Wednesday, April 21, 2010

cue the tears

I've been making an effort to write more about teaching, mostly because I read a lot of teacher blogs and I end up inspired to write my own posts. Also, teaching is basically my entire life right now. (Yes, I know I need to fix that.)

Anyway, time for just a 'me' post, inspired by a friend here. Miss Kat's blog is pretty new, but she posts about life as a cool mom that I'm sure MiniKat's friends are jealous of, and about nail polish so pretty I actually want to paint my nails (and that's saying something!).

She posted about parents, and the transition from "Mommy and Daddy" to "Mom and Dad" or "Mother and Father." It made me think of my 5th grade year.

I had just started to try out "Mom" and "Dad." I think the switch was a matter of independence. I was almost in middle school, and apparently too 'grown up' to still be calling my parents by babyish names like Mommy and Daddy. I didn't want to sound like a little kid, dependent on my parents. "Dad" wasn't consistent yet, but it had definitely started.

Most of you probably know that my dad died at the end of that school year. I can't quite describe it, but it makes me sad and a little guilty that I didn't always call him "Daddy."

I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, but I guess I realized that little kids aren't just 'dependent.' Especially now that I'm a teacher, I see that little kids love so strongly. Terms of endearment and hugs are frequent, but they are usually genuine. Their affection is just unabashed because they don't care about what other people think, or how it might appear.

Honestly, by fifth grade, I thought that kind of little kid love was kind of embarrassing. I was sure that I was too old for that kind of thing. (Like most 11-year-olds, I think.)

But now that he's gone, I regret not taking advantage of every single opportunity to say "Daddy." I don't care if it was natural and normal to distance myself from my parents; I regret ever wanting any distance between us. I know I would have liked having a different relationship with him when I was older, too, but I never got to. All I ever got to have was the "Daddy's Little Girl" stage, and it kills me that even any little part of me wanted to give that up.

A name may be a little thing, but it feels like it represents a lot more. It's hard to explain, but I wish I would have always used "Daddy," and never given up the chance to love him with the reckless abandon of a little girl.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Turn to Tattle

I have recently gotten really into reading other teacher blogs. It's amazing to me to see how similar things are in so many areas of the country right now. Teachers are struggling with the same things.

I recently read in The Elementary Educator:

As No Child Left Behind’s magical year of 2014 draws near, where an impossible 100% of students must be proficient in math and reading in every school throughout the United States, states continue to redefine “proficiency,” reducing the cut scores needed to pass the state tests to astoundingly low levels.

In Michigan, for example, third graders who answered 19 out of 45 questions correctly on the math section of the MEAP (our state standardized test) were labeled “proficient.” 19 out of 45 is approximately 42%, which already sounds pathetic, but it gets worse: this test was multiple choice. Not only that, but there were only three answer choices per question!

Let’s analyze that for a moment: third grade students in Michigan who knew the right answers to 6 of the 45 math questions, then guessed with average success on the remaining 39 questions (getting 13/39 correct), are labeled proficient. Not only that, but third graders are tested in the fall of third grade, and the test only covers material from the previous grade. So third graders who understood a mere 13.3% of what was taught in second grade and had average luck when guessing on the other 86.7% of the questions are considered proficient by the State of Michigan.

Isn't it astounding?

I knew this kind of thing was happening, but someone putting it all out like that, into numbers, makes me cringe. This is what the national government is encouraging. THIS is the impact of No Child Left Behind.

NCLB is good in some ways. It encourages accountability, and forces schools to look not only at the big picture, but also at important subgroups to make sure that there aren't gaps in the education they provide.

I get frustrated, though, sitting in a "failing" school. It is not fair for the national government's policy to treat us differently than other schools with our levels of success just because our state has refused to drop standards.

Our standards are considered some of the most rigorous in the country, and our standardized test is certainly not passed by 97-100% of students, like the Michigan test.

Let me be clear: I am glad the state of Indiana is holding itself to high standards even though No Child Left Behind in its current state doesn't mandate it. It is frustrating to me, however, that we are facing sanctions that other schools don't face, even if their students are at the same levels as ours.

I strongly support President Obama and Arne Duncan when they say that every state should have standards and tests with similar rigor. I don't believe that National Standards or a National Test are necessarily the way to do that, but I do believe that someone at the national level needs to be looking at each state's standards and tests to determine if they are truly measuring proficiency.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Classroom Bench

I'm a huge football fan, and I have apparently been reading way too many education blogs this morning.

I read an article describing how much better quarterbacks were in the NFL when they sat on the bench for a year or more before starting. Basically, even if a quarterback had a higher draft pick, and therefore a higher perceived potential, they had significantly better results if they had some time to learn the ways of the NFL behind an experienced quarterback.

And some of the first-round picks who also waited, like Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer, have been downright exceptional.

"Since 2000, nine first-round picks started within their teams' first three games. Only Matt Ryan and Ben Roethelisberger have a positive TD/INT ratio in their career."

My conclusion from all this? In what is arguably the most important and influential of positions on an NFL team, only very few can succeed without additional training- even amongst those considered to be the most talented.

I think teaching is similar.

My college of education had a major focus on spending time in schools. From the first semester of education courses (which was generally taken spring of freshman year or fall of sophomore year), future teachers spend at least a short amount of time in a school.

Student teaching (15 weeks in the same classroom, for teaching independently for at least a few weeks) was obviously the biggest learning opportunity, but we had a semester where we spent two days a week in a school, learning from our professors and then visiting the same classroom. We also spent a semester tutoring two students in reading each week.

By the time I graduated, I had spent time in at least 4 different classrooms through the required program alone.

I found a stimulus-funded job in a school with low test scores. As an effort to give students an extra boost, the school was adding a second person in each classroom. For six classrooms, that person is also a certified teacher.

I am considered an assistant teacher. I'm certified, and treated as such, but my lead teacher is overall in charge. I'm lucky that Mrs. M is so great to work with. She treats me as an equal co-teacher whenever possible, and works with me to plan and teach. The situation feels, honestly, kind of like an apprenticeship- and it allows both of us to work in more small groups, keep the students paying attention, and share some of the load of a classroom.

I am lucky to start this way. I am thankful that my first year of teaching does not involve me staying at school until 8:00 at night. I am thankful that I'm getting a chance to sort of ease into the profession, while still learning and collecting materials and ideas from another teacher.

Yes, it sucks sometimes to be "sitting the bench." I didn't get to set up my own classroom, I don't get to change the classroom management system the way I want, and I am sometimes excluded from meetings I'd like to be a part of, but I can see how much easier it will be when I have my own room. I am learning so much.

Student teaching is meant to be like this, and it does help immensely. But I wish more schools had the money to hire teachers in this kind of position even after their student teaching. Not only have the students thrived with so much individual attention, but I think I will be a better teacher in my true "first year" because of my time on the sidelines.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

*Tire Screech*

So, Chris and I connected! Things were happy! All was well!

The next day we had a field trip. It was only a couple of blocks away, so we decided to walk rather than use our dwindling bus hours. Many of our students walk to school anyway.

We walked down with no issue. On the way back, though, we were within sight of the school when Chris suddenly ran out into the road for no reason. With cars coming.

I was in front of him and didn't see it happen, but my co-teacher let out a yell and he jumped out of the road. Thankfully, the cars were able to stop (and not hit each other either), but it was much too close for comfort.

Mrs. M latched onto his arm for the rest of the walk (only a couple of minutes) and took him straight into the office. He never was able to offer an explanation for why he did it. He did admit that, as an eight-year-old who walks to and from school every day, he knows he shouldn't have done it.

So, note to self: baby steps.

Also, props to Mrs. M- who may have freaked out, but still managed to not curse in front of her students. Even though it was close. :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Happy Day

Little Chris and I have struggled to form a bond, but earlier this week, things were different.

After a professional development meeting on "dealing with difficult behavior issues"- ironically enough- I went back to the room to find Chris not doing his work.

This is common, but I gently encouraged him a couple of times, and then finally squatted down next to his desk to help him get started. I tried to get him to "race" me and see who could find a certain word first on his desk, or let him say the answer verbally while I moved the pieces into place. I joked with him, I put the pieces in front of his face and made goofy faces. He laughed a little, and eventually even got working on his own. After much intensive, one-on-one encouragement, he finished the cut-and-paste project independently.

After that, he refused to get started on the next paper (which he should have started probably an hour prior). I was a little frustrated, because I felt that I'd worked hard for probably at least thirty minutes just to convince him to do one of the things he should have been doing anyway, and then someone said something that made him upset. I talked to him for a couple of minutes, but he seemed to still be a little on edge when we split into our small reading groups.

He came back after the reading group with a principal escort. Apparently he had to be written up in his small group. I was disappointed; I had felt accomplished that I'd put this off for as long as I had. Chris rarely does his work and frequently gets upset when we confront him about it. This morning of us working together, me convincing him to work without him breaking down- it was a victory! It was a step toward our goal, and it seemed partly canceled out by his discipline referral.

In the afternoon, we started again. I was determined to build on the good parts of the morning. We took a spelling pre-test, and he decided to lay on the floor, refusing to get up and try the words. Both teachers talked to him gently, and encouraged him to get up and do his best. My co-teacher eventually asked if we needed to call his mother, which usually helps motivate him, and he got into his seat. The students know our policy is not to repeat words during the test, and when no one would repeat the first two words for Chris at that moment, he threw his pencil across the room. I picked up another pencil and came up behind him. I offered the pencil and told him to try the third word. He was bewildered (because he thought I had gotten the same pencil he threw so quickly), but took the pencil and got started.

After the test, we were sitting down for some standardized testing. I knew there was no way that Chris- although he seemed calmer- was in a state to do his best on the test. While my co-teacher got the students ready to start, I asked Chris to go in the hallway with me.

He thought he was in trouble at first, but I told him I just wanted to talk. I asked him about the test, and as it turns out, he didn't realize it was the pre-test. He was frustrated that he hadn't studied enough and didn't know how to spell the words right. Once I told him it was just the practice test, he seemed so relieved. He started to smile.

I told him that I was so proud of how hard he'd worked that morning on the contraction cut-and-paste, and asked him if we could make a deal. If he worked really hard to follow directions and do his work the rest of the afternoon, I'd give him two pieces of candy.

He went back in and did great on the test, even when I asked him to make his handwriting a little neater. In my math small group, he started to play around until I reminded him of our deal. He said, "Oh! I forgot!" and instantly sat up to get started. I praised him probably ten times that afternoon when he did things well. At the end of the day, he came up to me excitedly. "Did I do it?"

He did. And I could tell he was proud, especially because he didn't have his medicine that day. I gave him the candy, and he happily bounced into line.

It was one day, but it was progress! An otherwise rough day felt positive- and all because, for the first time, I really felt like I connected with this kid.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


A boy in our class who I'll call Chris has a label and a file. In general, he fits in with other students in the class, but occasionally, he gets very upset over something and shuts down.

One day, my prompting for him to get working on morning work and my asking if he needed my help to get started led to him growling at me and crawling under his desk. I let him cool off and my co-teacher (who sometimes reads my mind before I say a thing) went to get the counselor. She returned a few minutes later, saying the counselor was on her way.

But he wasn't done. I encouraged him to fix his morning work as we went through it together, and he crawled out from under his desk but began stabbing his arm with his pencil and scratching his face with his fingernails. I took away a pair of scissors and his pencil, and kept watching the door for the counselor, but I wasn't sure what else to do.

A different day, he was sitting with us at the rocking chair, and in the middle of my reading, with no obvious trigger, Chris walked over and positioned himself underneath his desk. He seems to feel safe there, but I haven't yet figured out exactly what causes this sometimes-behavior.

In general, he is not disruptive; however, he frequently chooses to do no work whatsoever. He doesn't feel like it, and will throw a fit to avoid doing his work. I worry that while he does have an emotional condition, he has realized how to use it to take advantage of his teachers.

Today, I worked with him a lot. It was the first day since he moved here that I feel like I've had a connection with this kid for longer than 5 minutes. It's exciting, and I know I shouldn't expect too much tomorrow, but I'm still hopeful!

P.S.- Hopefully tomorrow I'll get a chance to post more details :)