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.