Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Student Teaching: Climbing Uphill

I must apologize to all my daily readers as to the tardiness of these posts. Student teaching and the class load finally caught up with me and I have gone from being busy to very busy in the period of one week. Enjoy these posts as they update you on my adventures at AHS.

Over the weekend I traveled down to Arizona to visit with family and celebrate a special birthday. While I was there I got the opportunity to climb two different peaks. One of the peaks was in Sedona, AZ on one of the red rocks. As I climbed I noticed that as I climbed I reached different levels in the rock formation. At times I had to take a different route to get to the top than I intended and still others I had to climb back down to climb up. Although, when I got to the top it was all worth it in the end. Here is the view from the top of one of the peaks:

However, when I was climbing I could not help but notice that it was a lot like student teaching. Anne got back from Florida and we sat down to chat about her classes and she was “disappointed” in what had happened while she was gone. Not as much material had been covered as she wanted and the student presentations should have went faster than they did. It was hard for me taking over everything all at once and trying to hold it all together and here is my mentor, my cooperating teacher telling me that it just was not good enough. “Disappointed” is a big word and one that I do not take easily. I do not like people being disappointed and do not like even more the fact that I let down other people with my actions. So when Anne started to comment how she was not happy with how far I had gotten in one of my classes she did it in a way that came off to me as very confrontational. She got to the point and was very direct about her feelings, which I took offense to. I locked up and became defensive. There was a back story, there was a reason we did not get through everything, but it did not appear that she wanted to hear it and I was too frustrated to share it. I acted out of like locking up and becoming defensive and Anne called me out on it. I was out of line. I do not like taking criticism, especially strong criticism coming from my mentor. It would have been fine in a discussion after she heard everything that had happened, but that’s not how it happened here. Don’t mistake my words here, constructive criticism is a good thing and I always enjoy getting better. It was just in this instance it seemed like Anne was blaming more than helping me fix the problem. I had climbed up and taught all four of her classes, without assistance, only to be pushed back down – or at least that’s how it felt at the time.

At the end of the day, after I had cooled down and gotten my act together, we talked and met halfway. We had probably one of the best talks so far about effective communication, what it looks like to continually learn, and being disappointed. Anne said a few things that really stuck with me. One, she basically said that I put you in that position (of leaving for four days with her classes in my hands and virtually no help from her) because she knew I could handle it. If she did not trust me then she would not have done it. Second, she told me to focus on the positive. I did it, I made it through four days of being the teacher. It was hard, but I had survived. Yes, it was not great teaching, but it was ok and I can build on there. Learn from the mistakes and move on. Finally, third she told me that I have a choice. Kind of like when climbing a mountain there are a lot of choices about which path to take. I had a choice of taking the experience of meeting with Anne and listening to her feelings and I could walk away defeated or I could use it to motivate me and learn from the experience. Let’s just say that I choose the second option. I took her words and have worked harder ever since that conversation. Finally, I realized that often in teaching so far I have taken a step forward every week. Some weeks the step has been a little bigger than before, but I have been moving forward. Needless to say, this was a little step backwards and somewhere down the road I know I will thank Anne for being honest with me. It is now my problem, though, and it’s my job to correct it. So I have worked hard, been honest with myself and with Anne, and am motivated to no end to get back in that classroom and get after it for the students so that they can have the best educational experience they can.

Let me say, though, that this is hard. Teaching is hard work, like really hard. I feel like my entire life is spent deciding whether to grade or plan. I am constantly asking which one will it be tonight. Then it is the lack of sleep, lack of time to do things outside of work, and lack of experience all coming together at once. I have not read all the books I am teaching nor have I really any experience teaching them. So basically I am stuck between getting ahead in planning and feeling good about that or falling behind in planning to get grading done. Which I guess is another problem that I never really figure out – it’s like the number one problem or situation in teaching or at least that is how it feels to me right now.
So far this experience has seemed like such an uphill battle. I keep working really hard and grow a little here and there, then Anne knocks me down (and I mean that in the best way – Her comments have motivated me to get better. “When someone stops being critical of you then they stop caring” – Randy Pausch. She cares so she pushes. She sees great potential so she pushes. She sees opportunity for growth so she pushes. She knows I can handle it so she pushes). I pick myself up, dust off my jeans, and ask where to now. Where is the next hill? Where is the next challenge? Bring it on.

This is not easy though. I am so busy, and I do not mean to complain just to reflect. I plan, grade, teach, sleep, and repeat. The time for me has been few and far between and I know it will be get better soon. In some ways I am looking forward to getting the final class on Friday so that I can start getting used to the comfortable busy life that I am living. This week has been a little crazy though adding Anne’s seniors to my class load and then Friday picking up the juniors I am now at a full load and then some – Four classes. Then add soccer, Wartburg classes, Wartburg responsibilities, student teaching responsibilities like a portfolio or body of evidence, finding a job for next year, and another class on the side to graduate in May and my schedule is so full I do not know what free time is anymore. Needless to say these past few days I have been so busy planning, grading, and planning that I work until exhaustion and then literally fall asleep thinking about school. There has just not been time for one of my favorite activities, reflecting on my days in writing form in this blog. So I apologize readers, it should get better in the future as I settle into a routine of lack of sleep and insane busyness. Until then, please just hang in there and I’ll get the posts up as soon as I can.

I want to conclude my thoughts with a few comments. First, thank you to all of you who read this blog on a daily basis. I really enjoy reading your comments and knowing that somewhere this blog is having an impact or ringing true in some respect. Any ideas, comments, or advice you have I would really enjoy reading. I also must put a large thank you out to the Language Arts department because you all have been more than welcoming and supportive of me at all points and times. Even today when I was stressed you all jumped in and offered to help in any way possible, even though you have full plates yourselves. Thank you. Secondly, being at AHS has been a complete honor and privilege. One staff member I talked to today mentioned that AHS is one of a kind – this environment is not normal. That is completely true, because the expectations for the education at AHS and the expectation to challenge the students in relevant, rigorous, and relational ways is unlike anything I have ever encountered before. Part of what made me so upset earlier this week in my chat with Anne is that her expectations are really high and living up to them is a daily challenge, but on top of that is the school expectations, my personal expectations, and finally the expectations and reason I am there in the first place – the students. Third and finally, climbing up hill is hard. Teaching is hard. One step at a time, one lesson at a time, and one learning experience at a time I grow into a better educator. The view from the top is incredible once you get there, but I really enjoy the view from the bottom after scaling the whole peak. That’s when I can sit back and reflect on all I have accomplished and how far I have traveled. Like the peak I scaled in Arizona over the weekend:

So I climb on uphill
…one lesson,
…one class,
…one fifty-nine minute period at a time,


I want
…to be a better educator,
…to change the world,
…students to grow, to learn, and to be successful.

AHS Faculty Dance

Last Friday I participated in the AHS Faculty Dance. It’s something that the students look forward to every year and I was asked to participate. So I reluctantly agreed and it was one of the best things outside of teaching and coaching I have done yet this semester. I hope you enjoy the videos.

Click the link here to watch me get my groove on (Seven songs and 11 minutes later).

Day Seventeen!

I came to work today with a new fire, intensity, and excitement to push myself, push the students, and really change the world. I think that every once in a while we need to be given some hard feedback that we do not want to hear, before we will really start to shape up our game. I took a little step backwards yesterday, but in the end it resulted in a good little reminder that I have come quite a way from day one, but I still have a lot to learn.

That being said I spent the first two periods working busily on lessons that I needed some feedback on and guidance from both Anne and Kristin. At times it is really hard to plan because I want to do a good job and then I think my cooperating teachers know what that looks like best. So I wait, try to plan, and then ask them. Guess what? They throw my question right back at me. This is a learning experience and they want me to grow. I want to grow too, but no one ever said this was going to be easy.

Tenth grade was good. We did vocabulary today in a little bit of a creative way, which was really good and engaged the students. I had them come up with twelve names of people and twelve objects. Then they used the two lists of twelve and their twelve vocabulary words to form sentences with partners. I then had them share their favorite example. I learned that even through it was important for them to work on the vocabulary, it is not vitally important that they get all their examples done. It took way too long in the grand scheme of things, which I was a little disappointed in, but you take that and learn from it to improve for the future. I cut them off at twenty-five minutes, which was good, but next time I should focus on cutting them off at twenty minutes. Maybe I should just have them turn to the correct page and then go with the activity, making sure to incorporate and get an example for each word. There is always something to work on. We finished Act One of Macbeth in class, which is a good thing. Some students had Shakespeare Set Free, which translates the text from the Shakespearean language into modern day text, open while I was teaching. At first I was a little disappointed, they were not paying attention and really getting the point of the lesson. When I reflect on it though, they were using their resources to assist in their learning. It was a good point for me to consider, I have a problem using Spark Notes and other places like that for straight information, but what about just a different translation to aid in their understanding. I asked one student who was using it what she thought, and she really enjoys reading a more accessible text. It comes down to me not really making a big deal about the students’ understanding the language line by line, but instead understanding the major points. They are still required to make meaning out of the text, but this way it is a little easier for them. I talked through this issue with Kristin and she suggested that I put a link on the website for them to use if they want and then have a discussion with the entire class about the use of the alternate resource in class. I think that’s a great idea and will do that tomorrow.

The seniors today had a little catching up to do. I explained to them that I have now taken over their class officially too, so that means that I am now up to three complete classes that I have control over. Then Anne told me to treat them and the class like a college prep class. So I moved through material quickly and had a little discussion at the end of each piece. I reflect on it and realize that my teaching methods and the type of technology I am using are nothing like my college classes, but the amount of homework that I assigned is definitely similar. One thing that Anne and I discussed after school was the constant battle in education and teaching between content and conversation. How much do I cover in class and get through and how much conversation do I have on that content. The seniors, more than any other class I teach, are so conversational. They love to discuss and it is a pleasure to be there and lead those discussions; however, how can I realistically cut them off so that we can move on to some more content? Where do I draw the line and how do I draw the line? We got through some major content today, but did not do as much reflecting. However, we did enough reflecting that we did not get through all the content. So where is the balance? How do I know if I have reached it? Anne said that she still has not gotten the correct balance in her schedule and talking with my co-department chair after school she mentioned the same thing. However, I struggle and want to find the correct balance and it will be something I think I will figure out more fully with this group of students. What I was most proud of was that I made the transition in thinking and ideas from my tenth graders to the seniors. That transition is one that needs to get better and I started to realistically understand that transition and what it looks like in the classroom and how it is reflected in the lesson planning. If anything, that is my big take away for the day.

I finally got to attend American Literature today, after teaching all of Anne’s classes and being busy during fifth hour it was nice to be back in their class today. However, it was even nicer because Kristin is going in for a minor surgery tomorrow and I get the pleasure of taking on that class on Friday and then picking it up completely starting on Monday – Here comes four classes and for different preparation periods. I can say one thing at least – I’m not sitting in the back of class taking notes anymore. Kristin was struggling to come up with a new way to make literature connect to students’ real lives. Currently they are reading The Narrative of Frederick Douglass and she wanted something to do that connected the reading with an action they could do. So she came up with something very similar to what I am doing with the freshman and the Assignment ~ Change the World project. They are coming up with an action plan to assist in world change that relates to some element of the book that they are reading. They are actually being asked in small groups to realistically change the world – what the definition of the world like is a discussion that I need to have with them next week. It was really neat to see how Kristin interacted with them around this project and how excited the students seem to get started. It was great to be back in here, although Friday and four classes are coming soon so I am enjoying my time right now.

I enjoyed the last period of the day until an administrator dropped in for an unannounced visit. I know it is their job to make sure that I am teaching well, but there she was in the back of the room watching me teach grammar to 9th graders. It added a little more pressure to what I was doing, but when I reflect upon it I did not change anything about my instruction. I am proud of that. Just because she was there I did not do more examples, less examples, call on other students or anything. I taught just like I do any other day – trying to put everything I have out there for the students. At times that’s hard though because sometimes my best is not good enough, or at least I do not think it is good enough. Anyway the grammar portion of the lesson ended and we moved into looking at the Assignment ~ Change the World paper and the first paragraph in detail. We did a little activity that required them to look at the different parts of the first paragraph and then put it all together into one overall structure that we then hung on the wall. That activity seemed to help them, but then we looked at an example. I am in the mindset that everything should be modeled multiple times, which I did not have ready to go for class. It is my fault and I will take the blame for it. However, I had the example and called everyone up out of their chairs and to the front of the room around the projector to look at the example. I had a student highlighting the important parts, probably not the smartest decision. I want to get students involved, do not get me wrong, it is just that her highlighting was distracting from the instruction. The example also did not have all the required parts of a first paragraph, which provided for a teachable moment. However, I really think that the students need to see a good paragraph to look at what they need to do and actually inspire them. This example did not meet what I wanted it to, but I am continually learning and tomorrow we will re-cap what we did today with a better example and hopefully that will help them visualize and work on writing their first paragraphs well.

Today was a good day and I learned a lot. I felt like I had a newer, fresher, rawer mentality to teaching. I was comfortable, excited, serious, funny, and enjoyed the experience all at the same time. It was not easy and I was frustrated at the end of sixth period with good pieces of the lesson and then also other parts that flopped a little. Although, I learn, grown, and come back tomorrow ready to teach my heart out for these students for another fifty-nine minutes.

Day Sixteen!

Today was what you call a major learning day. Anne got back from Florida and we sat down to have a little chat and let’s just say it was not the most pleasant chat we have ever had. In fact, it was a little disappointing on both ends. Look at the next post, titled “Reflections on Mentoring” for more information. Needless to say, that conversation first hour had a somewhat subdued effect on parts of the rest of my day.

Being that it was a Tuesday I had plenty of time to plan, re-plan, and fix ideas, lesson plans, and deal with other minor things that did not get accomplished prior to today. So I spent a lot of time planning. I am really noticing how much I enjoy the variable schedule and getting a little more freedom on Tuesday and Thursday with my schedule to plan, observe, and meet with other teachers. It has really turned into an opportunity for me to get things done, but in a collaborative manner with others in the department and the building.

English 10 went well today. They continue to be excited and energized about Macbeth, which is a good thing in my view. The students share their thoughts really openly with the rest of the class, which is exciting from a teaching standpoint. I once again utilized the “Think, Pair, Share” method in the classroom to discuss parts of the play, which has worked out really well. We continue to move through the action and the students continue to volunteer to come up and play different parts. However, I am getting the same people coming up and acting out parts of the play. This does frustrate me a little, but I can’t force someone to come up and play a part in front of the class. That is just not fair to the student or to the class. So I continually get the same students over and over, which does bring an added sense of consistency to the play. It is one that has been helpful thus far; however, in Act Two we will be splitting everyone up into acting companies to work through this part of the play. Kristin mentioned keeping the same actors throughout for the examples, which I really like, but I would also like to see new people volunteering. I don’t feel right calling on students that do not like to read aloud or in front of the entire class, although I want a happy medium. How do I reach that point and where is it? I don’t know, but I will continue to ask questions, reflect on them, and see where they lead me in the future.

English 9 was a handful today. It was great to be teaching them and individually they are a great group of students; however, today I think I may have made a mistake or two. We covered the beginning of the class with CSAP practice, that is the big state mandated exam that happens every year (By the way, it apparently costs a lot of money to produce, proctor, and grade this exam every year – think about it every single student in the state takes this exam at some point. With all the education pitfalls in budget concerns one of my administrators mentioned that they should just cut the exam to every other year. That way the schools are still receiving feedback and the state are still getting their numbers, but here money is being saved and not having to go to a standardized test every year. Maybe that money could go to increase technology, go towards updating faculty at conferences, improving the teaching salaries, or maybe towards investing in places that could truly use a few extra dollars to raise their test scores. Sorry about the random, but related thought). From there I covered with the students the topic sentences that they write that are based on their thesis statements. Before they worked on their thesis statements I gave them the structure for the entire first paragraph and then went back to the topic sentences and gave them work time. Probably not the smartest move to over cover material and then expect the students, and they are only 9th grade here, to look at and understand what they are going to do with the topic sentences. I guess, looking at the whole Assignment ~ Change the World paper I would probably do some things very different at the beginning. For instance, I would make sure that the students understood that the world is just as big as they make it. Each of our own lives and the situations that we live in are our worlds. I am asking them to change the world, but that also includes the people and situations around them and not something half way around the globe. Secondly, I would make sure to have good examples and break down every element step–by–step at every checkpoint in the paper. In addition, I would try and follow one complete paper or thread through the entire assignment. These are still things that I can pull into the teaching I am currently doing, but am also realizing what a mess I was the first week or two. Teaching is learning so that is good that I now know, can reflect upon it, and move on. In this class I also really tried hard to get them to model what is going on in their first paragraphs. I gave them example after example and then started to relate it to the actual structure that we went over. Then I asked them if they understood their homework on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest, and most of them had a four or five. I was happy about that, but then Anne after class asked the hard question – “How will you know that they really understand the material? You can collect it, but is there any other way that you will know?” It was a really important thought for me as I consider what I will be doing and how I will be giving credit and feedback in the future.

After school Anne and I had a really good chat about mentoring, listening, feedback, and just learning about teaching. It was a good experience, but one that was really hard at the same time.

Day Fifteen!

Today was the last day that Anne is going to be gone, as she comes back tomorrow from Florida – so my last day of actually being a “full time” teacher.

Overall, my take away, I know I am skipping ahead here, is that I made it. I completed four full days of teaching, taking over all of Anne’s classes and my tenth graders from Kristin. It was a good time and I survived. At times it was not the most polished or exciting teaching, but I got through it and I think it was more helpful for me to be there than a sub. At the end of the day I was not exhausted, but instead I was energized and ready to take it on again. After school I met with six seniors to go over their career project and have individual conferences. I really enjoy collaborating, challenging, and getting to know students on a different level outside of the confines of the classroom.

I felt like I was changing the world one student at a time. I was working hard, putting my best effort out there and moving forward. It was just a good day. The Honors students, who are fantastic and I can see why student teachers are not allowed to teach them (we would be spoiled and have a jaded view of reality) were amazing today. They worked really hard and we did not get through all the material, but I felt like they are now prepared for their fishbowl tomorrow.

The tenth graders plunged through Macbeth once again. It is so much fun helping them understand a text that at face value seems really hard, but then again no one said school or Shakespeare would be easy – right? I really started to use the “Think-Pair-Share” method throughout my teaching with this class and it has worked really well. I ask a question, have them write it down, then partner up answer the same question again or modify their original answer, and then we discuss it as a group.

The seniors were a lot of fun to teach. We got through one part of the lesson plan, although I truly wish we would have gotten through more than just the one part. However, what we did was watch part of a movie and then we spent most of the rest of the period discussing it. Where do I draw the line between moving them through the content and discussing the content? I think this is something I will struggle with especially with these students as seniors in a college prep class. One thing I was happy about with them was how much of the lesson I did without a lesson plan. Usually I am the guy walking into class with all the notes in order, ready to go, lesson plan in hand. Not to say that I did not plan or that I did not have a clue as to what I was doing – because I did – it’s just that I taught without having to be tied to a physical sheet of paper that told me what I was doing and what to say. In the future I look forward to teaching more based on the outline at the front of the class and knowing my material inside and out rather than being tied to a sheet of paper. I struggle with how much these students push me. I want to push back, but how do I ask hard, relevant, and compelling questions in the classroom to make their learning increase? I believe I am asking good, deep, probing questions; however, I would really like some feedback from them (which I will ask at the end of the unit).

Finally the ninth graders were a ball of fun today – and I mean literally. They were a little crazy, for some reason, but I got them on track after a little motivation. I struggle with this class in particular how to motivate students individually motivate students, as in a one-on-one conferencing session, and make sure that the rest of the class is on task. I feel that some times, today in particular, that the students were off task whenever I bent down to have individual conferences. How do I motivate individually while quieting the entire class?

Overall, it was a great day in my book. I survived and that was the most important part. Plus, looking at the whole experience I grew so much over the time that I spent alone without Anne there to guide me every step of the way, which she does not do but you know what I mean. She was not in the classroom, the students could not go to her for help – I was the show and that’s it. At times it was very nerve wracking, like how cluttered my desk got, and at other times it was incredible to be in relationship to all those students in one day. I honestly cannot imagine how Anne and Kristin give up their classes to a student teacher. I would miss the relationship aspect the most, and they have both told me this. I should work in some way within each class for them to continue to interact with the students – or is that not the purpose of student teaching? Should the class be entirely the student teacher’s? Should the cooperating teacher just sit in the back and work on other work for other classes? Or should it be something where I should involve the cooperating teacher when I can, like adding comments to feedback, helping facilitate small group discussion during work time, and other minor duties like that? I do not think I could sit back and watch someone else teach the students that I have worked so hard over the past semester to form relationships with and let someone else teach. That would be so hard – So how do I engage them while still continuing a healthy balance inside the classroom. I should still be in control, but what do they want to do? Do they want to participate, help out, and remain connected with the students? I would think so; I’ll have to ask them, but for now I should see if I can keep them connected to the class in some way. Also because come April 10 I am done, sadly enough, and student teaching will be over. So they will be taking back over the class, so they need to remain an active part of the students’ lives, at least at the beginning of the student teaching period and at the end.

I understand that I asked a lot of questions in this post and I’m assuming that there are not really great answers to any of them. However, if anyone has good ideas or insights to share I would be more than happy to accept them. Re-capping, it was a great time taking over all the classes. I learned a lot and I am excited to tell Anne everything that with the students we accomplished together.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Day Fourteen!

Note: I must apologize to my readers for the tardiness of this post. Life has been a little crazy lately teaching a full load, going to activities in Denver, and traveling with family for the weekend.

Today I once again had a fun time teaching all of Anne’s classes and Kristin’s tenth graders. It was a great day where I finally felt a controlled, comfortable chaos.

Today in all my ninth grade honors classes we did a musical chairs editing activity. Music plays, students walk around and when the music stops they find a chair and edit that essay. It worked really well and thanks to Kristin for the activity. It was really interesting to me to see what the students came up with in their introductions and really fun to once again teach them. In the future when I use this activity I will make sure that they go in an ordered line throughout the room. It got a little chaotic with how they “choose” essays to read by walking back and forth around one set of computers. However, the activity was very valuable as the students all received good feedback from other students.

In tenth grade they were kept busy with taking a vocabulary quiz and completing independent reading. I thought I would have time to get a few minor activities done while they were reading, guess again. Catching other students up and helping those out with mistaken assignments took up the entire time. Late work, absences and make-up work will always be the best part of teaching (I hope you can sense the sarcasm there).

The seniors today finished their presentations on the after life of other cultures. However, I struggle with how to grade projects without a proper rubric. I will have to talk to Anne about it when she returns to AHS on Tuesday. It was nice to see all of them present, but all their presentations were so different from each other it will be interesting to grade. Some used A/V equipment, some did not, some were long, and some were not, and some had awesome material, and some, of course, did not. How do you grade presentations subjectively without ever have giving the assignment or knowing exactly what the person that did, Anne, wanted to achieve from the project? It will be a discussion to have on Tuesday. However, I did notice that students at AHS, well at least my seniors, need to be taught some proper presentation skills. Maybe this is because presentation skills were ingrained in me at a very early age; however, sitting on a desk and talking to the class, reading off PowerPoint slides and presenting from a chair near a computer all should not be allowed or even accepted as good quality work, however most of the groups included all or some of the above elements. In the future, for their last lectures, I will have to cover how to effectively give a presentation, or at least briefly remind them in the future the effective techniques.

Yesterday I thought my ninth graders were off the wall, well today they were on a whole different level all together. They were crazy, off the wall, and unexpected. However, I got them calmed down and on task after a few activities and kicking a favorite student out of my class. Sometimes it takes kicking the ring leader out to help the rest of the class focus, if you know what I mean. On top of that it was an assembly day, which means shortened classes, so that explained a little of the craziness.

Finally the moment arrived, the one where me, the student teacher, rises to the occasion and stepped in front of the whole school and some community members for the annual AHS faculty dance. A few years ago AHS administrators noticed a drop in attendance at the Winter Pep Assembly and recruited a few volunteers to come up with something to get the students to attend (or so that is the version I heard). It has now grown to forty-five teachers, seven songs, and a completely choreographed dance. That’s right – and I was in it! I must say that all the practices we have put in learning the choreography and times that I missed soccer practice were worth it the minute I stepped into that gym of screaming students over 2,200 strong. It was so much fun and an incredible experience all at the same time. I’ll link the video here when a student posts it on YouTube.

Finally, yesterday I wrote about sometimes there are just things that are way more important than teaching – like family members. So after school I got on a plane, thanks to a great pair of awesome grandparents, to fly down to Phoenix and surprise my parents. They are down here celebrating my grandmother’s birthday and I just walked into the condo and surprised my parents. They were pretty excited to see me after just reading my blog and talking to me on the phone these past few months and it has been great to see them. What I have learned, though, is that once again life outside of school does take precedence over school. Family is important and it has been great to have the opportunity and the time to spend with family, and I will definitely be busy come Sunday night and Monday morning when I get back into the groove, but right now it is just a pleasure to be here. School needs to be prioritized at some time; it is a great lesson to be learning right now during my student teaching – where everything fits.

In honor of Anne, and her adventures down in Florida, I will close out today’s post with a revelation, and my take away from the day, in my student teaching experience. The first two days of taking over the class load I have now had for a few days was, and I cannot find a better word, crazy. I was running from room to room and barely knew what I was doing. However, today was “controlled chaos.” I had my ducks in a row, I felt prepared, and I knew what was going to happen and when. It is not that I did not know any of that before, because I did, but it is that today I felt comfortable and in control of my experience. It was a good crazy, a good day of teaching, a good day of meeting with students on an individual basis, a good day of making a fool out of myself in front of the entire school, and a good day of making a difference every fifty-nine minutes.

Day Thirteen!

Note: I must apologize to my readers for the tardiness of this post. Life has been a little crazy lately teaching a full load, going to activities in Denver, and traveling with family for the weekend.

Today at school I was once again teaching all of Anne’s classes (minus the seniors) and the 10th graders from Kristin’s load too. It was a very full day that started off with the ninth grade honors students. We watched a really cool video from YouTube that talks about how the students of today’s world are considered a “Lost Generation,” but how they can change that if they want and really cause world change. Click here to watch it. We discussed the video after and what they thought about the structure, as it goes through one time and then goes back the second time reading the same words – only backwards. We started to talk about creating world change and what that really looks like today and then they did something I have never even considered before. They asked for time to write about what they thought. So, I gave them time to write, respond, and discuss their thoughts. We had spent time before writing and discussing, but something here in our discussion triggered a thought inside their head and they just wanted some more time to process. I gave it to them and the results were amazing. What they wrote about, how to change the world one person and one interaction at a time was amazing – and they were the ones that asked for the assignment. It really reminded me of the teacher’s role in a 21st Century education – the guide. I provided the stimulation, the guidance and then they ran with it. They created the interaction, the actual learning, and they asked to further their learning by working through a difficult assignment. It was incredible to watch and guide them today.

In tenth grade we have begun acting out Macbeth in the classroom and I think it is going really well – well so does Kristin. I actually have the students get up in front of the class and read out parts and then we discuss what is going on. I have really made it a point to stop each and every page of the play and discuss what is going on. Further, I make sure to relate parts of the play to their actual lives. It is so much fun seeing them understand Shakespeare, and not only understand it, but truly enjoy the experience. At one point I was even making fun of myself in front of the class and the students loved it. One thing I look forward to trying, and would change in my teaching style in the future, would be to do more group or individual activities. Meaning, when we are discussing the play I ask questions of the whole class, and I usually do a good job calling on people from all across the room, but I need to allow them to talk to their neighbor, work in small groups, or individually figure out the question. They cannot rely on the “smart kids of the class who always have an answer” to save them all the time. At some point they need to start figuring it out on their own. So I need to help facilitate that learning from them in the future.

My seniors, who I did not teach today, are just amazing. It is so much fun to work with them, because I remember where they are at right now. Currently they are working on a career project that requires them to interview 2-3 people that they know and then write a summary – response paper detailing what they learned and if that is truly the career that they want to travel down in the future. What has been really neat is how they have come to me for help, support, and guidance. It has been a different relationship meeting with these students outside the class and helping them one-on-one. I have really enjoyed getting to know them in this different way – one that I have not worked as hard on as a student teacher so far.

In my normal ninth grade classroom my students were hard to keep on task today. For some reason, maybe it was the water or the air or something; they were a little squirrely for a Thursday. However, I finally got them on task while I helped a few individuals with their introductions and finishing other assignments for out Assignment ~ Change the World paper. However, when I get them on task they just keep on truckin’ through the paper one step at a time. I am a little nervous for how next week and their first paragraphs go, but that is next week. We have to get through one more day before then. I have learned that I need to constantly encourage them throughout the process, whereas my seniors just go to work. Freshman = constant encouragement and hand holding (most of them at least) and Seniors = the exact opposite (same exception applies).

After school today I rushed back to the apartment to go to a group activity with the rest of the Wartburg West students, all 20 of us. We went down to the Curious Theater to view the production of Rabbit Hole. This was a wonderfully written, produced, and moving drama. It is about a four year old boy that dies in an accident and the grief that ensues after the incident. It looks at the relationship of the husband and wife, their relationship with the person who killed their son, and other intricate family relationships. I must say that it was really well written, to the point of including some very poignant and humorous parts throughout the production. It was really refreshing to see a play that chronicles a very important and difficult time in a person’s life – right after the death of a loved one – displayed so eloquently. Looking at this production and other events going on in my life, I began to realize that even though I had hours of schoolwork and preparations to go before tomorrow – I need to be able to put school aside and require other elements of my life to be more important.

What I mean is that being a student, and a student teacher especially, I do not have a lot of activities and family that I go home to every day. Right now my life is mostly centered on my experience at AHS and finishing up some Wartburg school work, which ultimately keeps me busy enough. However, I have not kept a healthy balance between me and my AHS life – maintaining a life outside of my student teaching that is. I came to learn tonight that sometimes there are just things that are way more important than teaching – like family members. (Note: I know that these next few lines may be something that don’t exactly fit within the confines of this blog, but stick with me and I’ll give you a point). So my dad informed me today that our family pet, a dog, was put down after sixteen years with my family. Kara had been a faithful friend and a loving member of our family from day one, however health complications in the last few years have caused her to slow up and have issues that complicated her life. So in the best interest of all parties involved, my parents made the hard decision to put her down. I got a text from my dad, during the intermission of Rabbit Hole, about her passing, which naturally made that drama a little harder. I will be honest, at first I thought that the absence of a pet would not have a large effect on me, as I have not lived at home for an extended amount of time in four years, but I was wrong. Now here’s the point and lesson I have learned through her passing, treasure the time that you have with pets, family, and in the classroom, because you won’t always have that time with them. Students come and go either five times a week or three times a week, depending on the situation. There’s only fifty-nine minutes, in my case, to make that difference and to treasure that interaction. However, I really did not know how much I would miss my pet until she was gone. May it be a reminder to me, and hopefully to others as well, to treasure the things you have currently, because you do not really realize how much you’ll miss them until they are gone. For me currently that’s my dog, but I know in the near future when student teaching is over it will be the daily interactions with the students and staff at AHS.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Day Twelve!

Today was the first day I was truly on my own. Anne is currently gone at a conference and finishing up a graduate school project – so I took over all of her classes, plus one of Kristin’s (so four different preps and five classes in a row). It was quite a day of running around, teaching, connecting with students, and really understanding the material.

In English 9 Honors I really tried to be very focused and by the book in my discussion of the text, but it turned out that the off the cuff, going with the flow discussion skill that I think all Language Arts teachers develop finally came in handy. That was a whole lot more interesting than me going off my notes for the entire period. What was interesting was that I went with the flow and ended back in the same spot where I wanted to be. Plus, now I finally teach, while Anne is gone, two sections of the same class. That has really given me the confidence to actually change things for the second section, in a better way, than the first section. It is a nice challenge for the next couple of days taking over all of Anne’s classes and the one of Kristin’s.

Needless to say that tonight when I spoke to Anne, via Skype (oh the wonders of technology and communication) we discussed take aways and thoughts for the day. One thing for me was that there is this student in my sixth period class that I have lately had a really hard time getting through to. He does not want to get his work done on time or in class and rarely asks for help. Instead he will just sit there and usually cause trouble. Today he explained to me that he did not understand last night’s assignment and so we walked through the different parts, I had him repeat them for me, and then I double checked to make sure that he got everything ok. Well it appeared, with how he started working, that he understood it. Then I receive an e-mail tonight from him (what did teachers do before e-mail and replying to student concerns at home?) and it turns out that he really did not understand the assignment like he thought he did. However, he has asked for additional help, which I will gladly give.

One other idea – take what you are given and actually make the most out of the opportunity. I hope that each day I am at AHS I am making the most out of the opportunity in everything that I do. In the classroom I push my students to succeed through rigorous and relevant content that is centered on the relationships that faculty members establish with each student. What is interesting about this idea is that Anne is gone for the next few days. She encouraged me to “take on this week as an example of what teaching is” (Smith). So if that means that I have no time, rush from activity to activity, and class to class then that’s what I am looking for (If how tired I am and how much I have worked are two indicators of my future career, then I am definitely going to challenge this ideal of an easy life of teaching I had in my head). On top of all that, it is my job to teach these students one student and one class at a time. I need to take this amazing opportunity to live the life of a real teacher over the next few days. However, I need to do more than just survive. I need to push myself and really see what I am made of, especially in teaching new classes. Teaching is much more than just delivering a lesson, which a sub can do any day, but it is meeting the students where they are every day. I just hope in these few days that I am not just delivering content, but that I am actually teaching.

My final thought for tonight also comes from Anne, ”It is an everyday journey with these kids, changing the world all at the same time” (Smith). Education is a journey, one that every morning I need to wake up and remember. I am changing, becoming a better teacher, and I love what I am doing. It’s a challenge, like today, but it also has some very good perks too (the students and the summers off come immediately to mind). My ninth graders are writing a five paragraph position paper, which at first seemed like a good idea, but now the bar has been raised and they have to change the world. As teachers, we have, quite an opportunity on our hands every day to make a difference. Remember: It’s all a journey and we’ll all in this together!

Day Eleven!

After a nice and relaxing weekend of fun in the mountains and celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it was nice to get back into the swing of things at school. This week will be a really interesting one, considering that one of my cooperating teachers is leaving for Florida tomorrow and will be gone until Tuesday. That means that I get the privilege of teaching all of her classes. It sounds like a lot more than I am used to, but in all reality it is only one more prep and one more class – so now I am up to four preps and five classes. Needless to say, it is a lot to handle not having done any of this material before, but I am slowly getting used to it.

This morning was spent getting ready for Anne’s departure for the rest of the week. I planned some of the time with her and got ready for class tomorrow. I am not exactly teaching my lessons, which would intuitively seem easier. Instead, I am teaching her lessons, which I think somewhere makes it harder. Oh well, all of teaching is learning – right? So here I am learning by the minute, by the week, and by each fifty-nine minutes that I am in the classroom.

Third period I was able to teach my tenth graders Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I prefaced this unit by explaining to the students that Shakespeare and I are not friends. We do not always get along, meaning that in high school and college I have not had great experiences with his writing. That being said, I worked through it, asked a lot of questions, and re-read the information time and time again until I understood it. I encouraged the students to do the same in this class, especially to ask questions. Then we did this activity where they looked at a picture of the three witches, if you know the story they are kind of important, and had to make inferences. It was really neat to see them and their individual reactions to the picture. One of my last questions was what would you do if the witches walked through the front door of AHS. One student said she would cry, while on the other hand another student said he would go up and introduce himself. You’ve just got to love tenth graders. What was really interesting to me was how later we did a few activities with the first scene of the play. The students, according to Kristin, were really engaged in the reading of the text. We talked through each line of the first scene, it is only one page long, but I made sure that they understood what was going on. Further, I defined all the words or showed them how to define them using the footnotes and talked through both the literal and the figurative meanings of the text. What really made the difference, though, was the fact that I called on a majority of the class. I did not leave many students out, but really tried to call on a variety of students. That way the students knew that they did not have a choice, they better stay up with the reading, otherwise they are not going to look good in front of the teacher or his / her fellow students. I guess it worked because they were all very engaged and we had a great discussion in class. One other takeaway from this class was just a confidence that we can get through this together. To be completely honest, this class and teaching Shakespeare is one of the most daunting tasks I have taken on yet during student teaching. I have studied, but never taught, Shakespeare. It’s confusing and at times even I do not get what is going on – and then I have to walk into that classroom and act like I do (that’s just not right). So I have to prepare extra, especially since this is my first time teaching the text, so that my students have a great educational experience. What really made the difference, though, was that today went really well. The students responded to the activities and I think tomorrow they will do much of the same. It was a good first day teaching Shakespeare and it really helped to alleviate any pressure about teaching it that I did have. Now I’m just ready to have fun with the text, costumes, and the students.

Today I also went and watched a fellow Language Arts teacher during his Honors American Literature class. I noticed a few things from his class period that I wanted to touch on here. One, he waited until the entire class was quiet and then started off with the day. It was a really nice technique and one that the students understood very well; however, I do not know if it would wok everywhere. Then one of the first things he did was to cut down the amount of homework for tonight. A nice gesture towards the students and understanding the amount of homework he was already giving them was substantial. From there he did a really nice job transitioning between the PowerPoint slides and actually talking about what was going on for that day and the week. One student even asked about missing tomorrow and this teacher even answered his question mid-lecture. I was kind of amazed and thought about what I would do in that situation – probably tell the student that we could talk after class and not answer his question right then and there. This teacher used a variety of encouragement words also. Examples included: good job, awesome, way to go, high five, and absolutely. He even explained the assignment and then got everyone centered on a topic. However, it seemed once the students moved from their normal classroom to the library computer room they lost focus and their understanding of the assignment even went a little blurry. Maybe it was the lack of an example before releasing them to do their work. Oh well, with a few questions and help along the way in the lab the majority of students got their work done and will have very little homework tonight.

English 9 today was what I like to call “organized chaos.” It was a really good day of doing a little test preparation, handing back and discussing thesis statements, and beginning to look at how evidence is portrayed in their Assignment – Change the World five paragraph essay and action plan. They steadily and nicely worked though everything and felt confident with where we were headed with the thesis statements. I then modeled the next step of the process, highlighting evidence based on the support number that it falls under. Then I modeled it again and yet again with two different student models. If I could do one thing over, it would be (and you might have guessed it) I would have modeled the assignment and specific part they are working on right now another time. Maybe actually pulled up an example and highlighting it along with the students. That would have been another easy, nice and accessible part of the lesson to add in next time. As Anne said, you can never model enough for 9th graders, and I completely agree with her on that statement. It was just a good day because they worked hard in class and knew exactly what their homework was when they left. I made sure of this because I make it a point to check in with every student, every fifty-nine minutes. How else can I challenge them individually to be better? How else can I differentiate instruction to meet everyone’s needs? How else am I supposed to instill a confidence in them and the vested interest in their learning on a daily basis if I did not meet with them all? That is the challenge, so I make it a point to get to everyone. My take away for the day, Smith, is that you did not feel needed. In some ways that makes me feel really happy, like I am doing a good job and succeeding at teaching. However, it also points out that the students finally get it. They understand that this is my classroom and Smith is just going to sit there and not answer their questions. Most of all, though, it gives me the confidence to walk into the classroom tomorrow, without Anne there, and forge ahead even through she cannot be there with us.

Finally, Anne left me a sticky note on my computer this afternoon before she left. It read:
“Two things to focus on for this week: One, Have Fun and Two, Change the World.” That’s not too hard of a list, right? But she has confidence in me and that makes a whole lot of difference in this situation too. That’s what, as educators, we do, or should be doing, every day – have fun and make a difference. Some of us do it for an hour and a half at a time, others two hours, and yet even others at sixty-five minute time period. However, some of us get to do it every fifty-nine minutes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What a Weekend!

This weekend I have taken part in three amazing activities that I need to share and reflect upon.

Leadville, Colorado – The Coffee Shop
First, this Friday through Sunday morning everyone in the apartment traveled up to Leadville, Colorado (Elevation: 10,200 feet). It was quite an experience for me traveling through the Continental Divide and the Eisenhower Tunnel to the other side of the mountains. Frankly, it was really cool to get outside of Denver and actually be able to see the stars in their beauty. They twinkled bright and reminded me of my time spent in Montana last summer. Saturday morning I was finally able to see the mountains from that elevation and let’s just say it was beautiful. I was right at the start of “Colorado’s Fourteeners,” the stretch of mountains in Colorado that are all over 14,000 feet. The sight was fantastic, although at times I was a little out of breath due to the elevation. When I get pictures back from friends I will be sure to post them or link them here.

Many of the students spent the day hiking, skiing, or just sledding up at the elevation; however, I decided to spend the morning outside and the afternoon inside at a nice little coffee shop in downtown Leadville. There another student teacher and I holed up for a good five and a half hours of grading, studying, and conversation with friends back home. Sitting in this coffee shop was quite an experience. First of all, as we sat there through the morning and the afternoon I noticed how the people changed. It went from just a few friends have coffee in pairs in the morning hours to groups of people as large as twelve coming in to have coffee and a snack around lunch time and the afternoon consisted of pairs once again coming in. What I was really focused on was getting my school work completed, which at times is hard in any coffee shop, but this time I managed to get everything done I planned to. What really intrigued me about this place was the amazingly western feel to it, but at the same time the aurora of the old mining town attached to it also. Their was a hard wood floor that was well worn in parts, but a nice XM radio system provided good mix of music throughout the day. On top of that the new kitchen facilities were paired with the wood furniture throughout the shop. What really amazed me was that this was a coffee shop at 10,200 feet and I could tell it by the cliental that walked through the door. People came in dressed like they just got off the snow slopes or skied right up to the front door with their jackets and layers on with their hats and sun glasses. Even on top of that, some of the guys were wearing snow pants with snow on them, reminding many that they recently got off a snow mobile (which is a common mode of transportation up there). Then there was the ranch couple. He was wearing a cowboy hat and work clothes and she was wearing a ranching jacket that had the name of their ranch embroidered on the back.

Over the time I spent there this past weekend that coffee shop was a nice place to hang out. It was a great atmosphere and I was happy to write and get my work done. This experience was a great opportunity for me to live and experience a situation that is not possible here in Denver. The people were friendly and many of the customers the staff knew by name. Before they ordered it was a friendly conversation and then the order, not just the order as it is in many other coffee shops around the country. Up there at 10,200 feet the regulars are known by their first name, the beauty of a small town up at elevation. This experience will lead me to act in a different way when I go somewhere new, like a coffee shop. I am usually pretty open about the type of people I meet and give them more than a second shot based on their a first glance, but this type of a setting where the staff and people were friendly really reminded me to give people the benefit of the doubt. Yes, I was a little skeptical of some of the people there and my first impressions of them, but all in all they were very nice people with awesome hearts. What this means for me is that students deserve a second (and sometimes even third) chance to redeem themselves and show that they can do the work. On the flip side, that often involves the teacher, me, providing some extra help even when I don’t feel like or want to. In the end, the coffee shop at 10,200 feet provided me with a unique look at small town west through a new lens of teaching while giving a second and sometimes third chance to students.

Denver, Colorado – The National Western Stock Show
Sunday night I got the privilege of going to the rodeo and stock show here in Denver, thanks to a generous donor who managed to get everyone out here from Wartburg first or second row tickets. Going to a rodeo is such an experience, especially one of the largest ones in the country. Thankfully I had my entire outfit ready for the experience (boots, belt, belt buckle, jeans, and shirt) from my time spent in Montana last summer, everything except for the hat. I was promptly informed when I arrived here in Denver that a cowboy wears two types of hats depending on what season it is. Being that I am completely new to this whole riding a horse, roping, and cowboy thing I think I need to get the newest edition of How to Be a Cowboy for Dummies at the local bookstore, but that’s what friends are for. So I was informed that a cowboy wears a straw hat during the summer and a felt hat during the winter. I only had a straw hat and it was the winter so I was out of luck. I needed a new hat – bummer I’d have to get a new one.

So we went to The National Western Stock Show and I just had to find a hat, so naturally it was one of the first things that I did (and I had luck landing a nice black felt hat). Now I looked like I totally fit in and to some degree I did think that I fit in – let’s be honest I looked and felt the part of a cowboy going to a rodeo. In fact, I even knew what all the events were and what the point totals and scores meant. I could even guess almost correctly too. What amazed me about this experience, though, was that I was right at home with a unique segment of the population. I looked like those people that walked around the new Dodge Ram and eyed all the newest in tack and apparel for the ranch. In fact, even the John Deere equipment caught my eye and then I remembered that most of it is manufactured and designed right near Wartburg anyway! The rodeo itself was quite an experience. The people I was with from Wartburg had never really been to a rodeo before so the smells, the people, the boots, the hats, and the crazy rodeo banter between announcers was really different for them. I was on a different plane though. I knew what was going on and I felt at home almost in that arena, so I spent a lot of time explaining what was going on to the rodeo newcomers. It was a great experience and a lot of fun.

My favorite part was when a real stage coach came into the arena being pulled by a six horse team. It reminded me of the teamwork that is required throughout life. In that team each set of horses had a unique role. The two at the front had to be really quick with their turns and respond well to the master’s command, otherwise the horses behind would not follow. The second team was the swing team. It was their job to follow the lead horses and swing the group of six around a corner or some other sort of obstacle. Finally, the last team was the wheel team. These two horses were the closest to the wheels of the carriage and it was their job, as usually the strongest and biggest of the horses, to get the wagon rolling. All the horses did their individual jobs really well and there was success, if they did not, then there was defeat and the carriage would not go where the master wanted it. At one point the driver of the carriage had the horses going completely perpendicular to the carriage and the back left wheel stayed in one position and rotated around as the carriage moved. It had to be one of the most dangerous maneuvers of the night (you know besides getting onto a bucking horse or bull that is), because at any point if the horses did not trust the leader or the leader let the horses go then the carriage would have been pulled over.

It really spoke to me and the idea of trusting those in higher control and working together. Each of those teams has a duty to do their job, much like at AHS where the job of the 9th grade team is very different than the 10th grade team and so on. However, if we all do our jobs correctly and follow the leadership of the master, the principal in our situation, we can complete some amazing goals with our students, much like the maneuver with the carriage. However, for that to happen each team has to work together, trust each other, and really make an effort to get his or her job done. In addition, each team needs to trust the leader that he or she is doing their job and the leader needs to trust the teams, and individuals in each team, to do their job. What a great example of leadership in the 21st century (well minus any sort of technology at least). Overall, the stock show was just an awesome experience and a great learning opportunity.

Denver, Colorado – Martin Luther King Jr. Marade
In high school Martin Luther King Day was often a day that was looked forward to as the first day off of the second semester. I usually spent the day at home sleeping in, working on homework, and hanging out with my family. I assume that many of my students were spending their days off today like that.

However, in college Martin Luther King Jr. Day turned into something more than just a day off. It became a day of service. At Wartburg there is a really big push to turn this day into a day of service and learning. Classes in the morning are shortened, but there is still class. Then in the afternoon there is one of the best worship services at Wartburg every year, the MLK Jr. Chapel service. Directly concluding that service there are a variety of service projects that occur both on and off campus in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dedication to serving the community and making it a better place. It was hard to miss this special day of service on the Wartburg campus, but I seem to have found something a little bigger.

Apparently in Denver Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is quite a big deal – to the tune of 20,000 people (Three times larger than ever before). Every single year people gather about three miles from downtown to celebrate the life of MLK Jr. and then walk downtown to City Park, which is right in front of the state capital of Colorado. I went, with most of the other people from Wartburg, to this Marade. They call it a Marade because it is both a time of remembrance incorporated into a parade and a march all at the same time – hence march and parade = Marade. We gathered and listened to dignified persons give messages of remembrance and hope of tomorrow, for most they literally meant tomorrow with the inauguration of the new president upon us. It was amazing to me how many people steadily showed up. Person after person came to the stage and got the crowd fired up and then we were off. Marching and parading down a well known street in Denver with banners flying high promoting peace, against the war, stopping violence, and supporting the new president-elect. Finally we were moving down the street along with thousands of others. We were marching in remembrance of The King, his words, and in a true hope for equality in the future. What’s even more impressive was that it was not just a few of us marching like this or even a few thousand of us marching, but there were 20,000 of us marching together as one. Hailed as the largest MLK Jr. celebration in the world I was proud to be a part of it. I could of sat at home writing lesson plans and reading, but instead I was part of a real movement – a movement of people that maraded down the street in the name of The King, progress, and the future. At one point I even looked behind me and it was an incredible sight to see the street behind just filled to the seams with people all walking together. It was quite a sight, see pictures here or the article here.

What I brought away from this Marade was not the fact of how many people were there, because that was truly amazing, or what we were all marading for either – it was the entire point of the day. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is hailed as a day off for many people, when in fact it should be a day on. Meaning, it should be a day to celebrate, a day to actually remember what MLK Jr. stood for, and a day to serve. Instead of calling everything off, why don’t we come together like the people of Denver and serve our communities and make them a better place. I think Wartburg has got the right idea – remember and then serve. The people of Denver are serving through their marading, like I was today, but what about the rest of the nation? Is it a day to remember? Is it a day off? Or is it a day on to serve and remember the legacy and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? It should be the last one and that is what my day was today. In fact, it is in that spirit that I look forward to spending every other MLK Jr. Day, marading instead of taking the day off, and I encourage everyone else to do the same.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two Weeks Down: Reflection

The last two weeks at AHS have been incredible. It has been such a blessing to actually teach from day one, as much as I was nervous about the whole teaching on day one thing, it has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I have learned two major lessons that relate to my teaching so far.

One, that a teacher needs to be comfortable in front of the classroom. When I arrived at AHS two weeks ago I was nervous, did not know where to go, and felt a little weird in front of students that I had never met before. Now, two weeks later, I am finally getting comfortable. I can laugh, I can smile, I can be hard on them when I need to be hard, I can admit mistakes, and most of all I can laugh at myself when I am teaching. I am having a good time getting used to being up front and actually being comfortable with the whole set-up and schedule. Also, now that I have gotten past that difficult part of teaching, understanding where the students are at specifically (especially the 9th graders) I have been able to enjoy where I am and what I am doing.

Secondly, I have discovered the art of teaching. It is not standing in front of the classroom and expecting all of the students to accomplish the same thing, but differentiating the instruction based on each student. It is all about getting down on each student’s level, learning about them each, what their quirks are, and how to teach of them individually. That type of information about each student only comes with time and I finally feel that after two weeks I am finally getting to know them each in this way. At times it was frustrating, but now I have begun to be comfortable with them. It is hard work, and it is not something that everyone could do, especially because it is an art to teach students, although it is one that I find very rewarding.
Two enjoyable weeks down. Teaching is learning, learning constantly. I have learned lots so far, apparently these are two major steps to take in the first week according to Anne and Kristin, and I look forward to learning a lot more in the following weeks.

Day Ten!

Today was the final day in my second week at AHS and it was a good day. In the morning, first hour, I went and watched another teacher in the Language Arts department teach her students an introduction to 1984 using a Pavlov’s Dog experiment in class. It was really interesting how she got the students involved in the process. The students did this stimulus-response activity and really had a fun time working through how it applied to the novel. From there the teacher tied the activity really well to the first chapter of the novel. What’s even more impressive was how the students tied the book really well after that activity. The students learned a lot from the activity and the connection to the book was readily apparent and worked right into the novel and their homework for the weekend. Great activity and it was a lot of fun to actually watch and learn about it in person.

Third period for English 10 we had a coffeehouse type atmosphere for the students to share their memoirs. It was great because a lot of students brought treats and then we filled up the hour with sharing. It just amazed me what tenth graders wrote about, but what is even more is that they shared their memoirs in class. Students shared about deaths from cancer, illness, athletic championships, and top moments in high school. It amazed me with how open students are about their writing and how they have faced the issues in their life and moved on. The emotion and feeling that they put into their writing was incredible. As a listener they writing moved me close to tears multiple times. I cannot start to read the rest of the essays to see what the rest of the students wrote about. In reflection, though, what do you say to a student after they just shared one of the, if not the, most personal moment in their life with the entire class? Kristin and I talked about this after class. You can’t just say nice job when a student shares that type of emotion with the whole class. Instead, what do you say? Kristin and I kind of decided, or more so I learned from her example, that instead all you can say is thank you. Thank you to the students in English 10 for being so up front, honest, and for writing amazing pieces of work that inspire me, the teacher, to be a better writer.

In English Literature, my seniors, I was able to sit in on a discussion of their thoughts about the afterlife. This was an absolutely incredible conversation, which was completely respectful and included no fighting, no yelling at each other, and no telling each other that their personal views were incorrect. This whole discussion was absolutely incredible to me. I was never able to really be asked in high school, nor was I given the chance to really question my beliefs and thoughts about the afterlife. These students were challenged by the questions that Anne was asking them. For instance, where do you go when you die? Where is hell? Is there a hell? What does it look like? Is there a heaven? What does it look like? How do you get there? What happens to all the unborn babies or those that do not have a chance to “hear the gospel”? Where do they go? Let me tell you, these students just went on and on. Each person had a slightly different viewpoint about life and death and many are very afraid to die at all. The overall conclusion I think was that which every way you fall on the heaven or hell question, it was kind of decided that there needs to be more proof for people to fully accept one side or the other – unless you have strong convictions to either side. The point, I guess, is that no one really knows what is out there, which for me personally the idea of faith comes in. At some time we have to trust in what we cannot see, but that is a personal opinion. The students also had a really long discussion about the difference between “religion,” which they saw as something that is very exclusive, and “spiritual,” which they saw as something a lot more inclusive. Lots of students believe that they can be spiritual without being religious. I figure I can weigh in on their blog with my personal thoughts, but what amazed me was just the type of conversation that they were having in the classroom. Students were up with their hands in the air for about twenty minutes, at points, before they could add their viewpoint to the conversation. They were so respectful throughout the entire conversation, but what was really important about this experience to me, was the conversation with Anne after the day was over. I discussed with her how I thought the conversation in English Literature was incredible and how the students acted. She asked me how I thought that a conversation like that was possible. I responded that it all goes to how you set-up the conversation, which she agreed with. In any type of deep, philosophical conversation, like that one, it is really important to set-up the ground rules. So Anne explained how she actually set-up the conversation with the students and how that translated into the amazing conversation that I saw in the classroom. It was quite a learning experience for me to see how to actually hold and monitor a discussion like that. The exciting part is that I get to take part in that conversation and lead new strains of it, starting on Wednesday of next week. Also, their conversation did not stop in the classroom, as it continues on their class blog. You’ve got to love a 21st Century education at work.

I went to American Literature and assisted Kristin with teaching the class. She covered the material, which she did very well and it was nice to see how another teacher teaches the same thing that you already taught. It makes you a better educator in the long run, plus I get to see what she does differently than me. She really explained her lesson to the students and connected with them on multiple levels. She called on a variety of students, including those that do not talk very often, and she was very energetic and excited in her teaching style – even though it was a Friday afternoon. This class will be enjoyable to take over, at the appointed time, but for right now it is just really nice to get experiences in there. One thing Kristin and I talked about after school, which of the final two classes that I have yet to take over (English Literature and American Literature) am I more comfortable with? After a lot of thought, I responded that I am more comfortable with the English Literature class, mainly because of the laptops. Both groups of students are amazing, but the transition from teaching two laptop classes to a totally non-laptop class, which is what American Literature is, will be a challenge. As of right now, I am having enough challenges with the load I have and will have in the next week, although I look forward to taking over my final class in just over a week and a half. Until then, I look forward to taking over the English Literature class on Wednesday. Here comes three classes and three completely different preps. Horary for student teaching, and if anyone has stress relief tips and how to get more rest with less sleep a great time to share those would be now!

My ninth graders always come at the end of the day, but lately they have left me with a feeling of contentment. I am happy with where I am with them. I have gotten over that hump of ninth graders that I blogged about lately and am now really enjoying refining the challenge and art of teaching. On Friday, we took their works cited lists that they turned into me and I gave them back to them. On Wednesday we covered how to do a web site MLA citation, something that the students need to know. I looked at them on Thursday night and all of them did them incorrectly, whether it was a period in the wrong spot, collecting the wrong information, or something completely different. What I was upset about was that we spent almost the entire period on one concept, although it is a hard concept and I definitely did not get it the first time, I had to give everything back. So on Friday in class I pulled an example from every sheet that was turned in, which of course was about half of the class and created a worksheet. From there the students were required to correct the examples and make them “right” according to the format. Then I told them flat out that what they turned in the night before was unacceptable and they would have to redo it over the long weekend. I know that a few of them put in a lot of work trying to figure out the citations, but I really feel that doing these citations, although very elementary, is an important concept for the rest of high school and for college specifically. Anne encouraged me to give it back to them if it was not acceptable, and when I looked at their work I did not think it was acceptable. So I returned it to the students. On top of that I was really excited that we made some progress with their papers in other areas. What we did after the citation mess was cover thesis statements. The focus for this week was modeling for the students, which is exactly how I taught this concept. I laid out each important element and then I provided a student example. After each element was laid out I then crafted the complete thesis statement for them. Then I wrote out the entire thesis statement and covered with them how you take the elements of the thesis and crafted it into a whole statement. I made sure they understood this concept before I moved on, which I did by moving 180 degrees to the back of the classroom on the other blackboard (yes, you read it here I have been using the blackboard in my teaching. There just is not another way to model the concepts that I am looking at without using the blackboard). I made them all turn and look at me and I got to see each and everyone of their eyes before I moved on. The unique thing was that I provided adequate wait time too. I did not move on, and they understood that I would not, until I saw each and every one of them. That is sometimes a problem with the laptops. If the top is not tilted down then they will be using it and that takes their attention away from me teaching. Then from there I told them that they were not leaving the classroom until they wrote their thesis statements and turned them into me – and I was serious too. Anne kind of encouraged me, but I repeated that a few different times with an elevated voice (see Wartburg representative I can be animated and have a good time in front of the classroom) and the students got the message. From there I started doing something that I love doing, meeting with each student on an individual basis. I get down on their level and encourage each one in a different way. Each student needs help in just a little different way and I love meeting and encouraging each of them in those ways. Further, it has been really fun learning each of their little quirks too. I had each of them give me their “exit ticket,” as Kristin calls them, right before they left. Then I made the mistake of assigning them more homework right before they left, and as the bell was ringing. I am pretty sure that half of them did not understand what I was talking about or what they were going to do, but I did it anyway. Anne and I talked about this after school, and I knew the minute that I started assigning it that the students were not paying attention. Therefore, I am not expecting the students to complete the homework and we will spend Monday getting that done, although somehow I am comfortable with that fact. It was a successful day of teaching 9th graders again, which is always a good day. By the way, I gave Anne a job in the classroom and actually asked for help. I wanted her to help the other half of the classroom with their thesis statements, while I helped the other half. That was really helpful in that I could focus on one half, while she took the other half. 9th graders are a handful and if we have two teachers in there we might as well use them both. It was a great moment of partnership in education.

After school Kristin came to C-11, the classroom where I teach 9th and 10th grade. We discussed next week, where Anne is going to be gone finishing a graduate school project in Florida on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Monday. Guess who is teaching all of her classes? You’re reading his blog! That’s right, next week I will be Anne and actually teach her 9th grade Honors students, two classes of them, they are the ones that were in the conversation with Dan Pink on Thursday, and then the 9th graders and seniors. It will definitely be a challenging and interesting experience and I look forward to blogging about it next week. In addition, I will be teaching my 10th grade class too. It sounds like a lot, but the senior and the 9th grade Honors lessons are completely planned out for me; I just need to teach them. It was really nice to decompress on my first two weeks and actually get to talk to them both. We talked a lot about what went well and what I can still work on, but it was a great discussion. My take away, in addition to the things we talked about, was that it was great week. I learned a lot, of which I will post in the next blog, and have also grown immensely too.

Then after our meeting I headed over to soccer. I have such a passion for coaching and getting to know these women players. They really enjoy having me around and coaching the goalies, which apparently the women did not have a goalie coach last year. It is just a great cap on my whole experience at AHS and on my day. I am passionate about correcting the small things in their game and apparently, according to a dad of one of the goalies, I am really animated when I am talking to them. I just get excited because I am in my “sweet spot” getting to teach in an amazing technological environment, work in an incredible school, and get to coach women’s soccer goalies. After practice was over the women were giving me a really hard time about my name. In fact, when we were sitting at a stoplight I had a conversation with a bunch of them about my vehicle, which was pretty humorous to them, but what astounded me was that they cared enough to scream out their window at me to say hello. I guess I am making an impression, and it is nice to be in relationship with them all. It will be hard next week to be without them, as I have practice for a special occasion on Friday, but that will have to wait until another post.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Day Nine!

This morning I helped to facilitate and assist where needed with the interview and live blogging with Dan Pink. This was a really neat event at AHS to see the students live blogging while talking to a best selling author all at the same time – 9th graders. The best part of it was that the students did a really great job. I know Anne is blogging about this specific aspect, so I will not dwell on it any longer and will post links later, but this morning was just really neat to see and participate in. The students were actively engaged with the blog, with each other, with Mr. Pink, and you could tell they were actively thinking. If you want to watch a replay of the session or see pictures click here. A few things I took away from this morning. First, it takes a lot of behind the scenes work to pull something off like the staff of AHS and the district support staff did today. I would like to send out a huge thank you to them for all the work behind the scenes that no one ever notices because everything ran smoothly – you know who you are. Secondly, a big thanks goes out to the administration of AHS for allowing Anne’s class to go ahead and shut down the library for a few hours to participate in an amazing opportunity to truly engage in a learning 2.0 experience. Third, I do not think anyone can even fathom the amount of hours that Anne put into teaching, preparing the students, copying code from one program to the other to set up the technology, and coordinate schedules with Mr. Pink. A huge thanks goes out to her also this evening. Finally, I have to say that the AHS staff, faculty, community, school district, and parents can be very proud of how your students represented themselves in front of the whole world – literally. They did a fantastic job asking questions and thinking critically, which truly made this a learning experience that they will not soon forget.

For some reason today seemed different. The whole day kind of reminded me of a little butterfly getting out of the cocoon where he has lived for the last part of his life. Growing, being nurtured, sheltered, and maturing very slowly. Today I just felt like I got out of that cocoon. English 10 went really well. The students really understood what they were doing today – sentence variety. We did this exercise where they had to color code the beginning of each sentence (orange for an article, yellow for a verb, etc.) and the whole point was that when they were done their page should be a rainbow of colors. If it was not then they need to work on that skill specifically. It was a really good plan, especially for those who are very visual learners. We also looked at sentence length in a very similar way too and that helped them figure out how to vary up sentence structures. It was a good lesson, but most of all I thought that I connected with the students on a different level today or maybe it was just me being more relaxed. Kristin and I started off class with a little skit to answer some questions about their assignments that are due tomorrow. It was an innovative way to really provide them with some feedback, but in a provocative and engaging manner – let’s just say that they were not checking their e-mail during that time period! It was just this weird feeling of looking into their faces and them knowing that I truly cared about them and their education and them looking back at me trusting me to lead them down the right path. A kind of weird feeling, but one that was confident, built on almost two week’s worth of relationships and a passion that I truly have for making them better readers, writers, and students.

Then sixth period, once again I had the same feeling, but in a different way. A few days ago I was really frustrated with the way the class was going. I felt like the lessons were not as effective as I wanted them to be and then yesterday I felt like I was fishing for assignments in a sea of fish that don’t like to bite. Finally today, I felt like I crawled out of the cocoon and have made it out to the branch. Anne loosely described it like this: “That there is always a hump when teaching 9th graders. They are like glorified middle schoolers and in some ways this is true. At times you just have to hold their hands and walk with them, because that is the only way things are going to get done. On the other hand, these kids are so lovable – how could you not enjoy teaching them. There is just this hump in teaching them between how much of a pain it is to hand hold each and every one of them, for the most part, through the process of growing, learning, and becoming great tenth grade students that often many teachers get dismayed and frustrated [Where I was the last two days], but then you eventually get to a point where you have crossed that point and reached the other side [The realization of where I am today]. This is where you can really enjoy teaching them.” So right after she said that I realized where I was. I am more confident in front of the class than I was before. I also have gotten to know each of them personally too, which helps out a lot with challenging each of them individually. I feel like I am no longer frustrated with the fact that they don’t turn in all their homework or always stay on track during class discussions, as that is the joy of freshman. I have now come to a realization that I can have fun in front of the classroom, enjoy making a fool of myself, that I can make mistakes because everything is a learning process (whether that is not so great a lesson or not returning an e-mail in a timely manner), and I can learn from the amazing opportunity I have in front of me. Teaching was getting to be one of those jobs where you just go in because you enjoy what you are doing, at least that’s what it felt like, but now that I am out of the cocoon it feels like a lot more than that. It feels like I am free, free to grow and live and learn in my own way. I teach differently than my cooperating teachers and that is good. I have working relationships with members in my department and that is good too. I feel like I can go out into the hallway now and not get lost, which is a nice feeling. I also feel like I can challenge each of my students in different ways. I have begun to understand that teaching is so much of an art, and I think I only see the tip of the iceberg. I realize how I need to push this student in this way, phrase this sentence in this way for this student, and recognize that this student has issues with computers (which is ok, because I think we all have issues with computers at some point). These revelations are so important because now I believe I have begun to truly see how to focus on and truly begin to make my teaching impactful – student by student and minute by minute when I sit down next to each of them and treat each of them differently. When I can make my teaching effective for each student by reaching out, giving them a pat on the back, and letting them know that I really do care about their success I know that I am doing a good job.

In closing, teaching is learning (and everyone is learning in this process. Check out Anne's blog post on this topic here). Every day is an adventure. I feel like I have come to another level, that I have come out of the safety and comfort of my shell, my cocoon, and actually started to be my own butterfly, my own teacher, and that now I am ready to truly start down the path of recognizing and refining the art of teaching one student and one fifty-nine minute period at a time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reflections on Fifty-Nine Minutes

I will be honest, when I started this blog I had two intentions: One, so that family and friends can stay up with my adventures while I am at AHS, and Two, so that I could participate in a method of publishing that I am expecting my students to be accomplishing on a regular basis. What I am amazed at, though, is where this blog has gone.

Little did I know:
…that I would have friends from home, who I did not even tell about the blog nor even who I have talked to in the past year, contact me via this blog,
…that I would be having both of my cooperating teachers thinking about and reflecting on our days in the classroom via blogs (not to mention linking to each other’s blogs),
…that I would be featured on The Fischbowl,
…that I would have comments on my blog from educators with lots more experience than me giving me advice (and please keep commenting as I want to continue learning),
…that the faculty and staff of AHS would be talking about and reading my blog (as evidenced by the secretaries in the front office who greeted my college representative with “Oh yeah, we know him because we read his blog” – and by the way thanks for all you do!),
…that this blog would be read, commented on, and exist as something that The Karl Fisch would like to see continue,
…and finally, that something that was intended for such a small audience can have such a great impact on so many different people in so many different places.

In C-11, the room at AHS where I teach a majority of my classes, Anne and Kristin have a poster hanging up that says, “This is not education as usual.” Well, I must say that the education I am receiving, both in the classroom at AHS, in meetings with faculty, on the soccer field, and on this blog by your comments is not usual. Instead, this is something that I never imagined could happen, but thanks to the beauty of the world wide web, a post on an award winning education blog, and a lot of people talking to other people it has happened. And for this result, I thank you as readers. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to learn about, read about, and comment on my learning experience at AHS.

In closing, I want to challenge you as readers to continue reading and to leave a comment of encouragement, a thought to consider, or just something that let’s me know you are enjoying the blog.

Thank you again for reading and as your author, I promise to continue writing.


Randon Ruggles

P.S. If you have any questions or comments that you would not like to post on the blog, please feel free to contact me at: