Sh*t, Grit, and Motherwit:
A commentary and reflection upon my life and times in MTC.
- Name: Peetie Wheatstraw
Monday, August 20, 2007
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Tips for 1st Years During the School Year (AKA How to Ensure Your Sanity)
1) Learn to recognize which, among all the bullshit your school will inevitably tell you “has” to get done, in actuality, you “have” to get done. Your school will bombard you with deadlines for all types of menial tasks: countless homeroom headcounts, lesson plans, intervention plans, etc., etc., etc. Despite what anyone tells you, NOT ALL OF THIS HAS TO BE COMPLETED. At least not by you right that moment (or even when by when they initially say they need it). You have to figure out which of these things are the most important. Typically, anything the principal tells you directly to do gets priority. Typically, anything that can be emailed quickly I try and knock out of the way. But if you have 30 essays to grade, 3 lesson plans to write for tomorrow, 15 parents to contact, and grades are due by the end of the week, then get some of your stuff done first.
2) Make friends with the people who have any type of control over you. The librarian and the secretary saved my ass so many times. Many people disliked these particular employees, but I was always as polite and nice as possible, making sure to wish the secretary a good evening every night as I left for the day, and making sure to make small talk with the librarian. In return, my copies were (almost) always ready when I needed them, I didn’t have to wait in the office for more than 15 minutes to speak to someone (this is considered good), and I had access to the computer labs and/or TVs last minute whenever I needed them. A well-placed “thank you” or a card of appreciation goes a long way.
3) Watch who you associate with. I think because I hung out with a lot of the “trouble-makers,” even though I rarely caused trouble myself, I caught a lot more flack from the higher-ups than I probably deserved. Generally, the people who aren’t ass-kissing, who state their opinions, and who don’t always follow district policy tend to be the more liberal, and thus I naturally gravitated towards that circle. So when I was seen in the halls talking, it appeared to others as if we were “conspiring.” (It’s unbelievable how paranoid principals are.) I’m not saying don’t hang out with these people, but be aware of who’s watching you and what it looks like. Hang out with the others too.
4) Grow thick skin. Your students are astute and very perceptive (at times). They’ll figure out what annoys you or even hurts you, and they’ll use it over and over again. It’s not personal (even though they may personally attack you), that’s just what kids do. You did it too when you were in high school or middle school. Get used to it, and understand there’s a reason behind that child’s words. Don’t hold a grudge. Same thing goes with your principal(s). He/she has a job to do, a lot of stress, and may not always give you the benefit of the doubt. He/she may ream you out in front of students, parents, faculty, or by yourself. Be prepared to accept it in public (I know it’s hard for some of you to swallow your pride) and handle it professionally, even if he/she has not.
5) Please remember why you’re here. Even if kids tell you they hate you and don’t like you or your class, you’re helping. Don’t lose your ideals.
What should I be doing these next few weeks if I’m a first year?
Working. Organizing. And working some more. I know it sucks, especially considering you haven’t had a break from lesson planning and teaching since the second week of June, but it will make things so much easier for the Fall. In fact, I wouldn’t so much work on lesson planning right now as I would organizing and writing out a 9 weeks (or even a full year) syllabus. This is the most important thing you can do, because it will give your lesson plans and classes direction. If you already know what you’re teaching, contact the principal or curriculum administrator at your school and find out if there’s a pacing guide for your district/school. Find out if you’re required to lesson plan with the other teachers who teach the same subject as you. (It would suck if you worked so hard on these lesson plans and then you find out you’re not able to use them, or not able to use them until February.) Your principal will be very impressed with your assertiveness. Think about what overarching concepts you want your students to be able to know/identify/apply at the end of the year and think about how you’re going to incorporate those concepts throughout the year. Think long and hard about how you’re going to teach vocabulary, give tests, or assign homework.
Then, when you’re done with all that, work some more. Research how your school discipline structure works. For this, I’d try and contact someone who worked at your school previously in TeacherCorps or another teacher that currently works there. Again, you would hate to do all this work creating classroom rules and procedures on beautiful poster board and then you find out on the first day of school that because your school has a specific bathroom policy plan, you can’t use the brilliant one you came up with.
I’m not saying work all the time all day, but formulate ideas in your mind and actually write them down (I can’t count how many good ideas I had at one point throughout the school year that eventually got lost in the crevices of my mind). The more work you put in now, the easier the first nine weeks will be. The less likely it will be that you’ll want to kill yourself or your students. I can preach because I know first hand. My time off was spent at BestBuy, Finnian’s (a local pub), or on the foosball table. And I suffered in the long run. I came in with half-assed, poorly-thought-out lessons and strategies and my kids could tell. I’m so much more excited about next year because I’m actually writing out a week-by-week plan of what I’m going to teach for the entire year. Granted, I’ve had a year teaching it, so I know much better than you do what works and what doesn’t, but at least I can see where my year is going.
Go get drunk. Go explore your city (or town, or village, or hamlet). Go hang out with the rest of MTC. But those early Sunday mornings when you’re watching Sportscenter and drinking the Bloody Mary to recover from the even earlier Sunday morning, pull out the ol’ laptop and start typing away.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Required Blog #2
My worst lesson was probably the one on using context clues. I think most of this boils down to preparation. It was something I hadn't taught before and had to sort of throw together at the last minute because things we had originally planned for that period didn't work out (pre-test, procedures didn't take as long as anticipated, etc.). Also, the lesson was fairly lecture-oriented, and I still haven't figured out a solution to keep students' attention for 50 minutes when you're just talking to them. (I'm not sure one exists.)
My instructional procedures tend to mimic those that I used most commonly during the end of the regular school year: heavy on the set and heavy on the examples. For me, so many terms and concepts in Literature and English are defined very vaguely, that the only way to explain a concept is to give example after example. Also, I've found if you lose a kid at the beginning of the lesson, it's twice as hard to get him back. For these reasons, I usually run out of time when I'm allowing for independent practice and I consistently squeeze my closure into about 30 seconds.
I differentiated instruction by doing a lot of activities. Typically, I'll over dozens of verbal examples and samples throughout a lesson. Also, I've made it a goal to provide a visual handout for almost every lesson so that students can organize their thoughts. I've done a lot of group activities, allowing students to move around the room and build things with their hands. I think mostly though, I've given students lots of freedom in their assignments to choose what interests them. I realize that's not technically a "learning modality," but I still feel like differentiated is all about freedom of choice, which I'm definately trying to provide.
I think students' performance would be enhanced with more consistency among teachers. Because of the need to have four teachers teach so many lessons, it's extremely difficult to have the same teacher teach the same concept thoroughly. For example, I started a lesson using characterization in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" only to have it completed by two other teachers. Although I think there are definately benefits to this tactic, the students become confused by three different teachers' methods, priorities on what's important in the story, and different interpretations. To make it even worse, those teachers weren't in the room the entire time when the other was teaching because we were planning or conferencing. I think more time would definately also be an advantage, but I guess that's not the intention of summer school.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Required June Blog 1
Monday, June 04, 2007
What I Wish I Knew Coming Into Teacher Corps
2) How to Teach to the Level of My Students. Going in, partially because I was teaching juniors and seniors (two of which were Honors classes), I tried to make my classroom as much as a college setting as possible. Bad idea. Your students are not college students. The majority of them will not go to college, at least not a 4 year college. A large percentage of those who do eventually enroll in a 4 year college will not graduate college. So by doing what I did, you're preparing the minority. My biggest tips to getting kids to actually learn the material: Review as often as possible. Stop every 20-25 minutes and review what you've just gone over. Review at the end of class. Review every day at the beginning of your lesson. Review before tests. I know it may seem tedious and weary, especially to you, the teacher, someone who's been trained to memorize minute facts in very little time, but these students' brains do not work like ours -- they haven't had the conditioning. They need things repeated and reiterated over and over again. It's something I'm still working on, especially since the level of comprehension in my classes is so wide, but it's something I feel a lot better about now than I did when I started.
Monday, May 21, 2007
To Hell and Back
Nevertheless, at one point during one of the worst hot spells (and expectedly, during my last and hottest class of the day), the administration came over the intercom to make an announcement that went something like this:
"Good afternoon faculty and staff, and please excuse this interruption. There has been a water pipe in the building that has just broken. We are in the process of shutting off all the water in the building. Please do not allow any students to leave your class to use the restroom or go to the waterfountain. Thank you."
This was at about 2:15, which means we still had another hour and twenty minutes left in class. And we had just come back from lunch. And I had four pregnant girls in my classroom. Ah, the joys of teaching.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
On the positive side though, it was a great opportunity to watch the kids in their element. I'm still amazed at how different the kids act towards you when you're not trying to teach them something. Kids that in class hate me came up to me and gave me hugs or handshakes or cracked jokes. I really wanted to get out there with them and make a fool of myself, but I was so conscious of an administrator thinking it was inapporpriate or unprofessional, that I stayed in my seat the entire time I was there. I still in a sense resent some of the higher-ups at my school that assume in order to be an effective teacher, you can't be friendly with a student. That's not my style at all. I think the more a kid sees you as a real person who is understanding and genuinely wants to help, the more likely they are to respect you and act accordingly in your class.
Anyways, we left by 9:45. I'm sure I'll catch hell from the kids on Monday. I guess I'll just know better next year. I'm going to have to attempt to start back teaching this week after basically having two weeks where I never saw the kids, so that's going to be fun. I've got the days marked until I'm done and I'm really looking forward to the summer. I guess it's not completely the end thought. There's still one more major event that can possibly live up to the pre-hype of prom: graduation. I really hope that one doesn't disappoint.