Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Last Blog (finally...): My MTC Experience

My MTC experience has been a long roller coaster ride. A unique one. Where the roller coaster only rises 20 feet off the ground but drops to 50 feet below.

So you’re in this roller coaster and it goes underground and you’re thinking to yourself, “What?? How can the ride get this low? How can it be like this? Who thought this up?? Bad idea!!” and you have dirt in your eyes, your ears, up your nose, in your shoes… everywhere. And you’re just waiting for the next ascent, so you can get above ground, breathe (gasp, really), dust the dirt off because you’re trying to find yourself, your clothes, your body, in all this mess (which is pointless because you’re going to get dirty again in a few seconds). And you go through this process with every descent and ascent. Eventually you start thinking you can prepare yourself for going underground so it won’t be so bad. You try different things to hopefully minimize the “suckiness” of the time you’re spending underground: you stiffen your body to reduce the number of crevices the dirt can lodge itself in; you’ve figured out the “perfect” hand swipe movement and leg shake that remove the dirt the quickest and most thoroughly. But in the end, all of these tactics seem pointless because you’re still on this awful roller coaster ride that goes underground… all the time.

I came to Mississippi with no expectations because I knew that nothing something would happen that wouldn't meet my expectation; it just wasn't a good idea. My first week here, I went to a welcoming party for the 1st years in the program and got chiggers, basically a bug infestation in your body. They burrow under you skin (very inconspicuously!) and leave at their own leisure. I had bites all over my feet and legs; one day the itching pain was so bad I had to get a shot of “Numb Me Up” so I could 1) stop tearing up from the pain, 2) walk at a speed greater than one mile per hour, 3) not resent being awake and, furthermore, in Mississippi. Perhaps I should have taken this as a hint and left with Anne…
Teaching summer school was nice. It made me feel like teaching was something I could be good at, that my first year as a teacher would be horrifying but okay in the end. But when school actually started in August, I was angry, bewildered, and just happy if I made it through a day of teaching alive. A small part of me was even angry to have had the summer school experience. It was not at all enough preparation for the school year. My first year was ridiculous. I was overworked (as are many teachers and many people in the program), provided very little guidance, received more assistance and sympathy from my two retired mentor teachers than from my own principal, and was humiliated by my principal on numerous occasions, both as an individual and part of a group. This same administrator would then expect me to perform on the same level as other teachers that she had come to favor, or at least respect. I had to leave the school.
Teaching summer school came and went again. I moved, bought a new computer with the money that I saved up (I was so proud of myself), even got a new cat! I was definitely above ground at this point, but I was only there for about two weeks. My students were failing. Yes. But what truly put my year on the path of misery was an elective class I was teaching. I had people failing the course for two reasons: there was no curriculum for the class so I was making it up as I went along, and many students didn’t pay proper attention during class so they wouldn’t care about an assignment that I’d said was worth a test grade, that sort of thing. I had a number of meetings with administrators, and in the end, I was told that I should do whatever and teach however my mentor teacher does in her classes. (Note: the mentor teacher doesn’t even teach the same elective class as I do, which is what started all these meetings in the first place.) For the most part, I’ve been doing as I was told just to avoid a claim of insubordination, but I have given my students extra work or changed assignments when necessary.
So as a recap, I’ve bee underground since mid-August. While hoping that this ride (teaching, the program, being in Mississippi) would not any worse, it did. Of course. I was in a car accident right at the beginning of a well-deserved break and right before final projects were due for my graduate courses. The dang car flipped, it was totaled beyond repair, and I was pretty mashed up myself. Family flew down from the North to take care of me when I couldn’t do it myself. It wasn’t any kind of vacation. I wasn’t well for about 10 days (I returned to work days after the vacation was over). I didn’t have a car for two months, depending on others to go anywhere and everywhere. I was so angry to have been in the accident because it took a toll on everything: my job (staying at school to get work done was no longer an option, nor was tutoring and early-morning copying), my school (I didn‘t have time to complete my finals and needed to make them up during what was supposed to be my semester off), my emotional well-being (which was already rocky: I’m normally an emotional mess as a teacher).
But somehow, it’s mid-January and I can breathe again: I’ve got a car, I’m making up those course credits, tutoring is back on. I was used to the irrational behavior exhibited by students, teachers, and administrators alike so that wasn’t a problem. The ascent continues. But the ride plummets again: with just weeks between me and the academic finish line, my laptop--the one that made me so proud of myself--was stolen. I’ve found some temporary replacement for the technology, but not for all the work that had been saved on it with no back up. What has bothered me most about the theft has not even been its occurrence, but the audacity of a student to do such a thing, considering how much of myself I have sacrificed for my job. This is where I am: searching for a way above ground and hoping I’m in one piece when I get there.
I have never been so tried as I have been these past two years. There has been a lot of bad that I’ve been endured since being down South, but there has also been some good that’s worth an honorable mention. I’ve met some great people through this program. Some of them have been representatives and speakers at functions or in classes. Others have been program participants that I can now truly call friends. These individuals have been the saving grace of my entire experience. A number of speakers managed to remind me, just in the nick of time, that it’s important for me to be here. And I have had close friends around me during some of my most desperate and lonely moments. And as strong as I am, I know that it would’ve been much harder for me to make it through these years without them. So I don’t regret my time here. I regret many of the events that have taken place, but I can appreciate the experience overall. I have learned more about myself and my ability as a teacher, and have identified my hopes for the futures of children in the US and for myself. I think this kind of reflection is important, so I don’t think I can truly regret my time here.
But man, I can’t wait to get off this ride and take a shower.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Required Blog: The Things I Am Not

I don't think I'm a good teacher. This is why I'm leaving the profession with no guarantee of coming back to it. I really love my kids and I hope they all do well, but they all won't. And it's really hard for me to face that. With certain students, it's easier for me to be realistic and see that if they make it out of high school it will be a blessing. But with most of my students, I see this great potential, and all it does is weaken me. Before I go any farther on this tangent of sorts, let me get to the point. There are three integral things that a good teacher needs to be good at (which I am bad at): reaching all your students intellectually, classroom management, and balancing how much you care about your students/caring in a helpful manner.
I most definitely don't get my meaning across to my students all the time. There are kids in class that just stare at me because they don't know what I'm talking about, they're perpetually confused. There are those that sometimes understand me and other times are just dazed. Then there are those that understand me so well, they don't listen. I have a girl in my last period that comes in to class and never opens her binder unless I have given specific instructions to the class to write something down. She doesn't look at her notes, she wasn't even giving in homework for half of 3rd term (which was a big change for her from 1st semester). And the thing is she didn't need to. She's a really smart student that would get an 80 test grade on a bad day. I never pushed her, and a number of other students, far or hard enough. With the students that I know don't understand what I'm saying, I never gave them the extra time they needed with me, usually because I either didn't have the extra time or forgot to go to them. I never gave them the worksheets I wanted to give them to work on at home to build foundational skills they needed for my class. And then I have a select few that say, "Oh yeah, that makes sense, I gotchu'" but don't really have it at all because whatever they just "got" has registered in their brains as something completely different from what was intended. "Differentiated Instruction" is most definitely not my middle name. I have always felt so pressed for time that I haven't spent much time this year doing what's really necessary (a.k.a "alright kids, let's talk about nouns"). I have a co-teacher that has been saying all year, "These kids are in the *th dang grade; if they don't get subject-verb agreement by now, well, we'll just have to move on. That's ridiculous, they're in the *th dang grade." And for the most part I'd listen to her, and that kills me. I was told by an administrator to do whatever this teacher did, and I followed orders and watched my students eyes glaze over with bewilderment as I would just "move on." The last obstacle that's made it hard for me to reach my students is the way I talk. I'm not from Mississippi so I speak differently from them. I thought I spoke quickly sometimes. I was wrong. I speak quickly most of the time and speak really quickly sometimes. So about half the time, my students haven't even been hearing me. To top it off, their attention spans are even shorter than mine (which is kind of a feat) and I talk too much. I do a lot more lecturing and guided practice than their used to, I think. Yup. Haven't been getting through to them AT ALL.
A good teacher HAS to be able to control the classroom. Without control, no real learning can take place. That's another sore spot for me. I've gotten much better this year than I was last year with rules & consequences, but I still suck. If there is a disruption, there are usually two things I try to do: get it to stop as quickly as possible, or make an example of the offenders so others don't test me. The first option is where my inconsistency comes in. I sometimes just shush the class if someone made a joke that was funny and got the whole class giggling; I can easily end up giving three sets of warning to people (because the first two people that got the warning aren't the ones that made the noise the second time, who aren't the ones that made it the third time) and then give a class-wide warning just so I can get to copy assignments. The problem with this is that there have already been 4 class disruptions just for me to get to the actual consequences. Another issue: I'll say, "copy assignment" or "detention" and forget to write the name(s) on the board or to tell the student(s) to come to me on the way out to get the detention slip. Another issue: I don't want to give all the consequences I'm supposed to. Students have their own secret issues that they're dealing with that affect classroom performance. Some students have family issues, some have relationship issues that they *let* affect their schoolwork. I don't want to give a consequence to someone that's just having this one bad day, but if I don't I begin to look weak(er) to other students that need to see me in control. Another issue: Some strongly believe that any and everyone must earn their respect, so they didn't respect me when I first got to the school, didn't respect me when I gave them consequences for talking or chewing gum (two things they're allowed to do in most other classes) and definitely still don't respect me (once I found a partially eaten chicken nugget on my desk at the end of my last period (long story); students flip my lights on the way out of the room, erase names from my board when their coming in and I'm talking to other students, and have stolen transparencies and paperclips). These students have been and are likely to always be discipline issues in my classroom, no matter how many copy assignments, detentions and referrals I give them.
Now, let's say I want to stop and make an example of a misbehaving student. It takes time from class to give someone a detention or a write up in the middle of class. So even if I do want to make an example of someone I usually don't because I'd rather teach 27 than write up 1.
The last thing a good teacher should do well is determine how best to help his/her students, when to help them, and when not to help them. I think that I've been so busy seeing the potential in my students that I may have jeopardized how well they'll do in my class. I have given my students so many ways to pull their grade up: as much extra credit work as they want (if they ask for it), retests, they can make up missed exams basically all term. In some way, they've seen every test in my class twice all term, whether it was because I went over the first test and gave them a very similar retest, or from giving them a quiz and putting most of that same quiz on the test. Do I still have a bunch of students failing? Yes. Did I still get a bunch of students messing up the same questions on the test or being tricked by the same errors, despite seeing the questions and the errors twice? Yes. I'm almost positive that I have students that think they'll be able to make it all up 4th term, make up 3 terms of failing grades with one term of passing grades. And they're going to be really disappointed when they realize it's not true. Maybe if I had not given them so many chances to pull their grade up they would've put more pressure on themselves to get it right the first time. Maybe.
Now, I've come down pretty hard on myself. I think there are some things I've done well. I think there are a number of factors to consider before I can really say "I'm a bad teacher and here's why." I have large classes this year (my smallest is 23 and then they spike), I teach 161 kids, my administration tend to look at class averages which get skewed by class clown sillies that don't do anything and have 12% averages. I'm the only English teacher with no honors classes to make me look good (my co-teacher, who's been teaching a lot longer than I, has been having the same problems with her regular students that I've been having and our students scored about the same on a state practice test). And I'm sure there are a couple other things I'm forgetting. But had I found a way to get those three, larger skills down, I'm pretty sure all the other issues I've had wouldn't be so big.

Monday, March 03, 2008

2 weeks...

That's it. Just 2 more weeks until Spring Break. I feel like I'll be home free after that. This has probably been one of the most challenging years of my life. I'm more than ready for a break.
As a random thought, I just realized that my students will be taking the 1st half of their state test TWO DAYS after we get back from Spring Break. That's ridiculous. I'm pretty worried about this.
After that, we'll have 1 month to get ready for the 2nd half and then it's out of my hands. We're going to read a book, hopefully one that I can find a movie to, and finish out the year.
I've come to realize that teaching is not for me. Not for right now. I'm not where I need to be personally to manage the work load, the stress, and it seems that I am less able to give up on students than many of the teachers I've come across in the schools that I've worked with. I can't tell you how frustrating it has been to find out from a teacher in my school that he or she didn't bother to push the students. This person said to my face, "They could barely identify adverbs, so what was the point?" What's the point?? The point is YOU GOTTA GET THEM TO IDENTIFY ADVERBS!! So that by the time they get to my class, the students aren't asking me the same questions over and over ("What's an adverb?) or giving the wrong answer when I ask it ("What does an adverb modify?" "A NOUN!!" "...No...") or just looking at me with blank stares. The point it for them to know the basics before they get into my class where they have to know collective nouns (are we talking about the whole or individuals in the group? It matters...), and participial phrases and many other unnecessarily named sentence structures. How in the WORLD are my students going to do well in my class, because I'm going to push them, if you don't start teaching them what push looks like?
I'm also frustrated when students confirm that their previous English teachers didn't teach them. A student of mine was the last person to leave the room at the end of the day. I told her, somewhat jokingly, that her group didn't know how to do group work (in fact, most of the class didn't) because I saw a lot of copying of answers and very little conversation. She said her old teacher didn't teacher didn't teach them how to do group work. She then told me a story of how once, she never took a test in this teacher's class, but brought in 20 boxes of tissue, so she got a 100 test grade (bonus points for supplies). I was quietly fuming.

I've been plagued with guilt all year because I haven't been able to help my students. And these types of situations are a big part of the reason.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ready for a Break

I have never been so ready for Thanksgiving Break in my life, I don't think. The past month has been ridiculous, full of parent meetings, class work, disorganization, headaches, late nights, early mornings, etc. For me, October was indeed a hard month to get through, harder than last year's October. First, last October I was full of disapointment, sadness and anger, not knowing how best to fix the things I was doing wrong, upset that my students weren't better at being students, absolutely exhausted and seeing that my administration didn't care. This year, the negative feelings I'm having are self-directed. I'm not in the exact same place as I was last year, but I feel like I am. I expect to be significantly better at teaching or at least at having my life together as a teacher, but I'm not that much better. Now that I realize this, I'm generally fine with it. Can't be great in the short time that I've been teaching. But the damage has been done. I'm backed up in paperwork, grading, grading, grading, and not to mention graduate work.
Also, I moved to a new district this year because I wanted to escape certain "evils" that I was facing at my old school. Little did I know that I would just be swapping one evil for another. Instead of apathetic students, I have students that care only about the grade they get and not subject matter (which of course is the opposite of what I expected). Unlike last year, I have a very caring, competent administration. But at times I feel pulled in so many directions (paperwork, advice up the wazoo, different meetings), that trying to do all of what is asked of me isn't going to be possible until we get 30-hour days. Instead of the uninvolved parent, I have the super-involved parent that has been taking up allllllll my free time. I tell you, all of it.

I will be more than happy in about 30 hours, when I am officially on Thanksgiving Break. On Monday I will wake up and think "It's Monday," and I will go back to bed. I'm positive it will be a good day.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Required: Take a Chill Pill

One thing that you MUST NOT DO as a teacher is devote all your free time to your work. There's always something to do, whether it's organizing your week and resources or grading papers or calling parents... There's always something else that you could be doing as a teacher. Trying to steamroll through the work will just wipe you out and give you more work to deal with later. If you're a compulsive worker, schedule in some free time each night or week. Here are some suggestions:

-Save Friday nights for yourself: last year I went out to dinner and got catfish on Friday nights.
-Watch movies: This is my favorite thing right now. It helps me relax for a couple of hours; plus when I'm done watching a movie, I know I haven't been doing anything for a while so it helps motivate me to get work done..
-Find your network: Having a network of friends I can call and meet up with has been the best thing for my sanity, I kid you not.
-Get away: Go away on a day trip or for a few days, your choice. But getting away really helps clear your mind, and can help give you some perspective about what you're doing.
-Go to school events (especially [football] games): granted, this is supposed to be about how to relax outside of school, but if you go to more school events, you're creating a more positive connection to your school, where it's not just your really hard job, and you're making the idea of "school" a less stressful one).
-Discover you community: Where's the closest movie theater and how much is matinee? Is there an ice skating rink? When does the movie rental place close? What restaurants are within a 10-minute drive? Knowing information like this will make it easier for you to do something when you do want to relax, especially if these places are very close by.


Required: Changing Districts

I had a really rough year for my first year of teaching. I knew the thing was going to be hell. I knew that I'd be telling 2nd years that they were right about how sucky it was and the types of conflicts and complications I'd encounter. But somewhere along the way it was supposed to get better, at least by, you know, May? Maybe? No. Didn't happen for me. I was overwhelmed from day one and didn't get a break until just about the last week of school. My principal was negative towards me, therefore I got no support for most of the year, especially when said principal's requests were directly related to the issues I was having with my students in my classroom.
Honestly, I felt cheated when my year didn't get any better (not even a little). I knew that I couldn't stand my principal, I had no reason to believe that our relationship would improve the following year, and with the number of teachers that I'd heard were considering leaving, there was no telling what classes I'd end up teaching. The best thing for me to do was to find a new school to teach at. So I didn't renew my contract in April (which was scary since I hadn't lined up a new job yet) and started looking for a new position. I finally found the right one in June and accepted the position at a level 4 school (that had just recently fallen from a level 5).
I was really excited and happy to be at my new school at the beginning of the year; I was doing great. I was working with an extremely supportive administration and in a school with many teachers that were looking out for me just because I was new and they wanted to help. But I was also feeling guilty. I was teaching at a school that I knew didn't need me as much as so many other schools did. I felt like I was betraying Teacher Corps by being where I was. Plus I'd hear the horrors about how my old school had gone from bad to worse, and I'd think about my students, feeling like I should be there with them... I was having all kinds of regret.
But soon enough, I realized what things that were most important: my ability to teach and the "healthy" supply of needy students. A number of my students are failing my class, probably about the same number of students that were failing my class last year in my old district. There are students in need of good instruction all over Mississippi, and definitely all over my high school. By switching schools all I did was put myself in a better situation to teach them. I may not be in a chaotic school but it needs me just the same.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Living alone? Are you rich?

I have never felt so financially as I have felt since the beginning of July. I decided to live on my own this year... I now consider this a decent-sized mistake. I knew that my expenses would double but I don't think I ever officially did the math. All I was paying for last year was my half of the rent, the cable/internet bill, and the essential food and gas for my car. Somehow, at the end of each month I had maybe $300-$400 left over from my paycheck. I opened a savings account with a high APY, I was just chucking sums of money in there, trying to "plan for the future" if you will. I felt like a pro.
But NO LONGER! Since July, I've had a calculated budget that I've been doing pretty good at sticking to. After I've calculated all the different items that I'm going to need to pay for in a month, from food to gas to credit card bills, the number I get is pretty close to the amount I get paid every month.
Now, don't get me wrong. I like the fact that i'm living by myself. I like the idea of making my home mine and what not. And now that i'm in this situation and see what it's going to take for me to get through this year, I definitely appreciate the well developed survival skills I'm sure I will have acquired by the end of the year. But feeling like you don't have any money sucks. It just does.
So unless I finally win the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes or some other kind of large sum of free money, I'll almost definitely be living with someone for the next few years.

Required Blog: The first days of school... again.

The first week of school this year was so incredibly different from my first week last year that when i think about it, I still smile. Last year, I was so fretful about the idea of teaching and being a teacher as a whole. I did a relatively good job of masking a lot of that uneasiness, but it was nonetheless there. I had the same focus each day for at least the first couple of weeks: "Just get through the day." I would think this to myself as the bells rang in the halls (since my room didn't have a working bell), and if i was having a particularly bad class period, I'd think "Just get through the period."
This yea? Completely different. First huge difference: I had my syllabus ready for each of my students from day one (something that hadn't happened last year). It really helped me to set the tone for the class. But besides the syllabus, overall I was simply more confident. I didn't feel like a person that was told "You are a teacher" and was then trying to fill that role. I knew I was a teacher. I knew what I liked and didn't like in my classroom. I felt in control of my classrom immediately.
To help you get through your 1st year of teaching, you're told repeatedly that the first year is the worst and the scond is so much easier. I knew it would be true, but experiencing that for myself was something different altogether.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

EDCI 602: Blog #2: Teacher Performance

I feel that I have done some of my best teaching during these past few weeks. I think my students were must successful during one of my lessons for SVA. I was also being observed that day so I’m glad it was one of my best days. I used a paragraph with indefinite pronouns (which we had not yet covered) as a means to introduce the topic. I gave each student a paragraph to work on and instructed the class to work individually on finding the subject in each sentence, some of the subjects were indefinite pronouns; by noting the plurality of the verb used in each sentence, students were able to deduce which pronouns were singular and which were plural. One reason I thought it worked so well is because it was introduced to them inductively. They figured it out themselves as opposed to me just stating something and telling the students to take it as truth. A second reason for its success was the change in technology: I used a projector for my lesson, and it was the first time that a projector had been used in class. It gave the students a new way to relate to the information. This added with the inductive aspect really guided comprehension.
My students were not very successful in understanding the parts of a bar graph. One reason for their lack of success was due to the short amount of time I was able to spend discussing bar graphs. I spent a lot more time explaining a different type of visual aid that by the time I came to bar graphs, I was able to quickly describe them and handout out a worksheet for them to work on for homework. There was little to no real instruction. A second reason for this failure lies in the time span of the summer school and how we lead teachers divided that time. We were very good at deciding which topics were more important to teach and later reinforce. We scheduled what was going to be taught by which teacher for every single class period during the June session of the school. Doing this, however, made it very hard to find extra time for an extra lesson on visual aids. Since I had already taught classes on pie charts and tables, I felt I had sufficiently covered the topic of visual aids and decided to live with the fact that we never covered bar graphs.
I think that the way in which I organized my procedures greatly helped student comprehension. I utilized different kinds of text and worksheets, used varied technology, and at times changed the location of class for an entire period. I think that by changing up the things I did in the classroom, I effectively used differentiated instruction. By reaching a greater number of students through these means, I was able to increase overall comprehension of the topics I taught. I think I could have used more technology in my lessons than what I did this past month. Just from the reaction I received when I used a projector and transparencies, I’m certain that by using more technology in my lessons, I could have improved my students’ performance during those class periods.

EDCI 602: Blog # 1: Learning Goals

I am one of two lead teachers teaching English 8 during summer school. So, I was responsible for only three of the first six lesson plans that we submitted as a class. In addition, one of those three was for the period that we used to administer the pre-test, so for some more obvious reasons, I am going to omit commentary on that lesson and its objectives. The two remaining lessons plans that I wrote had objectives that related to different, important aspects of subject-verb agreement (knowing what subjects and verbs are, pronouns, understanding what it is to be “singular” versus “plural”). So between the two lessons, I broke down the concept of Subject-Verb Agreement into fundamental steps to help explain the idea to the students in a more effective manner. My first goal for the students was to have them understand what a subject is and the difference between it and a noun. Next, I wanted them to understand what a verb is. The students needed to be able to identify both the subject and the verb in a sentence. The third goal was to have them understand the difference between singular and plural, another essential step in understanding subject-verb agreement. After the students could demonstrate competency in explaining and identifying these things, I wanted the class to put the basics together to create sentence with correct subject-verb agreement (SVA). Another important aspect of this topic, however, is to know which indefinite pronouns are singular and plural so those too could be appropriately used in sentences.
I feel the goals I set up for them were important due to how essential they are to being able to speak and write using Standard English. The student’s ability to understand and use correct SVA will help their own writing and overall achievement in school. Also, I feel that having SVA as one of the first topics to be covered in the class provided insight into the students’ prior knowledge on the topic specifically and a “heads up” as to what issues some of them may have in the classroom in regards to writing (we had 2 – 3 big writing projects scheduled for the students within those three weeks.
For the more simple concepts that were also easy for me to teach, I had no problem giving a definition for a part of speech, review sample sentences that highlight the important part being discussed, and later assigning a worksheet to be completed in class. I wanted to spend time on the ideas, but not discuss them extensively. I spent more time explaining how to actually use correct SVA in writing and when discussing indefinite pronouns, since those were less “fact” and more “concept.” I included an inductive instructional strategy in one of my lesson plans; its purpose was to review the topics we had covered on SVA. By locating the grammar errors in a badly written paragraph (without any help from me on what they should specifically be looking for), the students would effectively review the concepts just taught to them as well as develop the ability to edit work (an important aspect of the writing process, a topic they would begin work on before the end of the week.