No more theory, put it into practice.

15 Mar

I need a break. I can’t remember what I did this morning (which feels like three days ago), let alone what I blogged about five weeks ago. Thankfully, I have technology to do most of my remembering for me. I have been taking on more teaching responsibilities in the classroom this week, as well as pounding out and polishing up final papers for my teaching courses. I will be thrilled when the last paper is submitted and I can maybe sleep more than 5 hours or even go for a run.

This quarter has been a roller coaster. December was hard. It began with a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, on December 14. I sat down and cried, and found solace in a song. Later in December, I had a huge change in my life, and was lucky to discover people who truly care about me. I initially didn’t want to blog about it, but I found it was profoundly affecting my life – and I began to wonder about students who have trouble and changes at home, and how it affects their learning. So I shared. A little. I opened up my private life to the internet and made my thoughts public. It was hard, but I feel it is important to always remember that our students have a lot going on in their lives that they may not tell us about, but that can immensely impact their school life.

This quarter, I have been inspired by teachers who are not afraid to take a stance and to dive into the politics of education. The many teachers in Seattle who refused to administer the MAP test have been receiving national attention. I wrote a post about it, which prompted some interesting dialogue in the comments. Additionally, I have greatly enjoyed reading The Jose Vilson blog, and this post about white teachers teaching black history month was very striking. I commented that I often wondered about the “right way” to celebrate all of my students. He responded to me (and to the other commentors) with this post, giving some examples of what white teachers SHOULD (in his opinion) do to teach black history.

MAP testing is a hot topic, as one of my cohort-mates, For Whom The Bell Rings, wrote about a recent blog entry from our local weather guru, Cliff Mass. I commented with my own ideas, and the conversation that began in these blogs seeped out into the real world – our carpool, classrooms, and lunch times became sounding boards for ideas and arguments about this way of thinking. It’s just one example of how a blog post can create dialogue and push people’s thinking, on and off the internet.

So, there’s my blog reflection for Winter Quarter. In a week, full-time student teaching/co-teaching begins. We’ve learned the theory, crammed it into our heads, hoping something will stick. We’ve worked with fantastic educators and professionals, and even more fantastic (fantasticker? yeah.) students. Now we’ve got to put it into practice. Blogging isn’t required for the remainder of our program, but I think I would like to continue reflecting on my teaching on a blog, perhaps even collaborating with some of my cohort-mates.

Now, here I go on to the next assignment.

The Muses Go To School

13 Mar

As part of our seminar and tech class, my group created an RSA-style video about the book The Muses Go To School.

I really enjoyed reading this book, because it emphasized a fact that I firmly believe: Teaching The Arts in school is a vital part of educating children. Not all children will grow up to be professional artists/actors/directors/poets/musicians etc… However, every single person (child) can benefit greatly from the inclusion of arts education throughout their schooling.

We made an RSA video to mirror the importance of art in schools – an artistic form of assessment for an artistic book!

Hope you enjoy!

Different Worlds

10 Mar

On Monday, I had the opportunity to sit in on two classrooms at the school where my mom works. This school is in a wealthier district, with only 10% of students qualifying for  free or reduced lunch.

There are some extreme differences, as well as similarities, between this school I visited, and the school where I am a teacher intern.

1: The building

The school in which I am a teacher intern was built in 1959. In 1989, it was “modernized” – I’m not sure what that entails, but I assume it included upgraded electrical systems and making the buildings safer. However, I’m sure someone who attended the school in the 70s would still recognize it.

The school I visited last week was completely rebuilt, from the ground up, in 2011. High-speed wireless internet, large classrooms (all about 1000 square feet), and interactive whiteboards in every classroom are just a few of the items listed on the district webpage.

2. The Students

As I mentioned above, only 10% of students at this school qualify for free or reduced lunch. I had some difficulty finding that information for my main placement school, but I believe it is between 45-55% of students – although some sources have that number as much higher.

The 3rd graders in my main placement and the 3rd graders in the class I visited are two very different groups of children. The class I visited is designated a “high achieving” or “gifted” class; students must score highly on several tests in order to qualify. The biggest difference I noticed was the amount of independent work given to students. I wonder, as I often do, if these students are able to work independently because of their ability levels, or because it has simply always been expected of them. It’s one of those chicken or the egg situations, I suppose – although I do believe that when we expect the best of our students, we receive their best.

3. The teacher/staff community

In this area, I saw virtually no difference. I sat in the staff room and ate lunch (with my mom) and chatted with teachers about school, teaching, and life in general. The conversation was hardly different than any one I usually have at lunch at my main placement. Teachers, aides, and other staff clearly love what they do, and work hard every day to make a difference in their students lives.

 

 

Running

3 Mar
Photo credit: Danielle Walquist Lynch, via Flickr

Photo credit: Danielle Walquist Lynch, via Flickr

This morning, I woke up before the sun came up. I got dressed, put on my running shoes, and drove to Seattle Center. Then, I voluntarily ran 3.1 miles.

This is not something I ever thought I would do. Running seemed pointless. I didn’t understand why people would force themselves to do something so unpleasant. However, before I even finished the race, I found myself wondering when I would have a chance to do it again.

I ran with several of my friends from my teaching program, and since education is pretty much the only thing I think about at the moment, I very quickly began making connections between running and teaching, running and learning, running and the education system… You get the point

Learning: Many students think reading or math (or any other subject) is boring, pointless, and unpleasant. It may be painful at first. You may stumble. You may fall. But if you keep getting back up, and trying – you will get there.

Teaching: I was lucky enough to have awesome friends pushing me and keeping me going.I used iPhone apps and GPS trackers to motivate myself. As teachers, we have to either be those motivators, or find what works for our students. Sitting next to them giving encouragement, or finding a program that helps them learn – there are many paths to success, but all paths need support.

Education: Ten Thousand people showed up for this race. TEN THOUSAND. If ten thousand people can get up before 6am on a Sunday, park, gather, and run a carefully organized race course, then why can’t we make schools better? What can we learn from this?

shoes

The most important lesson I learned – don’t give up. When I started training, I couldn’t run a mile. Now, I can run 3. It feels great!

What love means

17 Feb
Image

Image by @Lel4nd via Flickr

Love has many meanings. We tend to think of romantic love, especially at this time of year. However, it really means whatever you want it to. Romance, family, friends, people who touch our lives – that’s what love is about.

On Thursday, as I was dancing the chicken dance with 24 3rd graders at a Valentine’s Day party, I was overcome with such a strong feeling of love that I nearly cried. It was a silly moment, but one so full of beauty, I almost couldn’t stand it.

We teach, because we love.

As I was driving north yesterday, to see my best friends (who I love dearly), I listened to This American Life on NPR. The entire episode (part one of two) followed teachers, administrators, and students at Harper High School. Harper High School’s attendance area includes more than 15 gangs – and last year 29 current and former students from Harper were shot, and 8 of them died.

Listening to the staff talk about their students – listening to them talking to their students – you can tell that they are motivated by Love. Love with a capital L. They Love the students who drop out, they Love the students who have no choice but to join a gang. They Love the football players who worry about rival gang members on the team. They Love the student who accidentally shot his little brother.

These teachers work hard every day to help their students simply survive high school. Administrators often drive students to and from school, so they don’t walk through dangerous situations. Social workers meet with students and their parents on a regular basis. On a day after a gang-related shooting, some students are sent home for their safety – so they don’t have to walk home through rival gang territory at dismissal time.

Love.

As the Beatles say, it’s all you need.

The best lesson

10 Feb

Teachers at several schools around Seattle have refused to administer the MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) test in the past few weeks.

The boycott initially began in December, with a few teachers at Garfield High stating that they would not administer the MAP test to their students, for a number of reasons. Two of the biggest reasons – it interferes with student learning and doesn’t give teachers any valuable information about their students. You can read a full petition presented by the Garfield teachers here, at change.org.

The administration has reacted cautiously, especially as teachers from many other schools have joined the boycott. Community support is varied, if one is to believe the comments on online news articles. (Which, to be honest, I usually skip. Too many people think they can hide behind their computers and spew hateful comments.)

But what’s the big deal? Why won’t teachers just sit down and administer this one test?

Because it’s not just this one test. The MAP is one test in a long list of tests that Seattle students must take over the course of the year. Regardless of what information is gleaned from these test scores, the more time students spend in testing, the less time they spend actually learning. The MAP test is conducted on the computer, which takes computer lab time from other students who could be learning things about technology, programming, etc… or even just the simple typing skills that everyone needs today. Many students don’t have access to computers other than at school.

Whether or not you agree with a boycott of the MAP test, it is exciting to see teachers coming together to try to improve the education system that they work in. PTSAs and parents and students are all supporting these teachers. Parents are writing letters to exempt their students from testing. Students are refusing to take the test, and voicing their support of the boycott.

This sentiment against mandatory, unnecessary testing is not unique to Seattle. Chicago teachers were told that the MAP was going to be used as part of their student-achievement based evaluation process. In case you forgot, that didn’t go so well, for any party involved. (Though the testing was just one thing on a list of teacher grievances that led to that strike.)

Teaching is not easy, teaching is not a job for those who “can’t do” – it’s a job for those who do, every day. These teachers are showing their students that they can make a difference, that they can stand up for what they believe in, and that they can be heard.

That’s the best lesson any teacher could hope to teach.

The Power of Please

3 Feb

We have a student who some might describe as “defiant.”

He refuses to follow directions. He won’t come to the carpet. He won’t complete his worksheets. He won’t do his homework. When told to do anything, he refuses, about half the time.

Friday, I was fed up with him. He was doing his math homework, with a pen, during independent reading time. I took a deep breath, and said, “Scotty, can you please put that away and get out a book?”

He looked at me, blinked, and put away his math, got out a book, and said “sorry.”

All because I said please? Maybe not, but I am nearly positive he would have ignored me had I given him another order to follow directions and get out a book.

Saying “Please” and “Thank You” is something we insist on teaching our children from an early age. However, teachers don’t do it. We give orders. Is it too much work to say “please” and “thank you?”

It’s so easy to to get in the mindset of “I am in charge, do what I say.”

“Line up.”

“Use a pencil.”

“Get a book.”

“Sit down.”

“Don’t talk.”

What does this teach our students? It teaches them that they have no power. It teaches them that they have no say in their own lives, no free will. It teaches them that we, the teachers, are in charge, and they are not. It teaches them that the person in charge can give orders. Can make demands. Doesn’t have to be polite.

When we, the teachers, enforce these ideas of unequal power, we prevent the creation of a democratic classroom.

What about when the teacher is white and the students are not? When we are educated and the parents are not? When we speak Standard English and our students do not?

It’s easy to say please and thank you. It’s easy and it’s powerful.

 

Picking up

27 Jan

broken_heart

 

Without going into detail, my world shattered in late December. Though things have “settled” a bit, I still find myself, in the middle of one task or another, suddenly standing still, wondering “How on earth did I get here?” and “This is NOT where I am supposed to be.” And to be quite honest, I’m having a hard time focusing on anything, from cooking (which I love) to school (which I usually love).

This happens to students all the time. Parents lose their jobs, or divorce, or even die. Families move across town, across the country, or across the world. Shootings. The fear of shootings. Violence at home, or in the neighborhood. Bullying. Family members who fall ill. Numerous other events that happen every day.

Just like me, these students – these children – are expected to go on as if nothing has happened. Rarely are teachers even aware of what, specifically, is affecting their students lives – but usually they can tell something is going on. Students lose focus, act out in class, neglect their homework, and otherwise “act out.” At this age, they are not capable of putting their feelings into words, they only know that something is wrong, so they do these things, to prove that life is not working right for them.

I have been lucky these past few weeks, to discover who my real friends are. Family members and friends have provided support, encouragement, and help, as I struggle to pick up the pieces. As teachers, we must be a rock for our students. Even when we don’t know what is wrong, it is our job to sift through the clues, be the glue and the support, and help our students “fix” their lives, as best we can.

It’s not all about teaching reading and math. As John Spencer says, it’s about love. “Real love. Muddy love.” Really, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it?

National Day of Service

20 Jan

In addition to being the day we celebrate the official beginning of our president’s second term, tomorrow, January 21, is also Martin Luther King, Jr Day. In 1994, congress designated MLK day as a “national day of service” – in an effort to “make it a day on, not a day off.” The spirit of the day is based on the belief of Dr King, that anyone can serve.

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

I would like to make an addition to Dr. King’s belief – you don’t need to be wealthy to serve. Many people believe that volunteering or otherwise helping a charitable organization is something that only the wealthy can afford to do. I believe it is something that all of us must do – we can’t afford not to.

Tomorrow, my day will mostly be spent working on homework and lesson planning, trying to get a little bit ahead, so maybe I won’t be behind by the end of the quarter. I’m going to be getting ready for my first official lesson observation, for a week of classes, and for taking on more teaching duties. Though I may not be working with an official volunteer work party, it is still service. Or rather, preparation for service.

In the past, I have spent MLK Day cleaning parks, serving pancakes, organizing toy drives, and building school gardens. In the future, I hope to do these things with my students. Yes, MLK Day is a federal holiday, which means no school. However, it also means that many of my students will be home alone – because many of their parents will still have to work. What better way to ensure my student’s safety than to organize a day of service? Maybe I will have to give extra credit. Maybe I will have to receive special permission from my principal, the district, and the parents. I am sure there will be hoops to jump through and paperwork to file.

It will be worth it.

Creating a sense of community responsibility and teamwork is a vital part of being a teacher. Working together on a service project of our own creation could be a powerful way to build towards these goals. Whether on and official Day of Service or not, teaching my students that they can have a positive impact on the world around them – that they indeed have that power – what textbook can teach that?

Here’s a video about the meaning of MLK Day of Service:

For more information about the National Day of Service, check out their website.

Back in the swing.

15 Jan

Being back at school. It feels overwhelming and amazing and scary and exciting.

My mentor teacher was out this afternoon, and I survived two hours with a sub. It was tougher than I expected. Apparently, I don’t “have this” yet. Although, I think whenever I can say “I’ve got this – ” well, then what is there to learn anymore?

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