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


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