Mississippi Teacher Corps

Monday, July 17, 2006

TEAM vs. Summer School: Can I be a good teacher?

Having finished my three weeks of teaching summer school and my week of TEAM teaching, I'm comparing my vastly different experiences doing these two kinds of teaching and wondering how much real school will be like either. I felt like a much better teacher during TEAM than I did during summer school. There are two obvious reasons for this difference: 1. I taught Algebra I during summer school and seventh grade science during TEAM, and 2. I was teaching to my peers during TEAM, not to a bunch of 14 year olds. Let me elaborate a little on both points.

By the end of TEAM, I was feeling great about how my lessons were going. My evaluators had good things to say about my delivery, my classroom presence, and my way of explaining things, and I felt good about the activities I had my "students" do during the lessons. I actually had a really fun time teaching that week! I enjoyed summer school but didn't love the teaching the same way, and had some lessons that I felt good about but probably more that I considered mediocre.

First things first: teaching Algebra I vs. teaching seventh grade science. I was a biology and math major in college and thus became certified to teach both subjects just by passing the biology PRAXIS. I think that MTC had originally slated me to teach math, but when Dr. Mullins called me to ask about my placement preferences, he asked me if I'd rather teach middle school or high school, and I mentioned that if I could teach science, I'd like to teach middle school. He almost immediately placed me in a middle school that had an opening for a science teacher. The reason I asked to teach middle school was that I wanted middle schoolers because they are more excited (and hyper, but I'll hopefully come to grips with that issue) about anything, including school, than high schoolers, and are also much less burned out with school. I asked for middle school science because I'll be honest here: I think middle school math is really boring! Don't get me wrong, I like math, but I just find it pretty routine until you get to about the level of Algebra II and start seeing some really cool applications. My experiences this summer have made me really glad that I requested to teach middle school science. During summer school, I just had a tough time being creative, and felt that most of my lessons just had the same kind of format each day: students do warm-up problems, class discusses warm-up problems, Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket introduces the topic for the day and does some kind of fun example if she can think of one, Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket gives the students notes, students practice problems and explain the solutions to the class, we do a little review of the lesson, class ends. It's not that consistency is a bad thing, but things just felt a little too routine for me. I would try to make things as interesting as I could, but it was hard for me to be inventive. By some strange coincidence, when my second-years made our teaching schedule, I got assigned to teach almost every single lesson that involved word problems. My students thought that I just loved word problems and taught them all the time because I thought they were cool, and I pretended like that was the case. I would have fun with the word problems by using the names of students and teachers (and even Napoleon Dynamite and Tina the llama one day), and the students really liked that. During my non-word problem lessons, I would want to make problems more interesting and wasn't sure how to do that without making word problems. I didn't want to give word problems on these days because a. I was already Word Problem Lady to my students, and that wasn't really a good thing in their minds, and b. My students struggled with word problems and took much longer; I'm pretty sure that literacy had something to do with this issue. So, there would be some days when I'd be teaching a lesson on something like simplifying negative exponents and would just have no ideas of creative things to do. I had a hard time acting excited about the topic I was teaching because quite frankly, I think that simplifying negative exponents is boring. I understand that it is really important for students to learn all the topics in Algebra I so that they can understand what's going on in high school math classes, where the cool applications come in, but I still don't find the stuff exciting.

Compare this to my experience planning and teaching lessons for seventh grade science during TEAM. This might say a lot about my dorkiness, but I actually think that science is cool and interesting at a middle school level. Plants making their own energy from the sun? Representing ecosystems with food webs? That stuff is fascinating to me! I had a great time putting together lessons, and found it easy and fun to come up with games, activities, etc. that illustrated the concepts I was teaching. Every lesson alternated between notes and at least one (and usually several) demonstration or activity. I actually felt animated and excited while I was teaching, even though the material was at a middle school level. I think that being excited about my content makes me a much better teacher.

Now, on to point number 2: teaching 14 year olds vs. teaching my peers. Obviously, teaching my peers was much easier because they all paid attention and did what I asked them to. By my own admission, I wasn't the best at classroom management this summer, and that hindered my teaching. A number of my friends from college are teaching at private schools and said that they chose to do that instead of teaching at public schools because they, "really want to focus on teaching, not babysitting." Well, I chose what I would argue is the more challenging task of teaching in a critical needs public school because I felt that I could make much more of a meaninful difference by teaching underpriveledged students who haven't had many good teachers than by teaching private school students, and I'll take the challenges that come with my choice. In my ideal world, all my students at my critical needs school would be focused, well-behaved, and studious... dream on! I think what it really comes down to is that I'll have to establish a "don't mess with Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket or you'll take the heat" environment from day 1, and then I'll be able to focus more of my energy on actually teaching rather than being a disciplinarian. The way I see it, it will be my classroom management that makes me or breaks me as a good teacher. I feel confident now that I can get excited about my content material, explain it to the students well, and have activities that are fun and engaging, but if I don't have control over my class, it won't make much difference that I have good lessons. I'm getting increasingly nervous about the first few days of school because that is when I will have to lay down the law for my classroom, and I think that a lot of my success as a teacher will be determined for how well I'm able to establish order.

Now playing: Howie Day- Collide

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Watching myself on tape, Episode 2

Although watching a video of myself teaching summer school back in June ended up being a far less painful experience than I'd anticipated, I was a little bit anxious about watching the videotape of myself during TEAM teaching (for those of you reading this blog who don't know what TEAM means, TEAM was a weeklong training thing where all the first-year teachers were placed in groups with about 5 other first-years who acted as well-behaved students while each day, the group members took turns teaching a lesson. A different veteran teacher observed each day and gave each teacher feedback and an evaluation after the lesson). The anxiety probably stemmed from an experience I had in sixth grade when I watched myself on videotape for the first time. My English teacher had taped a play that my class scripted and performed, and I remember sitting in class and cringing as I watched that tape because up until that day, I hadn't realized that I lisped and couldn't prounounce my "r's" correctly. Those problems are fixed now, but since I've seen so few videos of myself over the course of my life, I still get a little nervous about watching them. But that's neither here nor there.

I knew that I had a great lesson the day I was taped (I felt very positive overall about my teaching during TEAM, but that's a subject for another blog), and my evaluator had great things to say about that particular lesson. The tape confirmed a lot of my positive views. I didn't have too much criticism of myself, but I'll start with the negative things that I noticed.

I had some physical organization problems throughout TEAM: I'd have a clear plan of what I wanted to teach and how, and I'd have in hand a well-organized lesson plan, perhaps with some notes to myself jotted down in the margins, and a copy of whatever fill-in-the-blanks type notesheet the students were given for that lesson, and I'd often put some of my papers down as I walked around the classroom, forget where I'd placed them, and pause for a minute to think about a. what I was supposed to talk about next, or b. where I put the papers. Sometimes, I'd have my lesson plan in hand but take a second or two to look at the plan and figure out where in the lesson I was. On tape, I could definitely see these small pauses, and they're something I'd like to work at eliminating because my seventh grade students might not be patient enough to sit there quietly while I remember what I'm talking about next. It was by no means a major problem, but I'd still like to improve my flow. I have several thoughts on this. First of all, I want to get a brightly colored clipboard so that I know where all my papers are at all times. Second of all, I remembered that one time this spring (you know, when I was in college), I had just taken an oral exam, and my professor commented to me that when I speak, I don't need my notes as much as I think I do. Maybe that is the case when I teach. I definitely need to have some kind of plan written down that I can reference during class to make sure that I remember to say everything I want to, but perhaps having my 2+ page lesson plan as my reference is actually hindering me. The process of writing it out is great for me because it makes me think through exactly what I want to teach and how, and I am the kind of person that needs to feel organized going into a lesson, but maybe I should get in the habit of writing my lesson plan and then taking a fresh sheet of paper and just jotting down some notes to myself about what I want to say, do, etc. This would be easier to reference during class without sorting through lots of other stuff that I've written. I'd also keep my lesson plan on my clipboard just in case I needed to refer to some of the more specific stuff.

Other minor things: I nod my head a lot, which I think I do subconsciously to encourage students when they are answering or asking questions. I'd never noticed that before watching the tape, and none of my evaluators commented on the nodding, so it's possible that I only did it that one day. I should probably nod a little less often, since it made me look like I had lots of nervous energy. I also say, "exactly!" a lot, perhaps a little more often than I should.

On the bright side, I think my lesson did a great job of making students learn proactively rather than just listening to me talk. I switched several times during the lesson between giving notes and doing activities, which I think will be really key for middle school kids with short attention spans (and for this teacher, who also has a short attention span). I explained things in a way that I think was clear enough for seventh graders to understand, and I gave them lots of opportunities to come up with examples. Near the end of my lesson, I did an activity that involved playing games and acting out scenarios where the goal was to earn Reese's cups, and the students had to guess what kind of interaction (e.g. predation, mutualism, competition, etc.) each game or skit represented. I really liked this activity because it was fun and entertaining, but very educational at the same time. I know that I have an easier time remembering amusing things, and I think that students would have an easy time remembering types of interactions after seeing the concepts acted out like this.

During the group work segment of my lesson, in which I assigned groups to draw pictures of what the world might look like with a. no producers, b. no consumers, and c. no decomposers, I noticed on the tape that people were laughing and having fun with the activity, but were actually not talking about anything except the assignment! Of course, it helped that my "students" were a bunch of 22 year old college graduates instead of unfocused 13 year olds, but my hope is that I'll be able to have the same kind of learning environment for my students where I can have them do activities that they enjoy, but that are educational at the same time.

I like the way that I talked to the class. I spoke clearly and slowly, but not slowly enough to sound condescending. I did a good job of posing questions to the whole class, letting the question sink in, and then calling on a specific person. In my summer school classroom, I usually called on volunteers to answer questions because my students were so enthusiastic that they'd ask me in advance if they could do the next problem on the board, but during the school year, I'm not expecting that I'll have so many enthusiastic students. Furthermore, I'm thinking that I will cold-call students who don't have their hands raised even when other students do raise hands because I want to make sure everyone is paying attention. This was a big mistake that I made in summer school; I'd often ignore the two kids who weren't paying attention and focus my energy on the rest of the class because I wanted to teach the kids who were paying attention rather than take up teaching time to give the other two kids a metaphorical kick in the pants. However, I came to realize that if I let the two kids continue to ignore the task at hand, their attitudes would sometimes spiral out and cause other students to lose focus. During the school year, I plan to use the same kind of questioning strategy I used during TEAM where I pose a question to the class and then might call on someone with a raised hand, or might call on anyone else without a raised hand. When watching my tape, I felt that I did a good job of engaging in a dialogue with students who couldn't quite get the answer on their own, but could come to the answer by responding to some of the follow-up questions that I posed. I made students explain their answers to the class so that everyone could follow the thought process behind the answer, and when students asked me questions, I often asked them more questions to help them arrive at the answers to their own questions.

Finally, a few silly and pointless, but mildly entertaining observations: I had a bad hair day that day. Also, two of the walls in that classroom were white and two were pink, and I happened to be wearing a white skirt that day and a sweater that was the exact same shade of pink as half of the walls, so wherever I walked in the room, I almost blended in with the background!

Now playing: Indigo Girls- Moment of Forgiveness

Friday, July 07, 2006

And now for something completely different...

My blog entries so far have been fairly serious and analytical and such, so I thought that I'd throw in one lighter blog before I go back to writing about more meaningful things.
So I like wildlife a lot: learning the names of different plant and animal species, and learning cool facts about them (OK, secret's out, I'm a dork). Mississippi has some pretty crazy wildlife, and though I haven't been able to go out and explore the forests and rivers and stuff as much as I would have liked since I arrived here, I've been trying to familiarize myself with the local creatures as much as I can. I'll do a little fact-or-fiction about two of the more interesting animals I've encountered. This stuff might sound really dull to some people, but I find it fascinating.
1. Armadillos
I have yet to see a live armadillo, although I've seen a couple dead ones by the side of the road. One night, when we were visiting some of the second-years at their house in the country, I came outside just after one of those weird things passed through the yard. I wanted to go into the soy bean fields to find it, but another first-year warned me to watch out for the armadillo, and I was sort of confused and said that I didn't think they were dangerous. He then informed me that armadillos are the most poisonous animals in the world, and that they will bite onto your leg and just knaw at it viciously. I still wanted to find a flashlight and scan the field for the armadillo, until my friend informed me that armadillos are attracted to the light! I sort of laughed at him and said, "What, would it charge me or something?" to which he told me that it pretty much would run at me, bite my leg if it could get at me, and not let go.
Several minutes later, he let me in on another fact: he made all of that up! Yes, you can laugh at my gullibility now, or, as said friend did, laugh at the fact that I'm teaching science next year.

2. "Alligator gar"
One day, another first-year told his students that he'd been swimming at Sardis Lake over the weekend, to which one student told him that he had to be careful of the "alligator gar fish" out there. Huh? According to this student, there were some kind of alligator fish things that could grow up to nearly eight feet long, and his dad, "had done near got his hand bit off by one of those!" Well, this sounded like a bunch of crazy talk. I mean, for one thing, what the heck is an "alligator fish" anyway, an alligator or a fish? We thought this kid was making up stuff. Then I went to good old wikipedia and found out that this kid was actually telling the truth! Among other things, these fish can actually EAT ALLIGATORS! Hearing about this weird creature made me feel less stupid about believing the stuff about armadillos; in my mind, at least, poisonous biting armadillos are less weird than alligator-eating fish.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

thoughts on LaLee's kin

Yesterday, we had our first class after the long weekend. I knew that we were watching some kind of movie and then hearing Reggie Barnes, a former superintedent, give some kind of talk to us. I sort of walked into the classroom expecting it to be a really light day; after all, how could watching a movie and listening to a speaker not seem low-key after teaching summer school?
I was wrong, in a manner of speaking. The movie we saw, LaLee's Kin, made a major emotional impact on me that I couldn't have anticipated. For the benefit of those reading this blog who don't know what I'm talking about, LaLee's Kin is a documentary that follows a woman who lives in Tallahatchie County (for those of you who still don't know what I'm talking about, that's a county in the Mississippi Delta) named LaLee, mother of 11 kids, grandmother of 20-some kids, and great-grandmother of 30-some kids, and several of the grandkids and great-grandkids that are (permanently, temporarily or indefinitely) in her care. The movie also follows the efforts of the local school district, where Reggie Barnes was the superintendent at the time of filming, as it tries to raise test scores in order to get off probation by the state of Mississippi.

After watching the movie and listening to Reggie Barnes speak, I thought about what it was about that day that made me experience really powerful emotions in a way that an average day at summer school didn't come close to. I think that LaLee's Kin made me realize more than any of the other experiences I've had so far what life is like day to day for a very poor family in the Delta. On an intellectual level, I knew that Mississippi was the poorest state in the country, and the Delta was the poorest part of the state, and I could probably spit out a few statistics about unemployment rate, percentages of families living below the povery line, etc. I've heard stories from other people in the program about the things they've seen that we all wish no one had to see or experience. I had the general idea that the students I taught at summer school came from underpriveleged backgrounds and had difficult home lives, and once in a while I'd even see a small piece of evidence confirming this. But how could I really know what life was like for any single one of my students outside of the hours of 7:45 to 12:20? I never saw them outside of school, and even if I had, I wouldn't be hanging around their houses long enough to figure out what their lives were like. When I visited the town where I'll teach in the fall, I drove through town and saw how quickly the landscape changed from nice two-story houses to dilapidated trailers and shacks. So yes, I was aware of the effects of poverty in the Delta. After all that, though, I still hadn't seen what day-to-day existence looked like for any of the students I knew or have heard about through the stories of other MTC folk.

Well, LaLee's Kin really cemented that for me. At the beginning of the movie, LaLee is looking outside from a trailer with excitement as a truck delivers the new trailer that will become her home. Part of what made a strong impact on me was the story of Granny, one of LaLee's granddaughters. At the start of the film, Granny is living with LaLee and is trying to attend the sixth grade while LaLee forces her to shoulder the huge responsibility of looking after and helping to raise two of LaLee's great-grandkids. LaLee cares about the kids getting their schooling, but feels that she needs Granny to help her with the younger children. Eventually, Granny goes to Memphis to live with relatives of her father, and is able to excel in school. She proudly tells the camera that her school in Memphis told her that when she graduated from high school, she could have a scholarship to the University of Tennessee and study to be a nurse. Then, she gets called back to live with LaLee and help out with the chores and childcare. After the film, Reggie Barnes informed us that Granny had a baby while she was in high school, managed to finish high school, never made it to college, and is now raising the child on her own. That story was really tragic to me because Granny seemed as though she could break out of the poverty cycle, but never quite did.

Leaving me with at least as strong an impression, though, were the small details of the documentary that revealed the realities of life for a poor family in the Delta. For instance, LaLee didn't have running water in her trailer, and would send the children to collect water in jugs from the state penitentiary. Granny bathed the younger children in buckets.

After we watched the film, Reggie Barnes commented that the Mississippi Delta is really just as bad as a Third World country on some levels. My dad grew up in a developing country, and after class, I found myself comparing his life to the lives of LaLee and her family. Dad is one of six children, and he and his siblings were raised singlehandedly by their mother after their father died of a heart attack. Some of the kids were pretty close to grown-up by the time that happened, but my grandmother still had to work full-time to support the kids and bring them up at the same time. I always thought that was an amazing feat for one person to accomplish, and then I thought of how LaLee raised 11 kids on her own, and took responsibility for many grandkids and great-grandkids! Dad's family was middle-class in their country, and several years ago, Dad showed me the place where he grew up. Dad's family's first apartment was a far cry from luxurious. It had a kitchen, and at most 3 additional rooms, all to be shared among 10 people. He and his siblings often slept on shelves or boards. It was in a crowded area, and the whole complex was rather run-down. Here's the crazy thing, though: by my estimation, Dad's family was much better off than LaLee's family. Dad's family was able to access running water and plumbing, even if it was shared with at least 2 other large families in the complex, and they never went hungry. My grandmother pinched enough pennies to send Dad and all of his siblings to school, and every single one of them made it through college! Of course, a lot of that had to do with cultural values and the importance that my family puts on education. Even so, it just blows my mind that there are families living in the Delta, in the country with the highest GDP in the world (I could use this to go on a rant about how this is an example of why we shouldn't use GDP as the standard measuring tool for development... but I'll leave that for another time and place), families whose children I will teach in school, who have worse living conditions than an average family in a developing country, and have poor odds of achieving the kind of success that Dad and his siblings did.

I've never seen anyone dedicate a blog entry before, but it seems appropriate here to dedicate this blog entry to the memory of Mimi, Dad's mother, who passed away just over a month ago.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Focus paper reflection: school nutrition

As they say, better late than never... I read Lily's focus paper on nutrition in schools. I'm particularly interested in this issue because I ultimately want to get involved in public health. I'm also a bit of a health nut, and I've been thinking a lot about nutritional concerns when I look around the summer school cafeteria every day. Lily's paper explains that school breakfast and lunch programs were started to address the nutritional needs of students, but legislation was not ammended until 2002 to require that school lunches meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Lily begins by talking about obesity, and mentions later in her paper that students have unhealthy alternatives, including vending machine products, to school lunches. She said that a recent bill that has not yet been approved calls for restricting vending machine contents to healthier items. I'm not sure what the current state of this bill is, but I think it sounds like a great idea. This past month, I noticed that many of my students at Holly Springs Summer School were overweight and appeared unhealthy, and I wonder how much of that would change if students were unable to access junk food from the vending machines in schools.
Over the past month, I've been eating the same breakfasts and lunches at summer school as my students (and no, I am not talking about "eating lunch" in the Jon Zarondona sense of that phrase = ) ), and have thus thought a lot about school food issues. I think that it's really important that the schools in the Delta offer free breakfast and lunch to many, if not all, of their students, but I wonder if this is enough. One of my concerns in eating at summer school was just the number of calories in each meal. I found myself always having to supplement the school meals with additional breakfast and lunch food. Granted, I'm more physically active than many of the students, but many of them are growing, and I remember how much I needed to eat all the time when I was in high school. One day, some of my students complained to me that they were all hungry because the school breakfast had been smaller than usual that day (point taken). I have to wonder if they're even getting enough food. Another concern of mine is how healthy the food is; Lily's paper stated that school feeding programs are supposed to ensure that foods from each of the five food groups are presented at each meal, but do an apple at breakfast and some lettuce and tomatoes on a burger at lunch really constitute an adequate daily dose of fruits and veggies?
Most of this is speculative, since poor nutrition and obesity are huge issues that I am not deluded enough to think that I can take by the horns (or at least, not any time soon). But, being a practically minded person, I started to think about what I could actually do about these problems. Lily mentioned that teachers can help by teaching their kids good nutritional practices. As a science teacher, I hope that I have this opportunity. I remember having health education in middle school where we had to learn all kinds of things about nutrition, and ultimately record everything we ate over a period of three days. At the time, I thought it was kind of a dumb activity in the way that I thought that most things we did in middle school health were kind of dumb, but I can appreciate now how much I learned from all that. However, I'm not sure how good an idea it would be to have my students do the "record all you eat" thing. I'm aware that some of my students won't have the means to eat enough quality food, and I don't want to humiliate anyone by bringing up a sensitive subject.
I might be coaching track at my middle school next spring, or, more accurately, attempting to start up a track team with my event-limited knowledge. My school district currently doesn't have a track team at the middle school or high school, but the athletic director was more interested in having me start a team at the middle school. He said that it would keep the kids out of trouble by giving them something to focus on, and would get them physically active, and his hope was that they'd already be into track by the time they hit high school, and I'm right with him on all of these points. But you just can't do intense athletic activities without eating right, and how many of my students will be properly fed enough to have the energy to go out and run, or jump, or throw, at the end of the school day?

School's out for sum-mer (June self-selected blog #2)

Friday was the last day of summer school. I have mixed feelings about summer school ending. On one hand, I was struggling with classroom management; I was too lenient toward unattentive students when I came in, and I paid the price the last few weeks. I experienced just how difficult it is to come into school and try to gain control of a class after letting them go initially, and it wasn't fun; I felt like I was battling the class at times. On the other hand, I really enjoyed teaching, and I really liked my students, even the ones who caused me grief sometimes. It's hard for me to comprehend the fact that I won't see any of them again, and probably will never hear any news about their lives.
On the last day, I had to give the class an open-note group test for the first 2 periods. Some students just whipped right through the test, and almost all the groups did well on it, but one pair of girls failed the test (both still passed the class). They were the only group to use the entirety of the two periods allotted to the test, and it was obvious to me that they weren't focusing very well. I repeatedly stopped by their desks to check if they had questions, and to remind them to keep working on the test (they would start chatting to each other or keeping beat), but it got to a point where I felt that they had to take some responsibility. I'd given them the opportunity to use all of their notes and homework, and to talk to each other, but they were the ones who had to decide how to use those resources. They did finish the test by the end of second period, and answered every question, but had enough wrong answers that they failed. I'm still wondering whether they legitimately didn't understand the material well enough to pass the test, or whether they just couldn't apply themselves; I have a sneaking suspicion that the latter issue was at least part of the problem. I'm sure that I'll face similar situations next year, and I still don't know how to help at that point. In other sad news, my students took a post-test at the end of the day, and the highest score was 16/24. I'm not trying to make excuses for myself or for my students, but I sincerely believe that these scores were not reflective of the knowledge they gained during summer school. For one thing, they came to school that day, took a 2 period long test, had a period of review, and then took the post-test during 4th period. I sure as heck can't blame anyone who felt burned out and unfocused by the time they hit the post-test.
Other than those incidents, the last day of school was a really positive experience. During lunch period, my co-teachers and I ordered pizza for all the kids, who voluntarily stayed through lunch to eat pizza in the classroom and hang out with the class. My biggest reward for teaching summer school was hearing all the things that our class said on the last day. One girl wrote a thank-you note on the board for all the teachers and signed it, along with the other students. A number of our students thanked each of the teachers personally, and gave us hugs. One girl brought little candy baskets for all the teachers, and another girl commented that she was sorry that she hadn't brought us presents, too, "because I wanted to, but my mom was going crazy last night!" This same girl commented in front of the whole class that, "I just don't get it, how can I go to summer school for one month, learn so much about math, know everything, but last year I spent nine months in school and didn't learn a thing! That's just embarrassing!"
Over the past few weeks, I've had some issues with one of my students, "Picasso," who is frequently disruptive in class and was very angry at me for a few days when I dealt out the appropriate consequences. On Friday, Picasso, like many of our other students, gave a "speech," where she thanked each of the teachers in our classroom, but skipped over me when doing so. This did not escape the notice of the other students, who said, "Picasso, what about Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket?" Picasso looked at me and said, "Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket, I know I've had the most problems with you, and I apologize for being disrespectful." Later, when the kids all filed out for dismissal, she gave me a hug along with all the other teachers.
The other teachers and I did a little awards ceremony for the class where we announced the winners of each certificate (we made one for each of the students). The awards included "Most charming," "Most attentive," "Most improved," and "Star of the month." Everyone seemed really proud of their awards, even the students that got the really random ones. And of course, how could the last day of school pass without a musical interlude? After the awards ceremony, about half of the class started keeping beat together, grovin' in their chairs, and doing a little singing for all of us. Hunter took a short video of it on his digital camera, and I think I'll be watching it from time to time when I need a little pick-me-up.

Now playing: Jefferson Airplane (or Starship?): We Built This City on Rock and Roll

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Watching myself on tape

This past week, I videotaped (well, more like I had Hunter videotape) one of my lessons. I was surprised to find that watching the tape the next day actually didn't give me much new information about my teaching, which I suppose is a testiment to my self-awareness and to my mentor's attentiveness. Watching the tape, I could tell that there was a little too much chatter going on in the classroom, but that's not news to me; it's no secret that I've had some difficulty with classroom management this summer, and the level of off-topic talking in the class is the most common manifestation of my shortcomings in management. I spoke to the students clearly while teaching, and liked the way that I used hand gestures when I talked. The one thing that I noticed while watching the tape that I hadn't thought about before was my body language while I'm waiting for students to work through practice problems. I did a pretty good job of circulating around the room during this instructional down-time, which gave me an opportunity to remind students to get back on task if they were playing around, and also allowed me to answer questions and give a little one-on-one attention to the students who asked for it. Of course, I don't need to walk around the whole time students are working on problems, so I have very short periods of time where I just stand near the overhead projector and wait. I noticed on the tape that I should really work on my body language during these times. I slumped forward too much, and I ended up doing random things with my hands (running them along the table, picking up markers, etc.) that had no purpose. I want to work on both of these things; I think I'll look a lot more serious and purposeful if I stand up straight, look around the classroom, and stop playing with my hands in a useless manner. On the positive side, I was feeling sort of overwhelmed the day I taped myself; I was teaching all 4 periods that day, I'd woken up feeling fairly sick and continued to feel yucky once I got to school, I had been informed earlier that day that Joe Sweeney would be stopping by to observe me on that day, and I was feeling less positive overall because my past few days of teaching had not gone very well. However, when I saw myself on tape, I appeared much more comfortable and together than I actually felt at the time.