Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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.