Thursday, December 22, 2011

IDK What to Title This Thing

That's honest; I really don't know what to title this post. I just know that I need to write, and here's my avenue:
  • I survived? I think? I don't know. Probably. Towards the end of the semester, I got better at recognizing that my Teacher/Personal/Life To-Do List will never have all the items crossed off on it, so why fight it? Some things are more important today than others. Sleep is always important. Maintaining physical and mental health comes first. I have successfully maintained both, so let's say that I have survived!
  • Graduate school is still BS. Even though I squeaked out good grades in both of my classes this semester, my opinion on the institution has not changed. In fact, it may have declined. The sad part? I've come to terms with the fact that grad school will be a part of my life through the Ph.D program I will inevitably complete. While I have time during this break, I may go back and explain my problems with my M.A.T. program at GSU as they go deep and wide. I promise though, not tonight.
  • Maintaining a "personal life" and teaching is hard. Right now, it seems downright impossible, as all I see in my future are cats and balls of yarn. Internet dating, anyone? (I'm joking!) Seriously though, is internet dating in my imminent future? :O 
  •  I'm super thankful for my job, the brilliant colleagues of mine who are directly responsible for keeping me from teetering over the proverbial mental edge, graduate school (grudgingly), and my wonderful family and friends who have supported me in this whirlwind year. To recap my year:
    • November 2010: Accepted into grad school
    • December 2010: Graduated with my undergrad degree/ Quit my part-time job of five years at the daycare
    • January 2011: Began grad school
    • February 2011: Started applying for teaching jobs
    • April 2011: Hired as a science teacher in my beloved charter school :)
    • May-July 2011: The ridiculous summer of 21 grad hour credits
    • July/August 2011: Orientation at my beloved charter school
    • August 16, 2011: First day of as an actual teacher at my beloved charter school
    • December 16, 2011: End of first semester as an actual teacher at my beloved charter school
As much as I bitch about my life, I couldn't be more blessed. I asked for all of this, and I got it! While it is way more than I bargained for, I'm actually happy. Sure, some things and people have gotten left behind in this whirlwind, but I'm starting to see that it's for the better. 

Until 2012 (or sooner if I actually do the right thing and write)! Have a Happy Whatever-You-Celebrate (or Not). In my case, Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

- Insane Teacher

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I need a bottle of fine whine...

Let's open this bottle of fine whine:

  • Parents are crazy. From the "outside" looking in, perfectly reasonable (I'm assuming) people go absolutely nuts over their kids, whether it's necessary or not. Time to reevaluate the sanity of mine. Surely, they weren't this kooky? Right?
  • Field trips are crazy. And tiring. And time consuming. 
  • At least, I got to come back with this. 
  • Testing sucks. Developing a test or compiling test questions is the most soul-sucking task I've had yet as a teacher. Test days themselves suck. It takes all I have to not say after 10 minutes, "All right! 100s for participation. Let's talk about the energy transformation in explosions!"
  • Graduate school and being a first-year teacher is the one of the worst situations I've ever put myself into. Seriously. 
Honestly, it would all be easier without this "Theory and Pedagogy in Middle Childhood Science and Math" class in my life. Or maybe it is the self-congratulating professor I could do without. Normally, I don't like calling specifics out in my life, so I don't. However, this class will be an exception. Excuse me for a moment while I go all "Inception" on my fine whines.
  • Assigned readings that are 30 pages are a waste of time, especially when we don't discuss it or we discuss it at a superficial level. Why the hell are we wasting time figuring out how cells can relate to students? Let's talk about the variety of research on inquiry-based teaching methods. No? We're seriously going to talk about dude in the back and his adventure with an unruly student (which is the same "adventure" every teacher deals with at some point in time)? Yup. Wasted afternoon. 
  • By the way, discussing the definition of the word does not a deep conversation make. No joke, an entire session was dedicated to what does the word "inquiry" mean. Did this lead to a conversation on what makes a good inquiry-based lesson or lab versus a bad one? No, it did not. Yet another Tuesday afternoon wasted. 
  • Oh. I take the last bullet back (partially). We did discuss what some other dude who reported on another dude's research said made a good inquiry-based lab. However, I've got a question. When exactly do we let the students come up with their own instructions on how to do the lab (open-question inquiry lab, BTW)? I know we are all "constructivist" and stuff, but should I really let them "construct" their own labs without anything else beforehand? How reasonable is this? When in the "learning cycle" should we try to implement this? No discussion? No. Okay. And we're back to another wasted Tuesday afternoon. 
  • Please stop telling us how awesome your lesson was unless we are about to deconstruct it to figure out why it was good, especially if you are not going to share what you did. You're wasting class time. 
My bottle of fine whine is empty, so I'll end on positive notes about my original three bullets. 
  • If I were a parent, I would go just as hard for my kid. While it is annoying sometimes juggling parents, I try to keep in mind that (a) these crazy parents kept the doors of my school open, and (b) these parents actually respect me and my word enough that they ask me the 1,987,378,432 questions that they do. 
  • Field trips are crazy. And tiring. And time consuming. But hell of a lot of fun. I had a good time experiencing the wonders of life with them, and more importantly, they had a good time and learned a lot!
  •  Testing is still a drag, but it's a necessary evil that I'll learn to live with. Besides, it is a good feeling when they do well. 
If it is not obvious, let me state it: I love teaching. I love my school and my kids (though I don't say it enough to them). I hate graduate school :)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Five Minutes of Reflection #2

  • The gym will be my saving grace. While I'm generally not a fan of extreme physical exertion, it has done wonders for my stress level and my energy level. Nothing like exchanging mental anguish and pain (I exaggerate) for physical pain!
    How I feel when 900 dudes peak outside my window and stand in my classroom.

  • Oddly enough, I'm getting used to the "Fish Bowl Phenomenon". Just like the fish in a tank get used to the folks tapping the glass, I am too. In fact, I don't mind it so much anymore, though I did last week, when I decided to teach in silence one period in response to misbehavior. Oh, well. We never know what Ms. Insane will do next!
  • Teaching Fail of the Month
  • By far, the dumbest thing I've done in awhile was "trying to be cute" today. I thought because we had "special guests" at the school today, I would be a little dressier than usual...which would include actual adult heels. Big. Freaking. Mistake. As I type this, my feet are propped up. Teachers wear flats (and are frequent patients of podiatrists) for a reason. EPIC FAIL, Ms. Insane. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"...I [can't]...tell you [are] a first-year teacher."

Today, I had an individual meeting with the principal. (Yes, I still have a job.) It was basically just a check-in session to make sure I'm not of the brink of self-destruction (which I'm not fully sure of my status now).

Not to toot my own horn, but apparently, I'm rockin' it! This is not to say that I fully believe this, but according to my principal, for whom I have the utmost respect, I am. While I was secretly pleased at this bit of head-patting, it all makes sense  now.

Definition of "it":
  • Covering class
  • Locker assignments
  • And now, field trip planner lead on my team. 
This was further confirmed by the following statement, "If I didn't know you, I wouldn't be able to tell you were a first-year teacher."

Now, I'll admit to stepping into some of "it" all on my own ("I'll cover her class. Just give me a second to grab a Diet Pepsi"). I'll also allow for the possibility that I may be too harsh a critic of myself, but heck, no. I exhibit all the signs of a new teacher: inefficiency, a general aura of I-do-not-know-how-to-teach-this, a constant feeling mix of fatigue and energy, and a look of "I'm in over my head" on my face everyday (or is this just me? Probably. Definitely.)

At the end of the day, though, whatever I'm doing, I need to do it better, so I can feel the swagger that apparently everyone else can see. I'll take it. Let's put this in the "win" category :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Five Minutes of Reflection #1

Nothing with be titled "...of the week" anymore, as it makes me a liar. My last post was on the 31st of last month, and it is now the 13th. Boo.

I'm feeling reflective between the 900 visitors in my classroom throughout the week and grad class this evening, so here's 5 minutes' worth of thoughts.

  • The Director of our network/district visited my classroom. With a visitor. While I was standing on a desk. Shoeless. I didn't get fired, so yay? In all seriousness, it's how I roll in my classroom. I leave hoarse everyday and tired as crap, but they can't help but be engaged in the insanity of "Insane" teacher's class. I think I'm that teacher. Similar to that kid, except in adult form and much more appropriate. 
  • First official evaluation this week from two sides: Principal and University Supervisor. On the same day. At the same time. Both went well! I'm happy to saw the the principal actually commented me on my tables (these pictures of my room will happen one day) and boards. The US said my lesson was "wonderful". Though I never thought of myself as a person who needs praise, it felt freaking great to hear the positive feedback on my teaching. While I get this from the kids through assignments and assessments, it's nice to hear knowledgeable and respectable superiors say that I'm doing a pretty good job. This is especially important in light of the days where I ask myself if they are actually learning. 
I've gone over 5 minutes. It's been 7 minutes, so here's where I stop. Until next time. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Middle schoolers FTW: Awesome Poet

To be perfectly honest, my day wasn't what one would call stellar. How I feel about my day as a whole is dominated by one period, my last of the day. We've had a rocky two days, so my last two days haven't been stellar. Whenever I get down, I try to find a nugget of goodness in my day. Luckily, I struck gold today.

One of the students in my 8th grade class came to me during transition time...3 hours after she had already seen me. I thought she forgot something, so I passively nodded her into my classroom while talking to another student. She stayed put as I finished up with the other students, so I figured something was wrong.

"J" hands me a piece of paper and asks me to read it. I start to look over it, and I realize that it is a poem. (By the way, folks, I'm not an ELA teacher nor do I pretend to be one.) As I read it, I'm moved by the fierce confidence projected from whoever's voice it is. This piece was a statement of individuality and pride in one's beliefs. To be honest, I'm generally not a fan of poetry, but this piece of poetry hooked me in to the point where I kind of neglected my hallway duty.

I finished and the only thing I could say to "J" was "Wow. Who wrote this?"

"I did, Ms. [Insane]. I wanted to share it with you first before turning it. Did you like it?"

Uh, YES! Two things struck me. First, power and confidence of the piece of student-produced poetry. Heck, let's just call it poetry. Second, she wanted to share it with me first. I can't pinpoint why, but it meant a lot to me that she sought me out to share her work. J totally made my day. I'm bone tired, but looking back on this, I endure for these nuggets of gold, when I get to see a student shine. These shiny moment light up my dark days, so in the words of my school's creed, "I must press on."

Middle schoolers FTW

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Dangerous Wands"

For teachers and/or Harry Potterheads (like me), check this out. It has provided me my laugh of the night.

Teaching Fails of the Week #1

I think as a way to commiserate with other teachers, and hopefully, make other new teachers feel better, I will share my fails so far. What they don't tell you in teacher education classes is that it is 100% guaranteed that:

- You will not be efficient.
- Your to-do list will NEVER empty.
- You will feel like you are running in place.
- You will NOT be an awesome teacher your first few weeks (months?).

Without further ado, I present Insane Teacher's fails of the week:

- I fried my kids' brains. I thought teaching independent variables and dependent variables would be easy, especially because I had them set up an experiment on Friday with the intent to refer to it as a live example. Nope. Twenty minutes into 1st period, I knew that I would have to scrap my lesson plans. 2 weeks into the school year, 2 lesson plans altered by Wednesday.

- I learned to never to labs and hands-on activities without at least a day's worth of prep beforehand. Friday was hectic, and it was all because I didn't think my lab set-up through. I'm about to commit the same faux pas tomorrow, it seems, as I have scrapped tomorrow's activity in favor of another.

- If you are doing a lab with fire, please know what you are doing. I'll post the picture later on what happened. Let's just say that I'm happy that the incident happened on the weekend and out of sight of the students.

- Grad school + full-time teaching + being a first year = INSANITY. This is all caused by idiocy on my part. I'm now questioning my decision-making skills :)

There are more fails I'm missing here, but these are the biggest ones I've made. Despite my fails, I'm learning from them. Theoretically, the number of fails will decrease each week. However, as I've learned in my first two weeks of teaching, the theoretical rarely matches to the actual. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hobbies: Education

I'm two weeks into this gig now, with this week being the first week of instruction. After getting the administrative nonsense out of the way, I pleased to say that my first day of actual teaching went awesomely. Little did I know that seventh-graders would react to this


as awesomely as they did. The discussion completely blew my lesson plans, but who cares when they totally understood the thorny nature of inferences in science from what was meant to be five-minute aside? 

Teaching is Insanity has been neglected as a result of my job, because teaching is busy. If I wasn't giving a pre-test tomorrow, I would be lesson planning and fretting for sure. As it happens, I will have a time on my hands, so I have the opportunity to have leisure time. How am I spending my leisure time? Writing here (about education), and reading my syllabi for this upcoming semester's class, particularly the one for my Teaching Practicum class.

Teaching/Education has apparently taken over my life. I'm tired. I've spent the last hour chatting with friends while responding to school emails. Even now, my mind is wandering towards my lesson on Thursday and the unit plan I need to finish within the next week. Apparently, I have no hobbies beyond education now, so here's to getting a new one: Sleep. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pre-Game Thoughts

I'm going to (try to) make this brief, as I have still have some preparations to do for this week, but I can't do much more without stopping and reflecting over the past week and the upcoming week.

Last week was professional development with the entire staff. As with all other things that happen at this school, the schedule given to us on Monday was not what exactly occurred over the week. Yet, this was okay. In fact, more than okay; it was great! It allowed some of us (i.e. the newbies) time to ask questions and get them answered by the school veterans in an honest manner. It also allowed us to take everything in without the inconvenience of having to edit our thoughts when in the presence of everyone.

 The details of PD would be boring to most people, but I'll say this. After getting my classroom finished (pics to come soon), meeting with my team, getting our hallway together, and meeting with some of our students, I'm less nervous and more pumped. I feel as if I have no time to be nervous, as I'm just too busy to feel it!

However, I'm not too busy to feel the anticipation of kids coming in on Monday and to feel the urgency to get the items on my never-ending "to-do" list checked off. And there you have it. This is where my mind currently is.

It's also on the "Mad Men" Season 1 episodes I want to finish sometime soon.

The two most common questions asked of me this week were "How are you feeling [about your class] [about the school] [about everything teaching-and-learning related]?" and "Are you ready [for your class] [for the students] [for who-the-heck knows]?" I haven't been able to properly articulate myself when responding to these questions. Because I've been BS-ing my responses to these questions all week, I'll answer them honestly now. 

Answer: If I have to assign a feeling right now, it's an unlabeled zen-feeling. I'm calm, yet I have this underlying sense of urgency. I'm not rushing, yet I'm ready to go into "grinding" mode things get settled. I'm nervous, yet I'm more focused on things, so I can't really feel it. The same goes for my excitement. 

[The BS answer: "I feel great!"]

Answer #2: As ready as a young, recent college grad can be to teach and take on a good deal of responsibility for 130+ seventh and eighth-grade students. Actually, is anyone ever really "ready" to do this? Yup. That's what I thought.  

[The BS answer: This one is closer to my real answer than the previous answer, "Yeah, I'm as good as I can be."]

I feel better (and more prepared for tomorrow!) now that I've taken a brain-dump (one of the teaching strategies I learned this week was "Dump and Clump"). Bring on game day!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Charter School Turnover

This article from the LA Times (it's in the feed as well) as popped up twice today in my personal sphere, in my Facebook feed and via email from a friend.

In short, the article discusses high teacher turnover in charters in Los Angeles. I suspect, though, that turnover in other charters across the nation are comparable...including mine. In fact, the principal mentioned the turnover during the interview. 

Of course, turnover is high here!

Yet, I still accepted the job knowing well that a nice percentage of my colleagues this year will not be back next year. I chalk the turnover to two things: the numbers of "hats" teachers in charters must wear and that teaching in a charter is more demanding than in a traditional public school. 

1. Because most charters operate with no input from the local school system, everyone in a charter school building has to do multiple things.* For example, one of our teachers is a teacher/website-updater-guy. Multitasking varies from charter to charter, and this may even occur at some traditional public schools. I'll venture an educated guess, though, and say that traditional public schools are likely to have a people dedicated to simply, say, website development or to data analysis. 

That brings up another point. With little to no non-financial resource input from local school systems and limited local funding, charters can't afford to hire people dedicated to a single, non-teaching job. As a result, everyone, including teachers, is likely to have some sort of "slash" in their official job title. 

* Some charters do have input both financially and otherwise, to a good extent,  from the local school system. To see what I'm talking, about, click here

2. Teaching anywhere is pressure-filled, especially during this current age of "accountability". Yet, after talking with non-charter teacher friends and some of my colleagues, I'm convinced that teaching in a charter is a bit more demanding (at least where I live). From the longer hours expected, the number of "hats" we wear to the fact that there is a contract hanging over our heads that basically says "Teach or else...", it's a lot to contend with, especially over a long period of time. 

Apologies for letting my freak flag fly.
With full knowledge of  the insanity, both perceived and real, that occur in charters and that comes with teaching in one, I took the job, because I believe in the mission of school. I believe in the people working there. Last, but not least, I believe in the leader that we have. The mix of these three factors convinced me that even throughout the madness of the school, we are all going to do great things. 

I'm extremely loyal to a fault (six years at a daycare as a part-time job through the end of high school through undergrad!). Probably a bit insane as well, so I'm good with my "crazy" charter teaching spot. 

My teaching hero?

Some people are not good with it, which is okay too. I believe that every good teacher has a school, where they can become excellent teacher. My charter is where I think I can become excellent, so while the odds are against anyone staying long-term , the odds have never phased me before. Besides, wouldn't want to work at Hogwarts the place where they can become excellent?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The First Department Meeting (!)

Few quick notes about my first department meeting...

  • It was frickin' brief! An agenda of about 8 items was knocked out in 30-45 minutes. The rest of the time was spent...
  • Collaborative working: I worked with another science teacher, with a couple of SS teachers, with a connections teacher, and even with the CI AP! My notepad page was filled to edge with notes of all types of great classroom management and unit/lesson planning tips. 
  • Someone actually asked for my opinion. I don't mean to sound so incredulous, but yeah, I'm shocked. I've had the impression that new teachers are to shut up and take it in. I don't mind doing this, but when I want an idea heard for consideration, I want to speak up. Yet, I walked prepared to take it in. Nope! None of that here. 
  • There was a strong sense of spirit: Everyone in the room really seemed into the mission and culture of the school, which I loved. 
  • The promotion of individuality: While there was certainly team spirit in all the planning work we did, it was made clear that we have control over our classrooms
I am stoked to get to work with these people. I can't say enough of how much it means to know that everyone working here is on the same page mission-wise. Just knowing that I'll be working with such hard-working, competent professionals who are excited about their work makes me feel more relaxed and confident. I've got a whole staff of people on my side now. 

Cue the High School Musical:

FYI, we busted out in dance post-meeting. Something like this in fact :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Student-teacher or teacher-teacher?

As some of you may know, I am in a master's degree/certification program, meaning that at the end of this shindig, I will leave with full teaching credentials in my fields along with a master's degree. In my cohort, most of everyone is a career switcher and has never taught before in a classroom. There are a small handful of people already teaching on provisional credentials. And then there's me, never taught before but has a job for the fall. 

[For those who have read my previous posts, yes, I was a fellow at a charter, but riding a bike with training wheels is different from riding one without the training wheels. Just saying.]

I'm in the weird in-between space. The "non-teachers" will be student-teaching for the year, while the "teacher" will use their classroom as their "student-teaching" experience. Technically, I'm considered as the latter, yet I feel like I should be considered as the prior. As I was emailing a friend, I said something along the lines of " will be a great asset to your students, be it as a student-teacher or a teacher-teacher".

How ridiculous was that! What does that mean? While I'm getting more comfortable with the fact that, hey, I will have my own classroom in the few weeks, I still feel like I have much to learn about teaching, curriculum, instruction, and the list continues. I know that I can be at least a good teacher for my students this year, but I won't be the best, precisely because I am still a student of teaching, curriculum, instruction, etc. I don't know everything or even a lot, right now. 

Officially, we are teachers, bur aren't we all student-teachers? Don't we have to continue to learn about teaching and everything that it is loaded with it? Do "teacher-teachers" even exist? If so, can you contact me, because I've got some brain-picking to do?

 Update: I just found out that some schools call teachers in training "preservice" and practicing teachers "inservice". I like this delineation much better. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Administrative Awesomeness

I've been so busy with all these papers/presentations that I haven't had the time to report the little bit of sunshine in my teaching life. Before I share, I need to give background.

One of my pet-peeves in my classes the summer has been the frequent references to crappy administrators. By now, I think every teacher, if not everyone, knows that some schools are run by incompetant ninnies or scandalous scoundrels. In fact, this applies to any job with superiors and subordinates.

They even made a movie about them.

Don't get me wrong. An ineffective principal and/or an ineffective administrative team can do serious damage at a school. Arguably, they can do more damage than one teacher can. However, I don't see  how constantly harping on the subject does me, or importantly, my students any good. I can't control what they do, but I can control my reactions to their actions. Yet, I have been preparing myself in case things go sour.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Six weeks... all it took for me to get to attached to these kids from the summer program. Granted, I have one more day with some of them, today was the last day for the "man of the group". I was truly sad to say goodbye today. While I'm sad, this summer experience just makes to more eager and excited to take on my own class in less than a month.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The CRCT cheating report finally hit the fan

There are no words for the actual insanity found here, here and here. I'm so angry that a relatively small percentage of stupid, cowardly adults are what reflects the values of the entirety of Atlanta Public Schools.

More importantly, these losers have forever put the proverbial asterisk next to the affected kids' test scores. These kids will never know whether their scores were because of an effort on their part or by the efforts of some jerk administrators and teachers that felt the need to cover their butts instead know, teaching! This, my friends, is real insanity. 

No matter your thoughts on standardized testing, we all should agree that nothing is worth risking our integrity as educators and more importantly, that of our students. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cultural tension/prejudice: Why aren't these conversations happening more often?

The conversation began in class today. The hurt feelings were expressed, and finally, we got to see what happens "when people stop being polite and starting getting real". Too bad, it happened in the last 5-10 minutes of class, because at once, the whole class woke up. It felt like today was when class actually began.With new people in the conversation came the new perspectives I wanted, and I plan on discussing as many perspectives of this issues as I possibly can.

I shared my perspective on what may cause these deeply held racial beliefs that underlie racial tension and prejudice and my suggestion to help alleviate this.

After listening to my classmate discuss this and his perspectives, I realized that I am missing an important piece of the equation: In order for the healing of wounds from heavy life baggage, one has to want to change and be ready to change.

The conversation will continue next Wednesday, so I'm interested to hear more about this idea and others. Stay tuned, folks. However, that's not what this post is solely about. After class, I had an hours long conversation with some classmates on this topic and about how teachers approach "hate speech" in their classrooms, especially concerning homophobic hate speech. It was a great conversation, and I left it feeling better knowing that there are other colleagues of mine that are on the same wavelength when it comes to these issues. The only question I had left was why aren't these conversation happening more often? 

I'm taking a diversity class, and these issues of specific beliefs and values regarding different races and sexuality are just now being discussed in earnest after three weeks. I can only imagine, then, how often this comes up in a school. To get a take from the inside, I called up a friend teaching in a racially diverse system and asked her how often these conversations happen with students or with other teachers. Her response? "Never. No one's touching [these issues] with a pole."

 The more we are aware of the cultural values and biases we hold, the more we can do ensure that our students are being treated as fairly as possible. With that said, there has to be darn good reasons to leave some of our students exposed to alienation over something that's really not their fault, and I'd like to hear them.