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.

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