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.