Wednesday, December 07, 2005

As I evaluate my first full semester in the Mississippi Teacher Corps, I instantly recognize the ups and downs. In general, I found the classes helpful with few exceptions. The most helpful class was my science methods course. Dr. Maddox was extremely generous with his time. At the start of every class, he would hand out full labs complete with directions for teachers, students and questions designed to further student thinking. This was beneficial because we didn't have to create our own labs, which as any science teacher can tell you, is a royal pain. However, the one problem that I had with this class was in the content. The textbook that we read stressed inquiry. Of course inquiry is important in science but I am having a tough time coming to terms with it in my school. I've tried some short inquiry labs with my students but almost all of them ended in chaos. The first two inquiry labs, ended with desks and lab tables a complete mess and very little learning. The next two inquiry labs went much smoother after I got strict on discipline but again, they ended with very little learning because they saw the entire period as a socializing event. I am not required to do many labs in my class and as a result of the first four inquiry labs I tried I have been doing fewer and fewer labs. In the back of my mind, I feel as though I may be leading my students astray without pushing for inquiry, but if I stick to more directive methods of teaching, I am assured that most of my students will get something out of the lesson.

While the amount of homework in my scinece class was a little overwhelming at times, I thought the assignments helped us get in touch with our inner scientist, which is a little bit more than I can say for the morning class...EDSE 600 right? Don't get me wrong, I learned some great information in this class, but I thought the 10 day lesson plan fiasco to be a bit stressful and meaningless. I spent hours upon hours typing up that 10 day lesson plan but I really couldn't use it at all. Personally, I find it difficult to teach from an STAI lesson plan, and so short of taking bits and pieces of it and incorporating it into my lessons, it was worthless to me. I think we proved that we know how to do a 10 day lesson plan (at least to some extent) over the summer when we completed our three day. Either way, I know it had a purpose, but that purpose was kind of lost in the stress of the project.

What I did find very useful in EDSE 600 was the lesson on getting to know your students. It involved us finding statistics on our student population. What I found out was a real eye-opener. A very small percentage of our students actually go on to a four year university, let alone graduate from it. Because of these statistics, I have been talking quite a bit about college in my classes. I feel that if I try to tie together high school and college so that it feels as though it's just the next step for my students down the path, more of them will attend. I know for a fact that one of my juniors is looking into four year universities because I have excited him with talk about playing for a major football team.

All in all, the classes were quite helpful, but of course with any class there are going to be things that some people find useful and others do not. By no means do I think this past semester was a wash. It really pushed me to consider the situations in which my students find themselves and it gave me ideas to use in my science classroom. That's all I was really hoping for!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Everything I wanted but nothing I expected-Looking back on the summer

In reading over my blogs posted this summer, I am mortified. What was I thinking? I seemed so certain in my teaching abilities. "I'll be a great teacher." " I just need to visualize myself succeeding." " I never let anyone sleep in my class." Before I acutally started teaching full time, I had more confidence in myself. It seemed as though I had all the right answers. Now, when it comes to deciding what to do with my students who are failing, I am unsure. Are they failing because they have trouble paying attention? Are they failing because they are not doing their homework? Or is it all my fault? Am I the reason their failing? I have found that as I moved deeper and deeper into the year, I became more unsure of myself. As the stakes became higher and my students jumped in number from a summer school classroom to 5 periods packed with 30 students each, began to be more cautious.

In a way, this is a good thing. I now realize the importance of my job and I do not take it lightly. I would no longer call myself a successful teacher. In fact, until all my students are passing, I will not feel like a success. There is always something to strive for. My summer blogs contained a hint of arrogance, like I had it all figured out. Well, let me be the first to say that I still don't have it all figured out.

I think the Mississippi Teacher Corps does a good job of building confidence before throwing you into the fire, so to speak. I felt confident and ready for that first day of school, so why don't I feel confident and ready for the 90th day of school? I am a perfectionist at heart. I can't stand to fail. So when 20% of my students are failing my class, I feel as if I'm failing as well. I think this is one of the main differences between the past summer and the present. During the summer, I didn't have to worry about students failing my tests because it was summer school and everybody ends up passing in the end. Right now, however, I can spend hours with a student in a one-on-one setting until I'm absolutely sure he understands the material and then 3 days later he'll fail the test because he won't even answer half of the questions.

In my July blogs, I remember commenting on the Reluctant Disciplinarian. "The best tool for me is going to be good old fashioned experience, not some book." Well, now that I have experience I find myself incorporating ideas from the book. I guess I spoke too soon.

One thing that was right on target was that I do love teaching. In many of my blogs, I sounded a lot more upbeat than my current blogs. Most of the recent blogs stem from sheer exhaustion. However, that has not changed. I didn't join the teacher corps because I love teaching. The truth is, I hadn't had very much experience teaching before coming to Mississippi. However, the teacher corps showed me how great teaching can be and that hasn't changed. I live for the "ah ha" moments that students occasionally share with me. I love when a student comes to my class and can't wait to share what he or she did over the weekend because it had to do with Physical Science. Teaching is my life and there are so many ups and downs but the ups make all the downs worth every second. Just the other day, one of my students confided in me that he was having serious problems at home. He can't seem to stay awake in class, but when he does, I can tell he's been crying. I am so proud that I can serve as a confidant for this student. What makes me so special? Why me and not another teacher? I don't really know but he feels that he can trust me.

Teaching is an amazing profession, and while I may have been a little arrogant this summer, I feel that the summer training I received has really given me the eyes to see all the good in my students and for that I am grateful.

2 more weeks!

Ug...I'm exhausted and definitely ready for a break! You know, when I first moved down here and discovered that we had to start school at the beginning of August I thought it was absolutely insane. Where I am from, school starts over a whole month later around Labor Day. Now, I am nothing short of grateful that I have a little over two weeks of rest coming my way. Unfortunately, my students want it even more than I do and some of them have taken an early holiday. Today was particularly frustrating. During my Environmental Science class, my students were taking a chapter test. In the short 48 minutes of class time, six cell phones went off, 5 of them with Christmas carol ring tones and the other with the latest Black Eyed Peas song. Our school's policy on cell-phone is firm. Teachers cannot hear them or see them. If we do, we must take them up and run them to the office (which is probably the furthest point from my room and not even in the same building). The student's parents must come to the school and pick the phone up. I agree that cell phones are a problem in schools but this rule creates leads to an influx of whiney students who all of a sudden begin to need their phone for safety reasons. Plus teachers are supposed to find the time to run phones all the way to the office between classes...yeah right.

In my third period, I had two students get in a verbal (thank God!) fight about when Santa Clause comes to the new Southaven mall and who Santa Clause really is. Apparently it's some "crunk, drunk, punk who's the bre of a dude named Jale “who "knows" the cousin of one of my students. He's been in and out of prison twice and also just so happens to be the boo of one of my other students. Half of the time I have no idea what my students are saying. It's like a foreign language coming out of their mouths. And to think that two students were getting ready to fight over this? Oh, to be in high school again. Oh wait, I am.

Two more weeks. Right now I'm struggling with absences and catching students up. It seems like just as I catch them up on their tests, they decide to miss a week of school. I'm also trying to prepare students for finals. My school has this policy which allows students to exempt out of exams if they have a B or higher in their class and only two absences for the entire semester. I’m sad to report, between failing grades and many absences, I think only a handful of my students will be able to exempt.

It never ends. The paper work, the lesson planning, the managing of the classroom, the absolutely pointless faculty meetings and my epic battle with the copy machine. I’m exhausted and looking forward to sleeping away my holiday break.

On the bright side, I think I have finally found a way to increase student achievement in my classroom. Previously I was spending about two weeks on a chapter before I gave my students a test on the material. Sure, I gave a few quizzes here and there to keep them on their toes but it didn’t seem to work. So I decided that I would do away with chapter tests all together. Instead, I split the chapter in half and give a 50 pt quiz every Friday. By giving a quiz, students find that the amount of material is much more manageable. I have had more A’s on these past three quizzes than I had on all the chapter tests from the entire semester. Isn’t that awesome? I’m so proud of my students.

How’s that for ending on a good note? Gotta go!
Happy Holidays!