American Literature
6th Period - English 9

I am paired up with two amazing teachers at AHS - Anne Smith and Kristin Leclair. I met both of them at the National Council of Teachers of English Conference in San Antonio, Texas a few weekends ago and I must say that I am very excited.

This whole placement, from the begining of this journey of student teaching out in Denver, Colorado has been an amazing blessing. There is no way that I could have planned or hoped for it to turn out the way it has and student teaching at AHS. To give the short version: I was working on my undergraduate thesis presentation on technology in the classroom and stumbled upon this YouTube video from my mom. From there I looked at the featured video and found this video titled: "Shift Happens." The title entrigued me, so of course I clicked on it. That brought me to this amazing video created by Karl Fisch, the technology director at AHS. I followed the links to the AHS homepage and thought it would be really cool to get a student teaching position in a school district that is looking at and implementing technology, like it appeared AHS was. I still had the problem of getting a position within this school to teach. So I was talking to my good friend, an admissions counselor at Wartburg, and she just happened to cover the Denver and Colorado area. She knows the assistant principal at AHS and put me in contact. I wrote a few e-mails expressing my interest and my skills and before you know it I am meeting my teachers at NCTE and am just amazed at the classrooms I am in, the teachers I am working with, and the school I have been placed in. If this is not a God thing, then I do not know what is!

So here I am, the Senior Technology Assistant at Wartburg College about to walk into a school 400 students larger than Wartburg and a classroom where the students have been taught by two amazing teachers and I have to keep the bar at the top level. Good luck, here's your class load. Day 1 - Teach 6th Period, English 9

Wow, let's just say that after meeting with my teachers I know that this will be a great experience, but on the same side of the coin I am a little nervous. This is an awesome school and yes, I do have some experience, but I am still just that - a student teacher. Nothing else, and nothing more. I have written lesson plans, taught before, and I love interacting with students. This is going to be amazing, but at the same time I don't know what I am going to do.

Each day I will see my students in fifty-nine minute blocks. I will be teaching four periods and be seeing probably around 120 students I am responsible for daily (the real number is still TBD). I can't wait, this is going to be amazing. I actually get to plan, teach, and lead the class.

When I look at it though, it comes down to is this:

I have fifty-nine minutes
...to teach.
...to connect with my students.
...to engage my students.
...to make a difference.

Fifty-nine minutes starting January 5th, 2009.

No more, no less...fifty-nine minutes.