Reflection of a Week

Last week started off rough. I had an observation by my field coordinator from the GV COE, and it did not go at all how I expected. The conversation between myself and my students was dry and superficial. Deep learning and deep conversation were completely absent. The feedback I received was unintentionally discouraging. What I was told to improve on were things I already knew needed improvement…but there are some things out of my control. The following day, students had to do some online testing (not even sure the purpose of this, but we were told they had to). Wednesday brought another day of anxiety because I was observed again. My content professor was the one to visit, however, and he observes in a very different way from my field supervisor. The lesson, again, seemed to completely flop. But instead of being completely discouraged after the post-observation discussion, I felt relieved. I was able to express how frustrated I was feeling and why. My professor acknowledged my frustration and then helped me brainstorm how to deal with it. I went home and went to bed. After some rest, I was inspired the next morning. They way my placement works right now, I have the first three hours to observe my CT and plan for my Algebra classes. I was no longer feeling that I needed a great, elaborate lesson to engage my students. Rather, I needed to work on the questions I asked them and how I facilitate discussions. Thursday was such an encouraging day. While the discussion wasn’t as meaty and thoughtful as the ideal, it was a small step forward from the previous day. That was an incredible feeling. While the Independent practice was still not my ideal, I had students ASK QUESTIONS! Believe it or not, my students don’t like to ask questions. Thursday, they did.

It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to have an amazing lesson to make progress in my placement. Instead, I need to reflect and prepare questions that build better conversations. Building an environment that allows my students to ask questions is far more important and it can be done, even within the many restrictions I feel weighing on me. 

From here on out, I’m focusing on what I can practice and just rolling with the things I can’t. The time will come when I can take bigger risks and work on more things that I want to work on.

Reflection + Feedback = Success

The title of this post represents what I have been realizing a lot lately during the first few weeks of my Student Teaching experience, and this post is part of the reflection piece of my equation for success. So here is what I’ve been thinking about lately.

My first day of Student Teaching was filled with feverish note-taking while observing each class period. The day started out easy with Juniors and Seniors in the AP Calculus course, so my notes focused on the conversations the students were having about the math.  It appears that by this level of mathematics in high school, the students have intrinsic motivation to work hard and learn the material.

The fourth and sixth hour classes were a different story. As the students entered, the atmosphere of the classroom changed. Freshmen…one of the most confusing ages of adolescence. It’s a tough age. And that shows in the classroom. My notes switched focus for these two hours to classroom management.

Reflecting on these differences, I realize I have no control over the maturity of my students, but now I understand a little better why there is a standard in the College of Education related to having lesson appropriate for the development of each student. The lessons for AP Calculus will be different from the lessons in Algebra, not only in terms of content but also in terms of classroom management. Interesting. 

“What is equal is not always equitable.” – Jon Hasenbank Ph.D

Shifting gears…

In my second week, I considered a lot regarding curriculum and lesson planning as I worked on making notes for the second chapter of Algebra. First, I would like to thank my professors at Grand Valley State University, particularly every education professor, for training me to think critically about what the objective of each lesson is while in the planning process. The format of the Algebra classes is based on the outline of the textbook the school uses. As I worked on the notes, I felt discombobulated. I couldn’t see connection between some lessons and it seemed as though some lessons were thrown in for the sake of claiming they met the regulated standards. But will students really meet those standards simply because we had them do some problems that only skim the surface of the content? I am afraid that organizing the class in this way creates disconnection between mathematical ideas and only adds to the frustration students already have with math. There is so much more I could say about this, but it would turn into a rant, we’ll move on.

Another important observation I have made, particularly as we have moved into the third week, is in regard to communication among other math teachers teaching the same math content. I like that the Algebra teachers attempt to stay on track with each other, however, it concerns me that they work so hard to stay on schedule rather than working hard to make sure students are understanding the material and learning. The students recently took a quiz over the first few sections and the majority of students bombed the quiz. Shouldn’t this cause the teachers to review the pieces that students are having trouble with rather than worry that we’re “a few days behind?” I guess at this point, I am of the opinion that it comes down to whether it’s more important to us to “get through” the material or that the students learn the concepts. I know that these teachers want the best for their students. I wonder, though, if they my have forgotten about or have had the ideals removed so far from reality.

I have so much to learn, and I am so thankful for the school at which I am placed. It may seem from this post that I only have negative points, but really, I’m just questioning with the goal of improving for my own future classroom. I respect the educators at Thornapple Kellogg High School so much and I am learning a lot by being challenged by their expertise. This career of education is tough with so many intricate things involved. But it is all worth it. 

And So It Begins…

The summer is coming to an end which means the school year is beginning. Monday starts the craziness of the semester for me with a full day of Professional Development at Thornapple Kellogg High School and then work at my part-time job right after. I believe I will be exhausted every single day of this semester, but I’m starting to actually look forward to the challenge.

I received my first email from my Content professors today, which somehow triggered excitement within me. Up until this time, I have been dreading the huge load which is about to be put on my shoulders, but now, I’m ready to take it on. 

During this semester, I’ll be using this blog as my way of reflecting (hopefully each week) on things I have learned while in the classroom and trying out my teaching skills. If ever you have suggestions or questions, PLEASE!!!! comment or send me a message! I would love to hear some feedback from all of you out there! 

For now, I am going to kick back and relax before the madness begins!

Are Teachers Killing Learning?

A snag came up during the winter semester after I applied for graduation in December of 2013.  Apparently I was missing two courses, and these two courses were going to prevent me from graduating “on time” (if those words even really mean anything significant anymore). This led to finding one of the courses offered as an independent study course online, and come to find, I have really enjoyed taking this course, even though it has inconvenienced my summer greatly. (And even with all this work, I still will not graduate in December, but we won’t talk about that here.)

One of the required readings for this course is a book entitled Readicide by Kelly Gallagher (and if you’re a student at Grand Valley you can access the book online through the library).

Cover of "Readicide: How Schools Are Kill...

Cover via Amazon

I have not even finished the first chapter and I am agreeing with every word.  While the focus of the book is clearly on literacy and the murder of the love of reading that schools everywhere are committing, I can see the ideas moving past even the love of reading.  Within the first few pages, Gallagher poses that the focus of many teachers has been forced onto a weak curriculum with a geared toward simply teaching to the standardized tests which really only test for the memorization of facts.

Here is my question for everyone out there.  Can’t we all agree that memorizing a load of facts is extremely different from learning the importance behind a few facts?

Consider this quote of Plato’s, which has stuck with me for some time.

“Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly.”

If this is the truth, which I think many educators could agree that it is, why are teachers continually barraged with seemingly countless facts that they must make sure they cover so that their students will score higher on the standardized tests?

The Common Core standards are coming, and all educators know that.  Will they really change things?  Or are they a continuation of what has been happening?  And since we may not be able to convince the powers that be that creating too many standards can be fatal for our students’ love of learning, how can we, as educators, take small steps to make little changes, not necessarily in the whole educational realm, but simply within our classrooms?  Perhaps simply keeping Plato’s philosophy in mind as we plan our lessons will help us remember what we became teachers to do.

Do we want our students to leave our classrooms as students who pass a class and earn a “good” score on a standardized test or as lifelong learners who may not have always given the right answers on tests, but never give up on finding new things to learn?

A Common Question

When I tell people that I am studying to be a secondary teacher, I’m always given a surprised look and then asked, “What grade do you want to teach?”  Before teacher assisting, I was sure that I would never want to teach middle school, because obviously the students of that age are the worst!  Then my placement arrived in the mail and I learned that I would be working an eighth grade classroom at Northern Hills Middle School.  I was a little bummed because eighth grade?  Who wants to work with eighth graders?

I can firmly say that after the past semester, I would not be opposed to working with eighth graders again.  While every group of students is different and I had a unique experience working with students in a district where parents were very involved in their children’s education, I learned something amazing while working with these kids: They had not yet lost their creativity.  As a future educator, I’ve learned that supporting students’ creativity will help them engage in the content and help them grow as human beings.  But I also learned that too often, teachers have lost sight of creativity because of “all the stuff they have to get done.”  Below, I’ve shared a picture of one student’s creativity in his idea for a product which the students had to come up with for a business project to demonstrate their understanding of systems of equations.  This is only one example.  I was blown away by the creativity that was bursting from these students!

Simply because of the obvious creativity, I would love to work with eighth graders again.  But I haven’t worked with high school yet, so perhaps there is some secret creativity waiting for the right moment to shine.

An example of creativity!

An example of creativity!

The Beginning

Well, here it is.  My blog.  My education blog.  Since I have never written a blog before, I ask forgiveness from anyone who ends up reading this first post, since it may sound choppy and perhaps incomplete.

As said in the tagline, I think I’ll use this blog as a type of journal of my journey entering into the existing educational realm.  I have completed a semester of teaching assisting and will be starting student teaching in the fall, which will be an exciting experience I’m sure.

Last semester was truly eye-opening as to what I was really getting myself into.  Education is not only planning lessons, deciding what to do within a classroom from day to day, but also jumping through political hoops, realizing that students are not learning as we hope they will learn,  and convincing the community that change needs to take place in order to better the education system.  With the introduction of the Common Core into the schools, I realized that my peers and I have a small advantage over some teachers who have been in the field for some time because of the training we are receiving at Grand Valley State University to implement literacy within all content areas.  It will be interesting to see what this next semester will bring.

It would really help if any readers would post questions they have regarding education and I will do my best to share my thoughts.  I am no expert, and never will be, but I love to discuss the importance of change within our education.  Thank you for reading! If you would like to know a little  bit more about who I am as a future educator, you can check out some of my work and ideas on my website which will be updated within the next semester!