Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of the Semester--How Quickly Time Flies

It's been awhile since I've posted. Yes, student teaching has kept me busy but the fire really put a kink in things. My apartment building caught fire in late October, resulting in chaos, destruction, and displacement. After going through a month of near-nervous breakdown, crammed into my boyfriend's tiny, one-bedroom apartment with my dog and bunny, we finally found a gorgeous house to rent together. Finally, it's the end of December, and we are happily settled in and moving on.

My student teaching experience here has been amazing. I'm still working on classroom management. 35 freshman are challenging, indeed. However, I absolutely love this job. I would love to be able to work at a school like this one in the future.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Letting the Anger Out--When Channeled Anger is Appropriate in the Classroom

I've been struggling with my students and classroom management lately. They don't listen, carry on side conversations while I talk, and talk over their peers when they are called on. After one of the best students in the class said she was having a hard time paying attention, I knew I had to do something.

At first, I was worried about being overly strict. I poo-poohed the other teachers and their warnings about laying down the groundrules at the beginning of the year. I resisted being firm with my students for fear of hurting their feelings. And I fell victim to a common new teacher plague: the desire to have my students like me.

Now that I've been leading the class, I've been gaining confidence. I work hard on my lessons, trying to make them engaging and interesting. When students talk over me, I get irritated. Now I realize this irritation, and, yes, anger, is because I'm being disrespected. My students are being disrespected because it's interfering with their learning. And that pisses me off.

Maybe it's okay to let myself get pissed off sometimes. It stirred me up enough to go home and think of a plan. Warnings have not been enough. I  have several girls who are repeat offenders, talking behind my back every time I ask them to stop.

Tomorrow is a new day. I'm prepared. When the repeat offenders begin talking (notice I said "when" and not "if), I will stop my lecture, turn on the lights and admonish the class:
"There is WAY too much talking when I'm talking. This is UNacceptable. I can't hear myself think. Those students who want to learn can't, and that is NOT okay. You are being disrespectful (point to rule #2). It is NOT okay to talk when I'm talking. You are to be LISTENING. When I call on another student to answer a question, you are to be LISTENING. This is your warning. Next person who I find talking gets sent out of the class."

This is what I'm planning on saying. Then, I will find whoever is talking afterwards (someone will) and send them out of the class. After 2 minutes, I'll have a one-on-one talk with them. We will talk about what it means to be respectful. I will remind them that talking over me or another student is RUDE and that if it happens again, I will move their seat away from the class and call home to talk with their parents. Most importantly, I want to ask them why they feel such a strong impulse to behave that way. If they're doing great and the lectures are too easy, maybe they can work on an extra credit assignment. If it's too hard, maybe they need a handout to help scaffold the notes they are taking.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bad Grades = Bad Teacher

Tuesdays are rough. I miss Monday while in class all day. I'm out of my rhythm by the time Tuesday rolls around. I know what we planned on Friday, but I'm dying to know what really happened. Did they change seats? How did they do on Friday's test? Who was absent?

Unfortunately, I have to wait at least an hour or two to find out. Tuesday mornings are staff meetings, 7:30 sharp. I attend every one, even though, oftentimes, I'm just observing. I feel like a fifth wheel as teachers stress about mission statements, annual goals, CST scores, and test scores, test scores, test scores. Teachers are critiqued and evaluated based solely on their students' standardized "benchmark.

I've always thought this was an unfair practice. Teachers compare scores with each other question-by-question to see who "dropped the ball" and who needs to "pick it up" in specific areas. Schools compare schools. No wonder, my master teacher is always in a bad mood afterwards. How can you evaluate teacher performance based on a single standardized test? The worst is that teachers are told to compare their scores to previous years. There are just too many variables in such a small sample size. One class can be vastly different from the next. One year is not enough time to implement and evaluate the true, long-term effects of a change. Yet, teachers are encouraged to make changes every year, based off last year. Many assumptions are being made, and false conclusions are being drawn from poor data.

I lived this frustration today. My students took their first benchmark exam and averaged D-. It was like a punch to the gut. I had tried so hard to teach them. We used activities, labs, discussions, assessments, etc., etc., etc. I stayed after school and skipped lunch to tutor students. To make it worse, my MTs 4th period Bio, which he taught solo, averaged an entire letter grade higher. I was desolate. I feel like it's my fault.

My MT was very comforting and supportive, but it's hard to shake off. I know I should expect to perform like an inexperienced teacher, but it's a slap in the face when your student performance suffers because of it, despite your best efforts. I suggested that maybe my students weren't able to demonstrate their knowledge because they don't have enough practice with the multiple-choice format. We're going to use a practice M.C. test to help them review. Having a possible solution to the problem, one that I can actually use and measure, made me feel better, even if it doesn't work. At least I have a plan of action.

At the end of the day, I love being in the classroom. I love the students. As long as I focus on that, I will be okay.

Flying Solo, Part 2

Mr. B. was out sick again today. He had warned me this might happen, so we had consulted on Thursday what to do in that scenario. After enjoying a quick, free breakfast with the faculty (Fridays are Faculty Breakfast Day), I hurried up to the classroom to meet the sub. She looked panicked; no notes had been left, and no lesson plans were to be found. I introduced myself, and reassured her that Mr. B. had prepared me to lead the classes. I asked if she would play a supportive role, and assist me in passing out papers, taking attendance, help keep students on task, and give me feedback on my teaching. She obliged, advising that I get my emergency credential paperwork filed with the district office ASAP so that the next time Mr. B. was out, no sub would be needed, and I would be paid for the day.
For first period, I played a movie “Life Story” (1987) about how Drs. Franklin, Watson, and Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA. Students were not listening, talking, and socializing. I told them to pay attention and we would discuss it at the end of class. I then drew the double helix on the board, atom by atom, to discuss after class. Students that had been disinterested seemed mildly curious in what I was drawing. The room was quiet. When 5 minutes of class were left, I paused the movie and asked the class questions about the role of women in science, and the differences between now and then. I also asked them why they thought discovering the structure of DNA was important. Then, I showed them the structure of DNA on the board, explaining that it was a result of those discoveries. We discussed the A:T and C:G hydrogen bonding, the negative charge on the backbone because of the phosphates, and how scientists use this information in the laboratory to further research—PCR, DNA sequencing, and gel electrophoresis.
During second period, I hurried out to get lunch for myself and the student I was interviewing at lunch for one of my case study assignments. Third period, I was better prepared. I had saved the structure of DNA for the end, but started with a four questions for students to answer during the movie. This kept students on task. There was no talking during third period, although several students seemed bored or tired (sleeping). At least it was better than first period. The movie was definitely boring though.
Fourth, fifth and sixth periods were my Bio classes. Fourth period had met me for the first time the day before. Students were still wary of my ability to teach. My confidence and preparation won them over. The hardest part was I didn't know their names, and the seating chart was really hard to follow. Desmond's became Dillon's, and Jonathan's replaced Juan's. Students hate being called by the wrong names and are not very forgiving.

"Mr. B.'s still out?" they asked.
"Yup. What'd you do to him?" I smiled in return. "Don't worry. He left me completely prepared." I said this, half joking. Students look for opportunities to slack off on sub day, not work harder.

We started with a warm-up--students in Mr. B.'s classes are accustomed to summarizing their Cornell notes from the day before. However, today, I gave them a prompt: "Compare and contrast eukaryotes and prokaryotes." After 3 minutes, I called on a few random students to share. There were some initial protests, "We don't normally share our summaries!"
"We're trying something different today," I replied. We created a Venn diagram to illustrate the similarities and differences on the board. Students copied it into their spirals under their summaries.

Then, we finished up the Microscope lab from the day before. Students peer-graded each other's lab worksheets. Luckily, I had made up a key, allocating specific points for each section so this part was pretty easy.

The last half of class was beginning a lecture on "Organelles". Unfortunately, I spent too long asking students questions so we didn't get too far. At least I know what we covered was truly covered: I waited to make sure all students had enough time to copy down what they needed into their notes and stopped to ask them questions after every 2 slides.

For 5th and 6th period, I thought it would be easy since these are my regular two classes. It wasn't. First, I was flustered from teaching all day and kept forgetting which period I was on. We had just switched to a new seating chart too, and I kept messing up student names, even though I knew better! It was embarrassing. I hate how the brain fails you when you need it the most.

Second, my students misbehaved more because they knew me! I thought it would be the opposite. I guess because they felt comfortable with me, they thought they could get away with it. Mostly, they weren't paying attention and talking when I was talking. I had to move one student to a different chair because he refused to stop talking, turn around, and pay attention. However, on the flip side, students from my classes participated A LOT more than usual, especially the students who had been seeing me individually for tutoring. I think this is because they felt at ease with me as their teacher. This was very gratifying.

Class was fun though. In addition to what we covered in 5th period, we also spent some time going over model essays students had written from the week before. I hadn't had time to give them feedback so it was nice to slow down and review what a few class-generated, full-credit essays looked like.

I also played a :30 second YouTube clip of a white blood cell chasing a bacterial cell so students could appreciate the size differential between eukaryotes and prokaryotes. The students loved the video, particularly because the cells literally came alive before their eyes.

The sub said she loved my energy and how I switched up the activities so we didn't spend more than 10-15 minutes on one thing. One thing she told me I need to work on is not talking over my students. When I'm talking, and other students begin having a side conversation, I need to be silent, make eye contact, and use proximity control instead. All in all, subbing was a FANTASTIC experience. I can't wait to lead the class again.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Flying Solo

My master teacher was sick today. He dragged himself in to ask if I could take over. Much to my surprise, instead of feeling nervous or anxious, I was excited and frothing at the bit. This was my chance! I was going to try teaching biology to 35 freshman ALL BY MYSELF!

4th period filed in. The second they saw me, I heard, "We get an easy day. It's a sub." Not if I had anything to say about it. As soon as the bell rang, I took the reins. It was clear from my confidence that I knew what I was doing. I reassured them they would not be slowed down by Mr. B's absence. Then, we proceeded to start a new unit on the cell. I helped them learn new vocab and then taught them a section on prokaryotes and eukaryotes. I wowed them with stories from my research days, when I would spend hours looking at fluorescent markers in cells under the microscope. I shared with them surprising facts about bacteria. They actually seemed interested. Then we segued into the microscope lab. They were excited about actually getting to see these cells for themselves. All in all, 5th period went off without a hitch.

6th period wasn't as smooth. This is my normal class so they knew me and didn't try to get away with anything...until the last 5 minutes of class. But first, I got locked off Mr. B's computer and had to quickly switch over to mine. Meanwhile, I directed the students to copy the new vocab off the Word Wall. Soon, we were up and running again. I modeled for them how to prepare a wet mount slide of cheek cells. Everything was great until one student got super ancy and started flicking (read: flirting) water on the girls. I gave him a warning but he did it again, behind my back. I held him after and spoke with him about self-control for a few minutes after class. Not too big of a deal.

Tomorrow I get to to do it again but for all 6 periods! I already prepped; I just want to look over my slides and make sure everything runs smoothly. Can't wait! The things I need to work on: firm classroom management with clear-cut rules and expectations, timing (keeping track of when to transition and when to wrap it up and clean up), and pacing (slowing down during lectures). Today was the most fun I've had so far!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bearer of Bad News

How do I best communicate bad grades to students? After the first test, it was obvious widespread communication would be needed. The average was a D. Way too many students were doing poorly waay too early in the year. They needed an intervention.

But what's the most effective way to deliver the news? I didn't want to call the whole class out. I was advised against this, since it punishes the successful, high-achieving students in the class and humiliates the low-students. I decided to use the small-group/individual more private setting. As they worked on their labs, I went down my highlighted list of students I needed to talk to and circulated to each one. In groups of one, twos, and threes, I patiently delivered the same news:

"Your grade is a D or lower. You need to do something different. You can do one of three things: study harder, study smarter, and/or make an appointment to see me during lunch, or after school." I followed up with an explanation of study smarter (study strategies and tips which I could teach them, such as active reading, note-taking, test-prep, and test-taking strategies). This was followed up with my site's policy on Fs on progress reports: 1st progress report--academic referral. 2nd F-student is kicked out of the class.

I thought this policy was kinda harsh, and I told my students so. I felt so bad for them. Some of them were almost in tears. I tried to reassure some of them it wasn't too late to change. The year was still young. I encouraged them: if they worked hard in class, studied hard outside of class, and saw me for help outside of class, they would not fail.

Students have been seeing me on a regular basis at lunch and after school. It's been invaluable for building my bond with each student and getting to know them as an individual. Some of their grades have increased dramatically, which has been the best news. I've also called parents of students with Ds or Fs to tell them how to help their student succeed. The majority of students, however, continue to fail. How do I convince them to do something different?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How do I stay balanced?

Fair and balanced. Sounds so easy. The dilemma? My credential program is projecting this utopian society they want us, as teachers, to create in the classroom. They want us to believe we are going to change the world as future teachers. We will eradicate racism, teach all students, have high expectations, and be able to get every child to be successful. However, the reality of trying to achieve this in today's diverse classroom, filled with students with special needs and students who are English language learners is quite a different story. Our classrooms are stuffed to the gills with incredibly high numbers. It's hard not to get frustrated with the teaching credential program. I wish they would focus on practical issues, such as classroom management.

On the other hand, many teachers at my site seem exhausted, cynical, and pessimistic about their jobs. They have low expectations for their students and seem to have lost a lot of the joy I'm sure they had when they first started. With all the bureaucracy and politics in education, it's hard not to be overwhelmed with frustration and simply want to throw in the towel. No wonder nearly half of teachers quit the profession within 5 years. The question do I prevent this fate for me? I love teaching! I don't want to lose my spark.

I think the trick is to stay balanced. I need to focus on the kids and my classes and put up thick boundaries when it comes to everything else. My master teacher told me to aim for reaching "most of the kids, most of the time." That seems doable. I may not be able to change the world, but I might be able to influence a few kids for the better. What more could I ask for? Nothing is more rewarding than that.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

'Sir Lines' clears an obstacle during the German rabbit-jumping contest. From USA News & World Report ("Rabbits Hop to  Victory in Jumping Contest").

Because this is how I felt today. The program wants me to jump through a lot of hoops. At least I do it in style! Anyway, this morning was a staff meeting. We got the CST scores back. No matter what the results are, it seems like CST scores are usually a bad day. Teachers are evaluated based solely on these scores. Unless you're about 96th percentile (ahem, Spanish), you could get yelled at by your team leader (at the least), to the district office (ouch). Everyone in the science department increased their scores by at least 4-7% (which by the way, is within standard error bars anyway (error bars? what error bars?). Some departments (English and history) went up by 20%.

Anyway, there was a lot of anxiety and tension and disputes between the team leader and different members of the science staff. I didn't like it. I felt like I was a kid again, at home eating dinner with my parents.

Then, the union leader talked about union stuff, which just depressed me. I just don't see how Prop30 will pass. Voters have to agree to a sales and income tax. Albeit very small, I know what voters will do...because I knew what I did before becoming a teacher. I read "tax increase" in the title and checked "Hell, No!" It seems like a hopeless battle. Why would voters raise taxes for education when they haven't done so for 17 years? The consequences will be grim. Furlough days will rise from 5 to 15. Pink slips will go up. Teacher salaries will be cut for the 5th year in a row. Not a good year to be looking for a job in education.


After last week's fidgety block day, I'm trying to brainstorm ideas to get students' attention without using negative reinforcement. Keeping them after class is a pretty severe punishment, and I predict it will cause resentment if used too much.

I tried clapping in sequence and having the students echo back the clap to me. That worked a lot better. I can also flick the lights. Another idea I have is to give raffle tickets to students who are paying attention, taking good notes, participating, or excelling on homework. Students can draw from a prize bag at the end of the week, upon a raffle drawing. Alternatively, I can tally up the points and award students who scored the most prizes. I can also take points away. I like the idea of giving points and also being able to take points away. Maybe I could even do it by lab station to encourage good group work. Anyway, those are my ideas so far.

This morning was a staff meeting to discuss CST scores and form "SMART" goals. The data from year-to-year is relied on so heavily to assess how teachers are doing. It seems a little unfair to base so much on an arbitrary test. I can wait until we switch to Common Core Standards. How do you get low-achievers to try harder? I thought extra tutoring after school would be helpful, but most won't show up. Mr. B. said academic referrals work well. Again, I wish there was a way to motivate them without negative reinforcement.

Another issue I'd like to research and discuss further are the Props in the upcoming November election that are monumental for teachers. Prop 30 and 32.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday's Lesson: Classroom Management

Today was my first block day. Two hours with the same kids. What a challenge. Unfortunately, they were  not as engaged as I hoped (actually, the best part was the microscope lab). Mr. B. started them out on their summaries, Cornell-note style. Then, I had them read an article, answer three questions on a piece of paper, and start a second worksheet. They were very ancy transitioning to the second worksheet. Plus, many students had questions about the article, or the worksheet. I was busy buzzing from student to student like a bee in a daisy patch. Meanwhile, the kids started conversing. Mr. B. and I had to use the timer a few times, adding up to 1:20 of time "owed" after class. That shut them up quick but was pretty severe negative reinforcement, in my opinion. When a couple of other kids talked after that, Mr. B. told me to send them outside. I sent the first one who I could identify. He had to go on a "time out", and he now gets a call home to his parents. Personally, that seems a little severe. If I were a parent, I don't think I would want a teacher to call me unless it was a bigger problem.

Anyway, after the worksheet, we had a great little discussion about the worksheet (my first one as a class--it was GREAT!!!). I picked 3 kids at "random" (the ones who don't participate much) to share their answers. I tried to implement examples. I'll have to think of humorous examples beforehand to be prepared. I can't think on the spot.

However, I learned A LOT. At the end of class, I gave out a survey so I could get to know my students more. They gave great feedback. I need to strike a balance between firmness and leniency. I need to work in more positive reinforcement systems and creating more interesting lessons to instantly engage them. Avoid boredom at all costs!

Despite the fidgetyness of the kids, I personally thought they tried very hard. Maybe they would prefer to have homework in exchange for doing more activities in class, and not lectures, independent reading, or individual work. I know they want more labs, hands-on projects, humor, and rewards with candy or snacks.

Hot Cheetohs and Takis


This video was produced by students in Minneapolis in an awesome class, "Beats and Rhymes". Check it out. Also, here's a link to a clip on the NPR website, which aired in August, 2012 on "All Things Considered". This is my version of "Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul".


Comedic Material for the Classroom

I've been learning so much from my students. If you're too strict, they will stop listening. If you don't engage them, they will learn nothing even if you're blue in the face. They have to want to learn. You have to sell it to them. The students are your customer and you're the salesman, convincing them to buy your content (the product). I want to have high expectations for them, but there is a balance between too strict and too lenient that must be achieved. Classroom management is a balancing act. You don't want to go too far to either side. Using well-timed humor to present content is one great idea to instantly engage the students and make it more interesting. As teachers, we are natural life-long learners, and I believe learning how to use comedy in the classroom is just another tool I can add to my toolkit. Since teaching is a performance art, it seems logical that comedy will come in handy.

lessons learned from dad
blood in urine
that hurts. dont do that

jokes from dad
constipated accountant

See the below websites to find out more:

That's Funny Comedy Across the Curriculum

Also, I'm creating a webmix in Symbaloo for "Comedy in the Classroom. Check it out!
(Or search "comedy" in Diigo for related articles).

What I've Learned continued--2nd Week

Always make your copies the day (or 2) before. You never know when all the copiers on campus are going to break.

Always have extra activities planned in case you finish early. It's always better to have more to do than have idle students with 15 minutes left.

Grading assignments is a great way to get to know your students better! Consider keeping a spreadsheet to make notes and track their progress. In addition, grading is a great way to know what your students understand and what needs review.

Use the student grading system, whenever possible. This is a great time saver and also gives students immediate feedback.

You learn more from your students than anyone else. 

Use raffle tickets to motivate students to participate or work harder on homework. Draw weekly for prizes. Or use a chart to track how much students participate and award based on who gets the most points for the week. Apparently, there's also an App to track this as well.

In-Service Days

Before I get too far into the school year, I just wanted to mention how much I enjoyed from the three in-service days I got to attend before school started. I'm sure once I'm an experienced teacher, I won't look forward to them quite as much, but as a student teacher, it was extremely beneficial. I got to meet all the staff, administration, and teachers before school started. This made me feel more comfortable and included in the school community.

Although we all just wanted to jump into our classrooms and start prepping for the first day of school, we were "forced" to participate in team-building activities with administration. Despite lots of groans and grumbles, everyone was a good sport. On the second day, we all joined in for relays and team "sports" and games. I volunteered for our team in the "spin around the bat" relay. The goal was to spin around the bat 10 times, grab a ball in a cup, and run down to the cone at the end of the field and back. I was only able to make it to grabbing the ball in a cup step before I promptly fell backwards on my ass. The sky spun above me. In a haze, I somehow stumbled down the field and back. The only thing that eased my embarrassment was the teacher after me, who fell three times before making it down the field. That made me feel much better.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lesson Learned: Never Be Unprepared

Today was frantic. I don't know if it's because I was 5 minutes late to my first staff meeting, or because I was in class all day yesterday and missed Monday's classes at high school. Or maybe it was because I didn't finish grading all 85 papers over the weekend and was left frantically marking in red ink Tuesday morning. Whatever the reason, today did not go smoothly for me. The classes I co-taught all went great; it was how I felt on the inside. My stomach was churning, I had a headache, no appetite, and I kept having the distinct feeling like I'd forgotten to put my pants on that morning. Lesson learned! Never leave things to the last minute in teaching. Because when you do, everyone notices. Everyone. You can't fake preparedness. There's hundreds of students counting on me! I'm going to have to pick up the pace over the weekends.

The other lesson I learned: always read through any worksheet (better yet, do it first!) you want to administer to your classes. I used a "Simpsons" worksheet to teach the Scientific Method before I noticed that a few answers had been mistakenly filled in. Then, I realized I wanted to add more questions, missing from the worksheet. Instead of correcting the mistakes on the worksheet, I was stuck with what I had since I'd already made copies. I had to instruct the students to add the questions, which became messy and confusing. Some tried to squeeze it illegibly into the margins, others wrote it on a separate sheet of paper and then lost it, and the rest of them simply "forgot" to do the additional work. Always check your worksheets before use!

On a side note, make sure you check over everything for mistakes before making copies. Otherwise, you just wasted 150 sheets of paper, ink, and probably broke the old, crotchety copier being slave driven in the copy room. I made this mistake today. I was copying worksheets for tomorrow. I had finished copying all 150 of them before I realized I had copied the answer key. Doh!

First Day of School Rant

Yesterday, I started my classes at Cal State San Marcos. I had three classes, yet I was in class from 10 am to 7 pm. What did I get out of it? Unfortunately, not much. Just a lot of fluff with about 10% content. I gleaned a few ideas for lesson plans and activities, learned some new acronyms, and became more aware of the struggles EL (English Language) learners go through at school. I don't think I needed to be there all day for that. Oh, well. Veteran teachers have all echoed my same sentiments. Too bad they haven't changed the system in eons. There's definitely some hypocrisy about the program. For instance, teachers tell us never to lecture for more than 10 minutes before engaging the students in discussion (the 10:2 rule). After telling us not to do that, the teacher then lectured for about 40 minutes. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but you get the point. The thing that bothers me the most is probably the utopian attitude you are expected to adopt. I'm not going to be able to save the world. I think being aware of the disconnect between teaching and the pedagogy of teaching will help me face reality when it comes time for me to run my own classroom. My master teacher advised me, "Aim to reach most of the students, most of the time."    

Friday, August 24, 2012

What I've Learned My First Week of Student Teaching

I can't believe how much I've learned in my first week. I love being so immersed in a school, right from the beginning. All the other teachers have been giving me tons of advice, and I've been able to do lots of observations, let alone what I've been learning from my hands-on experience. Here's what I've discovered so far:

1. Keep your nose clean.
There's a lot of gossip. A lot. I like to just nod and smile. If possible, I try not to listen. It makes me uncomfortable when I know this teacher doesn't like that teacher, and so on, and then I have to work with both. Best to befriend everyone and keep your mouth shut.

2. Befriend everyone.
I nod and smile at everyone--the secretaries, the IT person, the janitors, everyone. I need their help! Plus, I've heard if you get on their bad side, they can make your life a living hell.

3. "Teaching is 90% classroom management and 10% content."
I've heard this from several teachers. You can't teach if your class is out of control. Plus, that's what you're evaluated on most. You're not going to get re-hired if you can't run a classroom.
(The other quote I've heard to death (which I don't like quite as much): "Don't let 'em see you smile 'til Christmas".)

4. Start out strict. Loosen up only if they are angels and the year is over halfway done. You can always loosen up but it's almost impossible to become more strict.

5. Use positive reinforcement, whenever possible.
Give students chances for success. To encourage students to participate, hand out raffle tickets to those who do. They get to put them in a jar, which I can draw from weekly to give out prizes. Plus, I can count up the raffle tickets and assign extra credit, or determine who needs to participate more by seeing how many times their name appears in the jar.

6. Use assigned seats.
Students pay better attention when they're not next to their friends. Plus, it's MUCH easier to learn their names. In addition, it's good for students to learn to work with a variety of people, especially those they don't know.

7. Learn their names and pronounce them right.
Students hate when you get their names wrong, even if it's the first day. Hate it!

8. Leaving class to go to the bathroom is a privlege. Use only for emergencies.
Only let students go one at a time. Use a bathroom pass. Or, hand each student 4 passes for the semester and instruct them to use them wisely. Once they're gone, they're gone. Otherwise, students will leave in great masses to escape class and congregate in the bathroom.

9. Don't be afraid to say, "No."
It's hard for me to flat-out say, "No, you can't go to the bathroom right now." It's not my nature. But as a teacher, kids will test their boundaries. They are accustomed to a teacher saying no without providing an explanation. They know better. Tell them no.

10. Break them up into groups for activities as much as possible.
Students learn best by doing and are the most engaged and productive when they get to use their hands. Plus, they get to learn from each other. It's easier for a teacher to work with students in small groups or one-on-one when they're in groups, allowing me to get to know my students better. Not to mention that it's easier on me. Less work! (Work smarter, not harder).

Crazy Thursday

Yesterday was only the 4th day of school. What a weird day. 6th period, a kid fell asleep, and we couldn't wake him up. He came in, put his head down, and passed out before the bell rang. My cooperating teacher tried to wake him up by poking him, shaking him, yelling at response. The class was giggling at him and everything. I went over and poked him really hard. I could tell he was breathing. He was twitching slightly, but I couldn't tell if it was a muscle spasm or if he was perhaps laughing. Was he faking? I leaned down and told him quietly that I was going to give him detention if he didn't wake up. Nothing. I got the feeling after that he wasn't faking.

The cooperating teacher went to call security. I kept the class calm, confiscating a bottle of water from a kid, who wanted to pour it over his sleeping peer. The medics were there within 30 seconds. We evacuated the class, and I tried to keep everyone calm. For a bunch of freshmen (crowded at that with 45), they were very good. They were concerned about his well-being.

The medics were able to rouse the kid, who finally lifted his head to reveal a huge puddle of drool beneath his elbows and horribly bloodshot eyes. His first question, "Are you going to call my parents?" Then, he was taken into the back room with the assistant principal, where he started crying. I guess he'd taken a bunch of painkillers. At least he was remorseful.

I hope he pulls out of it. He's only in 9th grade. I really believe in giving kids a second chance. I'm glad he didn't get kicked out. I hope he listens to his guilt and learns from this experience. He could have so easily been kicked out of school, OD'ed, or worse.

Meanwhile, on my end, I've been learning so much. I'm glad I got this experience because now I know what to do in case of emergency. Never hesitate to call for help if you think a kid is in trouble.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

First Week of School

This week  has been very exciting for me! It's the first week of school and my first week as a student teacher as well. I'm teaching 2 periods of biology with my cooperating teacher and 1 period of ELD with an English teacher. So far, this week has been awesome! The teachers and students have all been very courteous so far, and I've been really enjoying myself. My days are flying by very quickly, and I'm always exhausted at the end of the day. However, I absolutely love it so far.

Monday: My first day as a student teacher. My bio classes have 40-45 students each! I hope they open up a new bio section soon. I'm tripping over myself trying to circulate the room, and remembering everyone's name is a real challenge! Everyone was very well-behaved, but I've been warned that might change after week 3. Today was pretty simple. We went over the syllabus (briefly), broke the students into their lab groups, and had them work on a cool problem-solving activity (about polar bears, fish, and dice).

Tuesday: We went over lab safety today. I told the students they could not use the fire extinguisher...except if I was on fire. They have permission to save my life! Using humor in the classroom is key to get everyone to pay attention. Students took a quiz on lab safety and had to pass by getting 20/25 questions correct. Students who didn't pass the first time simply re-took the quiz after we went over the answers. Only 2-4 students per period had to re-take the quiz. Everyone passed the 2nd time.

Wednesday: We finally started getting into material today. It takes awhile to reach this point, simply because students need to be instructed very clearly with simple, broken-down instructions. We spent time going over our expectations, how to set up their spiral notebooks, how to take notes, and how to study. Especially since these students are freshmen, they need to be taught these important tools. In addition, they will use them for the rest of their lives. Never assume your students know how to do something! Anyway, we started going over their vocabulary for unit 1 on the scientific method. I showed them how to make their modified flash cards, how to be resourceful in finding definitions, and how to come up with a definition in their own words. They also were instructed to include an example, a picture, or a sentence with their definition. After modeling the first two, relying heavily on class participation, they broke up into groups to collaborate on the rest of the definitions. Anything they couldn't finish in class was assigned for homework. I love teaching them in groups! Much more productive and a great way to get to know each student personally.


I am a student teacher at Cal State San Marcos, trying to earn my Single Subject Credential in biology (and chemistry and math). I created this blog to share my personal thoughts and reflections of what I learn as I go through this program.