Thursday, December 23, 2010


Holy cow, this job is hard.

I will be back to share stories from my first quarter and a half after a few days of break. :) I don't think I have ever appreciated teachers as much as I do today. I still feel like I'm on the outside looking in, trying to learn about and understand the "secret world" of teachers. It really is this incredible, incredible profession.

Thank you, teachers and happy, happy holidays :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Letter to my Students

Dear 3rd MOD,

When I was growing up, I didn't want to teach - I wanted to become a doctor. I thought that this would be a good thing to do because doctors save and change lives. Also, I liked studying science, doing experiments and learning about the body so I decided that I should be a doctor. I also wanted to be a doctor because my parents wanted me to be a doctor. When you grow up in a traditional Asian household, your parents always want you to be something that makes a lot of money like a doctor or a lawyer. (In case you are wondering, a teacher is not one of those jobs! TRUST ME!)

While I went to college to study biology (so I could become a doctor... and save the world), I started to tutor students at Paint Branch Elementary School in College Park. The kids that I tutored were very sweet and really wanted to learn, but they didn't have anyone at home to help them with their homework so they had trouble with reading, math and sometimes science. All of my students worked very hard to do their homework with me and I think that a lot of them will do well in school if they keep trying hard.

The next year I decided that I wanted to try to teach a science class so I signed up to teach science after school at Chillum Elementary. The kids there were very excited about doing experiments and I had a lot of fun teaching them about how fun science can be. That same year I began to work at Northwestern High School once a week with tenth grade biology students. This was my first time not working with elementary school kids and it was really different. The students were bored most of the time and their teacher told me that he wasn't going to teach them a lot because he didn't think they cared. This made me feel really bad for the kids because some of them were interested and all of them were not getting a very good education in biology.

Their teacher told me that I should not become a teacher because you have to deal with kids who don't want to learn. But his kids did want to learn, he just didn't know it.

The next year, I went to work at Forestville Military Academy (FMA) where I helped to teach biology (I really like biology) and environmental science. The teacher that I worked with was a very nice lady, but she didn't like teaching at her school at all. She REALLY thought the kids didn't care and because of that, she decided that she didn't care. Some days she would not teach them at all. That may sound cool to you to have so much free time, but it made me feel sad for the kids because they thought it was cool too, but really... they were not getting to be as smart as they could be. And if you don't become smart, you don't know very much about the world and you can't get a good job to help the world become a better place.

After working at FMA I decided that I wanted to be a teacher in PG County. Why? Because where I grew up, all of my teachers cared about me and taught me everyday. My teachers believed in me and wanted me to become smart so I could grow up and help to change the world. This is when I realized that doctors are not the only people who change and save lives. Teachers do the same thing every day. You may not know it, but because of a teacher (not necessarily me), you are better and smarter today than you were yesterday. And you are closer to becoming an adult who can contribute to PG County, or Maryland, or the U.S., or the world.

The teachers that I saw in PG County didn't care about their students becoming smarter and I thought that that was TERRIBLE. So I said, I will become a teacher, I will help my students become smarter to get good jobs to help change the world to a better place. Students in PG County are really smart. I think that some of them could one day help cure cancer or become president, but they can't do that if they don't have good teachers who help them to be smarter and to learn how to work hard. (Even if you have a GREAT teacher and you don't work hard, you can't get anywhere good!)

That's what I think about you guys. You all are very smart and you all can do GREAT things. You might need a little help to learn how to work hard and be nice. But that's what I'm here for. All I'm asking for is that you guys help me help you, because I can't do it alone! We have to help you get to where you want to be together.

Are you up to the challenge?


Ms. FF

Monday, November 22, 2010

What if...

there was not an administration and teachers split up administrative duties and decision making?

Just a thought. It seems that administration is often so far out of touch from the battle lines.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I am a Classroom Management Fail

It is week 12 of school.

I have two well-oiled classes and one absolute jungle.


In my third period, there are 11 SPED students and the only thing between them and their greasy, deep-fried lunch is my class. It's a class that I don't teach in my own classroom, so I know that my moving is part of the problem. I can never get there before my students do, even if I leave early from my second period and have my paraprofessional wrap-up, because they have second period in the same classroom. I am trying to have them wait outside of class in order for me to set up the room as I'd like it to be, we'll see how that goes. They were not pleased with it today. As I like to say, cry me a river.

My other problem is that I have my only four "problem children" in this period. Together. One is extreme ADHD who has meds but either doesn't take them or the effects wear off by my class. I have gotten legitimate work from him for MAYBE seven days of class. Other teachers have a similar problem, but I think he's the worst in my class. (Do I get a prize?) Other is an ED child who has three modes: 1. Does work with a paraprofessional sitting with him, 2. Does no work but doesn't disrupt the rest of class and 3. Does no work and is openly rude and angry. Mostly it's 2's and some 1's, but we've had some doozies with 3. Child #3 also has three modes: 1. Works quietly and does his work, 2. Works with the para and does his work, 3. Disrupts the class by not doing any work, walking out of class, hitting (never too violently) other students. 2's and 3's alternate with miracle days of mode 1. Last child came from the well-oiled math class I teach and his only "real" concern is that he and child #3 don't get along (they were both suspended for fighting with each other in October). They used to be in class together (my second period), but they were separated due to behavior concerns. But my administration has since reversed that thinking and has decided it's okay for them to be in the class together. Yay.

Additional problems: four of my students don't focus on their work if they don't have a teacher sitting with them and two of my students are very eager to complete their work and need constant reassurance on their work (they also ask for help every time they aren't sure about how to solve a problem, which is often, because they refuse to read or use their notes). My last student is very sweet and really wants to learn, but he really does need individual help and lots of repetition.

I need to become the differentiation master NOW. My "problem kids" are taking the focus onto them. When they are not in class, things run so much better, but since they are going to be in class, I need to figure something (anything) out.

In a nutshell:

1. I hate moving classrooms. I am a mess and so are the kids because they get to be without structure for five minutes of class transitions.
2. I don't know how to help all of these kids at the same time.
3. I need a good classroom management system. The talkers are taking over my class and stopping others from learning.
4. Any and all help appreciated.

I am redoing the seating chart with the five kids who need teacher support in order to progress to the front because in other places of the class, they tend to not do their work. I am putting the "problematics" in the middle of the class with my two paras alternating between them. And the two eager beavers in the back where they can move on and will be forced to ask each other and ask themselves rather than myself.

I hope it's a step in the right direction!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Waiting for Organization

I just came home from seeing Waiting for Superman (literally, I just got in the door) and though I know many people who have negative opinions of it, I liked it. At its worst, it reveals to unknowing viewers the tragedy that is our school system. At its best, it inspires viewers to want to do something about that tragedy.

The movie highlights several failing, "drop out factories" and offers up a few successful schools such as KIPP and Harlem Children Zone as suggestions for reform. And while I don't believe that charter schools are the solution, I think they are doing a lot of good work and hopefully will play a role ing leading us to a solution.

When I visited KIPP Gaston for a few days, I could feel that the school was different. Sure, there were some less than stellar teachers and less than enthused students, but the majority of the teachers were killing themselves over their jobs and that year, every student was accepted into a 4-year college. While I didn't agree with the idea of forcing students to apply to school, I love that they got the option of going to college and I hope that they gained perspective of their potential when they received their acceptance letters.

Most importantly, the movie added fuel to my new teacher fire. I am not a good teacher.

I don't suck, either, but saying "at least I don't suck" isn't going to help my students the least. Everyday that I fail to successfully teach my students, I am ultimately pushing them further back from reaching grade-level proficiency and widening that damn achievement gap. But what can I do? All I do is think about school (and admittedly, my lack of good sleep). Well, maybe I need to start doing more and thinking less.

So here are my thoughts in a bubble:

1. Bad teachers hurt not only their students, but the future of our world.

2. I don't want to be a bad teacher. I dread the idea of being one of the teachers who inspired me to teach in PG County.

3. For the most part, I am against tenure.

4. I think we need to start from the ground up. School-wide spring cleaning. Alternative governance or not, every teacher needs to reapply for their job. If you're a good teacher, it should be no sweat. You plan and teach a lesson well, you keep your job. Other school staff also needs to be reevaluated. So many schools suffer from a case of bad principal (who are good people who need another profession).

5. We don't need Superman. We need organization. PGCPS suffers from hoarding and chaotic disorganization. If you expect your students to be organized, prepared and well-planned for success, we must first model that. (I'm guilty.) Administration hardly ever seems as if they know what is going on, so how can teachers, and then, most importantly, students? It's the 9th week of school and students' schedules are still being worked out! Get it together, people. It seems as if our school is totally new and no systems for efficiency are in place.

6. This is going to take a while. Sometimes, well, often, it gets hard. I want to leave. I can't wait for two years to be up. But what is the point of me becoming a better teacher if I leave a place that truly needs better teachers? But at the same time, what is the point of me suffering in a suffocating school system? That is a rock and a hard place.

Monday, October 11, 2010

And onto Week 8

I can't believe it's only been 8 weeks since I started teaching. It feels as if I've been teaching for 8 years. But it's a good thing it really has only been 8 weeks, because I am certainly not the kind of teacher an 8 year veteran should be!

Everyday, I wake up with more appreciation for the teachers who taught me and supplied me with the knowledge to grow into the person I am today. Everyday, I make my students search for appreciation within themselves for the teachers in their lives. No, I'm not being vain (thank me, students!), because I still don't feel like a teacher. I still feel like a volunteer or a substitute, just hangin' out until their real teacher comes back. It's not that I haven't immersed myself fully in the being a teacher thing, it's just that everyday I feel that the role of a teacher grows more and more and I can't possibly imagine myself holding such an important position. I wonder if this is how Barack Obama feels.


So, as you can tell, it's nearly 6 am and have been awake since roughly 11 am. I really don't have this lesson planning, aligning to the standards thing down. That is one thing I wish our training would have stressed more. And thinking about it, there's a lot I really don't have down. My students took their first unit test and did not do stellar. However, the pretest scores were abysmal (22%) and at least they didn't fall below that. We are beginning unit 2 and I must be a better teacher. Many of my students have the potential to go to college and I want to help them get there.

If you wake up everyday with the reminder of what is on the line, it gets much easier to perform at your job.

So good morning, educators. Let's shape the children who shape the future today.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Still No Real Breakdown Yet...

...but I'm sure it's on its way...!

My last almost real breakdown came when I was on my way to school after a week of feeling completely overwhelmed by papers, lesson plans and extraneous teacher duties. I kept thinking that I was not made for Special Education, I'm not a miracle worker and there is just so much to balance for one person.

Well, that was last Thursday and I got over it. But, today is a new Thursday so that brings another almost real breakdown. I went to my co-teaching MOD this morning when my students were taking their second unit assessment. As they began to turn in their tests, I checked over their answers and returned their tests if they had wrong answers. (And they all did.)

While I did not give my students the answer, I wanted to probe them to give me the answer or at least an idea that they kind of got what we have been talking about for the last 30 days. A lot of them struggled. We were working on fractions, decimals and percents.

I gave a student back his paper and I turned my back to him. I wanted to cry. How can my students (even general ed) succeed with more complex topics when they cannot grasp a fourth grade basic skill?

This led me to wonder how in the world I got as far as I have in my education when my students have not. Is the education they have received up to now really that terrible? And if it is, then PGCPS needs good teachers more than ever. And I would like to be one of those teachers, but this environment is so unstable and disorganized, it's wearing on me and I can't imagine staying more than the two required years. I want to, but I don't know if I can actually take it.

On another note, MD IEP training makes me want to hurt myself. PGCPS, all because you throw technology and PD at us doesn't mean that it's well-used technology or good PD.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Quick One

NEW TEACHER TRAINING IS OVER. It is safe to say that of the other alternative teacher training programs, we were the best prepared to teach in the fall. I'm not trying to be cocky, but I'm dead serious. I am hard-pressed to think of anything new that I learned over the past three days. While our training was very county-specific, other groups were not and we feel very fortunate for the level of organization and helpful information that PGCTF provided us.

Three days, two happy hours, still lots of love for fellow Fellows.

Also, I finally got my classroom! I will be sharing it with two other special ed teachers, but I am excited. I will begin decorating tomorrow! Then, comes moving and then the last week before school. I am also feeling much better about the unpreparedness. I can only do so much with the info I have and I think I've done a good job. Best of luck to all teachers hitting the classroom this school year, especially the new ones!

Friday, August 6, 2010

I Love Advice for New Teachers.

It's time! With less than a few weeks left before I'm thrown into a classroom full of kids, I wanted to post up some teacher tips that I culled from other ed bloggers. Reading ed blogs has consumed my free time but I cannot describe how useful everyone's blogs have been (and so enjoyable to read all the stories, too!).

Thanks to Dee does the District for providing these excellent tips:

"1. Pack an extra change of clothes: ... pack a shirt and a pair of pants, ... undies, socks, and sneakers ... Not to mention toiletries, a hairbrush, floss, and a lint roller ...

2. There is no shame in taking a few mental health day: ... Yes, your students need you, but your mere presence is not going to close the achievement gap if you are stressed about other issues. From day one, you should have a substitute binder ... include a welcome letter, notes about each student and particular behaviors that they may exhibit, [contact info], who in the school they should consult with ... over any issues, as well as plans and work for the students ... list [your] best helper students who [can] be relied on to answer any questions ...
3. Kiss your Friday nights good-bye: ... You get up at 6:00 every morning, your body needs Friday night to recover. Just make it up on Saturday night!

4. Schedule a weekly dinner, and stick to it: Having a weekly dinner, preferably with teacher friends, is a nice thing to look forward to during the week. It [gives you] time to discuss ...problems, professional and personal, together and have a little fun.

5. Network with colleagues in, and out of, your school.

6. Have a plan: I cannot stress how important it is to have a plan. In fact, don’t just have a plan, have five. You can never be too prepared as a teacher. The worst possible scenario is having extra time: it’s a recipe for disaster. One thing I found helpful, was keeping student folders for each content area. Each individual folder was chock full of extra worksheets tailored to each student’s IEP goals and/or other areas of weakness. If one of my students finished his work early, he knew he could find extra practice in the folder. It doesn’t have to be super-intensive – give them some “fun” activities, too; their favorite worksheets were often word searches or crossword puzzles with recent key words they learned!

7. Be flexible: Having a plan is great, but even the best laid plans, especially in teaching, can go awry. You may think you have an AWESOME lesson, until you start, and no one gets it. You can either a) think on your feet and immediately change gears, or b) you shelve the lesson, in favor of something else. Go home, reflect, re-plan, and re-approach the topic again for the next day. (Again, it helps to have multiple plans!) I also learned how to be flexible when it became clear that special education classrooms didn’t get substitutes; I never knew when I might have five extra bodies in my room for the day.

8. Be patient, but not too patient: Despite the omnipresent feeling of urgency surrounding you, you need to be patient… with your students. I do caution you to not be too patient with the bullshit you encounter. Showing patience with your students is one thing, rolling over and accepting the status quo when it comes to their welfare and success, is another issue. My patience with children has multiplied exponentially this year, but my patience for the bureaucracy and for adults’ shenanigans, has worn thin. You are an agent of change, although I say this with a grain of salt. Truth be told, it will probably take you all year to establish credibility with your colleagues, but be patient, stick with it, be dependable, and be an advocate for your students; you will be rewarded ... 

9. Remember, it’s never the kids’ fault: there are so many reasons for why our children aren’t succeeding and aren’t on grade-level, but I do not believe it’s because of anything they did. Your responsibility as a teacher is to seek out their strengths and needs and their interests, and crack their codes. Every child can learn – I’ve seen it and you will see it. Similarly, if a kid comes in and tears up your classroom or curses you out, it’s almost never your fault: it’s some other factor that is being taken out on you. But, it’s your job to be the problem solver.

10. Most importantly, surround yourself with a group of people you can trust to be there for you. ... You need a group to be there to celebrate your highs and commiserate with during your lows ..."

and thanks to Harry Potter and the Urban School Nightmare for these tips:

"I tried a new management technique with my classes today that I heard about from a colleague. Essentially, you say that everyone who wants to learn sits in one half of the room, and everyone who doesn't want to learn sits in the other. Then you only teach the half that wants to learn. The great thing is that nobody is going to say, "Oh, I'm stupid. I don't want to learn." Because of course they do actually all want to learn. So then all the kids sit on the good side. But if they start talking or not working or putting their heads down, you say "I thought you wanted to learn? Which side do you want to sit on?" REVOLUTIONARY. I had children who have not done work all advisory actually learning! Of course, they could learn all along, but they weren't because they didn't ever have to make that choice. I'm going to keep this up."

Please, PLEASE, leave any helpful tips/advice you have for new teachers/teachers in general. I know I'm not going to be teacher of the year, but it would be helpful to hit the ground running :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

UPDATE: Job Found.

This is me, come August 23rd!
I have a job! :) The first interview went well and two of us are getting hired, as opposed to one. I'm really excited. It's going to be super fun.

Thank you all for following my rants and for (maybe) appreciating my current excitement.

Drumroll, Please... It's the Last Week (2 Days) of Institute!

Ahh, we have finally made it!! There are two more days of Institute left (and then several years of teaching...!). Tomorrow, we are all partaking in self-selected workshops (e.g. Disability Law, Technology in PGCPS, Interviewing Tips, etc.) and getting our final evaluations from our advisors. On Tuesday, we will have a final class session and then a closing ceremony, celebratory barbecue included.

And a celebration is indeed warranted. Last week was absolute craziness. Sunday night we had a ferocious storm in the Washington metropolitan area and thus, come Monday morning, many of our practice teaching schools had lost power or only had partial power. While we were in the building, the students were kept on the buses in case they had to be taken back home or to an alternate location with power. At one point, about a half hour since they had been there, we had to bring them off the buses and into the warm and slightly crispy building to wait for further instructions. About a half hour after that, we were told to move to a high school about ten minutes away. When we got there, we sat in the school's cafeteria because that was the only part of the building with both power and working a/c. So, in case you're not fully following, on the last week of our practice teaching, we were in a cafeteria with minimal supplies which we gathered from the previous school. Very little teaching was done, as you can imagine, but we did our best.

On Tuesday, we were still at the alternate location with no option to go to the previous school so the scant supplies that we had chosen to bring were our only options. Despite the conditions, the kids did really well and we actually got to teach in a more routine manner. Wednesday came and we arrived at our alternate school once again only to be told that we were back at the previous school and then told again that we were at the alternate school. There was much confusion. Wednesday was a good day because we had brought things from home for the kids and I got to teach science and we set up an impromptu viewing area for The Magic School Bus in the hallway. The kids were actually paying attention and learned the planets pretty well. (!!) Finally, come Thursday, our last day of practice teaching (yes, I feel prepared for 30+ students for 180 days now that I have been "teaching" for 15. And I say "teaching" because for the first two days of the 15, we were only allowed to observe and some days were interrupted by craziness.), our mentor teacher had said that we would not be teaching anything to the students and that we would spend the day having a pizza party.

Thus, my co-teacher and I didn't plan anything. When we came to school, lo and behold, our mentor teacher says, "What did you plan for today?"

Lady, we didn't plan shift, per your request!

As you can probably tell, I was not a fan of my mentor teacher. Through the face grabbing, the talking ill of the kids in front of them, the falling asleep during our lessons (even when the kids never fell asleep), the not doing any of the kids' or our evaluations on time, the telling us that we were doing 'okay' though she didn't do much of anything, etc., I was constantly reminded of the enemy I was fighting in PGCPS: complacent teachers who don't belong in the classroom. Or in the school system whatsoever for that matter. And I grew wary of the battle. I don't mean to be harsh, but I'm telling it like it is. You have no right to work with children when you choose not to put in the time to teach them. And if that is true, you certainly have no right to be our mentor.

Anyway, that's enough of that. For the most part, I did like the kids I got to work with, but I do doubt if I have enough patience to help them excel. We had one student who was 13 going on 14 who could barely say the alphabet, much less write it. He could not assign numbers of a group of objects and he could not write his name, despite our trying to practice it with him daily. He also had trouble following directions and keeping his hands to himself, the latter of which really bothered me. I hate being touched. He also constantly asked to go to the restroom and my co-teacher or I would take him. For me, when I was in the first grade, my teacher refused to let me go and it was a disaster. Thus, I promised myself that I would always let my students go. But it was getting ridiculous. He would ask 5 or 6 times a day (a summer school day goes from 8:00 am to 12:30 pm). I guess in time we will see just how much patience I have.

Finally, the last big news of the week was district hiring. On Wednesday, we had this HORRENDOUS benefits meeting for all resident teachers. (You want me to decide who my assets, $5, goes to if I die? I'm 21. And again, I have like $5 to my name.) I didn't sign up for health insurance, as I'm still on my parents' plan, but I did sign up for the free life insurance and did some tax forms (some of which I did not know how to fill out...). At the end, our HR representative told us that he was going to send a list of our names, content areas (?) and contact information to principals in the county. That night, some Fellows received scheduling for interviews. The next day, it continued. I could feel the tension setting in. We were all wondering who would get placed first, who would get the most interviews, who would get the least, etc.

Our district hiring manager had prepared resume books for principals with all of our resumes, but only principals who contacted her received them. For the most part, many principals were contacting us solely on the fact that they had several vacancies and they saw our name and the content area that they maybe needed. On Thursday, I received an interview with a school down by Andrew's Air Force Base. About 40 other Fellows also received an interview. The school has 22 vacancies! I will be interviewing with them tomorrow morning. On Friday, I had a super awkward group interview with the Fellows of Math Immersion. We felt that we were personally the closest group of Fellows because we have known each other since mid-May and now we were competing for the same job at a "coveted" school. (Coveted because of location, school culture, etc.) We will find out on Monday who gets the spot.

As a Fellow, I understand why I am here. I decided to be a PGCTF Fellow because I saw terrible teachers "teaching" students full of potential. I couldn't look away, so I had to stay and do something about it. I don't think of myself as a savior in any way. I see myself as an activist. I'm fighting for something I believe for, I'm fighting for a better education for students who haven't always experienced it.

With that said, I don't think it's fair that sometimes we are being asked to sacrifice ourselves. We are encouraged to take the first job we are offered, because then we are taking a position in a school that needs us most. As of now, there are about 8 middle schools with the "highest need." These are the schools that either have been taken over by the government or will be in the next year if improvement is not seen. I feel that we should be able to pick from the interviews that we receive from these 8 schools. I also feel that we should be able to pick from any other schools on that priority school improvement list, but program staff are shuffling us toward middle schools were the most vacancies lie. I am a more of a high school-person because I feel that I could establish a better rapport with that age group, despite my age, which I feel is important to student learning. I also came into teaching wanting to prepare students for college. High school students are thinking about college, middle school students are not really yet. And please, please, please, don't get me wrong but it is also unlikely, no matter how great a teacher I could be, that many of my special education students will not have the capacity to pursue college. While they will go on to do things that they may love, I want to influence the future and the future usually goes to college. Again, please don't get me wrong. Non-college goers are important supporters of the future. I really believe that. But my passion is in working with college pursuers

Okay, so we accept a position in the first school tells us that they "needs us most." (What if the next school needs us more?) What about what we need? How can we be truly effective first year teachers if we are to go to a low-performing school with poor support structures and is far away? How can we teach if we are exhausted and only get home in time to swallow our dinner, say "hi" to our loved ones and sleep? How can we be asked to teach subjects that we do not feel comfortable teaching when there are vacancies in subjects we do feel comfortable teaching? While it is important that we care about raising student achievement, we could do it so much better if we are taken care of first. I don't remember the saying about selfless, but it's something like, if you're not okay, how can you help to make sure others are okay? On a low oxygen airplane, you put your oxygen mask on before you aid the child next to you.

These are just some of my concerns. For example, tomorrow's interview, the school begins at 7:45 in the morning. (I am not a morning person.) Teachers report at 7:15. The school is 33 minutes away from my apartment without traffic and nearly an hour with traffic. That means I would have to leave by 6:40 or earlier. That means that I would have to be awake by 5:30 if I want to eat and look presentable. So what time should I go to bed? I want 8 hours, right? I should be sleeping by 9:30 pm. Well, school is over at 2:30, but we are to stay until about 3:00 pm. As a idealistic new teacher, I want to offer after-school office hours/homework help. I would stay about an hour or two later. But, I might as well stay until rush hour is over... When am I supposed to exercise? (Driving around all summer during lunch time is making me fat.) (I think exercise would put some kick in my steps.) When am I supposed to have "me" time to keep my sanity so I don't take it out on my students? When am I supposed to see people I like who are not between the ages of 11 and 14?!

This is why we do kind of need to "shop around" schools. I am up for working at a high, high-need school, but I would prefer one that will take good care of me as I take good care of my students and one that will not make me fill up my Prius every week and turn me into a road raging maniac. The school that I interviewed with on Friday is 12 minutes away from my apartment and teachers report at 9:00. Now that's more like it. School ends at 4:10, which is a little late for me, but hey, I have been going to school from 7 to 7, so everything else basically looks good. Plus, I could stay after school for an hour or two and still make it home for a reasonable (7:00 pm) dinner time. I could probably take a run, do some grading, cleaning, other life maintenance and still get to go to bed for 8 hours at midnight.

Anyway, so if we don't have a school by Friday, we will begin to get "slotted" which means that we will just get placed in any open vacancies. Many of us are thinking that we might as well shop around for a school that we like, because in the end the worst thing that could happen is that we would get a school we didn't like, which would have happened if we had accepted their offer in the first place but only then, we wouldn't have known if we could get a happier placement. Our district hiring manager is discouraging us to get to the slotting phase because then, geographical preferences aren't really looked at. That may be true. But, the school that is furthest away and has contacted us is 70 minutes away with traffic (from Silver Spring where many of us live, further north in Montgomery County, you can expect that your school will be far away) and the school that is the furthest south in PG County is 80 minutes away. It's risky to shop around, but not that risky.

As you can see, I have many concerns. What is not a concern is, however, that we should all, or just about all, have placements by the time new teacher training begins. I hope that our cohort continues to have weekly get togethers because I desperately, desperately need the laughs.

How's this for a novel? :)

Friday, July 23, 2010

7 Days to Go!

(There are seven of them, get it?)

Yesterday wrapped up my first of two weeks in the Extended School Year program for special education students. On the first day, we had 5 of 6 students: four of the students have an intellectual disability and one is autistic. One of the ID students also has physical disabilities, in that he is wheelchair-bound and cannot speak or move any body part besides his head (barely). Another one of the ID students is 13 years old and cannot write his name, cannot assign numbers to objects when counting and cannot read; therefore it is difficult to progress.

My autistic student is the highest functioning student in the class. Despite his short attention span, he is incredibly smart and wants to get the correct answer. Plus, he's so well-behaved! My ID students vary in their ability and motivation levels.

On day 1, we taught addition; on day 2, we continued addition and jumped into states of matter; on day 3, we moved onto counting money and continued states of matter; finally, on day 4, we continued counting money and states of matter. Also, I read "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" to the students while playing the audiobook voiced by John Lithgow. :)

Day 1 was alright, a little bit shocking and uncomfortable. Day 2 got a little bit worse in that a student absent the day before had returned to school and seemed to be "that kid" that likes to start trouble. Day 3 got steadily worse. The students began to act up and it became very frustrating to teach anything beyond the very basic skills they had been working on.

I thought I wanted to quit.

I said to myself, this isn't what I signed up for. I wanted to teach kids and help them go to college. I believe that every student can achieve, but these kids cannot go to college. I wanted to teach science and math, not addition and counting. I wanted small adults, not small children. I felt very selfish. I wanted to be able to teach my passion, science, and I have been moved to math. I wanted to do general ed, but I got special ed. I felt like I had taken the changes with flexibility. But I couldn't take it. I didn't have the patience to work this slowly with children. I wasn't satisfied with teaching rudimentary skills that their former teachers seemed to skip over.

It's not the kids' fault. I just thought that I was not good enough to teach them. They needed someone better. I have trouble breaking down information into such minute terms and so they have a lot of trouble following. I'm teaching math and I find it to be a dull (though necessary) subject. They have no attention span. It's not a good combination. Mind you, I don't exude that I don't love teaching math. I think I try to be pretty enthusiastic about it.

I have known that I will be teaching math for over two weeks, but I still struggle with the idea. Program staff suggested that it is not my passion for the subject that matters, it is my passion for working with students and helping them achieve that matters. I wholeheartedly agree that my passion of helping kids excel is the most important thing. But I differ in that I think I need to at least like my subject. At this point, I have only recognized the importance of mathematics. But all because it's important doesn't mean I love it.

Science I love. Experiments, hypotheses, demos, looking at the world around you, making things melt or blow up... science is cool. And math just doesn't lend itself to such excitement. It just doesn't. And if you want to make it a little more exciting, you almost have to take it away from its true element a bit.

Anyway, that's my spiel. I thought I wouldn't make it. I thought I would quit for DCTF. At least there, I would be general education.

Day 4 swung around and I had meticulously planned the day's instruction and I was fully expecting it to be a horrendous day. It turned out to be the best day of the week for me. In the morning, two of the kids got in trouble for acting up during breakfast and the student with physical disabilities was late. Additionally, the 13 year old who can't read, write, count, or add was out with a temperature. I'm not pleased about that, but I can see what a huge difference a small class of attentive children makes.

I introduced parts of speech and the book and we went through and read it. Surprisingly, my students got the gist of the story (it is on the third grade level of reading). Next, it was time for math and I carefully (and slowly) taught a repeater lesson on counting money. One thing I find that I did not anticipate is that you often have to reteach a lesson next day in order to get the information in. That is kind of annoying, especially if I had several periods that I have to repeat the lesson in.

For the most part, the kids were pretty good and I got to be my naturally sassy self. I am feeling more and more comfortable in my shoes and I hope to hit the ground running next month. (It is exactly one more month until school begins!!)

My main problems thus far are: deciding how to incorporate the student with the physical and intellectual disabilities and how to work with the student who can't read, write, count, or add.

My non-academic issues are with the aides who do very little else than sleep, text or distract us when they talk aloud into the class. I know it's not like this all over PGCPS. We visited a room a few doors down and the entire class, of at least 20 and 6 adults, was engaged and were experiencing a positive environment.

I pray that I will get a good mentor, support staff, some great kids (of course I will), and another Fellow or two in my placement. And that I also get to teach science. :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Week Three Ends with Happy Hour.

And somehow I predict that week four will end in a similar fashion.

I'm sorry. I don't want to be that snobby girl from Montgomery County who thinks that this county has got nothing going right for it. That's not true. I think this county has its strengths, but truth be told, its weaknesses outshine those. And yes, I have county pride because I had a wonderful time growing up in Montgomery County and I feel fortunate to be a product of their schools.

Now moving on. So last week was our last week in the gen ed setting (and what a sad ending it was!). We were just getting to know our kids and they were getting to know us and now we had to be shipped off to a completely new setting to start all over. I had taught a day of math in heels and I thought my legs were going to fall off. Everything hurt. Including my right wrist because I was erasing and writing on the board so much (the chalkboard at school was tiny). The next day I taught, it was flats for sure.

For the most part, the lessons went well and I am slowly learning to get the students to do the talking, which I think I'm not used to because as a student, my teachers did the majority of the talking, which I didn't mind. I'm also learning to ask probing questions to gauge for understanding. I think it's going well (especially since we only have 15 days in a summer school setting to prepare us for the fall). And I am exhausted by the end of every day. Teachers, I salute you.

Today, we went to our special education setting. We met our cooperating teacher (CT) last week in which she told us she was going to quit soon because this was not the job for her. She has been teaching for over 20 years.

It was completely different. There were three aides in the classroom - two for a orthopedic student who can barely move his hands and can move his eyes. One aide completely disregarded him, played with her phone and went into the hallway for several minutes to talk on her phone. The other aide took care of physical things for the student, such as adjusting his seat and wiping any spit that had gathered on the student's mouth. The last aide in the classroom, who is pregnant, played with her cell phone at the teacher's desk for sometime before she took a nap. Within an hour or two, she went home because she was not feeling well.

Really? Really, PG County?

At one point, our CT wanted to talk to me about one of the students, so she grabbed my face and brought my ear close to her mouth, literally touching her mouth to my ear. She was also eating a muffin. I was horrified.


The students have been working on simple addition and some subtraction. Today we discovered that one of them can do complex addition and some borrowing or carrying out of digits. We wonder what teachers have been doing with him in all his 7 years of school. (Clearly, we're not miracle workers.) The plan is just to plan lessons that will move them along in the next two weeks as best as we can. And to definitely make them work a lot harder than they have been. Seven more days of school (Tuesday through Thursday this week and Monday through Thursday next week) and then, it's on to hopefully getting placed in a job that we're definitely not ready for. But to be fair, we are as ready as five weeks can make us.

I'm getting really anxious with not knowing my school, subject or grade. I wish I could begin to prepare age appropriate materials. I wish I could begin to look at my students' IEPs. I really hope to be placed by the first week of August.

So what should we do? Right now, the students are learning first grade material. Should we go through each grade, one by one, or shoot straight to 7th grade and give them a calculator for the basics they're lacking?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Week Two in the Bag!

Or something like that. This week, we began our practice teaching which is basically us, paired with a cooperating teacher (CT), in summer school. The classes that Fellows have been assigned to are polar opposites: some classes have students who are trying to get ahead and some classes have students who are way behind. For my classes, basically the students are behind, have failed their grade and have been offered a pass to 8th grade if they attend summer school. On day one, we had two students in the first period, none in the second, and two in the last. On day two, we got a couple more students. It's been slow.

It's hard having grown up in Montgomery County. I received a education from one of the best school districts in the nation and now I'm teaching in Prince George's, which is the bottom of Maryland's schools. I find myself saying, "This would not fly in Montgomery County!"

Anyway, the kids are pretty cool. I think they like seeing young faces which will eventually will become way less interesting, but at least we have some leeway!

My CT is okay. I haven't had the best experiences in my interactions with PG teachers. For one, she tells it like it is. She also seems to really enjoy answering our questions and really wants to help us grow. Some downsides so far are that she doesn't seem like she's very prepared and she tells it how it is when she teaches, too so it's not very innovative. With that said, the kids seem to get it though it's not the most exciting. One big upside is that she really seems to understand students and she pays attention to them, although she's not always engaged with them.

Yesterday, she let us teach the opener of the lesson after she had taught the first period. My co-Fellow went first, and then it was me. I had worked out a quick plan of what I was going to say, but when I got up to teach, I had done some math wrong so one of the problems I gave the students made the problem way more complex than they were ready for. I mini-freaked out inside. It wasn't the most successful lesson.

What I've found out is that I'm really great with one-on-one help. What I really need help with is delivering lessons with flow and clarity. While my plans look great, executing them is a different story. On Tuesday, I'll be introducing the classes to probability. Will update on that soon...

There is this one kid that I am so amazed with. He's taking the class because he skipped school so much that he failed. (You can skip when you're in middle school?? Where do you go??) He did the best on the pretest that we gave all the students and when we did a word problem worksheet on fractions, he did the problems faster than I did. And I'M supposed to be the math teacher? Oh so by the way... I have to teach math now because I passed the math Praxis. I'm kind of bummed because I can get so much more excited about science. But I'll make the best of it. My friend told me I should teach math in a science context and maybe I will... cell DIVISION, anyone?! :)

But, back to this kid. He is clearly intelligent and stifling his potential. (PLEASE! Fulfill your destiny!) By the end of this coming week, I'm being switched to a Special Education math class. I wish we didn't just have two weeks in each placement because I'm just getting to know the kids.

In all obviousness, summer school is not a realistic nor thorough enough way for us Fellows to practice teaching. But it's better than nothing.

This week we worked on class management. This is what keeps us new teachers awake at night. We're scared our classes will be chaotic and we can't do it. We're told that there are just seven reasons for misbehavior. It's easy.

But here's my guess, sometimes it will be easy and sometimes it won't. Sometimes kids don't misbehave because they're bored, there are unclear limits set in class, they have trouble expressing their feelings, they're dealing with peer pressure, etc. Sometimes, kids just wanna misbehave. I know I did. I know as humans we like to rationalize everything, but some people are just jerks sometimes, and it can't be explained. (But of course, more often it can.)

I just want someone to tell me their worst classroom nightmare ever and how they handled it. So far my plan is for be ridiculously consistent and overplanned.

Friday, July 2, 2010

One Week Down!

So, I survived my first week of Summer Institute. :) It has been an interesting week to say the least. On Monday, I drove to Charles H. Flowers High School, where our Institute is going to be held all summer, and started the day off with the opening ceremony. Upon arrival, I got a teacher bag (!) full of books - a discipline guide, a professional values guide, a binder full of our Institute curriculum, etc, etc. Then, we each took a picture before going into the auditorium. (I was so frazzled and I had no idea they were going to take individual snapshots!!) At the opening, we got to have some elementary schoolers sing some African folk (?) songs and some middle schoolers read some of their poetry. They were hilarious. Finally, a current Fellow came to talk to us about his experience. And of course somewhere in all of that, we were reminded of that horrendous achievement gap.

Then we had a quick reception and headed off to classes. By the way, this year's Institute theme is "The Amazing Race." When I heard this, I was so excited - I love The Amazing Race!! And I totally want to do it one day. But I was kind of disappointed when I got upstairs to our Fellows floor... There is so much room for creativity with the theme (I was hoping for something reminiscent of my high school homecoming days where we decorated halls by theme and it was pretty extreme). However, I know that the staff was probably all wrapped up in other things, so I do think they did a good job. I must help out next summer though! Decorating a school? I'M THERE.

So classes - my class is all secondary math and science Fellows, mostly SPED. We have two instructors who are pretty great. On day one we talked about, what else, the achievement gap, professional values, Fellows accountability ...measures? (FAMs), high impact teaching strategies (HITS), etc. I love meeting everyone - everyone is so nice! - but these classes are not hitting the spot for me. As an education minor, I find myself bored a lot of the time. We talk about thing that I have already learned, we move relatively slow and... we're kind of treated like children. Our teachers might be modeling techniques for us to use, but it gets kind of annoying to be asked to put my thumb up every time I'm done with my assignment. Needless to say, I'm totally not doing that with my students.

As classes went on however, I saw one really big flaw in the way we were being taught. We run on a lesson plan that is stuffed with activities that are timed by the minute. However, as we learn more and more, we naturally have a ton of questions rushing through our heads. But time for questions aren't really scheduled into the day. This is a big problem because our questions are pertinent to our growing understand of education and how to be good teachers. This was especially noticeable when we were taught about SPED and IEP's yesterday. Questions galore. But few were answered. We were all overwhelmed. We start practice teaching in summer school on Tuesday. We need to know.

To be fair, there is a "parking lot" bulletin board in the classroom, where we are supposed to post it up our questions, but questions answered in context make so much more sense. And the amount of paper that is being used is making my head spin. AND THE LACK OF RECYCLING BIN IS DRIVING ME NUTS! PGCPS, come on!

So on my class - so diverse! We have people from other countries, recent graduates, career changers, people getting married, people already married, people having babies... I'm slowly getting to meet the other Fellows not in my class too. There are 51 of us :) that means 51 people worrying about our jobs, our ability to teach and our online SPED class which is going ridiculous(ly bad). That is a whole different story.

Truthfully, of course, there are those who I think are going to be more amazing teachers than others, but I honestly hope that everyone here is in it for the long run. Like myself, I know that many others have other career aspirations that we want to pursue before we retire, but I plan to devote a good chunk of my life to working with students in the area.

So far my favorite thing is just talking to other people. Other Fellows, other previous Fellows, current teachers... I LOVE PICKING PEOPLES' BRAINS! :) One of my least favorite things... learning to pack my lunch and not knowing where my home away from home is going to be in the fall. I really hope it's a high school, but it's all good.


One thing that I did want to touch on is a question I raised in class that made me feel really uncomfortable. We were reading about "people first language", referring to SPED/disabilities, and the article said that "people first language" is not about being politically correct, it's about being respectful. I asked, "isn't it kind of about being politically correct...?" I was told to parking lot my question. Don't get me wrong, I am all about being respectful to people, referring to them as they would like to be referred. However when I heard the term "mentally retarded" has been changed into "intellectually disabled", I had to ask. Sometimes, I'm like, let's call a spade a spade. I'm short. I'm not vertically challenged. But maybe I don't care about being called a shortie because I love being short most of the time. Perhaps I feel this way because I am not fully understanding of disabilities yet. But of the things I do not like about myself, the negative things, I accept or try to change them and if I cannot change them, I don't let it define me as a person.

I think people with disabilities for the most part take that outlook too - they don't let their disabilities define them. Tip-toeing around terms makes it seem like those terms are so negative and sensitive that we have to tip-toe. We don't tip-toe around positive things, so by tip-toeing I feel like we're reinforcing that negative connotation.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Does it Work?: Throwing Money at Problems.

I came across this article in the Post (I love skimming the Post, it's an unhealthy addiction) which debated whether or not new technologies are helping students (and teachers) in the classroom. To hopefully no one's surprise, the answer isn't yes (but it isn't necessarily no, either).

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I have thought before that money could solve a lot of problems. Probably earlier this week, I was fiddling with the idea of having the government find out exactly how much every individual needed to start "fresh", add that up and print that exactly amount of money for distributing. And then, there. No more complaints from you poor handlers of cash. Apparently, you can't just print more money on a whim because that will lead to inflation or something like that. I'm not going to pretend like I understand how economics works to any degree (but everyone will have money to afford the inflated prices!), but... I'm just saying, do it for just one day, you know? Someone who does understand economics can explain this to me. For the time being, I'll just call this genius idea The Universal Bailout. Mr. President, I would like $5,000 to be printed, thank you. (Or better yet, a job, because training to teach without pay in the summer is making me really sad.)

Okay, back to the article - I must be really behind because I wasn't aware that SMART/Promethean boards are also called whiteboards. They should come up with a new name because whiteboards sound like the low-tech alternative to blackboards, which I love because chalk is messy and the squeaking makes me cringe. They're saying that by 2011 (i.e. next year), 1 in 3 classrooms will have them. I've slowly started to see them pop up in schools in Maryland. I've never used one and I'm not positive on all that the boards can do, they just look like a projector screen with a projector attached on top. But, apparently, teachers think they're amazing. They can show and save powerpoints, they're interactive and (I think) you can write on them. And some other stuff to which I'm not aware.

And, they cost $3,000 each. Admittedly, they do look pretty cool. But, for me, when I get a new gadget, I tend to try to do everything that involves it. It seems like it's the same way for other teachers, because the Post suggests that these boards make teachers more prone to lecturing and less prone to small group or hands-on activities. But wait! SMART boards allow you to have the student come up and move items around! I'm not sure I understand, white/blackboards could do that too, just with magnets. Looking on the positive side, SMART boards might be more environmentally friendly, and yes, students appreciate new technologies, too. But if the SMART board is a new technology in presenting the same old information your students already aren't that compelled to learn, then use the $3,000 on something more worthwhile.

Don't get me wrong. I love new and shiny things. I am for keeping our classrooms up to date with the technologies available. Maybe I don't yet understand how these new technologies make lesson preparation easier for teachers so they can spend more time on content and delivery. But in no way do I think purchasing these products, when there are so many other problems going on in a school/district, is the solution. Perhaps that $3,000 could be use for more teacher training. Please, there are so many teachers that I've seen that could use more teacher training. Or, for new hires of teachers to replace the ones that can't improve with further training. And after all that, then you can bring in the SMART boards. $3,000 can't solve the problem of our education but it can help to address the real question:

What our do students REALLY need to learn?

A safe environment. I've heard that some students in dilapidated school settings feel like they don't matter. $3,000 can buy some paint and fix-up tools.

Interactive, "natural learning" materials. When I say this, I'm thinking of science and how science is learned by scientists - not from a book (though they do read research journals), but from doing. Science experiments require sometimes expensive materials.

A good teacher. And you can always get better with more experience and more learning. Teachers should keep being students.

Support. Pump some of that $3,000 into PTSA programs to make them more effective in garnering the whole school community together?

There's probably more, but I'm ending this post here. MATH PRAXIS TOMORROW! (--- more on that later.) And clearly, I'm not expert, I'm just speaking as someone who thinks there's more that we can do to help our schools than buying stuff. Gadgets are only as good as the people using them.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My Head is Reeling.

On Saturday, I will be taking my Math Praxis, with my last Math Praxis prep class on Thursday.

Last Monday, I began my Special Education Online Course with PGCC. It will run until the end of July.

In three weeks, I will begin Summer Institute. It will run until the beginning of August.

I was imagining that I would have more down time prior to the beginning of Institute. Not happening. I also need to find a weekend job so I can survive through the summer and to the beginning of my first paycheck. I also need a new apartment after my lease expires next month. Busy, busy.

Teachers, I respect you.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Officially a Graduate!

I have officially graduated from college!! With my new B.S. in tow, I'm ready to become a PG Fellow :) and hopefully will stop neglecting my blog.

So as an update:

I'm currently enrolled in a crash course for taking the math (0061) Praxis on June 12th. So far we had had two in-person sessions and two webinar sessions. The in-person sessions are soo much more helpful than their online counterparts. As for passing the Praxis, we'll see how that goes. On the one hand, I do want to teach subjects where I'm most needed. On the other, I would feel more comfortable teaching science because I am so much more familiar with it.

Also, I came across some education stories that I bookmarked to talk about and now I can finally do that, with school behind me. Although I should be reading up on the Praxis. And I would, but I lost a contact and blogging is doable with only one eye...

Anyway, the first thing is "unschooling". In short, I think unschooling is BS. Basically, it's where parents allow their children to become masters of their own education. "If they want to learn something, they will." But what if they NEED to learn something and they have no want for it?

It is virtually impossible to expect a child to be able to navigate modern society solely on their own knowledge. That's what parents and teachers are for. Even animals don't leave their young to fend for their own. If these children were not expected to thrive in our society, then I could see unschooling as a way to go. People will always learn to survive somehow. But you can't expect for these kids to become productive members of society when they have such little interaction/experience with it. And while I've learned about a lot of different things on my own research, school has presented me with so much information that I probably would have never come across, but am glad to know. All I'm saying is, school is a good thing. So kids, stay in school.

Another is an article from the Post that talks about resegregation. Resegregation is nothing new to me. When I was growing up, I was one of less than ten Oriental students in my grade. Most of my friends were white and that was normal. When I moved to middle school, I was flabbergasted by the growth in the Asian population. And unlike myself, these kids were grouped together since elementary school. As I grew up, my schools became more and more diverse and there was more mixing between the races. However, while diversity increased, something else followed - resegregation. My neighborhood went through a burst of diversity and then, to state it informally, all the white and or rich people left. My elementary school today is mostly hispanic or black.

When I grew up I knew about a lot of different ethnicities, growing up in a predominantly white school didn't effect that. In fact, my schools promoted learning about different cultures. In elementary school, we learned about Japan and Mexico. In middle school, each homeroom was assigned a country to represent in an Olympics of sorts. My class was Ethiopia. We spent that semester learning about Ethiopia. However, it is to my knowledge that many students growing up in predominantly black or hispanic schools today are led to believe that their school is the norm.

I understand why resegregation occurs, but I think it is important that our school demographics represent our society more clearly. So what's the solution? Bussing in students from other neighborhoods? Some parents would not have their kids going to "worse" schools. I benefited from going to a "well-balanced" school and I think students today would benefit as well.

And lastly, I just really like this article from The Atlantic.

Hopefully I will be reading my TfSA after the Praxis studying is done... hopefully.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Waiting for Superman

On Tuesday I went to PGCTF's Principal Panel. First of all, the school looks ridiculous. Few high schools in my county, one of the richest counties in the US, looked like it. Granted, it is a new school stowed away in farmland turned suburbia. It is a beautiful school (I have a soft spot for modern, glass windowed buildings), but it just doesn't seem right to me that while some schools in Prince George's County need some dire physical improvements, some schools look like this. As the 18th largest school district in the US, PG has a lot of money flowing into it. I think this school is great (and it's doing great things), but share the wealth a little bit! Anyway, back to the Panel. Two principals, one from a high school and one from an elementary school, came to speak to us about the trials and tribulations they face as principals, the best teachers they work with and how we can become the best teachers that they will hire. The HS principal had all of us laughing repeatedly. I definitely find that is an attractive trait for a principal I would consider working under. As time goes on, I get more and more anxious about starting school. I feel so inspired by the difference teachers can make. The most important advice that the principals gave to us was to be consistent.

In other news, today was my last day of interning!!! I am really going to miss it (minus the waking up at 7 groggy everyday). It has been one of my most important experiences with education, especially because it was long-term. I got to teach a couple of lessons and observed a lot. The students were not harsh, and to be honest, most of them really seemed like they want to learn despite what so many teachers may say. This week in particular, the biology students were working on HSA (Maryland's High School Assessment, NCLB mandated) review. The biology teachers had created "review stations" for the students to circulate throughout - pedigree analysis, organelle function matching, punnett squares, etc. I thought it was a really good method for review. However, this is when I learned how far behind these students are in their biology knowledge and I'm worried that they will not pass their HSA. It seemed like many of them were learning the material for the first time. Several students did not know what terms like "correlation" meant. And almost every student had trouble at some of the stations. I wish I could have taught more and done more, but I know the kind of change these students need can't be fully taught in the few months I was there.

I feel like everyday, potential is draining out of them because they are not being taught year after year.

Please check out Waiting for Superman, this link was sent to me by a fellow (non-Fellow) soon-to-be-teacher and I think the documentary looks amazing. It honestly had me tearing up because education IS our most pressing social issue. Shout out to Michelle Rhee for her comments in the trailer.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Block Scheduling vs. All Classes Everyday

I hate block scheduling. As an intern, it's hard for me to remember if it's "A" day or "B" day, though it is not usually imperative that I know before I show up to school that day. I guess because I am not fully immersed in the school, block scheduling confuses me. I feel like I don't get to see the same kids all the time. And EVERY school in PG County does block scheduling.

As a middle student, I loved block scheduling. In my middle school, we had 7 classes and 4 periods. Days fluctuated between 1234, 5671, 2345, 6712, 3456, 7123, 4567... you get the idea. One grade would eat lunch after the first period, another after the second, and the last lunch after the third. Classes were 90 minutes long and school started at 7:55 am. We had TAP class (homeroom) at the beginning of everyday so first lunch was around 10 am. It's early, but personally I would have been hungry by then. Well, me now, probably not middle school, fast digestion rate of the youth me. I liked it because homework was never due for two days, with the exception of the first period of that day would be the last period of the next day (but then you had all school day to do homework, if necessary (but middle school me would NEVER wait last minute to do my work!! (college me, would)). But even then, with snow days and other miscellaneous school closures, I would have to call my friends and check what day it was going to be. Sometimes I would get mixed up and prepare for a certain day it was not.

In high school, we did not have block scheduling. We had all 7 classes (8 periods) everyday for 46 minutes each. Lunches were scheduled as periods 4-7. Classes were shorter, but I enjoyed that aspect.

As a soon-to-be-teacher (STBT), I don't enjoy that aspect so much, but the challenge of making good use of the time intrigues me. As a STBT, I grapple with the idea of going back to block scheduling. Since I will be teaching math, let's think about this mathematically.

In the US, students go to school for 180 days a year. 180 x 46 minutes a period = 8280 minutes of instruction time. Granted 10-20 minutes of each day would be dedicated to winding up and down the class, but I think smart teachers would know how to tie those minutes directly into reviewing past class material and teaching new class material. But for argument's sake, let's say (8280) - (180 x 20 minutes) = 4680 if those 20 minutes are just getting the class settled down. For block scheduling: (90 x 90 minutes a period) = 8100 - (90 x 20 minutes) = 6300. In a perfect world. With block scheduling, I've seen teachers have to remind students more of what was last learned and in my experience, since there is more time, teachers work slower and waste more time.

Of course that was in my school district. In Prince George's County, blocks are 68 minutes long. (90 x 68 minutes) = 6120 - (90 x 20 minutes) = 4320 minutes. So someone explain to me why this is the way schools choose to do this? It just seems like less instruction is actually occurring. What I really dislike about the county block scheduling is that one of the blocks is a "split" period, where students come to class, some time goes by, they go to lunch, and then they come back. It must be horrible to have that period. Interruptions galore and you get "different" students back from lunch.

I do have to admit though, block scheduling does wonders for science classes. Labs and larger projects can be tackled in one or two periods, rather than over the time of a week or more. And for other classes, more than one topic can be taught.

Since I am a PGCTF, I'm going to have to get used to block scheduling and the fact that while it doesn't make mathematical sense, it's the way the system works.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Harry Potter: Such a Good Read

I love love love reading other teachers' blogs! Especially those of the District because DCPS is just that entertaining. One of my favorite bloggers is Harry Potter and the Urban School Nightmare (see under Semester Reads. And Harry, please come back to blogging!). I always find myself laughing when I read his blogs. It just shows how witty students can be and I really look forward to that. Also, I love Harry Potter. I fear that I would be sorted into Hufflepuff though.

Although I have been going to school and working with students in Prince George's County for several years now, by no stretch of the imagination do I fully understand these kids and where they're coming from. I am making the effort though and I feel like I learn something new everyday. One of Harry Potter's posts, really got me thinking about the "bubble" that some urban students live in. While they are not in living in the usual sense of a "bubble" (protected and secluded away from dangerous society), they are definitely isolated from what other students get to experience. Take for example, Harry Potter's students who thought that the majority of the U.S. population is black (the actual percentage being around 12). Reading this post made me giggle, but it is certainly a somewhat serious topic. It reminded me of when I went to a DCTF diversity panel and one of the current Fellows discussed that many of her students had never seen more than their block, much less the monuments or museums of DC.

While I hope to help my students become successful in their current environment, I want them to be able to see everything that the world, their world, has to offer. I think everyone grows by seeing more.

Another blog of Harry's that I wanted to comment on was about Harlem Children's Zone. I had never heard of a Harlem Children's Zone until I was planning my school's Alternative Spring Break trip to West Virginia. President Obama had said that he wanted to replicate Harlem Children's Zones. I only understand the concept partially, but I wanted to comment on the quote from the post:

"These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right."

I don't know if I'm a "reformer", but I do believe that schools (not alone) can produce big changes. As a student myself, I have spent over 17 years of my life in school. Despite the moments when I tried to resist its power, I learned from being in school. Whether students like it or not, school is a huge part of our life (though we may have a lot of other things going on) and teachers can take advantage of that. While I do agree that problems in society need to be addressed in order to make "full circle" progress, the naive first year teacher in me believes that students who are influenced positively by school will aid in making that full circle progress when they put their skills to improving society. That is my basic hope for education - that it gets the next generation ready to make the necessary changes to society. (Oh, to be fresh and full of foolish optimism? No, I just believe in people and the good that they can do.)

Finally, Harry also blogged about Parent-Teacher Conferences. I can only remember going to one PTC in my life and I have an amazing memory for things that do not really matter. It was in the fourth grade, with my mom. We had been called in because I was too talkative in class. There was a boy I liked that sat next to me, Micah, and we talked about EVERYTHING. My mother was not too pleased. Anyway, besides that "incident", I was the "perfectly behaved student" that every teacher hopes for and thus this was the first and last PTC I'd ever be called into.

Like most effective educators, I believe that communication among parents, students, teachers, and even administrators is vital to improving the quality of education that is offered. However, I don't believe that such communication should only occur when a teacher has something negative (or not positive) about the student. The only positive communication my teachers ever gave my parents was a phrase or two on my quarterly report card. Of course this ended all together after middle school.

I know it must be cumbersome keeping communication up with all these people - parents of possibly over a hundred students as well as administrators or other teachers who work with your students. I probably won't be able to keep up with it as much as I would like to, but that doesn't mean that I don't think that it's important.

On PTC's, I completely agree with Harry Potter in that PTC's should be different for high school and elementary school students. By the time students reach high school, they should be more responsible for their education and therefore able to discuss their progress and needs with their parents and teachers. Additionally, there are times when PTC's are necessary though an official PTC day isn't scheduled. Which brings me to this: I imagine some teachers need to discuss many of their students at PTC's. How can a teacher, all parents and students effectively discuss these important details in a half day?

So much to learn!

On a less serious note, I thought this blog was funny and hope that my students respect my nerdiness as his do. Also, I'm holding off on reading my TfSA or completing my ISG until I actually graduate from college. :) One step at a time...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

There is a Sub Today...

in the class that I'm interning (I use that term very loosely) in and that indefinitely means that despite how little work gets accomplished in this class, even less will get done today. So far he has decided to take attendance, sit and talk about his life with the students, and that's as much as I think will get checked off the list. I managed to get the class to do their warm-up and some of them are doing book work (which is surprising, but great).

Seniors have their finals this week and many of them need this class to graduate. I might hold a review today, but I really don't know that much about environmental science.

On another note, I hope I have a whiteboard in my future class cause chalk is messy. Also, I hope that I will never need a sub.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"...did she just say chro-mat-tin?"

My experience with PG County teachers has not been that great. When I took a semester internship with a local elementary school to teach an after school science workshop for third, fourth and fifth graders, I took my students outside for the first ten minutes of class. They were an energetic bunch, so I liked to wear them out before I taught anything. Plus, when I found out that they only had 30 minutes for both lunch and recess, outdoor time seemed more important to me. Somewhere in the middle of the semester, one of the teachers next door to my classroom came out and raised her voice (/yelled) at me. She said the kids were not allowed outside. The principal got involved and she was pretty upset, too.

For the most part, I felt like I had control over the class (there were about ten kids) and I honestly felt as if they needed the time out there. I guess it was just my way of managing my class.

One semester, I observed a high school biology teacher once every week. He had gotten into teaching late, but had been teaching for many, many years. His class was pretty chatty and his lectures were made by someone else (presumably a book company). He was a nice man and I appreciated his time, but he was not a "great" teacher. When I told him that I was planning on teaching, he responded with a "why? (There are so many other things you can do with a biology major!!)" It was clear to me then that he did not love his job and the way he taught showed that (to be fair though, he does seem to love his subject). I felt like some students in his class really wanted to learn. They would ask questions during lecture and their questions sometimes went ignored. I was told from another student who also was shadowing him (and his AP bio class) that he was very engaging when he taught. I figure that he is just one of those teachers who love AP but "hate" on-level classes. He once told me that he was waiting for his kids to get older, because that is when they would actually appreciate science. I think some of them already did, though he assumed they didn't.

Another semester, I interned with another high school bio teacher (in a different school). Again, she was a nice person, clearly worn down from teaching, but her class was very chatty, little was taught during class, and her students' grades were terrible. What really strikes me was how little she believes in her students. (I think this is one of the things that really differentiate new and old teachers, while I'm not saying that all new teachers are full of hope and all old teachers have given up.) At one instance, she told me that she "hates [her] kids." I didn't know how to respond. Basically, she thought they're unteachable and she thought that she is doing all she can. My verdict? She's not.

I understand it though. She's the one who's been dealing with the "same kids" time after time. Where we come from, teachers teach (however they like) and students learn. It's your own (as a student) fault if you fail, because the teacher taught the material and you didn't make the effort to understand it. Teachers aren't supposed to convince, beg or force their students to learn. Those in school should want to learn. It strikes me that with the demographic of PG County students, most of these students 50 years ago would have been wishing they could learn, but today it's a hassle. But still, it's no excuse not to be an engaging teacher or to be the teacher that changes their aversion to school and learning.

And then sometimes, I am just shaking my head. The other day she was teaching genetics and referred to the gene for tall pea plants as Tt and the gene for short pea plants to be Ss. It didn't make any sense to me and I wonder if any students made sense of it. Another day, she pronounced "chromatin" as chro-mat-tin (literally: crow. mat. tin). I did a double take - ...did she just say chro-mat-tin? However, she did correctly write the alleles when doing a Punnett square, but she didn't explain that she was wrong before so now students might think both ways are correct.

But that doesn't mean she doesn't do anything "right". She keeps food in the classroom for when students are very hungry (she doesn't give it out at the beginning of class, which is something I'm contemplating doing) and she brings in supplies for labs or projects (self-purchased).

And to be fair, I've met some decent PG County teachers, too. I just haven't worked closely with them. The teacher whose room I used for my science workshop was very supportive (he helped me with classroom management and told me that I was doing a good job with my attempts to be innovative with my lessons by using multiple medias). Also, the teachers flanking the current room I'm interning in (to the left, a TFA first year bio teacher and to the right, the science department chair) seem like good, committed teachers - so it hasn't been all bad. But to be honest, my experiences make me very worried that there are more "bad" teachers in PG County than "good". And by that, I mean there are a whole lot of people who don't want to teach and few that really do and love it.

And then came yesterday. For our ISG we have to shadow a current Fellow in the program and write a running record of the class we observe. I observed a high school math teacher. She was fantastic. She taught slowly, gave examples, answered questions, gave a worksheet for her students to follow along with (they filled in the chart), and then she assigned some work out of the textbook. While her students were working, she walked around the classroom to help. When about half of her class had to leave for an impromptu National Honor Society meeting, she continued to teach and said that the present students could pair up with the NHS students and teach them what they missed while they were out. I had the exact same thinking and was so pleased to hear that we were both on point with each other. Her students were a bit chatty but definitely seemed to respect her.

After class, she chatted with me about the experience and when it all comes down to it, I can see that people like her in a program like PGCTF are working steadily toward success.

In other news, I have totally been slacking on reading my TfSA so thoughts on Chapter 1&2 on the way...