Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Summer School Reflections II

Because I like to end on a positive note, I'm going to start with things I'd like to see changed about Summer School, but before I do that, let me start with a brief overview. I can't say that summer school wasn't interesting this year. It had its ups and downs, and yes, I'm trying to build suspense before I tell you what those were. Actually I'm trying to hit the minimum number of words. Ok, let me get to the point.

Things that need to be changed (Cons):

1.) Put two second years in a room. Honestly, I think Dave O. got the shaft this year and had to do way more than many other second years.

2.) I got very little out of summer school for two main reasons.
a.) We had two students for the whole month. What is that going to teach our first years? Classroom management was a breeze for everyone involved. Some of the biggest problems our first years will have next year are going to relate to classroom management. Summer school is giving my first years a false sense of security. They think they are management goddesses but they have two students. Even the best teachers struggle with management when you cram 30 students into a small classroom.
b.) I'm not teaching anything that I will teach next year. Therefore all the lesson plans that everyone is producing, even me, will be useless to me. In fact, they will be useless to 33% of our first years because they are not teaching their subject area.

3.) Second years are getting very little out of this deal. We're not really teaching all that much (maybe 15 lessons all together) so the practice isn't really worth the month of 35 hour weeks. We're not really getting laptops (I think it's dead in the H2O.) which would be so very helpful during summer school and would allow us to integrate technology into our classrooms in the fall, something the delta desperately needs. We're not really getting paid for our efforts (a mere $200 TAXED stipend that in the end won't even cover half of my gas money to travel to Holly Springs.) Other summer school teachers are making thousands of dollars.

4.) This is the kicker. I don't feel it is a good use of my time to teach summer school. So many people in MTC told us that we should avoid teaching summer school at all costs. That was last year. This year, we're teaching summer school. It's so contradictory. We've been teaching for 12 months straight if you could last summer's teaching during summer school. We need a break.

Now for the good things (Pros):

1.) We're getting practice...kind of. Practice is almost always good.

2.) It's better than sitting in some class in Oxford.

3.) And the best pro of all, the kids are really learning. We're providing an excellent (practically free service) for these kids and they are getting some great instruction. It's probably the best thing that ever happened to our two students. There is a 2.5:1 teacher to student ratio. Where else in the world will you get that? It may look like the cons outweigh the pros but seeing their learning makes summer school all worthwhile.

And that's my 2 cents...

Monday, June 26, 2006

My blessings...You said we could write about anything we wanted...

Summer school is almost over. June is almost over. It seems as though my summer is almost over and it hasn't even begun yet! Life moves so quickly lately. It's a bit unsettling to me because I value it so much. Yeah, I know. Of course I value it. Who wouldn't? But honestly, I just feel so blessed in this life that it's difficult to truly wish away a day.

I am blessed to have been accepted into the Mississippi Teacher Corps. While I have my bad days just like the rest of my peers, I am blessed to affect the lives of children in a positive way. I have had so much respect for teachers, at all levels, for the work they do. They don't get paid much, they work long hours, and many of them are shown little respect by their students every day yet they keep coming back for more. I'm proud to be part of their ranks.

I'm blessed with an untamable sense of drive towards my dream of becoming a physician, and I'm blessed with an opportunity to pursue that dream at a medical school near my family in Wisconsin.

I'm blessed with all of my peers, great teachers, great friends and really great people. You can't say that about everyone. They're fantastic human beings and every day seem to amaze me.

I am blessed with a loving family who supports my every whim, including putting off my dreams of going to medical school to move across the country, to Mississippi of all places, and teach at risk students. They have never failed me. Just this past weekend, my mother gave up 24 hours of her day to drive down to Mississippi only to drive back 3 hours later with my fiancé because it was her first time navigating her way across the country. My older brother dropped everything to come and help me move to a new apartment. My family is always there to give me emotional support for those days that I actually do wish away. They are amazing.

My greatest blessing is my fiancé, Andrea. While MTC, my dreams of medical school, my fellow corps members and my family keep me going, Andrea is the reason I'm living in the first place. Not literally of course, but she's the reason I'm in MTC, she's the reason I met all of you, she's the reason I keep chasing my dreams. She's leaving me next year to pursue her own dream to become a writer. Look for her books coming to a bookstore near you! She's going to be great, I just know it. What I don't know is how I'm going to survive next year without her here with me in Mississippi. I've never lived more than a mile away from her since we started dating. It's going to be my greatest challenge yet.

My life is blessed. I love it.

Corporal Punishment

When I began the year I knew nothing of corporal punishment except what I saw in old 60's and 70's movies in which the nun is paddling the student for saying the Lord's name in vain. As far as I knew, it was a punishment of the past, no longer used in today's schools. All of my "misconceptions" about corporal punishment seemed to be contradicted when it was mentioned in Ms. Monroe's class. In fact, I remember doing a double take when I heard that it was still used. Truly we had stepped into the past. Well, maybe the Delta was still hanging on to old times, but surely Southaven High school at the top of Mississippi, a suburb of Memphis wouldn't employ such barbaric tactics to curb misbehavior. Wrong again. Yes, even Southaven, not really a city you think about when the Delta comes to mind, employed corporal punishment. It was absolutely absurd.

Many of us non-Mississippians, especially us Yankees, have been drilled with literature that corporal punishment, really any form of physical beating if you will, even spanking, is detrimental to the psychological development of a child. What's more is this really what we want to teach our children; that hitting is ok? Geeze, these students will turn into child abusers or end up beating their spouses! Again, corporal punishment? Absurd! It cannot be healthy.

So I thought. I am proud to say that I have not implemented corporal punishment; it's definitely not one of my consequences. Personally, I don't agree with it for the above reasons but that really doesn't mean that I'm for its eradication. I've had to witness corporal punishment several times and I've come to the conclusion that it really depends on the student. Sometimes it seems warranted, other times it is not. Let me repeat myself, I would never employ it as a punishment because I don't believe it is helping the child; however, just because I don't believe it is helping the child doesn't mean that it is an ineffective way to curb misbehavior. In fact, in some cases, I've seen it completely alter a child's misbehavior patterns.

I guess you could say that my views have changed in that I accept it as a reality of the Delta and, as I’ve learned, many other parts of the country. I’m not really sure if it works or doesn’t because I haven’t been in the profession long enough to see significant changes in individuals who were exposed to it compared with those who weren’t. All I know is that I would never personally lay so much as a finger on a child in my classroom.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Morale Slipping

I have to be honest; I've never seen morale so low among my peers in the Mississippi Teacher Corps. It seems like every day there is something new that someone isn't happy about. Some of the most recent complaints I've heard include "the online class is pointless," "we're practically working ourselves to the bone over summer for free," "we're never going to get these laptops," "blogging is stupid," "I have a (insert special event here) to plan! I don't have time for this." Oh, the list goes on. To some extent, it bothers me because I've never heard so much pessimism in my life, but at the same time, I think my peers have valid arguments.

I will admit that I've voiced some complaints as well, mainly about the class we are taking online. I thought it was supposed to be about integrating technology into the classroom, but everything I've read so far has to do with how we transfer knowledge to novel situations and how infants acquire knowledge. There hasn't been mention of technology at all throughout the course and I only have a week and a half left. Even though some of these things get to me a little just because I feel like I should be using these academic courses to improve my teaching in my own classroom, I'm going to try and take a backseat to the negativity.

I'm going to be a shoulder to lean on for my peers, but I hope that we can all put this in perspective. It’s tough being guinea pigs for MTC, but someone has got to do it. How is this program ever going to get better if changes aren’t made? I don’t want to spend my precious vacation time teaching summer school any more than the rest of my peers but the fact of the matter is, it’s practice, and it is helping most of us become better teachers whether we have 2 students or 22 students, whether we’re teaching our subject matter or teaching a subject we’ll never teach again. Practice makes perfect. We owe it to our students to be perfect.

I'm not really sure what to do about the low morale. All I know is that this program has potential to be an amazing program for both the participants involved and the students we teach. Of course, that is the goal of the MTC administration; to make this the best alternate route teacher certification program in the country. Their hearts are in the right place, but it’s really not up to the administration as much as it is up to the teachers that make up the program. We are responsible for making this program great. The administrators may provide needed leadership (even if it’s not the kind of leadership we always would like) but it’s up to us to get in the trenches and teach disadvantaged students. We make the difference. We cannot make as great of a difference if we’re constantly fighting the administration.

What’s more, to all you administrators out there, you need to work with us too. I’ve been watching from the sidelines over the past three weeks and it seems to me that we’re being treated like high school students rather than graduate students and the teachers that make the difference in this program. I wish we could get over the highlighting of names (and for gosh sakes people, just show up on time even if you’re sick of 20 minutes worth of announcements); I wish I’d never have to hear how “pissed off” the program coordinator is at the group (if you're upset with someone, take him/her aside and talk to him/her like an adult please). Let’s revitalize the need for professionalism. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the program and we owe it to the students we teach.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What I will do differently this year

The one thing that I will do differently this year is to spend more time driving home my procedures and my rules. Last year I didn't spend as much time on this because I honestly didn't know how rough it could be if I didn't spend time describing each little aspect of what I expected. This year I plan to literally act out my procedures. For my procedures to enter the room before class, I will ask the whole class to go out in the hall and line up against the wall. Then I will continually have the students enter the room according to my procedure until they get it absolutely perfect. There will be no room for students to question my expectations. I also plan on being more firm as I describe my rules to the class. Last year I assumed my students would be respectful because I have rarely been in a school with disrespectful kids. I will no longer make those assumptions.

Another change will come in the form of instruction. More group work, more collaboration. It is clear that students seem to do better when they can talk out complex lessons with their peers. Again, because of management difficulties, last year I was hesitant to allow students to work in groups. I didn't know if they could handle it. Because of the changes I will implement at the outset, I don't foresee having this problem next year.

What's more is that I want to use different instructional techniques. More demonstrations, more class involvement. I felt as if my students were just a bunch of robots last semester. I needed to get them up and out of their seats and get them involved in the lesson. My biggest challenge will be connecting Physical Science to the real world. It's very difficult to make the concept underlying transformers (not the cartoon) applicable to things they do in their everyday activities. Next year, I will find a way to bring Physical Science into their lives whether it’s through video, power point presentations, examples. We’re talking quite a bit in our online class about the transfer of knowledge from the classroom to the real world.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Comments on Summer School

I'm about a week into teaching summer school and I've been teaching every day so far. It's ok, but it's not how I envisioned my summer to be. I just don't understand why MTC told us so adimantly last year that we should never teach summer school and then instructs us to do the exact opposite this year. Honestly, I don't even remember which member of the program gave us this advice but many MTC members remember hearing it. It's alright though. I'm trying to make the best out of the situation. I know that it just provides extra practice for me as a teacher and to some small extent will help me improve. Unfortunately, for the second summer in a row I'm teaching a subject that I've never taught before and will never teach again so much of what I do on a daily basis is useless to me. What's more is that my class is comprised of two kids (two wonderful kids at that). Again, I see some benefit albeit very small for the first years who are just beginning their teaching careers. It seems to me that they are becoming more confident each day which is a great thing especially going into teaching cold turkey, but I honestly feel that at least a few of them are going to have a mental breakdown when suddenly they are standing in front of 30 high schoolers staring right back at them. I feel really bad for my first years. Moreover, we have absolutely no management problems in our class. I mean, come on. There are two students and five teachers. It isn't often that the students are outnumbered. If I were in their situation, I wouldn't make so much as a peep throughout all four periods. Our first years are not learning any practical management skills in our class, nor do they have the opportunity to test some of the management skills they are learning in Ms. Monroe's class. It's unfortunate.

Now I'm not placing any blame on anyone in the corps but I just so see this summer school project as benefitting any of the teacher. Who it does benefit is the kids. I think our students are extremely lucky to have such individualized instruction. It's probably the best thing to happen to these kids since sliced bread, even though they would never agree. In fact, it is the fact that I see these kids improving that gets me up in the morning.

More comments coming in the future including comments about the slop they try to pass off for lunch down here. Gross! I miss Annies!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Five Pieces of Advice for First Years

As many of you first years will learn in the upcoming weeks, you'll be bombarded with so much information that you'll begin to second guess yourself from the get-go. I'm writing this blog to contribute to all of that. Luckily for you, since these blogs are relatively permanent, you'll have this to refer to when things start to calm down in late September or early October. So, here are my words of wisdom:

1.) As difficult as it may be, don't stress out about things you cannot control. For instance, unexpected schedule changes. I'm telling you, your daily schedule will change at the drop of a hat. You'll be expected to restructure lesson plans on the fly or go chaperone someone elses class while still teaching your own...yeah, figure that one out! Things may (rather, will) get messy. Don't stress, it's beyond your control.

2.) Take things seriously but not so seriously that you psych yourself out. When you really take time to stop and think about the responsibility you have towards 150 + kids, it suddenly becomes this inescapable weight on your shoulders. For those of you who are coming straight from college, more will be expected of you than ever before. Many of you are not used to this kind of pressure. Try not to think about it. Just take things one day at a time, and soon your responsibility won't seem so daunting.

3.) If possible, get direct deposit. Our school district would hold checks over our head and make us jump through hoops of fire to get them. If you have direct deposit, you're good to go.

4.) Hook up with someone special. This may sound silly but the one truth I've taken from this first year is that I could not have survived without a shoulder to lean on. My finace pulled me up when I was feeling low and kicked me in the behind when I got lazy. She also gave me a reason to put down the endless stack of papers and tests and realize that I had a life outside of school. This should really be number one but I'm too lazy to copy and paste.

5.) Have patience. Students will drive you nuts even if you're Mother Thersea reincarnated. Deep down they appreciate you but I guarantee you they will rarely show it. Throughout the entire first year, I thought I wasn't making a difference. It wasn't until the last day of school when I actually saw the fruits of my endless efforts. Hang in there.

Best of luck newbies. You'll do just fine.