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.