Mississippi Teacher Corps

Monday, June 19, 2006

Summer School, day 5

Today was my 5th day of teaching at Holly Springs Summer School, and I felt good enough about the day to compel me to write a blog about it.
Last Monday (a week ago), I showed up at summer school having just flown in the night before and observed my classroom. I hopped right into teaching the next day. After most of my lessons last week, I walked away feeling that the lesson had gone decently well, but would have one thing that I should have done a better job of; this could take the form of a moment when I didn't adequately alleviate student confusion, or, most commonly, a time when I didn't manage the class as well as I should have. Despite these mistakes, I felt generally positive at the end of every day about how things had gone. I also felt that I was making amends to my mistakes in the next lessons. Also, I enjoyed myself a lot, and am feeling better with regard to the self-doubts I had about becoming a teacher.
Today was a great teaching day for me. I felt like I finally integrated all of the things I learned from my errors last week into one lesson that just went smoothly. I was teaching a concept that I was concerned would be confusing to my students; as I learned last week, some of the topics that I thought were straightforward presented formidable challenges to many of my students. Today felt like a really good balance of breaking concepts down into a form that students could understand while at the same time successfully challenging some of my students to reach the next level of understanding.
This day could have shaped up to be a disaster. I was teaching 4th period, but due to a mistake I made in interpreting the class syllabus that hadn't printed correctly, I wrote a lesson plan for the wrong thing. Whoops. As I realized after getting to school, the lesson that I had written for 4th period was just another component of the 3rd period lesson that my co-teacher was teaching. No wonder it seemed like not much material! I told him about the problem and gave him the work that I'd done so that he could integrate it into his own lesson, which he did seemlessly. To complicate matters further, the school computers were effectively not working today. So, I had to sit down for one period while I wasn't teaching and scribble out a new lesson plan for 4th period. And I did it! I was able to organize my teaching, come up with relevant examples, write up a homework assignment, and make some overhead transparencies in a short period of time. This is very comforting to me; I'm progressing in how quickly I can write lesson plans without sacrificing the quality of my lessons, which will be an important skill once the real school year starts.
Something that my mentor teacher and I discussed last week was the importance of being positive. It's amazing how much of a difference positive comments make in student excitement levels; this effect can come from something as small as saying, "Great job, you almost have it. Who can tell me how to change this answer a little bit?" and saying, "Well, that's not quite the answer. Who can tell me how to fix it?" I did a good job today with encouragement; I continually reminded my class that we were doing difficult work and that they were doing really well with it.
Something I struggled with last week was the balance of having students do work on the board, demonstrating for students how to solve a problem, and having students answer questions for me while I worked a problem out on the board. It's not a good thing if I spend too much time in front of the board because no one wants to listen to a teacher just lecturing at them, but on the other hand, having too much board work leads to disruption. Every time a student gets out of her (or his, in the case of my single male student) seat to go to the board, she takes some time to get her notes together, and even though I try to have students explain what they're doing as they write, they inevitably end up writing for a while before they talk to the class. This can create too much down time, and other students will start talking about non math-related topics. One thing that I'm working on, and practiced to some extent today, is picking a student to go up while others are still working on the problem. Today, I felt that I had a good balance between me showing things on the board and students showing things on the board. I think that striking this balance had a lot to do with why classroom management also went well for me today. I'm getting better about time management, and was able to close the lesson with a couple of minutes to spare; I struggled with this a lot last week.
I can say a lot of positive things about how today went, but I think that the part of the lesson that makes me happiest at the end of the day was watching one of my students, Frannie (*this name, like all the other names of students and teachers in this blog, is a pseudonym) master a difficult concept. I introduced a concept toward the end of my lesson that I had been on the fence about including at all, since it was more complicated than the other work we'd done that day. I broke the problem into smaller steps and had the students help me with each step. I wouldn't say that all of them followed 100%, which is OK since it was meant as a challenge anyway, but Frannie did a great job of telling me what to do at each step even when the rest of the class was stumped. Frannie is not normally one of the quicker students in my class, so seeing how well she did today made me especially happy. During "lunch period," (when the students generally do homework for the 25 minutes before lunch), I called Frannie over to the desk and gave her a piece of candy, telling her how well she did today, and had my own reward of seeing her face break into a huge grin. She immediately ran over to her friends in the class and showed them the candy bar I'd given to her, and while bragging isn't such a good thing, I loved seeing how proud she was.
I hope that I have more teaching days like today. I'm also realistically thinking about how my summer school classroom is different from the kind of class I'll have in the fall: I have only 12 students (11 female), my students are well-behaved and excited about math, there are between 2 and 4 teachers in the room at any given time even though only one is teaching, and I started teaching only after my co-teachers had already established some sound classroom management. Truthfully, I don't even deserve a lot of the credit for the way the lesson went. However, I can think of today's lesson and everything that went well about it as something to strive for during the regular school year.

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