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.