Being Taught to Teach


Collegiality man, it’s the best
March 11, 2013, 10:46 pm
Filed under: Reflecting, Student Teaching

One of the principals of education here at Mills is collegiality.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it means that as educators we should work together not only to help educate our students, but to understand them.  We should collaborate not only at colleagues, but with families and the community.  The problem is there is not always time for this.  It is built into many of our assignments and I greatly appreciate this because in order to collaborate out in the teaching field it takes practice and having a certain mind-frame to continue working in this way.  This semester we are working on our second set of investigations in the preschool and I am very excited to be teamed up with someone who I have been working with and building a friendly relationship with for the last year and a half.  He and I finally found the time to talk about our project, yes it was in a parking lot on the way to something else, but we found the time.  The conversation with him was fantastic and a lot came out of it for both of our takes on the project we will be doing with our kids for the next few weeks.  I left the conversation feeling extremely encouraged by the collegiality that we had both carried out and excited to move forth with the work we could do together.  He and I think fairly differently and it will be good for both of us to gain the perspective of the other on our work with the children.  Hours later this is the text he sent me in excitement over the new direction I had given him for his final days of the investigation: Collaberation Man

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Teaching Philosophy
September 7, 2012, 6:22 am
Filed under: My Papers, Reflecting

As we got started this semester, one of our professors asked us to write a short paper on our teaching philosophy.   I believe that while some beliefs should be rooted, like the idea that every child can learn, others will change as a teacher reflects on and refines their practice.  Below is the teaching philosophy I have come up with so far, but that I hope will be revised and edited many times on my path of being a reflective life-long learning teacher.

Being a teacher is like being an expert at puzzles, it is important to see the overall picture and find the pieces that fit together.  I always like to start these statements about my teaching philosophy with the idea that I believe all students can learn.  That being said, I believe that it is my duty as a teacher to help find the best ways in which students can learn, to understand them and their needs as a learner.  Another piece of that puzzle is getting to know the whole child, not just who they are during math or behind a book, but outside the classroom too.  What is the student good at?  What do they like to study?  How have they learned in the past and what has been successful for them?  These are all things that need to be asked of students.  Answers to these questions will be a good boarder to the puzzle, but really helping a student learn is dependent on more.  An authentic, caring relationship needs to be established.

Let’s take a look at my first statement: all students can learn.  Now I believe this to be true, however not all students can learn in the same way.  As Howard Gardner has discovered, there are eight noted intelligences: spacial, intrapersonal, interpersonal, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, logical-mathematical, naturalistic.  By knowing a student well and which of these intelligences they fall under, lesson or projects can be tailored more to fit their style of learning.  I do not think that this sort of tailoring will make learning easier for the student necessarily, but rather it will make it more accessible and I hope allow for better retention of the over arching concepts.

Although tailoring lessons for student’s individual learning styles is ideal, it is not always doable.  In addition to attempting this there are other methods that will help.  For one, allowing students to construct their own knowledge will help them hold onto it.  This construction must also happen over time.  When an idea is introduced to a student as a first grader, that cannot be the first, last and only time they learn about it.  The first time they learn about a subject they will be getting the bare-bones of the concept, but they will need time to leave and come back to this idea to build on it again.  This is the idea of spiral curriculum (I am not really sure how to reference one of Anna Richert’s lectures from last year, but if I could I would).  Educators must communicate with one another across grade levels to help give their students a complete picture of whatever subject they will be tackling.  The younger grades have to lay the foundation, older grades will add to it, yet older grades will look at it in more complex ways, and even further along, students should revisit the “completed” puzzle under a completely different set of lenses.

Finally, with all these ideas about how to teach behind me, how do I actually get them to listen?  I have to create an authentic, caring relationship.  In order to do that I not only have to get to know the child, but I have come from a place of understanding who I am as well.  I have to be willing to acknowledge who I am and that I, as a person, have biases and beliefs that my upbringing has instilled in me.  My beliefs are not always going to match up with my students, but by knowing what they are, I can better assess and address situations; I can be authentic about who I am.

If I had to sum up my teaching philosophy in a few words, I would say that I am a constructivist teacher who is concerned about where my students come from, who they are and where they are going, so that I can help them complete the pictures that they are piecing together.



The Preschool Adventure Begins
August 31, 2012, 6:06 am
Filed under: Preschool, Reflecting, Student Teaching

I am very excited to be working in the older age group of the preschool.  I want to be a classroom teacher, but I believe it is important to take into account young children’s development prior to school to have a full understanding of the elementary school experience.  Although we were exposed to Piaget and others in regard to early childhood development last year, I want to delve deeper into understanding how and what this development looks like on the ground.

I really want to teach second or third grade, but through some of my student teaching posts last year (especially my first grade) I became very aware of various stages that children seemed to be in.  I know that there are no strict age boundaries to Piaget’s stages or Erickson’s stages of psychological development and because of that I want to have a deeper understanding of the early side of these stages.

As a student teacher in my preschool I must set a goal for myself each semester.  From my student teaching experiences last year, I have seen the importance of tone and way of phrasing questions and comments with children.  I believe that it is important to give children a lot of autonomy and allow them to make choices for themselves, however there are times when as a teacher I need to recognize that it is better to make statements rather than phrasing things in a question form.  These are typically times when I am not really giving the child a choice in the matter, it is a necessity thing that they must do.  I want to work on being more conscious of how my phrasing gives children options, limited options or more of a direct command.  As an elementary school teacher coming into preschool it will be important for me to hold myself back and observe rather than jump into every situation.  Through practicing that restraint I hope be better filter my words and tone.



Setting the Tone Poem
August 3, 2012, 5:12 am
Filed under: Reflecting, Student Teaching

This is a poem that came out of one of the dilemmas I faced with my 4th and 5th grade class.  We had been reflecting on how to set the tone for our classrooms.  One of the strategies that emerged was creating written agreements between students who were at conflict with one another.

She is my Enemy

She is my enemy and always will be

She was exactly like this last year you see

She is bossy, mean and selfish too,

I could yell at her til I turn blue.

I’m not selfish, bossy or mean

He lies so much it makes me green

When I talk he laughs or walks away

It makes me do the same when he wants a say

Now kids, I understand you’re mad

Let’s talk about three things the other does that make you feel bad

When I speak she rolls her eyes,

He does too, don’t trust his lies

Well that sounds like a good one to add to the compromise

Anything else to add before we sign?

Sometimes he walks away as I’m in mid speaking line

Oh, yeah but if you do it to me that’s fine?

These are written down as things to work on

I do not need a friendship to spawn,

A promise of tolerance to one another

So our classroom can move into recover

No more rolling eyes or walking away,

Thank you for talking this out today,

Now go out and play

Is this how we should deal with children who will not get along in our class?  Is there a better way to set the tone of friendship and community in the class?



Takeover Week Day 1
May 15, 2012, 4:31 am
Filed under: Student Teaching

My Mills classes have come to a close.  I am so glad that I picked this graduate program.  I cannot believe that some programs think a person can be prepared to teach on as little as six weeks of student teaching.  That is not enough.  I have been student teaching since day one of my year long program at Mills and I still don’t feel like that is enough.  I guess it will be tested this week though…the week I have been looking forward to since I heard about it…my full takeover week.  What is a takeover week you ask?  Well, it means that I am the classroom teacher for my first grade class that I have been student teaching in since January.

I am writing this after my very first day of the week.  People keep asking how it went and, well, it went well as far as takeovers go.  Being a student teacher is hard and inauthentic.  It is really difficult to step into someone else’s classroom and try to take charge when students have gotten used to things being taught a particular way.  But overall, it went well.  This is the math lesson that we went through Math Lesson for Monday .

We got through many of the routines that they are used to and I even got to teach a new lesson that is all mine.  I want my students to begin to act, but it is hard when it is something new and kids are shy.  We have been slowly introducing pieces of acting over the course of the last week and a half through morning meeting and modeling.  Today I talked to my students about norms for acting and more specifically for reader’s theater.  I discussed with my class how the most important rule is that we all take care of each other’s feelings because acting is a brave thing and it takes a lot for people to stand in front of other to act.  We came up with a chart of norms for us to follow before my very brave reading group who has been reading the play the Three Little Pigs for a week and a half performed.  The actors explained to the class that reader’s theater is all about acting with our voices.  Then we read our play together.  The audience was captivated.  Although there  were some management issues at the end of the long day, the majority of the class was extremely respectful of my actors and my actors did a wonderful job.  After we finished and took a bow and then reflected on the experience as a class.  Students talked about how it felt to be actors and how it felt to be audience memebers.  At the end the whole class gave me a thumbs up for wanting to try reader’s theater as a class.



Teaching Dilemmas Final Project
May 12, 2012, 4:43 am
Filed under: My Papers, Reflecting

The Perfect Bowl of Popcorn

My painting to accompany my paper...make sure to read the whole paper for a full understanding, because remember, I do believe every child can learn!

My painting to accompany my paper…make sure to read the whole paper for a full understanding, because remember, I do believe every child can learn!

We have been looking at dilemmas all year in our Learning to Teach Diverse Learners course.  One thing that I have gotten out of that is that they will keep coming.  I have decided to do my final project in an artistic way because I have been inspired by the last few weeks of our course to infuse art into the curriculum I plan on developing for my students.  I wanted to paint, because it is a passion that I used to have in high school and sporadically throughout college.  Coming up with the subject to paint took some more thinking.  I have dealt with various types of dilemmas during my student teaching including trying to find a balance between caring and authority as well as a balance between rigor and joy.  In addition to these types of dilemmas, I needed to portray something that is multifaceted as my classrooms have been.  Then it hit me, popcorn.  Getting the perfect bowl of popcorn takes a lot of balanced elements and, well, it is nearly impossible.  Every bowl, as every classroom, will hold unpopped kernels even though we strive to get each kernel to pop to perfection.  Sometime we will overdo it in some way that might lead to burnt kernels that will poison and contaminate the whole bag.  Now that last bit of the analogy might be rather harsh, but in reflecting on how some of my takeover days ended, it was those one or two students who I had been careful to keep a closer eye on all day, who inevitably strayed from my learning path and helped diverge the rest of the class off course.

Caring and authority is a dilemma that I have had a lot of trouble with.  It is easy for me to try to befriend my students and as a student teacher it works most of the time, at least up until I am left alone in the classroom and something goes wrong.  Because my authorative voice is not as frequented as my caring voice, students seem surprised by it and also do not know how to respond.  Those who this voice is often directed at can respond by complying or are wary of it and test it.  I have not had much defiance in my first grade class, however I feel like I still have not struck a balance.  I need to find that balance so that my students feel that I am in control and they are safe while they learn under my care.  I have been trying to figure out how this will work into my own classroom.  I believe that this is one of the difficult stages of working in someone else’s classroom.  As I have reflected in journals and has been discussed in class, we are not able to fully be our own teacher in our student teacher setting because we have to work within the culture and confines of a preexisting classroom.  That is not to say that I will have complete freedom in how caring and authority look at the school that hires me, I will still have to operate within the larger school culture, however I will be in a classroom that is mine and my status as leader will be less questionable.

It was easier for me to be out going with my fourth and fifth grade class last semester, partially because the students were older and we could talk about more of their interests.  With my first graders I have slowly learned that I need to show more of my authoritative side in the classroom because it allows me to carry forth our lessons and progress their learning which is something that I deeply care about.  During recess however is when I show a lot of fun caring and play time.  My students have begun to have outside of school conversations with me, started playing basketball or catch and this is a safe place for me to do this without taking away from my authority role as teacher.

Within the class I have tested the waters of how to show my authority voice.  I want my students to understand that their learning is important to me and that I want those little kernels of knowledge to pop for them.  I want them to see this caring and yet also see that I have the power to steer them back on course when needed.  During many of my takeovers I have employed the strategies that my CT uses to get the students back on track, such as beginning to read a poem we are working on (in the blue pocket chart) so they all chime in to bring them back together, singing a familiar song, doing the bump-bata-bump-bump..bum-bum to get their attention, etc.  However, during my last takeover I started using strategies that I had not seen her use and they seemed more useful to me.  Maybe it was because they are more my own style (making them feel more authentic to myself and my students) or maybe it is because of the novelty, but using them put me more at ease.

Through Anna’s class we talked about the idea of authenticity and need to be authentic for our students.  I feel that this comes out heavily in caring and authority.  If we are not authentic in the words we use and way we say it, it is almost as though there is no weight behind what we say.  That is one of the many dilemmas that pile on me as I try to strike a balance between caring and authority. Saying something and meaning it when a student is acting out.  After my first observation with Tim we talked about my tone with students and how they can so easily pick up on subtleties of changes in my tone.  For instance if they ask to go to the bathroom and I say no, with a hint of a maybe in my voice they will keep asking.  I have learned this, but it is not yet ingrained in my voice.  I feel that I can look at my response to my students asking to use the bathroom and you can really see my struggle between caring and authority.  If a student asks me to use the restroom and we are in the middle of a lesson I ask them if it is an emergency.  I care for them in multiple ways, I do not want them to be forced to wait if they really have to go, but I also do not want them to miss out on the concepts we are learning or to learn that the bathroom is a way to get out of work.  Because there is a hint of resistance to my automatic no students often push and question, making me feel like my authority is somewhat lost.  I have realized that this might cause a big problem for my takeover week, so I implemented a new piece of management.  I created a stoplight that always stays on our whiteboard.  When the arrow is on red the students know it is not a time for us to get up from the carpet because we are learning together as a group.  Yellow means that in case of emergencies it is ok to get Kleenex, water or go to the bathroom and green is go, but you always need to ask a teacher first.  So far this is working well and I am hoping that this smoothes out the issue before my takeover.

Another dilemma for me has been finding the balance between rigor and joy.  One of my dilemmas with the balance of rigor and joy is trying to define what joy is.  As I have discussed in a few of my journals to Tim, what my students define as joy and what I define as joy maybe entirely different.  I often define joy as helping my students connect what we are doing in school to their own lives, getting them to put things together, getting them to realize they can do things on their own, etc.  My version of joy is helping my students to see that they are all individuals and can add butter, caramel, ketchup, hot sauce, whatever they want to their popcorn.  I feel that if I were to ask my students about joy, their response would consist of choice time activities, recess and art (granted not all of them would say this).  Of course I think these things are important, but I also thing my students can find joy in every subject, or at least that is my goal for them.  My dilemma is how to help them find that joy can be found in rigorous activities and that the joy of learning is a goal I want them all to have for themselves.  I do not want my students to think of rigor and joy as entirely separate.  I believe that rigor and discipline can help my students achieve the joy of truly understanding something or practicing to be good.  Like when I was young and I played soccer, I hated when we had to run drills in soccer practice, but I didn’t realize that it helped lead me to a place of having so much fun during the games.  I want to have a classroom balanced enough between these two that my students can find the correlations.

Teaching will always hold many dilemmas.  Teachers have to make so many choices everyday that dilemmas are doing to be there, it is just fact.  What is important it reflecting and understanding that each situation, each classroom is going to require its own sets of balance.  Just as a perfect bowl of popcorn does not truly exist, neither does a perfect classroom.  However, I believe it is my responsibility to get as close as possible, get my timing right and pop as many of the kernels as I can, without burning any.



Solid Shapes
May 3, 2012, 4:13 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

My first graders are beginning to learn about solid shapes.  Here is my 3-D Shapes Lesson and Reflection.  This is the first lesson in a 4-5 day series.