Communicating with students

February 27th, 2009 | Filed under: teaching, technology

I’ve always had plans of how I want to communicate with my students outside of class, should the need arise. I know I want to utilize blogging in some way, e-mail of course, instant messaging and Twitter. Maybe not all of them at the same time, but I’ve thought about being available via instant messaging for homework help and sending notices and reminders out to students and parents on Twitter.

But after reading about a Wisconsin school board’s decision to ban communications between teachers and students on social networking sites and instant messaging services, it looks like not all schools are ready or willing to take on such a “risk.”

This is a bummer, because I think the reward far outweighs the risks involved. In a middle school class today I heard students discussing chats they had the night before with classmates and comments they left on friends’ pages. The students are already there – I don’t see the problem in teachers meeting them where they are to remind of a test prep session after school or of a homework due date. If teachers know their own boundaries, and I believe most of them do, things will be safe.

Thanks to Dean Shareski for getting me riled up with his insightful post.

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“The kids” – my first impression

February 26th, 2009 | Filed under: teaching

I’m about two days into my practicum, which is a required 35-hour stint in a local middle or high school as part of my teaching license program. It’s sort of in between an observation and student teaching. I’m supposed to observe, shadow a teacher and teach a lesson, among other things.

During my observation in a high school last semester I just sat in the back, taking notes of the good (or horrible) teaching strategies I witnessed and the behavior of the kids. This time my practicum teacher let me introduce myself to her classes and even go over some SOL prep answers. She works with mostly 8th grade English students who are in the throes of prepping for the writing SOL test and getting excited about going to high school.

I don’t know what it is about these middle schoolers, but I walked out of the building my first day with the biggest smile on my face. I adored them. They were so impressive and kind and smart, they had me wondering if I really do have my heart set on teaching in a high school. My methods class professor warned us many people come into the course “knowing” they want to teach high school, but the practicum experience throws them for a loop. I may be one of those people. But I’m not sure if my excitement is coming from the fact that this is a magnet school. There are only 300 students and they all went through a rigorous acceptance process to get there. I went to a party Saturday night and I ran into three people that teach in middle schools. Without being dreadful, they gently explained that their middle schools definitely aren’t like that. For one, they tend to have 1,500 students or more which makes it difficult to do the sort of teaching they want to do.

When I signed up for my practicum, I requested “any middle school in Norfolk.” I didn’t mind where and I definitely didn’t want to get my heart set on a certain building. I was randomly assigned this magnet school. At first I was disappointed, knowing that the experience wouldn’t be giving me the typical representation of a middle school. But I’ve come to realize that I need all sorts of experiences as I move through this teaching license program. I observed a high school in the midst of violence issues and now I’m observing a small middle school taking unique approaches to education. I’ve decided there isn’t a “typical” school for me to observe or work in – they’re all different – so I’m happy to be working with these kids. It’s refreshing to see that it is possible for all students to be present and have their homework ready with the appropriate support at home. The middle school, as part of the enrollment contract for the students, requires parental/guardian involvement. So when a student is continually arriving to class without the proper assignments, not only does he/she get reprimanded, the parents get a call as well.

And the environment is amazing. I never once saw a scowl on a teacher’s face or heard complaints in the lounge over lunch. Instead I heard discussions of lessons they had planned, teachers laughing with one another, or praising certain students. The main office is full of laughter with two great office managers at the helm, offering to help me in any way. And the principal seems to have a great vision of where she wants things to go. This is of course a school comprised of some of the best of the best in term’s of Norfolk’s middle schoolers, but I never once felt like it was snobby or that the pressure is off the teachers in terms of pushing students to do well.

The small size of the school is great. With only 300 kids, I never saw a security guard or a hall pass when a student needed to use the restroom. Instead I walked through the halls and saw groups of students working together on projects. I’m wondering how much of all this is characteristic of middle schools and how much of this is due to the size and nature of this school. Either way I love it and I could really get used to it.

Despite the environment, I was still nervous around all the kids. My thoughts, when standing at the overhead going over answers:

“There are so many of them!”

“They’re all looking at me.”

“Okay – she didn’t get that one right – what’s the best thing to say without shaming her?”

“Oh god, what if I say the wrong things?”

“Remember wait time…remember wait time.”

“Am I over-explaining?”

I asked my practicum teacher for any and all input she has about my performance. If she sees me doing/saying something that she knows is ineffective, I want her feedback. She had positive things to say about me after the first day, including that she liked when I walked around observing the students working in groups, asking how they’re doing. At the time I felt like an annoying nag – should I just leave them alone? But she assured me students like to feel someone is interested in what they’re doing.

It felt really great and natural to work with the students and move around the room, helping students find answers to their questions. I’m so relieved. I feel like I’m making the right decision with this teaching license.



A teacher’s immune system

February 25th, 2009 | Filed under: personal, teaching

I don’t have it!

After just a few days working with middle schoolers I seem to have caught a cold. Now I understand why my practicum teacher has a Costco-sized bottle of hand sanitzer within reach at all times. Ever since I started following a vegan diet a few years ago, I’ve been cold/sinus issue-free, but it looks like my plant-based diet is no match for the school building.

Sticking close to home today with a jug of orange juice nearby.

I still need to get up the motivation to do some research for an I-Search paper I’m writing for my methods class on project-based learning in the secondary English language arts classroom. Most of the research I’ve found deals with science and technology classrooms. Anyone know of resources dealing with English classrooms and PBL?

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My not-so-secret thoughts

February 24th, 2009 | Filed under: personal, preservice

This is my attempt at an online confessional – sort of a personal exercise to work out my own ideas about teaching and to discover that elusive “philosophy” they keep talking about. My philosophy of teaching changes with every class I attend, with every discussion I have with a teacher and with every day I spend in a real school with real, live students.

A little bit about me…

My decision to pursue education came after I decided my dream of working in newspapers wasn’t quite what I imagined. I studied English in college with an emphasis in journalism while spending every waking minute I could as editor of my college paper or consuming media criticism, journalism tips and writing techniques. I wanted so badly to be a gum-shoed reporter, sticking it to the man and sniffing out stories in between coffee and cigarette breaks, but that just wasn’t what it turned out to be. I got an internship at a local business journal with the best editors and co-workers you could imagine – kind people that took the time to help you and nurture your writing and research techniques. I was eventually offered a full-time position there and savored it, but after a while I realized the world of corporate newspapers wasn’t what I imagined. I often found myself conflicted ethically with decisions made in the corner office while scraping two pennies together. I started to feel resentful and decided it wasn’t worth it. I admitted to myself, finally, that this dream just wasn’t working out. It’s a hard thing to do when your first job is your “dream job” complete with a wonderful boss and co-workers that become like close family.

So I decided to pursue something I felt I could be great at, but that I was too scared to consider in the beginning. I quit my job at the newspaper and launched into a teaching certificate program at my alma mater, Old Dominion University. To support myself I’ve continued writing at my old job, thanks to generous freelance opportunities from my editor, and started pursuing other gigs. Working freelance has given me almost everything I could have wanted – a connection with my dear co-workers, a way to keep my writing gears moving, income, and some great satisfaction knowing I can make it on my own. The only thing I miss is the health insurance, but I keep telling myself this is all temporary while taking advantage of hand railings, always looking both ways and wearing my bike helmet.

When I first decided to leave the media world, I felt like a failure. I was the one person in my group of friends with a job in their field right out of college. But I’m proof that we’re not meant to discover a singular passion to pursue for the rest of our lives. And truly, I don’t see the move from journalism to teaching as much of a stretch. I thought of my role as a reporter as one of educator – pursuing a story and attempting to explain it in such a way that a wide audience could learn from it. Isn’t this what we aim for in teaching? To trasmit or facilitate lessons in such a way that all of our students learn? Once I made this connection my feelings of failure melted away – I’d found a purpose for my journalism training in supplementing my career as an educator.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Even though I started this as a conversation with myself, I hope you’ll join and offer suggestions and ideas to make me a better teacher.

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