Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Teaching all day had its perks and drawbacks, of course. It was great to track kids across the whole day, to keep J--- engaged in the lessons because I just kept calling on him, to know to follow-up on K---'s inattentiveness because it ran from beginning to end, to be able to see M--- have a great day. Problematically, the kids have grown accustomed to each teacher bounding into the room for a lesson at a time, viewing those 50 minutes as their big chance to put the surrounding 5 hours of class, prep and discussion into use, rearin' to go no matter how tired we are. It was exhausting to try and follow every frantic closing with an exciting opening, to maintain my enthusiasm for 3 solid hours, and to be constantly on the same kids for the same problems for the whole day long. Welcome to the real world of teaching, rookie. ;-)
Today, we realized that C---- coming early to our class meant he was skipping breakfast.
Today, our most severely struggling student took a homework assignment where students were required to write their own run-on sentence and correct it as a chance to express her terrible frustration with school. She wrote that she doesn't like being shy, that she hates being unable to do subtraction, and that she thinks she's stupid and calls herself a donkey. It was, ironically, the best piece of writing we've received from her yet.
Friday, July 23, 2004
Chris A--- came early again, excited to help us prepare for the day and get special attention from the teachers. Despite the fact this is usually our last few minutes to wake up as normal people before entering Teacher Mode, it's nice to see a kid relish in being in the classroom.
My lesson seemed to go perfectly. Somehow, I was able to shuck my reserve and cynicism and get in to acting out parts of a story I was reading to the kids. They joined me with great enthusiasm (except for the two who were just too cool or too shy for such merriment, but it's okay, I was there once), but yet did not devolve into a chaotic mess! Even when I foolishly suggested that we imitate walking a dog! Then, as we went over "main idea and detail" from the lesson prior not only did they grasp the concept, but they also demonstrated a careful command of the story, and communicated their ideas in grammatically correct and complete sentences. My greatest happiness, though, was when at one point, almost every hand was raised to answer a question!
At recess, the majority of the kids wanted to stay in and practice arithmetic on the board, an activity we offered for a few "aspiring math-e-magicians" but has caught on as "cool."
Midway through one of my TFA classes in the auditorium, in walked one of our favorite (and absent) students. Her mother took the time to return her to school for the last hour, after a morning doctor's visit. Seeing that a goodly number of our kids disappear for a day or few because they "have to go" to a concert, baseball game, or family vacation (I'm all for the latter, but not when a child is in danger of being retained.) to see a parent value her child's time in school was very satisfying.
My day ended with a very frustrating CMA group discussion on racism (frustrating in that it was not "racism in teaching," the "impact of racism on teaching, " or "racism in anyway relevant to what I'm doing now and in the fall," but the stereotypical "liberals can still be biased! repent, repent!" discussion that TFA's diversity curriculum specializes in ) but even that can hardly even put a dent in my satisfaction.
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
On the first day, we arrived ready for a 4/5th grade class, carrying end of 5th grade assessments to diagnose where they were. We found out at 7:52 that we had a class of about 20 4th graders and 1 5th grader, all English Language Learners. Our advisors ---the TFA sitedirector, the LAUSD principal, the LAUSD faculty advisor (in the room with us at all times,) the TFA corps member advisor (in and out allday, checks all lesson plans)--- told us to give them the 5th grade assessment, "It'll be a challenge." The students failed it so badly that we couldn't use it to assess anything, and instead we simply used their pitiful writing samples. The problem was none of our rookie four-person team-teaching collaborative knew how a 4th grader was supposed to write.
And so we taught them how, as best we could imagine, to write correct sentences, planning to build up to a paragraph, and then an essay, asour TFA-customized standards suggested. Everyone, four professional educators, smiled and nodded. How well behaved they were. How engaged they were. How quick they were to answer. We were going to be great teachers. All the while, we realize now, we were doing next to nothing to help our kids. Homework after homework came back with very mixed comprehension, but it took us until Friday to sit down and realize that our students just weren't learning.
On Monday, for the first time, one of my team-teachers showed a lesson plan to a different staff member. He read it and said it was great,and then she said, "But for English Language Learners?" and heliterally laughed. They don't need to know what an adjective is, theyneed to see the colors, they need to act out sizes, they need to drawfaces for each emotion. Today we talked to another staffer who saidthe same thing and brought us some picture dictionaries to teach vocabulary. Forget essays, try and get them to write a paragraph. Forget reading Maniac Magee, try and get them to describe a story shown in 4 pictures.
On Monday, for the first time, I went into another 4th grade class andheard how fast their kids were reading and speaking, how fluidly theywere writing, and finally realized that our kids were learning in anentirely different world and we were teaching to the same standards.
On Monday, for the first time, someone thought to give us a copy ofour students English development scores. Thus we found out yesterday,after a week and a half of the four week summer school, that most ofour class of 4th and 5th grade children are reading and writing approximately on the 1st or 2nd grade level, to be generous. We spent a week instructing them, as our curriculum advised, on the fineries ofnouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prefixes, suffixes and compoundwords. Now we learn that we should have been showing them pictures,we should have been giving them word blocks to arrange in simple sentences, we should have been acting out every phrase we said andhaving them mimic us.
We're adjusting now and our advisers want to congratulate us for it. They don't acknowledge that we made a mistake, they don't acknowledge thatsomeone should have said, "Hey! These aren't regular 4th graders!" they don't seem to mind at all what has happened with our first week of teaching. Don't worry about it, we're told. All first year teachers are imperfect, some students have to have them. The advisers don't seem to mind that 8 of our 21, most of whom are clearly bright and still, amazingly, excited to learn, might get held back a grade because of this. Assigning fault, however, while often such a pitiful fixation of mine seems so painfully irrelevant when I think about that.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
I--- cried when he paid perfect attention, knew all the right answers, and still got a phone call home because he couldn't remember to raise his hand. When told to go play at recess, he moaned, "I don't deserve to go out."
E--- says he's bored and might not come to school tomorrow like it's a challenge to me. And we both know that it is.
V--- can't remember to use punctuation, but aced the math check when most of her classmates got half.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
This afternoon was spent frantically acquiring books, a new long-term plan, and new lesson plans for tomorrow.
Be flexible. Breath in, breath out. Tomorrow is a new day.
Saturday, July 10, 2004
Yes folks, that's right. A week of averaging around 5 hours of sleep a night, with no naps, almost no caffeine, and a boatload of stress. But it's okay, I've been told the worst is over and all I have to do Monday is start teaching.
Sunday, July 04, 2004
How might your identity - your race, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or another part of your background - impact our approach to teaching?
I suspect that my “educational background” will actually have the biggest impact on my teaching. While being a straight, Caucasian, Christian male from a nice middle class suburb sets me up to relate very poorly to many of my students, this can be (somewhat) overcome through education and conscientiousness. My educational experience and perspective, I worry, is more deep-seeded and difficult to take into account.
On one hand, this could be a tremendous advantage. My 5th grade year was the highlight of my schooling, a wonderful magnet class with a sparklingly creative teacher and almost-universally academic students who stayed in my honors track until we almost-all graduated to our expectedly fine universities. Why can't I try to replicate that experience for my students?
On the other hand, my educational satisfaction and success could make me reluctant to think through my plans. I still struggle with the idea that what worked for me, what inspired and informed me, might not work for my students. I have been studying for 16 years, I know what lessons and what methods are perfect for me, but they could be absolutely wrong for some, most or all of my students. It will require immense effort to think about teaching people who don’t think like me, to create lessons that would be approachable to students who don’t learn like me. Finally, I love learning, I love reading, I love to go to school; I must work to remember that these are passions to inculcate in all my students but not necessarily expect them to already have.