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.