Monday, December 24, 2007

Empower Your Troublemakers

So here's a quick classroom management/rapport building technique that I use pretty much all the time. Whenever I have an errand to run whether it's delivering a note, making copies, or going to the library, I always ask my more ornery students to do it. Now I don't do this as any sort of punishment. I usually say, "I think I need some copies made." By now my better behaved students are breaking their arms volunteering. Rather than choose one of them though, I'll pick the kid who was late to class and has a problem controlling the volume (and pitch) of his voice. Doing this provides an opportunity for this student to show that they can make productive contributions to the class and prove that they can be trusted. I suppose there may be a slight risk involved, but it's paid off pretty well.

This is just a small way that I can build some rapport with students. When they come back, they're usually better behaved and more attentive for the rest of the class period, which is kind of the point of sending them on the errand. Students learn best when they feel best. I'm not trying to say that this tactic fills them with euphoric joy, but I think it can serve to improve their perception of the class. Students enjoy being given responsibility, especially the ones who aren't given it very much. School isn't just about learning facts from a book. It's about becoming a responsible adult. Students are never going to become responsible adults if they're never given the chance to show that they can be or have the potential to be. I'm offering neither the carrot nor the stick to these students, merely personal choice.

In any case, being able to involve all students in the regular classroom serves as the greatest benefit. Teaching to the top 25% of the class whether that be the top 25% of grades, behavior, or likability is simply irresponsible education. I suppose that's one of my goals for the next semester, involving more of my students. Some of them deliberately make the task more difficult, but I solider on. It's a slow process that requires reflection, flexibility and daily adjustment, but every day is an improvement. By empowering my troublemakers with personal responsibility, I'm one step closer to teaching to the full 100% of my class.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

First Semester Reflections

If I had to use one word to describe my teachings these days, it would be rapport. By now, I know my students really well. I know about their families, their likes and dislikes. I know what students can sit by what students. I know which students I can trust to sit by their friends and which ones need to be more isolated. I have developed that really lame term called "with-it-ness" which means you're with it or perhaps I should really call it "Got your shit togetherness." That term is less acceptable in educational fields though.

I don't think I've had to chew a student out for a while now. It took me a few months, but I eventually figured out that it just isn't productive. I've been tempted, but my patience has been increasing. At best chewing a student out will stop a certain behavior, but more often than not, it just shuts a student down. They are physically present, but no longer really there. Also they just resent you for the rest of the class/week/school year/life.

My threshold/tolerance for an acceptable noise level is fairly high during discussion. I try to curb it more when I'm lecturing or giving notes, but discussion time is more free flowing, though I still try to maintain some sort of control over who is talking. Sometimes it's still hard to distinguish between productive discussion and mindless chatter, though I think I'm getting better at it.

I've become much more extemporaneous as the semester has progressed. Sometimes my teacher sense tells that it's time for a change, so I'll halt what we're doing and switch gears. Last week during 7th hour we were reading a book and nobody was really paying attention. We finished the chapter and I said, "Ok, class lets go outside and build a snowman." Building a snowman turned into just having a snowball fight, but I let them throw snow on each other and burn some energy. It was harmless and I was able to see some of my students who aren't as socially adjusted smile and laugh. Afterwards, we went back inside and I tried to get them to write about the experience. Most of their hands were a little bit numb so it took a minute or two.

If something seems like a good idea, I'll most likely go for it. I've stopped class before so we can listen to a song on youtube or I'll find a news article that relates. I know we discussed reflection in action, and while I am doing that, a lot of times I'm just following my intuition as to what might be a good idea. I always have lesson plans, but every so often I'll toss them and try for something different. I suppose that's the beauty of teaching 6 different classes. I don't have to make them the exact same.

Towards the end of the semester I've also been differentiating my assessment for students. I've tried to give students the opportunity to choose their assignments. It's like a choose your own adventure story. Most of the time I'll give them the choice of doing just a pure writing assignment or one that is a bit more creative. The students who "know the game" often choose the writing assignment but the ones who are less confident in their ability to analyze and articulate their response in writing fair much better when there is an artistic element involved.

Next semester, I'd like to set up a few more systems for class management. I already have a homework file. I've found it's easiest to just write down an absent student's name on any worksheet, quiz, or test they miss and stick in in that folder. That way I know they have to make it up. I'm also going to create a bathroom sheet. Some of my students just go to the bathroom every single day. It's somewhat distracting when students are asking to go all the time. Three trips to the bathroom sound reasonable and after that, I'll make them color me a picture or something to get another pass.

There is a possibility that I could be getting a projector for my classroom which would be fantastic. I'm tired of having my students crowd around my computer for videos and music. I like incorporating various mediums into the day to day class so it's been a challenge figuring out how to do that in such a low budget classroom.

I'd also like to make my classrooms even more student directed. A lot of days I give them some sort of say over what kind of work and assessment we do, but sometimes it's just simpler to do it myself. The kids respond better though when they have something to do with it. Also, I am amazed at the amount of thought and effort some students will put into creative projects. Incorporating art and drawing has really helped pull some of my students into the classroom and I'd like to do that more. For me when I have to do a poster project, it's a chore, but some of my students really love it.

I've done an OK job of getting some of my less talkative students engaged in what is going on, but not the best. My system for calling on students is girl-boy-girl-boy when I can help it. At times it feels as though some of my students are being suppressed or ignored at the expense of my more talkative ones.

I'd like to crank up some of my classroom management as well. I've been getting slack with my creative writing class and I'm afraid they've been using that to their advantage and not really working. Creative writing has been my case study of when rapport can be used against you. I'm still the teacher, no matter how laid back the classroom may be.

All in all, it's been a fantastic semester. I've loved teaching these students and I'm looking forward to doing it again next semester. I'm considering where I want to teach next fall and I wouldn't mind sticking around for a few more years.

Friday, December 7, 2007

You Don't Learn Empathy From a Textbook

There are moments when I'm teaching when I can see that there is some good in humanity, that today's youth may provide some hope for the future. Yesterday we had a fire drill during lunch so all the students marched outside in the cold. My plan period is during lunch so I didn't have any students to watch. Being the good teacher that I am, I went outside to supervise and keep order. Most of the kids were pretty wired and bouncing around, but that's to be expected. After a few minutes we got the all clear and the students started to trickle back in.

While we were coming back inside I saw something that made my heart catch in my throat. I'm serious; I could feel the emotion welling up inside me and I had to bite back not to show it. One of my 8th grade students really impressed me that day because instead of running back inside or talking with his other 8th grade friends, he made sure this younger student with arm braces made it back inside the building. He helped her up the hill, opened the door for her and walked her back to her class. He was the only one who bothered to make sure she made it back inside. The girl's teacher sure didn't help and her Para was no where to be seen. Now, I've actually talked about this student before on this blog. He's the student who enjoyed reading this book about a female character, but felt the pressure from his male friends not to show it. He's a pretty normal teenage boy who likes dirt bikes, paint ball, and hunting. But what impresses me is his developed sense of empathy and maturity that you just don't normally expect from a 14 year old boy. He's a good kid. I knew that before, but seeing it in action reminds me what a great job I have.

Today I gave him a gift certificate for a free pizza for good citizenship. He just shrugged and said it was no big deal, but he kind of smiled when I handed it to him because he knew that he had done good and I think it pleased him that someone noticed and recognized that fact. He doesn't brute around the fact that he helps others in need. In fact, I've seen him help other students with homework though he doesn't make a big deal about it. One time, I watched him help a struggling reader read aloud during class by helping to correct some of the words the other student got stuck on. Now I'm not trying to say this student is a saint. He's got a stubborn streak a mile wide sometimes. He likes to talk, but that works both ways since he also participates in class discussion a lot as well. Good kid all and all though. He's going to grow up into mature and well balanced adult.

One of the best things that has happened to me since I've started teaching is that my complete and utter reliance on thinking has given way to an increased ability and willingness to look at the world through feeling and emotion. I'm invested in my students, every single last one of them, even the ones who get under my skin. It's impossible to be invested in your students from a purely analytical and thinking process. I see my students as a community of learners which I'm a part of. It's fun to theorize about best practice and pedagogical methods, but nothing in any of my education courses could prepare me for the human aspect of working with students.
People ask me why would I want to teach. The pay isn't great and the hours are long and hard. The answer is simple. It's because of the students; it'll always be because of the students.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sexual Orientation: An Important Election Issue

Ok class, how many of you would be willing to vote for a gay president?
(six hands out of twenty go up)

Today during class we had a discussion about how ideas or concepts we aren't used to make us uncomfortable. Somehow we got onto the topic of whether or not people would vote for a woman president. A lot of the class said no, that women were too emotional. I asked the same thing about a black president, and most of the class said no, though there answers weren't very satisfying. It was when I asked whether or not the class would vote for a gay president that things really got noisy.

I was actually pretty horrified at the sentiments expressed. Even if the candidate was otherwise qualified, most of the students would not support him or her because of their sexual orientation. Nobody was able to give a decent answer about what this had to do with being a good president. They all pointed to their religious beliefs. I more or less asked whether or not it was ok to treat these people as subhuman because of their orientation and most of them didn't see a problem with it. After a while I asked whether or not they would vote for someone who committed adultery. They had less of a problem with this then the sexuality issue. What bothers me the most is the attitudes of some of my otherwise normal students. One in particular said that gay people made him so angry that he wanted to punch them in the face. Statements like that frighten me. That's how we have the Matthew Shepard incidents. That's how wars begin. That's how lynchings happen. That's how the Holocaust is allowed to happen.

At the moment, I could care less whether my students appreciate Shakespeare if it meant that they'd be more open and accepting of their fellow man. It's difficult to teach tolerance, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Quick Lesson

Here's an activity that incorporates vocabulary, spelling, communication, and dictionary use. I thought of it about 10 minutes before class one day, and refined it for a different class later in the day.

Start off the class by asking if anyone can stump you with a word that you don't know. Do this for about five minutes and then talk about what ways you can build your vocabulary and where you can find the definitions of words.

Next, give the class about 5-10 minutes to write down a few really good vocabulary words as well as the part of speech and the definition. You may also want them to use the word in a sentence.

Break the class into 2-4 teams depending on class size and collect the word lists.

Have two people go to the board from each team, with one of them standing at the board waiting to write, and the other sitting in a desk facing away from the board with just a dictionary.

Tell them that you will say a word from one of the lists. The person at the board must write the word and write the definition of the word. The word must be spelled correctly and the definition must be correct. When they are done, they put the marker down. First team to have both the correct spelling and a correct definition earns a point.

The catch is the person sitting in the desk can't look at the board and the person writing at the board can't look at the dictionary. The two of them have to work together in order to figure out words they don't know the spelling or definition of.

After the round is over, the pair switch places. After the second round, a new set of people go to the board and the process starts all over again.

The students quickly figure a few things: It pays to make sure the word is spelled correctly because once you put your marker down it's done. It also pays to write as brief a definition that still makes sense. It's a good lesson in brevity.

Some words of caution: Depending on what type of atmosphere you like in your class, you may want to discourage the students who are not at the board from yelling out things. Of course, this could also be helpful and add a different dimension.

Overall, this is a fun activity that the students tend to enjoy and can really get into. A lot of times the students who are sitting down will be looking up new words to stump the people at the board. Also, a strong-weak pair can still do just as well against a strong-strong pair if they can work together.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gather Round the Campfire

Today for Halloween, I had my students write ghost stories. One group of girls came to the front of the class and started their story like this:

  • Girl one: Once the bread popped out of the toaster, nobody knew what to put on it. Jelly, margarine, cinnamon-sugar.
  • Girl two: He said write a ghost story, not a toast story!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Teacher Credability

This week I was teaching a lesson on credibility in writing. We were specifically looking at types of evidence and fallacies of argument, but that's not too important right now. What I remember saying is that if your readers doubt your credibility, then they're going to have a hard time taking you seriously or believing anything you say.

As teachers, we have a certain amount of credibility with our students. Our credibility can be strictly as educators, but I think it extends to more than just that. Students need to believe that we are credible human beings too and this sort of credibility will pay off if a student has some major life issue going on in their personal life. (abuse, divorce, death in family, etc.) It's one thing to say that you care about a student's well-being, life, and future, and it's another thing entirely to actually show it. Telling a student, “I care about you as a person, not just a student,” doesn't really cut it. In fact, it's kind of lame if that's all you do. There needs to be someway for you to convey this to students through actions. I've discovered a few ways to build positive relationships with students that establish credibility as a human being, and not just a robot whose only job is to teach.

  1. Talk to students about their lives. Get to know what type of music they like and don't be afraid to have a five minute talk about pop culture.

  2. Support their fund raisers. I've bought half a dozen candy bars, several magazine subscriptions, and even some bathroom candles. I've spent maybe 60 bucks, but I write it off as an educational expense and not only does my bathroom smell good now, but there's something to read in there as well. Supporting fund raisers in visible way or allowing students to hawk their wares in class builds your credibility as a person.

  3. Go to their extracurricular events. If you can, show up to the baseball, basketball, or scholars bowl even. Go to the school plays and other student led events. If you don't have the time for these sorts of things, then at least find out about them and ask your students how they went.

  4. Smile at your students and say hi to them in the halls, even the students who give you a hard time in class.

  5. Chaperon events. I chaperoned a dance last night and the students were pleasantly surprised to see me there. I had a lot of them come up and talk to me throughout the night and ask me how things were. A few of them asked me to get out on the dance floor and break it down, but I told them that I'm there to make sure they're having fun and being safe. I'm always mindful that they know that I'm still a teacher, even though I don't look much older than they are. At my high school, everyone shows up to the dance and everyone dances with everyone. It's a friendly environment, but even if you're dances are more drama-filled, I still suggest you go. At the very least, you get to learn a lot about your students by watching them dance.

  6. Do the assignment with them. If students are complaining about an assignment being unfair, a lot of times, I'll go ahead and do the assignment with them while they're doing this. I do this most often with my creative writing class, but sharing a personal narrative as Kyle did is also a good idea.

  7. Have a sense of humor. If you're not a funny person, then at least laugh at the funny things your kids say in class. Students say the funniest things, sometimes unintentionally.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Full Court Press

As I begin typing this, I'm sitting at my first high school basketball game at the school that I teach. It's between games right now, so don't worry. I'm not typing this during the game. I'll finish typing most of the post at home. I just watched the girls slaughter the opposing team and I'm kind of impressed. It's funny because every single one of the girls who played are students of mine. My students who work hard in the classroom, work hard on the court as well. I watched them hustle hustle hustle the entire game. I'm not sure how a parent instills that sort of determination and drive. From what I can tell, it's mostly intrinsic. I have a pair of sisters who are more or less the exact opposite as far as motivation goes. One of them busts her butt to get everything done while the other barely works at all.

I can't help but feel I am but a minor player in these students' lives. I see them for one hour a day, five days a week. I'm facilitating them in becoming the adults they will be, but most of these kids have a good framework built up already. Not all of them, but most of them. It's as if I'm helping to pass the baton, from one role model to the next. In some cases though, I might be the first adult to actually attempt to pick up the baton.

I really love this job. The small school is great for letting me get to know all of my students, not just a small portion of the population. Tonight I also got a chance to talk to some of the parents and for the most part I was able to tell them what great kids they had and what a good job their kid was doing in my classroom. That's a really good feeling actually. I then reminded them that they had parent teacher conferences next week and that I hoped to see them again. Tonight was a rewarding night, but jeez, I was at the school for over 13 hours. That's a long time to be hanging out in one place. It's almost the weekend and I'm looking forward to it. Next week is an abbreviated week. I only have class for three days really. Thursday is parent teacher conferences and Friday is a day off. I need to get to bed. I got another full day on track.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Personal Narratives

My seventh and eighth graders turned in their personal narratives today and after reading over them, I am so damn proud of them. Most of them really took hold of this assignment and ran with it. I have some really excellent pieces of writing and it's neat thinking that I had something to do with them. In total, we've spent two and a half weeks with these things and I think the extra time really paid off. I think what really ended up helping a lot was the fact that I gave them all two days to work on it in class, and two days of proofing. The first day of proofing was really a revision day. I had the students read over each other's personal narratives and then tell each other what they liked about them. The second day was yesterday and that's when we looked at the nitpicky details such as spelling and grammar. Almost all of my students have mastered the MLA heading, something I still didn't have down pat until college. It's days like this when I actually feel more like a teacher, like I've done something worthwhile during my time at school. I had them write reflections before they turned in their personal narratives in order to gauge their thought processes. Most of them just wrote letters to me and they all said how much they enjoyed the project and how they found the writing to get easier as they did more of it. Furthermore, a lot of them asked if we could do more writing in class. More writing! How wonderful is that?

On another educational note, today in my creative writing class one of my reluctant writers came up to me and asked if we could do some free writing. He said he had something on his mind that he wanted to write about. Now, this is a student who I have to constantly request that he write more than just four lines. He filled up an entire two pages with his thoughts about the day. It was silly teenage relationship drama, but it was important to him and I was glad that he allowed me to read it, though I didn't ask him to share it with the class. I'm starting to realize that sometimes my students don't want to share with the class what their thoughts truly are. I usually ask my students to share their writings, but perhaps I'll make it more optional.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blogaction Day

Why just complain about the state of education when you can do something to actually help? I want to plug a fundraiser brought up by my friend Chris, who is a phd candidate in computational biology. To quote the man himself:
"In an era of increasing politicization of science, it's more important than ever to teach children about how the scientific method works. Science teachers are on the front lines of this culture war, and it's important that they have the resources that they need.

Solutions like this are no substitute for adequate school funding, but we can't wait around for that kind of education reform. Doing so would mean losing a whole generation of scientists. The potential to change the world is in these children's minds, and it would be a crime to neglect them. Let's give these children and teachers the support that they deserve."

The donate page here. As Chris says, it's only a few bucks and it only means you have to give up coffee or alcohol or something small for a week.

I'd say donate to English classrooms, but we're much easier to fund.

(Note: This is my contribution to Blogaction day. Shakespeare and Billy Collins probably won't stop global warming, but science might.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Reading Ain't Cool

Today I was remind of the very strong undercurrent against success in public schools. One of my students, who we'll call Randy, was openly mocked today for two things. One, he was able to make inferences from the reading about future events. Two, he liked the reading enough to talk about it in class. Now Randy is a smart kid. He's probably the smartest boy of his social group. The problem is that his peers don't do well in school because their academic ability is below average. As a result, they blow it off and disparage the school in general. This poses a problem for students like Randy who perform well in school, but must keep their success and understanding a secret from their peer group. Now Randy is fairly successful with this, but he let his enthusiasm for the reading material slip and his peers jumped on this. They negatively reinforced the idea that reading is a waste of time by making fun of his eagerness to read. This is made worse by the fact that the book we are currently reading has a female main character who falls in love with a boy and raises a giant pumpkin. It's not the typical topic that teenage boys are interested in. Randy likes to hunt, ride his dirt bike, and horse around as much as the rest of my male students, but he also has a sensitive and artistic side. It's hard to encourage this without making him seem even uncooler, but I'm trying.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Big Tid"

This is so far a pretty slow week at school. We're doing testing so I don't have to teach half of my classes. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't enjoying the pace. My eight graders are reading a book called Squashed. It's a book about a high school girl who is in a pumpkin growing contest while at the same time trying to win the love of her life. I know, it's an awesome sounding premise. But don't judge too quickly.

I enjoy the book a lot and I think my students are enjoying it too, even the boys in my class and students whom I would label as at-risk students. Many students don't necessarily enjoy reading, but almost all of my students love being read to. That in and of itself is enough to remind me of the power of the written word in reaching people. In an age where entertainment is measured in microseconds, it's good to know that books still have a place.

I had a pretty cute moment at school today. It's the only way you could really describe it. As I've mentioned before, I've been eating lunch with the elementary school teachers because they make for better company. Well, the other day, one of the kindergartens asked me if I was a "big tid" as I was standing in the lunch line with them. He can't say his K's very well. (Imagine him saying kitty cat.) One of the elementary school teachers overheard this and laughed. She thought it was pretty funny. I thought it was pretty funny too. Today when I went to sit down at the teachers table, she had made a little standup sign for me that said, "Mr. Anderson-Big Tid." Now I was of course too polite to point out the name misspelling because I really appreciated the thought. It was just one of those aww moments. The teacher that made it for me is the kindergarten teacher whose son I have for 7th grade English. She's a bubbly 30-something redhead who is always in good spirits. Overall she's just a pleasant person to be around, as are most of the elementary school teachers. Her son doesn't really enjoy English and writing in general, but apparently my class is his favorite class according to her. I take that as a good sign that I'm doing something right. I actually don't get to see my 7th graders this week due to testing. I kind of miss them to be honest. You become attached to your students, even the ornery ones.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The World in Mono

The cold I caught from unnamed sources has hit my ears. As a result, I've had a somewhat difficult time hearing today. One of my ears seems to be perpetually clogged so I had to ask my students to repeat themselves a few times. Being under the weather and trying to teach is a pretty abysmal experience. The most difficult part is keeping this knowledge from your students. If they sense weakness, they will use it to their advantage.

I kind of feel like I'm failing my 9th grade class. I don't see them as getting very much out of the readings and my teaching efforts seem to be falling short. To be honest, I picked a reading that was way above them and because of book shortages I'm having half the class read one book and the other half of the class read another. Because of this, I don't think either half of the class is really benefiting from it very much. I just wish we were done reading the book so we could move on.

I've started eating lunch earlier, with the elementary school teachers and kids. I have my plan period 3rd hour so it works out well. I've done this for a few reasons. One, I'm hungry. Two, the elementary school teachers make for better company than the high school teachers.

Kids can be pretty damn cruel. I am reminded of this on a regular basis. It's not just the name calling, but every time I have the kids write a creative piece they insist on casting classmates they don't like in unpopular roles. I tell them afterwards that I'm pretty disappointed in them and that I don't think what they did was appropriate, but they're 12-14 years old and could care less.

I'm starting to make some real progress with the one problem student who I had to send to the office the second week of school. I've tried to make my class a safe environment for her and she said she's liked the last few activities we've done. She's not a stellar pupil, but she's actually acted kind of sweet in my class these past few days. She's even "gasp" helped me pass out papers and ask if we could do more activities.

Oddly enough, I've realized that I've been a better middle school teacher than a high school teacher. If I had to rank my teaching ability based on the class I taught it would go something like this:

7th Grade

8th Grade Reading and Writing

8th Grade English

11-12th grade Creative Writing

11-12th grade journalism

9th grade English.

I never thought I'd want to teach middle school, but I've got a better rapport with them than I do the 9th graders. Of course, the 9th graders are a weak class on the whole. Their MAP scores show this and they have been a terror for past teachers. Their previous teachers have horror stories. I'm going to keep adjusting my teaching strategies and maybe I'll figure them out. Either that, or they are going to fail fantastically at learning and I'm going to fail miserably at teaching.

One of my favorite students is an 8th grader who I have twice a day. She's a low end student, but a real nice girl and a hard worker. She tries her hardest, but she also struggles. In addition to school, she also goes to Sylvan learning center for added help. I know that Sylvan isn't cheap and I don't think her parents can afford it. I am really impressed by the value they put on education though. I want this girl to succeed so badly because I know she wants to succeed herself. I talked with her mom today after school. It turns out that she is enjoying my class. That's kind of a relief. A lot of times my students give me these thousand yard stares like I'm lecturing on rocket science. Scratch that, rocket science would be something cool. Let's pretend that I am lecturing on watching the soil erode in real time.

I'm no great teacher, not yet at least. I have been keeping my head above water and my students are learning, but I'm still not doing as much as I could be doing. My classroom management skills need improving and so does my ability to provide individualized educational opportunities. It never feels as though I have enough time to do everything, but I love this work. I love the job and the kids and getting up and doing something as great as teaching. That's enough for tonight. I have to get to bed so I can do it all over in the morning.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Just a Glimpse

You catch glimpses of insight into the lives of your students, though they don't always tell you outright what's going on. I had my creative writing class come up with a list of 30 story ideas. Mixed among a cache of writing ideas that ranged from "My family" to "The summer playing softball" was something that made me stop and reevaluate one student.

"Being lonely"

There was no other explanation than that, and I wonder why she's lonely when it seems as though she's surrounded by friends and well liked by the teachers and staff. It bit to the core of something true though and I wonder when the next glimpse will come.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Some Thoughts Under the Bloody Moon

I am a more meticulous teacher than I would ever have expected. Not everything has a place in the classroom, but I keep a mental catalog of things. I keep track of students who will help me keep order. I remember students who need an extra nudge. I organize students into groups of leaders and followers. There are dozens of these groups in my head, some of which I'm not even really consciously aware of. I am also constantly shuffling around those groups and cross indexing. It's not exactly a concrete filing system where I organize by discrete categories. It's more like I'm tracking motion in my head. Some students tend to move in certain patterns and that has me define them in a certain way. It'll be interesting to see how this eventually works out at the end of the year.

I also have a digital catalogs of lesson plans, what we actually did in class, and discipline problems. Those are helpful for documentation purposes. For those who are considering teaching, document as much as you can. Don't get caught with your ass hanging in the breeze because you can't prove why a student has a discipline problem or may have abusive parents. You may think you can remember it all, but get organized.

Assessment (not grading), even with my small number of students, is slowing me down. I want to give authentic feedback. I want to make comments not just on student's big papers, but their daily writings. This takes time, and while it would be easier to just check for completion, doing so doesn't really help the students very much. The key is asking the big questions, the dumb questions. Why am I giving this assignment? Why is this important? How will this benefit them? What are they really learning?

I finally figured out what I want my 8th grade reading and writing class to be like. It'll be a lot more relaxed than my regular English classes. The last thing they need is more rehashing of what we've already done. So we'll primarily be reading in class. This might very well be my last shot at getting these students to enjoy reading on any level. Right now we're reading Holes by Louis Sachar. I think we may read a Joan Bauer novel after that. I just need to organize some learning objectives to really give things shape.

I'm struggling to learn some of the student's names. Some of them just won't stick in my brain for some reason. I just try calling on them as often as possible. Any other suggestions to help me on that one?

What am I like in the classroom? Well, as I was telling Mandy tonight, I like to think of my teaching persona as a concentrated form of my regular personality, much like o.j. in a can. Everything is just a bit more focused and sharp. I smile in class. I don't believe in not smiling till Christmas. I'm not a pushover though. While I won't yell, I will pull students out into the hall to have a little talk. I'm a controlled person, a focused person. Joey says, intense. I guess that's fairly accurate. That carries over into the classroom. I'm enthusiastic, but I'm also laid back. I'll joke, but not too much. I've had to give up on sarcasm, but sometimes it just kind of slips out. Old habits die hard. I'm an optimist in class. I have to be if these kids are going to succeed. It's starting to spill over into my normal everyday life as well. It's not entirely a bad thing. I try to be flexible and fair. Some students need extra help. You don't deny a drowning man a life preserver because it's not fair to the other swimmers. You cannot treat everyone equally and still be fair.

The hardest part of teaching is showing the students that they know the answers already. I hate to give definitive interpretations on poems or texts. I want to show them how to find water instead of sticking a hose down their throat.

I made a breakthrough with one of my more behaviorally challenged students today. He made a connection between ambiguous pronoun use and how it can affect our perception of the reading. Small steps. It's a start though.

Everything has taken a backseat to teaching at the moment. I don't know when I'll get around to other types of posts. Hopefully soon.

Oh, if you're wondering about the title of this post, there is a lunar eclipse tonight.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Road Thus Far

Just so I don't have to repeat this so many times:

1. My first week of teaching was great. I really enjoyed it. My kids are pretty well behaved and only my 8th graders really give me any trouble.

2. I'm teaching 7th grade, 8th grade, 9th grade, creative writing, and 8th grade reading and writing. My class sizes range from 9-23. There was a lot of last minute enrollment which increased a few of the classes. I teach in a rural community where everyone knows your name at this school. I've also run into several of my students while out and about town. I was having dinner with Allese last night and I ran into one of my 7th graders and his family. I couldn't for the life of me remember the kid's name so I had to just pretend like I knew.

3. I spend a lot of time planning lessons, but I usually stray from my script if there is a teachable moment.

4. I'm willing to negotiate with my students to an extent; however, some things are inexcusable. One of my students called another student "gay" so I gave them a morning detention with me. That kind of language just isn't tolerated in my classroom. You don't need to yell to get a student's attention. In fact, when I really want to make an impact, I speak a little softer and stare them down.

5. I try to make my classes interesting. I've been taking advantage of the fact that I'm only separated by a few years in age from my students. I know about things like youtube, myspace, facebook, aim, msn, and well, the internet. For my 9th graders I had them simulate an AIM conversation on the board to start our discussion of genre. Unfortunately we ran out of time to do what I really wanted to do, so I had to cut that lesson somewhat short. Sometimes it's ok to shoot from the hip when teaching.

6. A lot of my students hate reading and writing. They hate it with a passion. The funny thing is, most of them see a value in it. While not all of my students read by themselves, more students read to others. When I asked them why, they said because their brother or sister liked it. In that sense I could tell that they saw a value in the reading and writing process though they didn't value it themselves. My goal is to change that attitude.

I've been trying to find readings that my students enjoy. My 8th grade reading and writing class and I had a discussion on slang by discussing motocross. I printed out a few articles concerning it. I also printed an article about the dangers of letting children and adolescents ride dirt bikes which was pretty much rejected by some of my students.

7. I've implemented a message board for all of my classes. Each week I have the class come up with a question to discuss and then they go and tack up their responses to either the question or other student's responses. My only rule is to be respectful and sign the note.
8. I've encountered several problems that were never covered in any of my teacher training. Gotta learn some of these things by experience. A few times I realized I made the wrong choice, but they weren't big issues. Without going into specifics at all, a few of my students are dangerous to not only themselves but to other students. I question their reintroduction into the classroom period.

9. The seating chart is saving my ass. It works for me because my students are well behaved enough to actually follow the seating chart. I can imagine a few school settings where a seating chart would be impossible to enforce or it wouldn't be worth the effort to do it. By using a seating chart, I separate the troublemakers and can put the students who need help with the students who can give help.

10. Poetry is a pretty standard part of my teaching. Many teachers shy away from poetry until the last few weeks. They treat it like an exotic bug to be taken out of the glass cage every once in a while to admire and study, then hastily shut back in.

11. I remember being an ornery cuss in middle school. My 8th grade reading and writing class is payback for that.

12. I wouldn't call myself a good teacher yet. Committed, yes, but I'll wait until the year is over to assess my actual performance. How many lives have I changed and minds set afire? I can look out into my sea of students and tell which ones are standing on cracks, waiting to slip down. Success for some, is not success for all and I wonder what I can do to have a 100% success rate with these kids.