Monday, December 17, 2012

Helping Others Fall on Their Ass Gracefully

I'll try not to make this a lengthy post, as I'm only writing it as a way to help me think through some things.

Update time: I've taken on the mantle of grade-level chair, and I'd like to think that I'm doing a decent, if imperfect, job. I'm learning everyday, so what else is there to say? Do I enjoy the job? Hell, yes! While this is selfish, I love that I have a hand in how we do things as a team. Do I completely enjoy the team? No. I've made no secret of this. However, through the job, I'm getting a new perspective on how important each individual part is to the team. Even the seemingly "useless" one affects the team in a major way (not to say that anyone is "useless"). 

With that said, that is what I'm currently thinking through. I've been falling on my ass everyday, it seems, since I've became grade-level chair. There is more work and more thinking to be done for the team on top of the work and thinking it takes to teach and to keep my personal life afloat. Through all this ass-hitting, I've realized that falling on one's ass gracefully is like riding a bike. You don't really forget how to do. Your technique might change a little bit, but once you've made the adjustment, it's all good. I'm a pro at failure, so dealing with it and bouncing back from it doesn't take much. In fact, I'd say I owe my success thus far to the fact that I'm good at failure. 

What I haven't figure out is how to help others get good at failure. I know that you don't carry on doing the same thing that leads to failure; you adjust. I know that you don't sit there in wallow it; you yell and curse and keep it moving. I know that you don't just complain; you complain for a few, and then come up with a solution. 

I'm not seeing much of this. I'm seeing asses hitting the ground constantly! Much like the fainting goats...

But unlike the fainting goats*, folks just are NOT getting back up. How do I help them? Today, a teacher on my team took a terrible hit to her confidence. It was a fall of epic proportions, but I have no idea on how to help. Gonna sleep on it, and think about fainting goats, which make me smile (one of several methods for dusting off my butt).

*I'm not a horrible person, and no, the "fainting goats" are not hurt. They are merely just being more awesome than the rest of us. :)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Learning How To Fall Gracefully On My Ass Again

A lot can change in a month...

Not sure if I mentioned it, but as of this upcoming Monday, I will be my grade-level chair. I am excited, and I am scared as hell. My predecessor is Amazing, and yes, that is with a capital 'A'. I owe her my first year of teaching. Without her guidance and her blunt, but kind advice, who knows what kind of haphazard hack I would be? Her leadership has been crucial during this school year, as our team is not the same "dream team" that it was last year. Though from her perspective, she struggled with our new teammates, I didn't see her break a sweat over it. Yet, I have, and probably, will continue to.

While our team is no where near where it should be, my predecessor was working hard on getting it to be the best it could be. She was diplomatic and personable. Folks who know me personally, is "diplomatic" a word that could be used to describe me? No. "Personable" is not it either. The common adjectives for me when I get into work mode are: "brusque", "blunt", "neurotic" know words that describe "bossy", "know-it-alls", who are "controlling" and "Type A". I can't honestly reject any of these descriptors. I mean, just last night when I went to dinner with friends/co-workers, I was told there was word out in the hallways that I am a "duty Nazi". True. I've been a grade-A, stone-cold heifer about being present during lunch and doing what needs to be done.

Incompetency doesn't work for me or with me. Mediocrity is just plain unacceptable. Go hard, or go home. I have always operated with this in mind. If it is worth my time to do it, let's, you know, do it! If I'm at the school working my ass off for these students, and I care the world and more about them, then so should my fellow teachers. Otherwise, what the hell are you there for?

With that in mind, this is how I've been operating as a team member. If you are not carrying your weight to get the job done, then I will let you know it, in no uncertain terms. However, leaders can't do this. I can't just criticize and leave it alone. I have to lead by example and by a willingness to help. I've got the first part down. The second part, I'm still working on, especially with some of my teammates, which is why I'm scared as hell.

I'm not my predecessor. I'm not as graceful in speech, as diplomatic, or as personable. I'm a "weirdo" socially. I stutter frequently when I speak. I'm blunt. I'm a "Type A" when it comes to what I'm passionate about, which  in this case, is working with these students. After much reflection last night, I've pinpointed my problem...

I'm afraid of failure. I feel like I'm back in my second semester of college, when I felt like I was staring down a barrel of a gun, when I was on the verge of failing Calculus II. I was an anxious, nasty mess that drove me to horrible depths physically and psychologically. In fact, I remember a doctor's appointment I went to during this time when my blood pressure was so high that they were about to admit me to the hospital. That's when I realized that I had major anxiety issues.

The turning point for me during my low point? When I finally failed the damn course. I realized that my life didn't end, I was still in college, and I didn't lose all of my scholarships. I was okay. After that first failure, I learned a lot. I revamped my schedule and how I did things, so that I wouldn't fail the course again, and you know what? I passed Calculus II the second go round with an "A".  After that course, I was dealt many more hurdles, and I definitely failed to jump some of those hurdles. I continued (and still do continue) to battle with anxiety, but I always had that first failure to remind me that life goes on and many times, gets better.

I'm nowhere near my low point. I'm nervous, yes, but not to the point where I need medication or need to see a therapist. I think that my nervousness comes from the fact that it's been a long time since I had a honest fall on my ass. Since the end-of-the-year test scores came out last year, I've been on a string of BIG wins: graduated from graduate school, department chair, a relatively smooth beginning of my school year...and the list goes on with small wins.

Not only do I need to learn how to fall on my ass again, it needs to happen gracefully. In other words, without becoming the nasty, anxious mess. I can see the nasty, anxious mess happening in the face of a failure. I love my job, and I fiercely support my school community. We are a small community, so any bit of leadership is a big deal. My predecessor did an awesome job, and more than anything, I don't want to screw up what she did. I want to become my own person as a grade-level chair, while building upon what she started. More than anything, I want to do right by the students. As the grade-level chair, I set the standards, I  execute ideas on what it takes to get our students excited about school and about being in on hall, I facilitate the conversations that need to happen to make things happen. I'm scared to take on this new role, and simultaneously excited and grateful that my administrators thought enough of me to give me the chance to take on this role!

Here's to learning how to fall gracefully on my ass and picking myself up and making myself better!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Going Back to Grad School?

Quick update: I didn't see my personal trainer on Wednesday for a damn good reason: I was getting prepared for my last minute sub because right as my planning period began, I was invited to go to a conference with the admin team! By the way, it was awesome! I came away with many great ideas to implement in my classroom (and validation for many of the ones I already use) and inspiration!

I've been talking about getting close to seeing the light, and I'm pretty sure I've got it right here. Yes, it is more grad school, and more to the point, more GSU, but this seems different to me. Don't know why, but it does. Perhaps it's because this will help pave them path onto the next thing unlike the MAT, which was the end of my last long-term goal. This particular degree is the beginning of the next long-term goal, which sad to say, I'm not ready to announce yet, because I still don't know what the hell it is.

I can say with certainty that I don't see myself teaching full time in 5-10 years. I'm not a 30-year teacher. Never have been one. Not to knock those who, but I'm too ambitious to settle here and say that I've made it, which explains my end-of-grad-school malaise. I set the goal about 3-4 years ago to become a teacher and complete my MAT to become a fully credentialed teacher. Ta da! I did it. Now what?

Here's the what: I believe whole-heartedly that things happen for a reason (beyond the immediate ones). There is a reason for me being on the new teacher induction committee; there is a reason for me being a department chair; there is a reason why I'm increasingly being asked to take on leadership roles without asking for them; and there is a reason why sometimes my first reaction in certain situations at work is to step up and take the wheel. Is this adding on work and stress to my life? Yes, but it feels good and more to it, it feels right. This is the same feeling I had when I realized that all signs were pointing towards a career in education. It's also the same feeling I had when I figured out what I was supposed to be doing in education: teaching.

Let me put this out here now. I'm not just doing this for an increase in pay or to put another achievement on my resume. There are many other things I could be doing right now that would make me a crap-ton more money and prestige. I chose to teach, because, among other reasons, I truly believe that a great education is the key to many doors in life. Coming from a fairly humble background, I received a kick-butt education. Why shouldn't other kids like me? I believe that my career choice is all about sharing what I have earned, which is a lot. I truly hope that at the end of my teaching career, some of my students can say that my sharing my love of learning and knowledge has inspired them to do ________, and they, in turn, share what they earn to inspire others. However, I can only share so much in my classroom. Once I learn how to effectively share on a larger scale, the classroom won't be enough.

My first love will always be the classroom, and for now, it's my only love. However, I like what I'm seeing outside the classroom, so I want to explore that for a bit, and who knows what can happen from there. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Week 8, Take 2!

This week, I'm going to aim to be more education-focused in my discussion than I was last week. I actually have more to say about my teaching life this week, anyway, so that shouldn't be a problem. Where to start?

Principal "Insane"? Hell no, this is not happen today, tomorrow, or next year, but perhaps maybe a leadership position. Ask me at this point last year if I would ever consider leadership role or a role in education administration, I would have emphatically said no. Again, what a difference a year makes! This year with a taste of sanity and leadership under my tongue, hmm. Perhaps, maybe. Quite frankly, I really like the taste, but not for power or pay. In fact, I get no pay bump in my role on our school's new teacher induction committee. However, I am loving the fact that I have a more powerful voice and authority to exact change to the benefit our of school's culture and our school's students. 

In the context of my recent teaching-based "quarter-life crisis", I'm starting to see the light, or the next moves. I've always known a Master's wouldn't be enough for me. In whatever I chose to do, I knew that I would have to go hard or not do it. Now that I've chosen education as career path (and more than that really, one of my life's passions), I have to go hard, which means I have to go back. Not necessarily to GSU, but somewhere good to where I can be the best ________ I can be. What goes in the blank? Dean of Students? Dean of Curriculum and Instruction? Principal? Who knows? All I know is that I'm starting to see light, and I couldn't be happier. 

Leading the "Newbies"/Being a Mentor: As I've mentioned, I'm on the new teacher induction committee, which I'm loving. I get to help the new teachers, and peek in on the "new" teachers to get new ideas and strategies from "new" perspectives to the school. In addition to this, I have been given a teaching intern (i.e. part-time student teacher). No, I didn't ask for this person, and the fact that this person's COE even allowed him/her to be with a second-year teacher is absurd...but I digress! 

Since I have had this person, I've had to temper myself and realize that not everyone had the same experiences as I did. My student teaching experience was definitely not the typical experience. Not to toot my horn too loudly, but I'm awesomeness academically and when it comes to work-related stuff. Like I've said, I've been taught to either go hard or go home, so I go hard. I give 110%. Mediocrity tends to upset me, whether its from myself or from others. However, my perception on what is mediocre is different from what other perceive. When I was asked as a teaching fellow to take on a lesson, I threw myself into wholeheartedly. It's what scored me my current job. However, when I tasked my intern with two things, I got back an email full of "I'll do my best to....However..." and "I'll try...". To be honest,  I saw flames. What the hell do you mean "[you] will try"? No, seriously. "I'll do my best" should never be followed by "however". 

After taking a step back, I again realized that everyone is not the overachiever that I am nor should they be. This is a senior in college. While I'm not that far removed, a year of teaching has matured me a bit. I was every bit as overwhelmed, and quite frankly, nervous as this character. I worried about meeting my mentor teacher's expectations and I worked everyday to make sure that she saw my value. I think this person has down the worry part, but not so much the latter part, because he/she is so damn nervous. After coming to this realization, I've decided that I really need to step up and put the "mentor" in mentor teacher. Yes, this character's first lesson plan was utter crap, but it is my job to point him/her in the right directions, so that when he/she actually teaches my class, it would be a lesson that I cringe at the entire time nor will it be one that I tell the kids to ignore. It's my job to let her/him know that every teachers feels like a deer in headlights; it's just the response to those headlights that matter. While some teachers accept being run over and fail, other teachers realize that you fight like hell and smash the incoming car. It results in a few injuries, but all in all, nothing terribly catastrophic. (What a horrible analogy!)

Movie of the Week: "Looper", duh! I don't have the time to discuss this in the detail that it deserves right now. Plus, I'm going to see it again, so I'll have something educated to say about it next week!

Gym Update: Zumba on Thursday, and PT butt-kicking Wednesday. In other words...60 minutes of cardio in last week. BUT! This week, I spent an hour getting in my weight-training AND my 25 minutes of cardio. Tomorrow will be a repeat, thank you very much!

Final Thoughts: I'm still all about seeing the nugget of success everyday. Academically-speaking, my kids are improving! Unlike last year, I'm not banging my head into a wall when they crash and burn an assignment. I write my notes to myself to modify my LP for next time, plan something new for this year, and keep it moving. "Keep calm and carry on!" 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Week 7, Take 2!

Greetings, everyone!

I'm baacckk! I really didn't go anywhere. I just haven't been keeping up, but a small selected group of people who shall remain anonymous, because this blog is allegedly anonymous, have been nudging me write again. Plus, I want to write again. Within the month or so I haven't been writing, many things have changed for me professionally.

To summarize, I've added on the role of mentor teacher to several teachers new to our school along with taking on the actual role of mentor teacher to a teaching "intern". When I first stopped to analyze this, my first thought was, "What the hell? I'm only a second-year teacher." I'm still learning and growing myself, so who am I to tell someone else what to do? Then, I realized that this is not what I wanted out of a mentor teacher, and it's not how I will do it. I'm a support system; I offer advice and sounding boarding. So far, so good. There are some teachers that need me to talk more than others. In fact, there are some teachers I "mentor" who I'm clearly using for my growth and development. Admittedly, I really like these new roles so far. Perhaps, this is foretelling my future? We shall see!

Movie of the Week: This weekend, I went to see Lawless. It came out about a month ago, but I'm now getting around to it. To be honest, I haven't seen a movie since my last post, so this is my first in several weeks. The only reason why I chose it was because the showtime was the most convenient for me, yet I'm glad that I did see it! It was a fun, if unsubstantial, movie.Lawless is the true-ish story of bootlegger Bondurant brothers during Prohibition.  If you like your Southern accents hard, along with a good gangster flare, I recommend checking Lawless out. Even the massive amount of Shia LaBeouf didn't kill the movie for me. Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce more than enough make up for the Beef O.D. I seriously could watch close-ups of Hardy talking all day and saying "Umm.." in the terrific accent he has in this movie. Or in his own deep-voiced, British accent. Whatever. It doesn't matter the accent as long as the camera is zoomed in on his lips.

The movie poster didn't do him enough justice. 

In all seriousness, Hardy is the VIP of this movie. I can't think of a movie that he wasn't absolutely brilliant. His Forest Bondurant, the savviest of the three, is the most interesting character, followed by Guy Pearce's Special Deputy Rakes. Too bad most of the movie is spent of the baby of the Bondurant brothers, Jack (Shia TheBeef). Despite the focus on the weakest of the main characters along with the misguided tone (I still don't know what the takeaway of the film was other than Tom Hardy and his lips are hot and Guy Pearce does creepy very well), Lawless is a lot of fun. Note: I'm not a Shia hater. It's just that I'm too much reminded of the Transformers movies whenever I see him. I haven't completely forgiven him yet.
Which explains this totally superfluous still from the movie.

Gym Update: Last week, I was still recovering from a bad cold, so cardio and strength training was light. This week, I'm in for Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. It's happening. I'm back, so it has to happen. Or will it? (No, really, it will happen, otherwise some of my "readers" will bother the hell out of me.)

I just realized that most of this post has nothing to do with teaching. I'm okay with this. Next week, I'll give you more of a perspective on how year two is versus year one. I feel as busy, if not busier sometimes, as I did last year, but I'm handling it better. Maybe even welcoming it, which has much to do with what I see as my future in education, but more on that later.

For now, I'll close with this thought that I'm working on: To truly to be about the business of working with my scholars to make sure that they are the best they can be, that means they need to be provided with the best teachers that we can give them. Along with other variables, the best teachers are, in my opinion, confident in their abilities and their passion to work with kids. In addition, they have balanced lives and are able to take and implement constructive criticism to become the best teachers they can be.

I've been hyper-critical of some of the new teachers I work with. As a "mentor teacher" in our new teacher induction program, part of my job should be uplifting these new teachers, not only through observations and constructive criticism, but through positive words of encouragement and through helping them see the small successes everyday. I seriously live and teach by the credo that as long as my effort into my work and into helping my students averages out at 100% or more, my kids are learning and will be great, when all is said and done. Not everyday is a 100% or even a 90 or 80 percent day...and that's okay! Teaching and learning is not done in a single day; it happens over time. I want other teachers to see that everyday will not be homerun, and that there is at least a nugget of success that comes from everyday, even it is just a lesson learned on what not to do tomorrow.'s to that nugget of success tomorrow and everyday afterward!

He's definitely many nuggets of success!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Week 2, Take 2!

Still okay, even with wonky lesson plans! Last year, when my lesson plans went wonky, which was everyday, I would stay at school late and then go home and continue to work. And I would still fret over the damn things!

This year? Eh. I'll spend 10 minutes re-thinking some things and come up with something workable, if not pretty freakin' good. I keep saying this, and I'm going to have to say it one more time: What a difference a year makes!

Time to re-evaluate the goals from last week!

Movie of the Week: I should be embarrassed to admit that not only that I saw this movie, but I wanted to see it. Furthermore, I really, really liked, if not loved, this movie, even though it is horrible. This movie is cheesy, the acting is horrible, and it is terribly violent. Yet, my heart soared as I watched the horrible carnage on the sheet. As a black female, this movie shouldn't speak to me the way that it did. Without further ado, this movie, that is so bad that it's awesome is...

Damn right! I went to see The Expendables 2, and I loved it. Chuck Norris popping up to blow up a small town's worth of bad guys? Check. Jean-Claude Van Damme roundhouse kicking a knife into someone? Yes, please. Watching Norris, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzennegger, and Stallone shooting stupidly huge guns side-by-side? I demand seconds!

This movie contains every "Americans love their guns!" stereotype that has ever existed, even though the setting and many of the actors are not Americans. If you know me personally, this ideology doesn't align closely with mine at all. And yet, this movie rocks my heart. Can't wait till it comes out on DVD. No, seriously, I can't wait. I probably will go see this again.

Gym Habits: I made Zumba on Thursday night! I went Wednesday & Thursday for a total of 90 cardio minutes. Not what I was aiming for, but better than Week 1! This week, I'm aiming for Wednesday, Thursday & Friday. I've already logged 30 cardio minutes from my visit today, so I'm off to a good start!

To end things back on the education territory, I'm going to apply to TFA. I'll explain my decision in more details later, but suffice it to say, good options don't hurt. Whatever keeps me growing as a teacher for my classroom and my kids' sake is a good option, so here I go. Again, though, more details later!

Till later, folks!
Couldn't help it! JCVD is the best part. Seriously, go see The Expendables 2. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Week 1, Take 2!

...and I don't want the blogging drop-off to happen like last year, so here I am. Physically tired, but otherwise in mentally good spirit. My good eating patterns took a bit of a dive along with the workouts, but next week, I will be sure to pick them back up. I have several personal goals that I wish to maintain this school year, and I think that I will increase my chances of these coming into fruition if I publicize them:

1. Go to the movies every weekend.

2. Spend at minimum 120 minutes in the gym on cardio. (Doing weights is easy for me cause I love them. Cardio can kick rocks.)

3. Blog at minimum once a week. 

Every week,  I will share my thoughts on the week along with my progress on my personal goals. Because this past week was the first technical week with kids and teaching, I start now!

Goal #1: I saw Bourne Legacy today. If this movie were an assignment for me to grade, I would give it a 80/100. It would totally be a 75/100 if it weren't for one reason...

Mmm...Jeremy. Freakin' Renner.
What can I say? I'm a sucker for arms and Ray-Bans. (If you watch the movie towards the end, you'll understand the Ray-Bans.) Seriously, Renner elevates what could have been a standard thriller. While Aaron Cross does not have as compelling a back story as Jason Bourne, I think that with the right script the character could be just as kick ass as Bourne was. They certainly cast the right guy; they just need to give him a better story and more chances to shine, action-wise. I do recommend at least catching this one on DVD if you liked the Bourne movie trilogy.

Goal #2: I sucked this week. I worked out on Monday for 30 minutes and Friday's day at the gym was weights with the trainer. I was too tired to stay for cardio. This week, I'm aiming for Thursday night Zumba (1 hour), 30 minutes after Wednesday's training session, and another 30 minutes on Saturday. One week at a time is all I can do, so I'm going to try to do right by myself this week. 

Goal #3: Is right here. Boom. Done. 

To add just a little more substance about education in this post, I will say that I'm amazed by the difference a year's worth of experience makes. I was more confident, more organized, and just plain better than I was as a teacher and as person at this point in time last year. My kids this year, so far, are great! They still have that old 6th grade veneer on them, which, I think, is making them a bit intimidated by us, but I'm sure that will change pretty quickly, so the real 7th grade fun can begin!

I'm stoked about improving my game, so that my kids can do even more growing than their predecessors. That's the one thing that made me a bit wistful this week: see my kids from last year. I could have been better for them, so that they could start better this year...theoretically. However, everyone has that first batch of pancakes. Hopefully, mine came out more like this batch...

Pretty good!

than this batch...

What the...?!
Now that I know more, hopefully this year's batch will turn out like this...

That's reduced-sugar syrup and "I Can't Believe It's Butter"...And now I want pancakes!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stop This Train

      This week was the first one back to work. In addition to sitting in various meetings of varying degrees of importance and informativeness, I've trying to squeeze in the setting up my classroom in time for the new students' arrival on Monday. Perhaps it's because I'm no longer new to this and I haven't had a summer (and I'm typing this while listening to John Mayer, specifically the song, "Stop This Train"), I'm feeling rather...doubtful about this year.

       Note that this feeling has nothing to do with the school, the new kids I haven't met yet, or new colleagues. It's all me-centered (that sentence sucks). I'm in a weird place - for the first time in six years, I'm no longer a "student". I graduated from grad school. I did it. Now what's next in my journey? On top of that, I've made great personal strides this summer in terms of taking care of myself physically (i.e. I'm getting in shape and eating better) that I'm fearful of losing. Again, not one damned thing I just mention has anything (directly) to do with teaching. Yet, this weird out-of-school zone/fear of personal regression somehow feels tied to it. 

     I think that the connection lies in the fact that teaching last year encompassed so much of time and life. My interests were put aside, my health was a peripheral concern, and my time was given to teaching first and foremost. When I did the new teacher orientation, I made sure to mention that our students deserve teachers on their 'A' game, and those teachers are usually the ones who are well-rested, good at coping with stress, and in general, taking good care of themselves. Granted, I said this to them not as someone who actually did this, but as someone who did the opposite and paid for it. I suppose the overarching questions of this school year will be: How can I balance what's best for the students with taking care of myself physically and mentally? What are my next professional moves that maximize benefits for future students/schools that I work for and for myself?

     To wrap this waxing poetic and tie back to John Mayer, "Stop This Train" was John's musing being in the weird transitional place when getting older, which is apropos. I think this is where I am. I recently "celebrated" a birthday, I'm finally taking a break from school, and I'm starting to make personal strides. I was in familiar space, and now, I'm getting further away from it, which only begets uncertainty and doubt. I remember feeling this way once before - the summer after I graduated from high school. I didn't do so bad after that train ride, did I?


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reflecting on Year 1, Part II: What Went Wrong

Reflecting on Year 1, Part I: What Went Right was my first step in the planning process for this orientation sessions, so here goes Part II. Like last time, I'm rolling stream of consciousness, so I apologize for the numerous typos, in advance, though I am trying to get better at reducing them and editing myself as I go...

1. Not Budgeting Enough Time for Myself: This is totally "selfish" in that, theoretically, this list should be about errors that affect the students. Yet, I think this one does, if not directly. A tired, frustrated, burned out, and unhealthy teacher is not the best one, and at several points in the year, I became that teacher. It was when I was exercising, sleeping, leaving the building at a good time, quitting all work by a certain time, eating well, socializing, and overall, just taking care of myself that I was at my best as a teacher. I got more organized, more efficient, and planning better lessons.

2. Re-Inventing the Wheel Too Damn Often: Engaging, effective lesson ideas were planned before me and are out there for the using. Forms and templates were created before me. Organization systems were thought of by more organized teachers than me. So why the hell didn't I use any of these until later on in the year? Because I thought I knew better, which brings me to...

3. Believing in the Super Teacher Myth: I thought I would be the BEST TEACHER EVER in year 1. Hell, no. Pretty good for a first-year? I'll take that. Look up See Me After Class by Roxanna Elden, especially if you are going into your first-year, though it's good for any teacher in her/his formative years.

4. Self-Doubting Myself: Because on the reinventing of the wheel and believing in the super teacher myth, I did real damage to myself through a lot of self-doubt. "Why isn't my activity going the way I planned for it to?" "Why the hell do their benchmark scores suck so badly?" "No, seriously. I taught them that. I. TAUGHT. THEM. I swear I taught them. Why are they acting like I didn't teach them?!" I really thought it was be being a sucky teacher, but no. This is something that almost every teacher experiences. Natural ebb-and-flow in the classroom.

I have enough ideas to develop this presentation for tomorrow. At some point, I'll share it. While there are plenty of things that went wrong last year, in total, I must have done well, because the kids learned :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Hallelujah, the Saviors are Here"

Two of my favorite Internet-based time-wasters collided: satirical sites and education blogs. Bless The Onion for providing such awesome comedic fodder: My Year Volunteering as a Teacher Helped Educate a New Generation of Underprivileged Kids. The piece is a thinly veiled swipe at Teach for America, and some of the teachers/mindsets that exist in TFA corp member population.

For me, the article is apropos. As I'm finishing up (finals tomorrow) this grad degree, I'm starting to think about my next moves, or my next grand teacher improvement project. What can make me more effective and/or what can get me access to more information, tools, and resources that can really enhance the classroom? As I've alluded to previously, TFA is one of several options on the table.

I just want to note that the article brings up something that bothers me about some of the TFA mindsets, and that's the egotism. While I'm sure that most teachers that speak similarly as the one in the satire don't mean to come off as egotistical; I'm sure that they truly to do care about their students and providing them with the best that they can offer them. Yet, read the satire as if a real teacher wrote it, and tell me that you don't get the same unsettling vibes as I did:

"When I graduated college last year, I was certain I wanted to make a real difference in the world. After 17 years of education, I felt an obligation to share my knowledge and skills with those who needed it most.
After this past year, I believe I did just that. Working as a volunteer teacher helped me reach out to a new generation of underprivileged children in dire need of real guidance and care. Most of these kids had been abandoned by the system and, in some cases, even by their families, making me the only person who could really lead them through the turmoil.
Was it always easy? Of course not. But with my spirit and determination, we were all able to move forward. 
Those first few months were the most difficult of my life. Still, I pushed through each day knowing that these kids really needed the knowledge and life experience I had to offer them. In the end, it changed all of our lives.
In some ways, it's almost like I was more than just a teacher to those children. I was a real mentor who was able to connect with them and fully understand their backgrounds and help them become the leaders of tomorrow.
Ultimately, I suppose I can never know exactly how much of an impact I had on my students, but I do know that for me it was a fundamentally eye-opening experience and one I will never forget."

All the emphasis is mine, by the way. If you still aren't a little bit unsettled, listen to this poem called, "Hallelujah the Saviors are Here". This was written and performed by an actual student in Chicago, where TFA corps members are placed, which brings me to problem #2. I'll let you listen to find out what it is.

I have more to say, but no time to write now, so more later...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What It Means to Appreciate Learning

As I was perusing my usual websites and blog collections sites (I'm on study break), I came across a thought-provoking post on Teach for Us called "Test Day is Game Day". Because I'm pretty sure that the author's alias is her actual name, I won't post her name. Here's an excerpt:

"This summer, at Institute, I realized something important: my students must love learning in both of these settings. They must  be as engaged in the content in a testing environment as they are during my most exciting independent practice or engaging discussions.
When I used to think of assessments, I used to think that test-taking was not a transferable skill. I don’t need to sit down & answer a series of multiple-choice content-based questions to buy a cup of coffee or coach a team or do whatever else I love. But after this summer, I see that tests do more than assess content — they teach us perseverance.
When my students sit down in front of a test, they are not simply preparing to answer a series of multiple choice questions about math. They are attacking math. They are activating both their long-term and short-term memory. They are synthesizing content to answer questions. They aremanaging their time to make it through the whole test. They are looking at problems that feel impossible and using critical thinking skills to find alternate solutions, even if they can’t remember the formula. They are doing their best. They are showcasing their knowledge. They are confident. They are empowered.
Classroom engagement takes all different forms. Engaging students in meaningful discussion is incredibly satisfying as a teacher, and through discussion, individual growth becomes visible. But this success means nothing if it can’t be applied to high-stress, testing environments, where individual students are called upon to do thier best on their own, without any coaching or feedback. Test day is game day."
Again, I'm on study break, so I'm going to try to pin down my thoughts in a few minutes, so as usual, excuse the typos!

The first question that popped into my mind as I read was do students really have to love learning in an engaging environment as well as a testing environment? No, I don't think so, which brought me to question two, do they have to love learning at all?

As someone who has had an interesting academic journey that went from easy street, to indifference and boredom, to dogged determination to get into a really good college, to overconfidence, to defeat, to building back confidence, back to dogged determination to graduate on a high note, and finally to where I am now (BTW, that's "confident, very capable, but full of humility"), I get what it means to feel on top on my game and to struggle mightily (Linear Algebra, I'm looking at you). Apparently, I don't hate learning, because a) I'm a graduate student and b) I teach. Clearly, I have a high regard for the process of learning.

Yet, I don't feel it is necessary to love to learn. For example, I can gobble me up some biology. I love it. I can't, however, gobble up Dostoyevsky (heck yes, I spelled that right the first time!). Or calculus. Or physics, but I do appreciate the reasoning and processes behind analyzing a novel or learning that integrals basically deal with area (in fact, that's kinda beautiful when you think about that...). I don't necessarily love or even enjoy the process of calculating an integral, though.

I suspect this holds with most people about some topic. As much as I love science, I understand that most of my kids don't, and it's not my goal (or even my job) to get my students to love science. My goal is to get them to appreciate science and the processes that are behind scientific knowledge. Even if my kids aren't tripping over themselves to become scientists later on in life, if they can understand why they are learning what they are learning and are engaging in whatever we are doing in class, be it discussions, hands-on/minds-on activities, labs, whatever, AND they meet my learning goals, I'm happy at the end of the day.

As for testing, it's not anything that anyone I know, adult or child, likes. The CRCT sucked. The ACT sucked. The SAT sucked. The GACE sucked. The GRE really sucked. I did not love any of those tests. What I did love was that feeling of pure victory when I kicked all of their asses, so I completely agree with the assertion that testing, in part, teaches perseverance. I'll admit to taking the SAT and GRE twice, because I didn't think I did my best the first go-round. Instead of crying, in both cases, when I got to my computer in the evening, I went ahead and plunked down the $100+, reflected on where I went wrong, and got back studying to fix my mistakes. I was not excited about spending more money and time on those tests, but I wasn't about to let some test keep me from getting into school.

I'll end on this note: Part of appreciating learning means appreciating that, at certain points, you gotta show what you know, know what you know, know what you don't know, and how you can best address gaps in your learning (which is not to absolve teachers from this process, but I digress). Remember, that's only a part of appreciating learning, which means my job (and the job of every teacher that shares my goal) is a tall order, but it's one that I wouldn't undertake if I truly didn't believe in it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reflecting On Year 1, Part I: What Went Right

As I wrote on my last post, I was asked to give a presentation during the new teachers' orientation on how to survive during the first year at our school. I gave myself kudos, but here's where the nitty-gritty happens: the reflecting!

I've been doing this on-and-off all summer as a means of developing new ideas or evolving older ones. Still, I want to do some in-depth reflections on what went right, what went wrong, and then what's next.

Because it's late, I'll tackle what should be the easiest for me to do: reflecting on what went right. I think I'll do it in a numbered list, because I will literally be typing as I'm thinking of my list. Hopefully, what I write will be readable :)

1. Establishing my teacher persona without sacrificing my out-of-class personality and without being false. How I acted in the classroom is pretty much how I act outside of class AND I kept teacher presence. From day one, my kids knew that I would not tolerate nonsense, and that my classroom operates on assumed respect from both ends. I know for a fact that this policy of mine is what helped me maintain "control" (I put it in quotes, because it's not my first choice of word...I think I would prefer "authoritative presence").

Outside of the classroom, I'm a light-hearted, jokey character and a bit of an introvert. I'm not a social wallflower, yet prolonged social interactions can tire me out sometimes. I have no time for nonsense inside and outside the classroom. This version of me (with a cleaner mouth) is who showed up to teach everyday: some days, I can deal with more light-hearted conversations and can really ham it up, and other days, I really just needed my kids to work independently and without much fuss to boot. And none it came off as false. They all knew that whatever the mood in class that day was, it was all organic. It wasn't a put-on for guests or admin. It was all Ms. Insane.

2.  I was good at putting my feelings and thoughts aside to get the job done. This seems to run counter to number 1, but this part is more about putting away the personal stuff. Granted, it was (and still is) easier for me to get excited about a lesson when I feel good about work and about personal stuff, but I can bottle up personal stuff, so that it doesn't mess up my day with the kids. Lord knows that there were days where everything sucked: long meetings, emails that won't deal with themselves, adults acting crazy, students acting crazy, etc. There were some days where I woke up feeling like poo for no apparent reason. Yet, I could contain my feelings to where they wouldn't contaminate my entire day. In fact, most of the days, I had a better outlook on my problems. There is something to say about being too tired to be mad, worried, sad, or much anything other emotion beyond "determined" to fix or get over whatever the malady may be.

3. My classroom blog: While I won't post a link to it, trust me when I say it kicked ass. The better, updated version of it to be released at the beginning of the school year will kick even more ass.

4. Keeping my adherence to (and belief in) the school culture. If someone were to ask me two years ago whether I could teach in a place with a "rigid" structure, I would have said no. After doing so for two years now, I can wholeheartedly say, "Sure. Why not?" I don't even think that rigid is the right word here, but it's the best I've got. Our school culture is well-defined and is to be fiercely maintain and to do that, our school has a definite way of doing things that if not done, can get a teacher shown the door quickly. I'm making this sound horrible, and to many people, it is horrible. Some have tried to do it anyway, but ultimately did not do well in this type of environment.

Being the light-hearted character, I thought that I would struggle to fit the way the school wants things done in the classroom to how I would do them without the structure in place. However, once I stepped back, I could see several aspects of the school culture where individuality and flexibility could take what may seems to be a restrictive way of teaching and doing things in the classroom into something that makes for a really special teaching and learning experience. I apologize for being vague for those you reading who don't me or where I work, but suffice it to say, someday I will figure out a way of describing this that maintains some degree of anonymity.

5. Eventually, coming to realization that I was doing the best I could as a new teacher and that I didn't suck. I'm not really sure if this counts in the right or wrong column, but I'll list it here because it popped up. Though this realization didn't come until the last month of school (after the standardized testing was over), I came to it and kept it moving. Even though I didn't see it while I was living it, I was reflecting and evolving throughout the year. My lessons in May blow the ones in October out of water. More inquiry, better discussions, more independence from the kids! While this all is a result of the kids' growth, their growth couldn't have happened with something being done right on my end. In fact, it had to be more than one thing done right on my end for the improved lessons to for the kids. And not that we're supposed to hang our hats on these scores,but my kids rocked their state tests. While we as teachers may not care, the educational overlords do, and these people keep schools open and running...and keep me doing what I love for another year. 

6. I never once hated my job. In fact, I really love what I do. Did I hate certain aspects of it? Sure. Who loves or likes every aspect of anything or anyone? Despite my disdain for aspects of my job (e.g. 35-minute lunch periods - 10 for transitions - 5 for food nuking/prepping time = 20-minute lunch), I never once regretted my decision to teach or take the job at my beloved charter. Were there days that I didn't want to go to work? Yes, and when the feeling was overwhelming, I took a personal day if there were no impending teacher holidays. I openly admitted that I took of my two personal days simply to go see movies, because I really wanted do something for myself that was not education-related.

Guess the two movies I saw on my  personal days. 
Still, even when things sucked, I didn't hate my job. Point in fact, I very much love teaching. It's still exciting and dare I say, fun on most days. I still get a bit nervous when the kids come in, and I still get a thrill once the "meat" of the lesson kicks. I still get crazy excited when the kids get a concept or when they have the "light-bulb" moment of understanding. I still enjoy planning lessons. I still like grading "A" and "B" papers when most of the stack falls in that ranges. (What happens when the stack isn't so good is something I'll talking about in Part II.)

While I'm sure I could think of more things that went right this year, this leaves me at a pretty good place for the night. I can refer to this list to help me once I start planning my presentation in earnest. 

I can also look at this list whenever my confidence wains as a written, public record of positive thoughts on what I think of myself as a teacher right now. I will definitely need this in November :)

Look out for Part II soon: What Went Wrong. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Not Bad

The principal at my school asked me to do a session during the new teacher orientation, "How to Survive Your First Year at [My Beloved Charter School]".

If you will allow me a very brief moment to allow my head to go large, I kinda knew it was highly likely that I would be asked to do so. And I knew that I would say yes if asked. Which I did.

This means that I now need to reflect on my first year and figure out how I did. To be honest, I recognize that I survived, that I have happily decided to do it again, but after that...I don't know how I did it! I have to figure what I did. I've spent so much time over the summer reflecting on what NOT to do again or how to improve things that I didn't spend any time on what to keep doing.

That's going to make for one heck of post soon, guys! Can't wait for the self-dissection!

In the meantime, let me leave you with a small taste of how much I (very currently, as in right now, not a second afterward)  rock at life. This is an email I received from my professor who evaluated my grad exit portfolio, which is a collection of narratives I had to write with "artifacts" I used or created during my time in the program:

"Ms. [Insane],

Congratulations!!! You have successfully completed your e-portfolio. This is by far the most thorough e-portfolio that I have evaluated in my three year stint as a professor here at [place I attend grad school]. Keep on being exceptional!!! You are one step closer to becoming a Georgia certified middle level mathematics/science teacher and completing your requirements for our certification program. Please see my comments regarding your e-portfolio in [software where I submitted the monster]. Congratulations to you again!!!"

Not bad, indeed. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Seriously, Teachers! Stop this NOW!

Stop posting comments on your Facebook pages about your students. It can bite you in the butt.

Remember, if you don't have anything nice to say about a student, keep it to yourself!

Unless, I'm missing something, this stuff is common sense. Why isn't it being used? I don't get it. It's frustrating me. Really, am I missing something here? If so, I genuinely welcome anyone to challenge me on this.


Ms. Insane

Oh, and don't look up or befriend your students on your personal accounts. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

More on Teacher-Prep Programs & Research Methods & ...

I mentioned towards the end of my last post that this subject came up in my Research Methods class a few weeks ago. Mind you, the discussion was not framed in terms on our opinions of teacher-prep programs. In fact, here were the questions that framed the discussion...

"Art Levine is a critic of teacher education. You can read some of his ideas here:

1. What does Levine see as the basic problem with teacher education?
2. Do you think teacher education is easily researchable? Can you think of a research question that Levine wants answered? "

Note that neither of the questions asked for our opinion on teacher education. I read the link the professor provided but wasn't satisfied, so I did some more digging and found the following: 

Levine's report called "Educating School Teachers" from which his remarks on teacher ed came.
A WaPost article Levine wrote on the subject in 2011.

Just a warning, before you embark, the first link is the entire report. All 140 & something pages of it. This is something to skim through in bits and pieces. The second link is a more condensed version of his argument. After doing my digging, I wrote the following on the discussion board (excuse the grammar, please)...

"It was hard for me to get a good read on what Levine's problem with teacher education was based on the provided link, so I did some digging. I found the link to his "Educating Teachers" report  and the link to an article Levine wrote about his report for the Wa Post in 2011.

I still don't have a great feel for what his problem is beyond that he thinks that many colleges of education are falling! He does give a variety of possible reasons: low admissions standards, weak, unfocused curricula, inadequate field experiences, limited contact with K-12 schools, and faculty who have been out of practice for a long time. Part of the reason why I don't have a great feel for his problem is that it is poorly defined. His reasoning for the "failure" of colleges of edu are too wide scope; any of the reasons he stated could affect how well teachers perform (note that I didn't define "performance") on their own.

With that said, my answer for question 2, is no, teacher education is not easily researchable. First, like in Levine's case, the problem needs a clear definition. For example, Levine could have started with "Do teacher's SAT scores affect their students' scores on the CRCT?" He could see if there is a relationship between the two, and then go from there. Next, a clear and measurable dependent variable is needed. In my sample question, I went with student CRCT scores. Lastly, the validity of the IV definition and DV measure needs to be considered. Someone could (easily) convince me that CRCT scores may not be the best measure of the effectiveness of a teacher, thus making its use in research not a good idea. Getting one step right is difficult, so it goes then that getting all three right is more difficult.
Perhaps, what Levine should ask is, "What teacher-related factors relate to their effectiveness?" He could examine number of pedagogy courses (or SAT scores, field experience time, etc.) and relate them to some student achievement measure, for example. Either way, some more (good) research may make his argument more convincing to the powers that be. [NOTE: nothing I said here is meant to be in support or against Levine's argument, though I do have an opinion!]"

Note how I did NOT give my opinion on the matter, because I wasn't asked for it. Most of the responses I received were thoughtful. Some folks agreed with me, and some thought that Levine's stance was quite clear. Then, I get a response like this:

"[Ms. Insane],

Do you believe that the measure of how much a student learned is an accurate factor/standard to grade teachers on their success? I have testing anxiety so I'd feel bad if my teachers livelihood rested on my testing ability."

Le sigh. My response to this poster:

"From the original post: 'Someone could (easily) convince me that CRCT scores may not be the best measure of the effectiveness of a teacher, thus making its use in research not a good idea.'

My purpose in mentioning students' scores on a test was not to insinuate that it is an accurate factor or standard through which to "grade" teachers on their success. My point was that it is a potential operational definition for "teacher effectiveness" or "teacher quality", for better or for worse. 
On an off-topic note, yes, I think some sort of measure (or more than one measure!) of student learning is but ONE part in determining the effectiveness of a teacher."

Ironically enough, in a discussion questioning the difficulty in researching teacher education and evaluating it, someone becomes an anecdote to strengthening my opinion on the problems with my teacher-prep program. It's not difficult to extrapolate from my postings that I generally agree with the core of Levine's argument in my own program. I can't speak for other programs, because I wasn't in them. In my own, though, I saw many of the weakness he points out: out-of-practice faculty, students slipping in through low entry standards, less-than-desirable student teaching, etc.  

However, I do wish that Levine's argument was more grounded in research. What exactly is his indicator that current teacher education programs aren't working? Standardized test scores? Number of schools making AYP? A general feeling or what? There had to be something that made him say that what's happening now isn't working. How did he come up with his possible reasons behind this "failure" in teacher-prep programs? Not to say that they are wrong (or right), but I'd like to read some studies that give his argument more of a backbone. 

I loved Research Methods as an undergrad, and I still love it today. If I didn't like the classroom as much as I do, I would totally be in educational research. Who knows? I might have my hand in it somehow, someway one day. 

To make a meaningful decision in education today, it seems that at least a basic understanding of research methods is necessary, as it should be and should always be. Yet, the conversation becomes diluted and dumbed-down when extraneous details get thrown in. We were having an awesome conversation about Levine's argument and its basis in research, whenever the flavor of the conversation was watered down with an argument based on a personal feeling. 

Let me not get it twisted, humans are doing the research, so feelings, opinions, and biases are a part of the game. Yet, we don't invite them in and use them as arguments, which is why I preface opinions and feelings and label them as such. I shouldn't have to, because everyone should know the difference. Still, I will hear the "No, that wrong, because my cousin, Remus went to a school where...blah, yak-smack...and he won teacher of the year." or the "You're right because of blah, blah, at my school."

To be honest, I don't mind these types of comments, but I understand that these comments don't move research along unless they are being acted upon, which is why I ask for pieces of research whenever someone finds something that support or goes against any claims or opinions of mine. Just so you all know that I don't write in a vacuum; I often send my blog post along to teacher friends and respected professors of mine in the research biz, so that discussion and thought can be stimulated to move things along. In the case of the class discussion and now, I would love nothing more than to move along the discussion of the research of teacher-prep: how we do, who we let do it, and how we choose people into these programs. Yes, I bitch to vent, but I also do it hopefully to move things along in whatever small way I can. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

My Problems with My Grad Teacher-Prep Program

Just a brief note. Before actually writing this post, I actually begin a post about my graduate teacher prep program, but I never finished it. This first part is the beginning of the original, unfinished post. This was written in November 2011.

This is just my opinion. While I'm all about research and data (and those who know me well can attest to this), opinion (or "first-hand accounts") are not useless to researchers. In this spirit, I write!

My problems with graduate school are well-documented here on my blog. It is a frequent target of mine whenever I get the fine whines, but it's not because the graduate work is "time-consuming" or "difficult". I can handle both. What I can't handle is "wasteful", which is what this experience has been for me so far.

I'm working on a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in Middle Education Math and Science at a the second largest university here in GA. What all that mumbo jumbo means is that I'm in a graduate-level teacher preparation program, which is unlike the Master of Education, or M.Ed.

Hey! It's the present-version of Ms. Insane writing again! As you read, I wasn't a fan of my graduate program then, and I'm still not a fan now. However, now that I've come to the end of the road, I'll write more in detail about my experience. 

Again, let me note that these are my opinions, as in NOT SUPPORTED BY RESEARCH! If there are certain aspects that are, cool! I would relish reading these pieces, so post links or references.

The root of my problems lie in the following: a lack of focus on the practical, everyday aspects of teaching and probable low entry standards.

Lack of practical, pedagogical knowledge
          I've written about this already here and especially here. Still, to this day, that "Theory and Pedagogy in Middle Childhood Math and Science" course was the biggest waste of time in my post-secondary education career. The saddest part about this course was that it had the largest amount of potential to turn things around. It was a 3-hour class session every week. I would have loved for the first hour to focus on the theory-based readings, and the last two to focus on practical implications and practices from those theories we discussed the first hour. What we got instead was an hour of shooting-the-breeze style whine sessions (which as a teacher, I totally get the need for these) followed by the professor discussing how awesome her own classroom was without telling us why it was so awesome. This was followed by 30 minutes of her discussing the week's topic and then a hurried listing of the 901 readings and reflections that needed to be done on the readings. I was okay with the readings and the reflections. Too bad, we never actually discussed them and how they applied to our teaching philosophies and practices.

          I bring up that "Theory and Pedagogy" course as it was the epitome of the wastefulness in opportunity that I felt throughout my program. The particular program I'm in is built around the idea of having a cohort of preservice teachers taking the same courses together to create a sense of community. We would discuss and make sense of education theories, discuss together how these theories apply to today's society, share and discuss good, research-driven practices, and overall act as each other's soundboards and support system as we developed from pre-service to in-service teachers. Last summer gave use the background in theories. The fall and spring semesters (i.e. the Theory and Pedagogy course along with practicum) was supposed to be about the practical application. I didn't feel that was the case and many of my cohort members/my friends would agree with me to some extent.

          You could classify all of the cohort members as one of the following: a regular preservice teacher, a teaching fellow, or a provisionally-licensed teacher. The teaching fellows were those accepted into a special program that came with a grant, a year-long placement in a classroom in a high-needs school with a mentor teacher, and a high likelihood of having a job in the same school during the next school year. (Note that this teaching fellowship was not the same as the one I did. I came across mine while I was an undergrad, I didn't get a grant...I did land the job though!) The provisionally-licensed teachers were actual teachers without a renewable certificate. However, they varied in experience level. There were pro-licensed teachers with three years of experience and were some with none (me!). The regular preservice teachers were those placed in a regular practicum experience: one semester in one school doing mostly observations with a little bit of teaching at the end plus another semester in (highly likely) another school doing increasingly more teaching. Most of the cohort fell into the "regular preservice teacher" category. 

          No matter our classification, we all had a US, a university superior, our connect to the grad school while we were out in the field and the person who graded our performance through practicum. If you were lucky, you had the same US throughout both semesters. Because you are likely going to change schools (and thus mentor teachers), it would be nice to have some consistency. However, many of us ended up with another US for the next semester. I'll admit that in my case, my second US was miles more engaged and enthusiastic about discussing whatever was on my mind, teaching-wise, than my first one. In fact, I still communicate with her today and will continue to, because she has been an absolute blessing and inspiration to me! However, I don't think that my experience was common. My mentor teacher was also consistent, because I chose her and worked with her everyday. Again, most of my cohort-mates likely didn't have the same experience of having a consistent presence to help them along and support them.

        Yet, this is the whole purpose of student teaching. Whether it is a five-week program or entire graduate program, preservice teachers need a consistent, knowledgeable, and experienced mentor, advisor, or supervisor to help point out what is working, what can be improved, and possible solutions on how to improve. The US, while not as omnipresent as the mentor teacher, is supposedly the "expert" at this. However, I think that we greatly lose out when we switch USs halfway through. This blow wouldn't be anywhere near as damaging if we could keep the same mentor teacher throughout the year. My teaching fellowship before my actual first year of teaching saved my butt. There's something to be said for acting as a "fellow" in a classroom for a full year before doing it yourself. I watched an experienced, awesome mentor teacher at work for an entire year: I watched where she went right, where she stumbled, and how she bounced back. In the mix was me, observing, asking questions, jumping in to help students, and eventually, taking over the wheel. Whenever I did take the wheel, we would debrief about what I did well and what I could do better next time. That experience is how I largely avoided the year one ass-kicking many new teachers get. And to this day, even though my teaching fellowship mentor no longer teaches at my school, I still keep in touch with her. I shudder to think about how crappy of a teacher I would have been without that fellowship. That's not to say that the regular preservice teachers are screwed. In fact, some of them are the hardest-working and most talented out of the entire cohort, and they will do great. However, it would have been nice if our program didn't stack the deck against them.

Note: Many out there are likely thinking, "How did this affect you personally?" The answer is that most of this didn't, because of my mentor teacher and second US. However, at the beginning of the year when I could have used more practical strategies to help my students, I was left hanging by the course that I thought would have been the most helpful and by my US, though her lack of presence was not likely her fault, but the school's for stretching her too thin. 

Probable Low Entry Standards
         I'm going to keep this part short, because as I said in my last post, if you don't have anything nice to say, keep it to yourself. Yet, I feel compelled to say that while most of my fellow cohort members are intelligent and hard-working individuals, too many for my comfort were not. I genuinely felt concerned about these people having their own classroom in the near future, and I still do. For example, there is no excuse  for a future science teacher to not know why we have seasons! There is no reason for thinking that merely showing a Brain Pop video on organelles is sufficient to teaching students about organelles. And yes, knowing that 'b' is a constant in the algebraic equation 'y = mx +b' matters when you teach it! Also, knowing the difference between an "expression" and "equation" matters. Say what you will about TFA, they got the idea of selection right.

        While I am plenty disappointed in my graduate program, they didn't get everything wrong. I do appreciate the courses on educational foundations, theory, and diversity, which you just can't get in a classroom. While it's not something I think about everyday, what I learned in those courses helped me put a lot of what happens in and around my classroom into proper context. Without context, I wouldn't understand many policies and the reasoning behind them nor would I understand the underlying processes at work in many practical ideas. In fact, it is from these theories and ideas from education thinkers around long before us that these practical ideas are born.

        I am grateful for the contacts I have made through my program both personal and professional. I am also grateful that there were online courses available, so that I could continue to teach and learn at the same time. In fact, most of the courses that have been the most enjoyable and helpful to me have been online. Online courses are a blessing to teachers who want to grow professionally without having to sacrifice their classrooms. 

       I don't know whether my problems with my grad school program are school-specific or system-wide. Perhaps, it may have something to do with how I feel teachers are trained (which was a point of discussion in my Research Methods class two weeks ago...I may post my discussions!), because most of my problems are centered around the quintessential in teacher-prep programs, the student-teaching experience. Either way, I'm grateful I'm at the finish line.

Now, what's next? TFA or more grad school?

Friday, June 29, 2012

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, Keep It to Yourself

From the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Bucks County Teacher Whose Blog Made Headlines is Fired"

Last year, Natalie Munroe, a teacher in Pa., came under scrutiny when a blog of hers was brought to the attention of the school officials where she works. That's not all...a particular blog post of hers was under question. She wrote a lot of not nice things about her students and school. In her interview last year with Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America", she basically said that her comments were not aimed at specific students, rather they were aimed at caricatures of students. I kinda understand that. Maybe it wasn't aimed at a specific student or two, but I think her comments were definitely about groups of students she has come across before. 

With that said, this post is NOT meant to admonish her or judge her. Mrs. Munroe is entitled to her opinions as much as the next  person and is just as entitled to share them. However, there are consequences to sharing your opinions. Sometimes, they are minimal and in some cases, they are quite expansive, like in Mrs. Munroe's case. Also, the consequences for sharing your opinions can be positive, negative, or absolutely nil. I also don't think that it is wrong for teachers to blog. Duh. "Teaching is Insanity", anyone? However, one thing you will never see on my blog (which consist of my opinions) is an obliteration of any of my students, my school, the community in which I work, the parents of my kids, my co-workers, my administration, or even caricatures based on any of these groups. Criticism? Fair game. Mean-spirited discussion? Never. 

First, it is in my nature to keep discourse as polite and kind as possible, because I have neither the time nor the patience to put up with anything less. People that know me well know that when conversations get nasty, I walk out or hang up until things get back on a human level. I don't accept nastiness from anyone, so I don't spew it. Second, I recognize that behind every policy and action is an actual human being. Now, the amount of humanity actually possessed is questionable, but I assume that a good amount is there until otherwise proven wrong. If I don't like something, I usually will say so, along with a suggestion or two on how to improve it. If it doesn't get change, I'll do my own thing. Third, meanness doesn't really fix anything, so why bother with it? How is stating "I hear the trash company is hiring" adding to the discussion about why some students are so unmotivated? Is this meant to motivate them, perhaps? (That's a real question.) I know that if it were aimed at me or my class, it would piss me off and motivate me to raise hell. (High school Ms. Insane was nowhere near as mellow as the current iteration.)

I know how hard it is to keep discussion as polite as possible. There are some days, I come home and want to unload a whole lot of nasty, because my day was nasty. I get the frustration of teaching today. We are asked to do some much more with some much less, including in some case, base-level respect. Some kids seem to come to school only to tap dance on that one nerve you have left. 

Imagine Savion Glover tapping on one of your nerves.
Still, and especially if you are going to express yourself online in ANY form, it is important to keep discourse polite. Even it is not for the same reasons I do, keep it polite. As the old saying goes, "If you don't have anything nice to say, keep it to yourself". Or at least off the internet.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Let's Try This Again

I'm baaaccckkk!

After the long sabbatical from blogging, I'm happy to be back at it! I'll keep the update brief and confine it to a paragraph...

December was my teaching nadir. (Every morning began with me through my alarm.) January was the beginning of the precipitous downhill slide to the CRCT in April, so I had no time to wallow in my funk. In other words, it was do-or-die time. Obviously, I'm writing, so I didn't die. I "do"ed.  Better yet, my kids "do"ed quite well on the CRCT. Also, they launched pretty awesome egg-protection devices from the third floor. 

My room smelled like a giant fart for days.
I survived through the school year and have decided to continue to teach, which is the real victory! In all seriousness, I don't wish the fatigue and the cripplingly amount of self-doubt and criticism on anyone. I do wish that everyone could see my kids and the pride in themselves when their eggs lived after their drop. That was awesome finish to the year and awesome reminder that the real purpose of teaching is not the CRCT (though, seriously, my kids' scores kicked butt).

I'm back to blogging now, because I'm desperately avoiding grad school work. Thankfully, the time-suck that is grad school ends at the end of the summer. Before the summer is out, I will fully unload my frustration with grad school. Through my procrastination efforts, I've found several teaching-related blogs, though for my TFA-wary friends, note some of them are written by TFA folks. Though, FYI, I feel myself going in that direction... (I owe another blog post on that as well). 

Accidentally tripping upon my own blog is what really got me back to blogging. Reading through my own post was fascinating. I found myself laughing, cringing, reminiscing, and vowing to never again to do or say certain things. Teaching is such a fun and rewarding trip that I rather like documenting, reviewing, and discussing the journey! Even during the summertime when I'm not being paid to think about my classroom, I already have a few organizational and instructional ideas that I'm forming and modifying now based on stuff I've been reading. You could either classify this as sad or super-dedicated. (Let's go with door #2, please.)

Long story...well, not made short, because this post is NOT short. Brevity is not my strong suit...

I'm back and better than last year, but only because I have a year under my belt now. If not, I would still suck. 

As a closing, I will leave you with something someone should have sat me down in front of last year at this point in time

The Myth of the Super Teacher from EdWriters on Vimeo.