Part of the Process

Thoughts on becoming a teacher.


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Feedback

Looking back over the quarter, one of the areas where I have grown the most is with feedback. I wasn’t always comfortable with feedback. I worried that I wouldn’t respond well to what someone was saying, or that I would take it too personally. I’ve come to see feedback as a gift. When someone gives me thoughtful feedback, I see it as a gift of their time and energy. The feedback that I have received from classmates, professors and my Cooperating Teacher, Principal and Field Instructor has been so valuable to me. Gaining insight from these individuals has expanded my thinking, deepened my perspective and allowed me to justify my own position at times. I’ve also been able to take this feedback to set growth goals for myself.

This feedback is part of the larger process of being reflective. I feel that I have become more reflective as I move through this program. I’ve been able to get to know my students better over the past several weeks and a lot of this is due to reflection. Almost everyday after school, my CT and I sit and talk about how the day went, specific students and general plans for the future. We don’t get much down in writing in the plan book, but this reflective process has been so powerful. I’ve been able to use what I’ve uncovered to help plan lessons and differentiate my instruction for specific students.

I look forward to translating this new approach to feedback to benefit my students. I’m planning on building in more opportunities to give my students feedback. I hope they will use this as an opportunity to think more deeply about their own learning and to take more ownership.

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More on the power of relationships…

As I was reading through some of the blogs I follow this morning, I came across this post by Katherine Sokolowski. She saw a picture of a book that she had read as a second grader and it reminded her of the powerful role her teacher played in her life that year. I thought it was a great reminder of the power a teacher can have, but what drew me to her post was the picture of the book. My cooperating teacher read the same book to our 6th graders on the first day of school this year and has read the book to all the kindergarten classes in the school. I loved that this simple book has served to strengthen relationships!


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Grumpy

I have a student, Derrick*, in my class who is never without his “Grumpy” (the dwarf) sweatshirt. This sweatshirt is often a quite literal reflection of his mood. I know that school is not an easy place for Derrick. Derrick struggles. He is several grade levels behind in reading. I have seen him work diligently on a project for 45 minutes, make a small mistake, and then just throw the whole thing away. Derrick has a good relationship with my cooperating teacher (he was in his class last year too). I know that he enjoys his time in the Learning Center as well. Derrick loves to stay in during recess, and will talk your ear off about his hobbies and interests. But, here is my struggle: every time I try to check in with him during work time he just shuts down. He often works himself up to the point where he is breaking his mechanical pencils into pieces or scratching holes into his paper.

I’ve been having a mental wrestling match with myself. I want Derrick to know that I care about him and as his teacher, I can’t let him sit idly by. I know that relationships and trust are built over time, but on the other hand I don’t want him to think that it is okay to sit and break pencils if I ask him how he is doing. On Tuesday, we had an incident where this happened and I could tell that Derrick was having a hard time for most of the day after that. I tried to be understanding, to let him know that I understood that he was frustrated. My CT thinks that he probably doesn’t want me to see how much he is really struggling, that its hard for him to admit it.

I decided to just try to connect with Derrick at times when I could see that he wasn’t frustrated. He stayed in during recess on Thursday and it was just the two of us. We had the chance to talk about why he likes the Learning Center, more about his hobbies (seriously hard to get a word in, once he gets going!) and about some of the writing we have been working on. The next day he asked me for help in math. I’m not saying that Derrick and I are great terms yet, or that we can put the broken pencil days behind us, but it felt like a small step in the right direction.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Derrick this week, wondering what I should do. I’ve leaned heavily on Faber and Mazlich’s ideas in How To Talk So Kids Can Learn, and some of the principles of Positive Discipline that I used in my preschool class. Honestly, I’ve been frustrated, but I’ve also tried to look at things from Derrick’s perspective and practice empathy.

*a pseudonym

***UPDATE***

I’m happy to say that Derrick and I are on really good terms now. I think what really helped our relationship is my learning how to anticipate his reaction to things better. When I got to know him better, I knew what his triggers were. This allowed me to talk with him before an assignment or unit to come up with a plan together. For example, when I was planning to teach probability in math I knew he would become frustrated right from the start because it involves so much reading. We were able to talk about it and I let him know that I would be there to support him and he could choose to work with a partner as well. The following weeks went really well for him and he was happy to help motivate his partner to get work done too. When I look back on our relationship, I feel really good about how far we’ve come. It feels good to be a trusted adult in this student’s life. I hope that through our experience, we will feel at least a little more trusting of teachers as he moves onto to Junior High next year.


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Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls

I recently read this article, by Scott D. Farver in Education Week about the importance of language in teaching. I was especially interested because he is writing about something that I frequently do myself. I know that the words we choose as teachers are important, but I have chosen to mostly ignore my usage of the word “guys”. I have often walked up to a group of mostly girls and said, “How are you guys doing?” or “What do you guys think?” (Now that I am paying closer attention, I realize just how frequently I say it.)

Several years ago, the child care center were I taught was undergoing National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)  accreditation. As part of this process, teachers were urged to pay closer attention to the language we used.  I remember how hard it was to break the habit of calling children by nicknames and endearments (the reasoning behind this was to ensure that children were being treated equally). Slowly I was able to wean all the buddys and sweethearts out of my daily speech. But, what I didn’t agree with was the use of guys. I felt like it was almost a cultural thing and I didn’t feel like it was detrimental to girls. So I have kept using it.

After I read the article in Education Week, I have come across other people talking about this issue. I know there are other ways we can address the students in our classrooms. I use names whenever possible, but often fall back on using “guys” when talking to a group. I’ve heard of teachers using a term related to the subject they are teaching (ie. “Mathemeticians” or “Artists”), but something about that doesn’t quite feel right for me. I also couldn’t envision myself saying “Boys and Girls” to address a group.

Is the use of “guys” inappropriate? Does it send the wrong message to the girls in the class? Does it make the classroom environment too informal and send a message that I am not taking the learning seriously?


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Hopes and Fears

The beginning of a new quarter and a new school placement (dyad), not to mention a new ipad and everything that entails has my mind abuzz. Through all this I have found myself thinking of my students at my main placement quite a bit.

Throughout the month of September, there was one boy in particular that I often thought about. So I was especially saddened when I received an e-mail from my Master Teacher (MT), saying that he had moved and would hence go to another nearby school. This boy had my MT last year and had made incredible progress in reading and in math. They developed a close relationship and things started to turn around for this student. I think he saw that his teacher cared about him and that he could have academic success if he tried. My MT was moved up a grade in part because of the relationship he had formed with this boy.

This experience has me thinking about he power of personal relationships, and I just worry that he won’t find that at his new school. I hope this student will choose to keep working hard and will do well in his new school. I hope he will carry the experiences he had with his previous teacher with him and continue to strive for success.