Thursday, January 8, 2009

Day Four!

Today was day four and as I drove to work, well student teaching, I considered one thing: How lucky I am to be where I am. Not many students get blessed by an amazingly supportive family, group of friends, and a situation that is well beyond ideal. I was talking to another few student teachers last night that are within the Denver Public School system. They mentioned to me the meetings the staff was having about violence, graffiti, and how bad the students are in the classroom (getting through two sentences without a swear word is an accomplishment). Then I considered my situation: I am placed with two amazing, master teachers who both teach in laptop classrooms. I am within an award winning, top of the line, blue ribbon high school. Education is valued, students want to be there, they want to be challenged, and they want to truly "Change the World." AHS is an amazing place, with a superior faculty, and set within a supportive community. I could not have asked or even dreamed for a better place to do the largest and most important part of my education thus far. It is such a blessing to walk into school every morning and get to see some amazing students - who want to see me, challenge me, and greet me with clapping as I start class. When I considered how hard it was to get into AHS, read the first post if you don't know what I am talking about, I am reminded of The Last Lecture. Randy Pausch mentions this concept over and over again: "The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people" (p.73). It was an adventure getting to where I am today, and definitely a God thing, but it is such a blessing to be in an environment where I am supported, valued, desired and have great mentors that want nothing else than to help me succeed and learn. Thank you again to the people that support me, mentor me, care for me, and encourage me in the classroom to be all that I can be. AHS is such a blessing.

Today was one of those famous days on the variable schedule where I only go to two different classes. However, today, as with every day, is always a little different from previous days. First period I went to J. Comp's Language Arts class full of 9th graders. She did this incredible activity with a tableau that allowed the students to move, have fun, and learn the material all at the same time. I am constantly reminded that in the Language Arts office at AHS I am surrounded by a wealth of knowledge, experience, and great ideas. Comp's students really enjoyed the activity and I hope to implement it into my lessons some day soon, or at the least next year for sure.

Second period I discussed with Kristin teaching the English 10 students. Kristin is so confident of my teaching ability, apparently (Note: I haven't taught for her yet, she has just heard things from Anne) that she wants to hand the class over to me on Monday. Wow, ok deep breathe Randon, you can do it. One more class, that's not that bad. Plus, they are working on creative writing and their own memoirs. This class, I have visited it every day since I have been at AHS has really grown on me. They are a little more serious than 9th graders and should be a lot of fun to teach. Monday is coming, and thanks to Kristin for trusting me enough to allow me to take over so soon. Here goes a student teacher trying to make another difference in fifty-nine minutes.

The rest of the second period I went to Anne's 9th grade Honors classroom. They were having their first fishbowl of the semester. I can't really describe how it works (this handout truly describes it), but essentially there are a group of presenters on the information at hand (In this case it was the first chapter of A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink) that are seated in the center of the classroom in almost a square. Around the outside the rest of the students are all on the class blog, blogging about the questions being asked and responded to in the middle. The presenters are the only ones that can talk, although students from the outside can leave their computers and come to the middle, add a comment, and go back to the outside. Students on the outside of the circle can also have their own conversations with other students that are on the outside via the blog. So basically at one time there is one vocal inner circle conversation, multiple outer circle conversations, and many conversations that bounce between the inner and the outer circles all happening at one time. At first when I heard, back when I met Anne and Kristin, I was a little taken back about this method of discussing information from the book. Today when I arrived I was really excited to learn about and actually see this method happening in person. I was excited to listen, watch, and then Anne even got me to participate. It amazed me how the students managed to keep all the conversations and ideas in check. The students in the inner circle all had computers and some were commenting on ideas in the outer circle, in addition to vocally commenting on what was going on in the inner circle. Then, if that wasn't enough, all the blog posts were being projected up on the screen for everyone to see. Truly an amazing process. The students were asking some very hard questions and really considering the role of education in the 21st Century, Flat World that we all live, work, and go to school in. It was quite an amazing process and at times overwhelming. The students love it though and this is by far their favorite way to discuss information. Which brings me to the importance of technology in this situation. The only way that Anne and the 9th graders can do this is because of some amazing efforts of Karl Fisch (see yesterday's post), Anne to set it up, and volunteers from the school and community to support it. The entire time I was in there this thought kept coming to my mind: This is what a real, relevant, and rigorous education in the 21st Century looks like.

Third period I once again watched Kristin walk the 10th graders through their memoirs and a creative way to revise each other's papers. It is such a blessing to have a rapport with the students before I get in front of them on Monday. That should be a good adventure.

Before and after lunch I planned and got items ready for class. It constantly amazes me how much time and effort go into one class, much less four when I get there. People who have "normal" 9-5 jobs have it easy. No lesson plans, papers to grade, preparation to complete, students to keep up with, and e-mails to respond to. I am not complaining and I would not trade it for anything. The students at AHS are incredible. I am just amazed how much time it takes to do a good job - or at least a good job as defined by me.

Sixth period came again and I was in front of my 9th graders for another fifty-nine minutes. Today we had a lot to cover and I talked to Anne before class about actually cutting some things, which I was glad I did. I always seem to plan too much, which is a good thing when I consider the effect of not planning enough. We did a few activities and then the students brainstormed ideas for their "Assignment - Change the World" paper and action plan. They then were presented with the items to complete their homework. When I look back on my days at AHS so far I am proud that I have not completed any two elements of lessons the exact same way. I enjoy changing things up and making class engaging and interesting. There was one point today where I did not give clear directions on how to break up into groups. The students thought it was a little silly, but in the end I apologized and took the fall for it. It's always a learning experience, right? I just keep thinking that. In addition, I felt, for some reason, that I was in front of the class too much today. I hate lecture, but the information I was giving them was important and they wanted it, such as a total breakdown of the assignment. The activities that we did were also very important. I got my points across and I feel like I completed the objectives for the day. They have all come up with a list of ten ideas that they are really interested in and tomorrow I will be conferencing with them all individually on their top ideas. Then over the weekend I am looking forward to grading, yes I wrote that correctly (it's fun to help students change the world and I am proud to be their teacher and guide in the process). All in all it was a good day.

After class Anne always asks me for my take away of the day. Today I was a little shy on giving one. I didn't really know right after class and said something about how it was nice to see that students were excited about changing the world - on the basis of all their great ideas posted on the walls around the room. When I look back on it, though, I keep coming back to one of my students. She had a terrible night at home and was not able to complete her homework. She felt discouraged and started the class very downtrodden and I noticed this right away. Once I got the class started I went up to her and asked her what happened and we worked through the issue. She completed her homework, with some help, received a little pep talk, and then we were off running - and she was on the same page as everyone else. Her involvement for the rest of the class was amazing and her attitude was completely changed. As she was walking out of the class, with a smile on her face, I gave her a few more words of encouragement, which honestly made her smile. Today in class I told my students that world change doesn't always mean changing the lives of people across the globe, but taking on the issues close to home. I watched how a caring touch and few words of encouragement can take someone from disappointment to an energy and passion for learning that included a smile. It's those smiles, that encouragement, and those types of changes that I am in the business of education. What other profession can you daily change the course of many lives just by how you individually act? There you go Anne, that's my take away from the day!

I must also point out that after class Anne and I talked about how I was doing. I felt like today was not the strongest lesson that I have ever taught, but Anne encouraged me that I did accomplish my objectives. The students were inspired, they learned, and they are ready and on board with the assignment. Have confidence in that, which is exactly what, looking back at it now, is exactly what I needed to hear. Thanks mentor! Then after that Anne said some very nice things about how prepared I am for class, am doing an exemplary job, how my ideas and planning are incredible, and how she is amazed at my rapport with the students. On top of that she told me that some people just have this passion for teaching. It is something that is just innate, and it's something that she believes is a God given gift to me. The passion I have towards education, teaching, and connecting with these students. I guess I always knew that there was something about teaching that I have loved. The students, the situation, but just the whole thing - being a teacher. It's an amazing profession. Anne, thanks for the kind words, I don't think I totally understand them yet or the multitude of the them either, but some day I might. For right now, my mentor, my amazing cooperating and master teacher, just gave me a big pat on the back. I am holding my students to a bar that is so high that I also need to hold myself to that standard too. I can't expect them to change the world, if I'm not setting the example and being the cause for what one of my students called "secondary world change." I think a true teacher is one that expects the world of and for their students to change, but is right there guiding them, leading the way, and helping them when they stumble.

Finally, I must finish off today's post with a comment. Anne posted on her blog a reflection on her being my mentor (Read it here). Sometimes when the unexpected happen in a classroom, the end result is still effective - if not more effective the second time around. Anne stepped into my motivational speech yesterday, but in the end all she did was reinforce my pep talk for the students. As they left yesterday to go out into the world that I told them would be changed in five weeks, when this unit is complete and their "Assignment - Change the World" is complete, they were confident that not one, but two teachers are holding them accountable for truly changing the world.