Part of the Process

Thoughts on becoming a teacher.


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Saying Goodbye

Today, one of my students had his last day. His family was forced to move due to economic issues. Things have been tough for the family and both parents had been struggling to find enough work. I was sad to see this student leave, especially so close to the end of the school year. He has been attending this school since Kindergarten and to have to leave a month early in his last year at the school is such a disappointment.

The Special RockMy Cooperating Teacher has a powerful ritual for when students leave early and I was fortunate to be a part of it today. Everyone sits in a large circle, with the student who is leaving either in the middle of the circle or in a special class president chair. We then pass around a rock and everyone shares a favorite story or something they will miss about the person. At the end, my Cooperating Teacher tells the student that we have all shared our favorite memories while we were holding the rock and they get to keep this special rock to help them remember their time in the class and to remember all the things their teacher and classmates said about them. The principal and ELL teacher came to take part in the ritual as well. At then end the principal told the student he should put the rock in his backpack on his first day at his new school to carry us with him.

It was such a great experience to hear all the stories students told and all the ways they thought this student was special.  I think this really let the student know how much this community cares about him and how sad everyone is to see him go.

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2 Weeks

The last two weeks with my 6th graders have been funny, tiring, stressful and I could go on here, but really like a whirlwind. My CT always jokes about how fast the weeks fly by and he is right. The main thing that I’ve taken from the last two weeks is that I feel like I have really grown as a teacher. I was able to do a lot more teaching these last two weeks, I learn so much with every lesson. The lessons I taught over the past two weeks taught me what I need to work on in terms of classroom management, where we’re at as a classroom community as well as a lot about pacing, team teaching and things about individual students.

I also feel like I got to know my students better and I am feeling more like a part of the classroom community (not that I didn’t before, it’s just stronger now). Being around more has also made me feel more like  a part of the larger school community as well. I was able to get out and do a few observations in other classes this week as well as have more conversations with specialists and other staff about students. I’m looking forward to being back full-time and developing these relationships even more.

 


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Classroom Community

Over the past couple of weeks, classroom management has been a hot topic. As student teaching gets closer and closer, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my students are going to behave when my Cooperating Teacher is out of the room. I know that a huge part of the the classroom community is dependent on the relationships he has with the students. I’ve been worried that things will fall apart in his absence. As all these thoughts went through my head, the opportunity to test it out arose. My CT had a sub for the first time this school year. I wondered how behavior would change in his absence.

Overall, the students had a great day. But there were definitely some issues that came up and a few incidences that occurred that probably wouldn’t have if my CT had been there. I have been focusing on building relationships with these students since the beginning of the year and I know that it will continue to be a focus of mine. I’m a big believer in following a Positive Discipline method in the classroom (I used this approach in my preschool classroom and have seen how well it works). I’m figuring out how to translate my knowledge of Positive Discipline with 3 year-olds to something that will work well with 6th graders.

I’m also interested in helping create an environment that isn’t so dependent on the teacher. I came across this blog post by Jennifer Orr where she is thinking about the same issues. She raises the question of how to create communities that don’t fall apart when the teacher is gone. I wonder if finding ways for students to strengthen their relationships with each other would help. Would cultivating a stronger identity to the group/school help lessen the impact when the teacher absent?


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Anonymous no more

Community is a longtime favorite topic of mine. Yesterday, as I was driving to class I spent some time reflecting on community and personal experiences. I attended a fairly large high school and college. There were times that I felt I was anonymous. I liked this anonymity. Or, rather, I thought I did. As I got into smaller classes and had classes with more and more of the same people, I realized that I felt more comfortable and that I was in a place where I belonged. When I joined Peace Corps, I still had notions that I enjoyed being an anonymous person in the crowd. Through my Peace Corps training I learned a lot about the importance of community, we had to get to know the people and places where we lived in order to do any work. Getting to know the people in your community was a primary goal. Moving to a small rural village shattered any speck of anonymity I had left. Everyone knew me and the village was so small we all had a good idea of people’s personal lives and habits too. This helped me feel like I belonged (as did all the home-cooked meals, warm greetings and friendly smiles).

I started thinking about this subject in the first place because of a new mentoring program at my school. Every teacher was asked to pick a few students to mentor. The teacher would visit the children they picked when they had the time (during planning periods and recess) and get to know them on a more personal level. The idea is to move beyond academics and get to know the whole child. This is such a great way to foster community and support students. Not only will the teachers get to know the school community better by visiting other classes and getting to know more students, these children will feel like this school is a place where they belong, a place they are known. I think we all are more successful in this type of environment.


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The Wall!

Before the break, I was really looking forward to heading back to my main placement for a week. I ended up having a great week. I appreciated the chance to reconnect with my students, to see the progress they made and all the projects they were working on. The school I’m at had a big influx of students this past year and as a result, many classrooms are in portables. Being in a brand new portable has a few advantages, mostly heat and air conditioning related. I realized while I was back, that our class is kind of isolated though. Whenever I walk through the main halls of the school, I find myself lingering over the vibrant displays of student work. My students aren’t getting the opportunity to share their work in such a public way. Back in the portable, there was some student work displayed, but wall space was pretty much all used up. With the permission of my cooperating teacher, I decided what we needed to help this situation was a big space devoted to student work. A place that could highlight projects and work that students were proud of and one that would be immediately visible to any visitors coming in.

The Wall!   My Cooperating Teacher thought it would be a good idea to have the students name this new space. We started with a few suggestions, The Wall of Awesome, The Wall of Epic. As a class we brainstormed for several minutes and came up with many ideas: The Wall of !, The Wall of Fabulousness/Stuff/Greatness/Talent. This is sixth grade we’re talking about, so we also had the Wall of Swag, OMG! and Yolo! (of course). In the end the class voted and decided on The Wall!

I’m looking forward to seeing the showcased work when I return next week. I hope this gives the students in this class a bit of the recognition they deserve. When summer rolls around and I’ve had Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” stuck in my head for six months, I’m sure I’ll be appreciating the air conditioning in the portable even more.

UPDATE (2/9/14): The Wall!

It took me awhile, but I was finally able to get more than a few papers up on the “The Wall!”. The students in my class just completed a writing unit on Inclusion. This was a powerful unit and the students did a lot of deep thinking about empathy and understanding. Their final project for the unit was a five paragraph essay on the topic. They worked hard on these papers and I think every student wrote a paper they can be proud of. Yesterday, I hung all the papers up. As the students filed in this morning, more than a few gasped. They actually gasped! My cooperating teacher noticed a few students walk over to touch their paper. My teacher even invited parents to come check out the essays, if they were ever in the neighborhood. I loved it!


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One Less Chore

Blogging has become much more enjoyable for me over the past few months. When I began this blog last spring, I always felt like it was one more item on my to-do list. I would think and think about what to write. Often I would end up not feeling very passionate about writing anything. Honestly, it felt like a  chore. Luckily, I don’t feel that way now. I think the change came from being able to write about the things I am experiencing, not just things I am reading about. There have been many times this quarter where I see or experience something in a classroom that I want to reflect on through writing. The feedback I’ve received has helped me take on a different perspective and helped me think about issues more deeply.

I’ve also been enjoying reading the blogs of my classmates. I can see the same passion coming through for them as well. Across the cohort, blogging has taken more of a conversational tone and we are all growing as educators because of it. I’ve enjoyed all the questions people are raising. The championing of positive experiences have been a lot of fun to read too: the lessons that went well, the child who was reached through an activity, the teacher with a great idea.

Blogging has been a way to have conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. We have limited time with each other and even more limited time to discuss our experiences out in classrooms. I think blogging is a great way to strengthen a community as well. Ideas are shared, common experiences are uncovered and by making ourselves vulnerable at times, we are able to build trust. I’ve seen commiseration, joy and a lot of support coming through in the blog conversations these past few months.

I have a long way to go to becoming a “blogger” (maybe a capital B blogger?), but at least I am enjoying the process.


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Giving Thanks

This week has provided me a much needed break and the time for reflection that goes with it. I was thrilled to able to spend time with family and friends. During the Thanksgiving meal I had with my family, we went around the table taking turns sharing what we were thankful for this year. There were some humorous responses, some serious. Lots of mentions of being thankful for good health, family and friends. When it was my sister’s turn, she told us she was so thankful to be part of such a supportive family and not only that but to have a group of friends and even the support of the small town she lives in. She told us that while she has been going through a tough time, this support had made all the difference. I felt proud of my sister to take this opportunity to share her feelings in a real way, one that made her vulnerable. I also felt proud that I was part of this community.
Of course, community is one of my favorite topics and I spend a lot of time thinking about it. From this Thanksgiving meal, I thought again about how I can help foster a sense of community like the one my sister spoke of. How can I help create a place for my students to feel safe and cared for. I was reminded of how Ayers (2001) speaks of the importance of community in To Teach:
“I believe that people learn best when they are nurtured as well as challenged, when they are allowed to explore, experiment, and take risks. We learn when we feel good about ourselves and others, when we trust the environment and the people in our lives, when we are safe.” (p. 60). I’ve carried this quote with me and look forward to learning more about how to foster this kind of environment.