Friday, January 29, 2010

Progressive Survey #18

18. If you could evaluate YOUR administration, what would you say?

Try to refrain from the laundry list. I would have given my administrators "needs improvement" in the area of communication. SO many times we teachers got information not second- or third- hand, but fourth or fifth! I hated learning things through my fellow teachers - or sometimes even my STUDENTS - instead of being told from our administration. Anything from policies (is the pep rally all students or pep-club card?) to schedules (when are exams?) often elicited questions and asking around for what other teachers have heard. Incredibly frustrating. How hard would it have been to just TELL us when you finally made a decision? (and also on that note, how hard would it be to make a decision at least a week ahead of time?)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Progressive Survey #17

17. What kind of student were you in school?

I was always the quiet, nerdy one. In high school, I found my niche in marching band, and I felt pretty comfortably defined as a band student honors kid. If pressed, I do remember being a bit of a slacker on my homework...but I ultimately got good good grades and enjoyed most classes. Yup. Nerd.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Progressive Survey #16

#16. What is your preferred age to teach?

I'm not sure I can answer this question with complete certainty, as I've only ever taught 10th graders. I taught 9th and 12th in student teaching - but 9th were HONORS 9th, so I'm not sure they were a completely valid portrait of a freshman class. A teacher neighbor/friend taught 10th grade and now teaches 12th, and she assures me I would LOVE seniors. And while my sophomores would frustrate me from time-to-time, I am pretty happy with them. If given any choice, I think I might choose juniors.

I am tempted to try middle school; I loved the sixth graders I had a practica with. And some of my own most memorable teachers were during those middle school years. When I think about those sixth graders again, I absolutely melt. But I didn't have to TEACH and MANAGE them - mostly I got to have fun with them, so again, my perspective might be skewed. I guess my answer to this question is...I am too experienced to really know for sure. I just know it definitely wouldn't be kindergarten thru third.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Progressive Survey #14 & 15

#14. Describe your classroom in three words.
Colorful, creative, and student-centered
(It was hard not to elaborate)

#15. What do you appreciate about the profession of teaching?
I think it's the autonomy, which is what makes all the national stipulations so frustrating (well, it's one reason). I truly hate the idea of common assessments or even common syllabi. Obviously there are some things that we need to expect certain grade levels to know. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem forcing all the teachers who are teaching a certain subject to follow the exact same syllabus, so everyone is teaching the same skill set using the exact same materials in the exact same way. Boring. What's that you say? I can still teach it teach it my way? (too bad you can't hear my awesomely petty high-pitched voice mimic) But what if I need to teach it my students' way, which might include going over a certain aspect in more depth, reviewing or re-teaching certain aspects? I could probably rant about this for awhile, but I'll stop here but I think you can see where it goes. I like that I can choose what to teach from year-to-year (because teaching the same novel for 3+ years in a row, we need freedom to change SOMETHING), and I like that I can teach it at whatever time works for me & my students. The classroom is my little domain, and for my control-loving self, that's a beautiful thing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Progressive Survey #13

#13. Sharing resources - fee or free?

I think we should share & swap for free. Yeah, I know, teachers should get paid for their hard work, since they're obviously not getting paid enough in the first place. But I just think of all the innumerable resources I gleaned from my fellow colleagues my first year and how utterly lost I would have been without their helpful suggestions, lessons, or activities. I guess I think of all of us teachers in "it" together, and so why shouldn't we help out a fellow educator? We've all been there - we've all needed the ideas to freshen things up or just get things started. I just feel too strong a camaraderie with other teachers to feel comfortable charging them for my resources.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Progressive Survey #12

#12. Who are the teachers who inspire you?

I mentioned one yesterday - a professor in college who was challenging but also really fun and well-liked. He has a great sense of humor to make class interesting while simultaneously questioning students & making us think. There was a "Triumvirate" of professors at college that I looked up to & got to know, and they all had that in common - challenging but fun & entertaining - and I want to emulate that. Another teacher was my 7th grade language arts teacher who I adored. I wasn't afraid to be weird & silly around her, I'm not sure why. I can remember content a little...but mostly I just remember adoring her and thinking she was wonderful. She took an interest in me - complimented my writing, recommended books, etc. I try to remember her and how she made me feel when I'm forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone and be engaging.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Progressive Survey #11

Oh, come on, people! I know you have those stories! Do share. And if you're wondering what I'm talking about, go back one entry.

So I'm a day behind. Big woop.

#11. Do you want to be liked?

Yes, and I consider it a downfall. Daggone it, I care what other people think about me. It causes me to be a bit nicer than I should. I need to remember that they need firm expectations and discipline - that even if they don't "like" me because of it, it will make them better people. I had a professor once who said his goal was to be known as a really hard professor...but whose classes still fill up. I'd say that sums up my own attitude. I want to be known as a challenging teacher, but one the kids like anyway.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Progressive Survey #10

#10. You Can't Make This Sh*t Up.

Let's pretend that's the title of a book of teacher stories. What would you include?

This could garner some of the more potentially interesting responses so far! And, we could probably point to just about any entry in Teenagers Are Ridiculous. For me, it would probably be a tale from my first year (of course!) of a young man in my sixth period - we'll call him Ned. He was a little strange (a teacher neighbor warned me that he was suspended his freshman year for coming to school in a skirt. Willingly. No dare. No prank. Just felt like coming to school in a skirt. And fishnet stockings.) He obviously had some issues - you'd look at him and think goth-metal kiddo. But then he opened his mouth and he was so soft-spoken and sensitive. Maybe gay? you think then. Ultimately he only made the gaydar flicker, really. So, no, not gay. You couldn't quite pin it down, but he was just... different. Weird. The other kids steered clear of him for the most part. He had a few friends, just not in my class. Ned was the class loner. He was in and out of ISS for various behavior issues, but I never had a problem with him...until The Incident. I was pretty sure I'd seen this a week prior, but had suspicions definitely confirmed one day when we were reading out loud in Animal Farm. I called on Ned, who wasn't quite ready to be called on. The momentary pause and response "Huh?" gave me enough time to look up and see him pulling his hand out of his pants. I enabled Teacher Mask of Unconcern and told him our spot in the book, making a note on my podium that OMG YES TALK TO PRINCIPAL.

I don't think he was doing...THAT exactly. From the little I had caught the week before, he wasn't really DOING anything. It was like a comfort thing. You know, in lieu of a blanket or thumb-sucking, just put his hand down his pants. After that class - last of the day - I practically sprinted up to the assistant principal's office to explain. They knew Ned's name immediately and sighed a little. Then they laughed with a mix of amusement and horror when I told them exactly what I needed to report. I had stopped in one of the female assistant principal's office, and one of our male APs happened to be nearby. She turned to him with a smile and said, "I think YOU need to take this one." He covered his face with his hands.

What would you include in an anthology for teachers titled You Can't Make This Sh*t Up?

[Conclusion] Ned was assigned 10 days in RISE, which is where our EBD (emotional/ behavior disorder, for any non-educators) students go instead of ISS. There is a special education teacher in there who is great with them, and instead of getting stuck in ISS & having a suspension on record , they can be in RISE (actually, I'm not sure if it's an acronym or not, but I assume so) with a teacher who can handle the issue at hand, not just punish them (even though most of these kids already have some kind of suspension on their record anyway, but hey at least they're in school and getting work). He returned to class for about another month or so after that and then I think he transferred shortly before the end of the year.

source: my scarred memory, picture credit lolcats

Friday, January 15, 2010

Progressive Survey #8 & 9

Oops, I missed the boat yesterday, didn't I? We'll just double up our dose today.

#8. When did you decide to become a teacher?
I heard this one told a million times over when I was in college. I did play teacher at one point as a kid, but I don't reflect on it as something I was as passionate about more than playing "House." I had intended to be a veterinarian until my senior year of high school, when I realized I was more excited about my English classes than my Chemistry classes! When I switched over, I don't even remember when the lightbulb came on that I'd be a teacher. Honestly, I think it was because I could get a scholarship. Not as noble a story as you usually hear, but it worked out. I love it.

#9. Where do you see yourself in 8 years? (I won't tell your principal)
Ideally speaking, I see home, taking care of one or two little ones. It's incredibly important to me to be able to stay home with our kids. If I go any further one this, I'll sound rather preachy, but...yeah. Maybe that makes me a bad teacher, but I don't really care. I know it'll be best for our family.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Progressive Survey #7

#7. Have you ever strongly disliked a student?

I'm sure that there has been, but strangely enough the students that immediately come to mind are students that were a challenge management-wise but not in belligerent ways --mostly in ADHD ways.

Still, one student who comes to mind was a guy who, at the beginning of the year, I was pretty sure had no soul. He was so cynical, so deadpan. He used to mutter things under his breath, which he stopped after I talked to him about it. By the end of the year, however, I think I'd come to better understand him and I even almost missed him a little. He's graduating this year and - astoundingly - stopped by my room during one of the last days to say, "Hey you're leaving? What's up with that?" He has grown up SO MUCH the past couple years, it is truly astounding. He's still very sarcastic, but I'm so impressed by the changes I've seen (just in the hallway!) the past two years.

On the flipside, I can think of someone who followed an opposite trend. At the beginning of the year, he was a fun kid. But by the end of the year, I got so sick of him. He's incredibly bright, and he knows it. Most of my kids who read in their spare time know to put it away when I start talking. He would not. I would have to tell him to put it away, and he always acted like it was an inconvenience. He was also super-goofy and did ANYTHING just to get a laugh from the class. Which, as you fellow teachers know, means a lot of behavior that causes eye-rolling from more mature individuals in the room, of which we are usually the few (or loner). He was one of the few students that I was SO HAPPY to pass along at the end of the year. Gah, he was annoying.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Progressive Survey #6

No snappy intro today.

#6. Do you have favorite students?

Yes. And I'm skeptical of any teacher who says s/he doesn't! Oh sure, I strive to treat them all the same. Still, I love them all, but I don't like them all. There are some that are just charmers - the sweet kids who work hard for you, who come up and talk to you before or after class, the ones who just work their way under your skin because of their charm, their wit, or their attitude. I had a class full of them in my sixth period this year, which was one reason why I had such a time keeping mouths shut and not getting off-track. They were just so fun and engaging!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Progressive Survey #5

As you may have noticed (oh let's just say you did. no need to hurt my feelings), I was absent this weekend. I'll be taking a break from the survey on the weekends, mostly because my schedule varies, and I just don't think of it!

#5. Describe a learning moment for you in the classroom (i.e. a moment you learned something about yourself or you as a teacher).

One moment that comes to mind was with a particularly difficult boy my very first year teaching (honestly, what moment during my first year WASN'T a learning moment?!). Let us call him Tate. Tate was gregarious, super-popular, and a slacker. He was the typical outgoing athlete with a slight 'tude and no interest in academics.

Tate would frustrate the class by holding everyone up when taking notes. I had to leave things up about 3 minutes longer than everyone else needed. That's when he decided to take notes at all. I finally confronted this issue one day. When I put up the vocabulary terms, everyone began scribbling furiously. Except Tate. He stared at the screen blankly or around the classroom. He watched others copy the terms & definitions. He watched me watch him. And then he picked up his pencil and began to copy. After an appropriate amount of time, I moved the slide. He became furious. I said we could go back to the slide after we were all done. In the meantime, go ahead and give yourself some space and copy these terms.

Uh-uh. Not having it. Tate threw down his pencil and put his head on his desk. I didn't fight it then, but during a later time, when everyone else was working quietly/independently, I wandered over to Tate. His head was still down. He muttered insolently that he wants to do things The Right Way or it's not worth doing at all. I pointed out that if he had started taking down the terms when everyone else did, he wouldn't have fallen behind. You can't just wait until you FEEL like it to start taking notes. I also pointed out that the attitude he had was unhealthy. If you can't do it perfectly, you don't want to do it at all? That's not how life works and it will hold you back...

blah blah blah. Tate and I had had conversations like this before. I did everything I had been taught to do. Get down on his level so my posture isn't threatening. Speak evenly and calmly. Offer to him that he is making a choice between success and failure. He makes the choice whether to go to the office or do his work. It didn't matter. I had many conversations like this, and so did another friend of mine who also had him in class. She and I both expended so much energy and effort with Tate, trying to reach him to no avail.

My revelation was this: I can only do so much. We teachers want to be superheroes. We study our pedagogy, we confer with colleagues, and we practice child psychology. We love these kids, and we love learning. We know the value of what we're doing and that we can impact the future. We want what is best for "our" kids, and we strive to do whatever we can to make it happen. But sometimes we (and parents, students, and administrators) forget that a teacher doesn't create a product like any other employee. I cannot "produce" an A-level student if that student isn't willing to put forth a little effort on his end (do his homework, study, take notes, pay attention, ask questions). Can I show him love? Yes. Can I show him respect and discipline? Yes. But you can't save someone from drowning who isn't willing to stop thrashing around and let you do your job. You can reach out your hand, throw out a life preserver, but if they don't hold on to either one of those...well, they're letting themselves drown. And that's hard for us teachers to admit sometimes, I think. We want to be the superhero who can save anyone. And we COULD. If they would let us.

What's the conclusion of this Tate story? Well, just as we were trying to get him tested for learning disability (and trust me, he wasn't exactly happy about that either), he moved to another school. Honestly, it wouldn't have been long before he was in the alternative school here, anyway. He was a troublemaker in numerous classes on numerous occasions. He was actually rather bright, though, which is why it is so sad that he never accepted help offered him. So, I don't know where he is now, but if he continued the path he had chosen...well, I'll let you figure that one out.

That doesn't mean we ever stop trying, though. But sometimes it's worth knowing, just for our own peace of mind and emotional well-being.

source: photo source courtesy of Esparta

Friday, January 8, 2010

Progressive Survey #4

Up early this morning! I know quite a few people in both of my former states of residence are out of school today. Even around here we're having a 2 hour delay, though I have no idea why. I can see that we got a dusting of snow but mostly it's just wet sidewalks now.

Oh. News says another cold front is moving through that should freeze these wet roads.

OK, I've put off this question long enough.
5. What about your profession is out of your comfort zone?

Strangely enough, it is being outgoing. I am an introvert and much happier to just stay back a bit and watch the goings-on. I'm fine if people come to me, but in the meantime I'm just as happy to observe and stay in the background. I've come a long way in the past few years, but even still, I think of myself as one of the quiet ones. For me, it is a struggle to push myself to be that person who initiates relationships and contact. But I have to - I have to be the one to approach students and ask them about their lives, etc. Because they're not going to be the initiators. They'll learn to do that themselves when they're older. For now, they need someone to set the example and to show interest in them.

Talking about novels and grammar I can do. Being goofy and dumb I can do. But initiating relationships is hard.

How about you? What about your profession is out of your "comfort zone"?

source: photo courtesy of p_x_g

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Progressive Survey #3

No, I hadn't forgotten today! Just got started on my day a little later than usual.

3. Tell a story about a time you & your class laughed together.

Two instances come to mind immediately. But I'll just tell one story for today. Picture if you will...classroom scene. Students sitting in their desks, attentively taking notes. Teacher at the front of the room, pontificating knowledge and wisdom. In the midst of teacher's sentence, a young man, Russell, breaks the flow of lecture by beginning to shriek at the top of his lungs, propelling himself from his desk. The sudden, startling action has all heads in the room immediately turning to him, mouths dropping open in shock. Russell's shrieks of terror echo in the room, accompanied only by the shuffling and thuds of his notebook and book hitting the floor. Not only is Russell projecting himself off his seat and into the air, he thrashes about wildly as he does so. When he finally lands a foot or so away from his desk, he takes a few deep breaths...and looks up to meet the eyes of the shocked and inquisitive classroom, which is now silent. Russell's face blushes bright red as he turns to the teacher sheepishly. "Spider," he says, a tad breathlessly.

As if on cue, the entire class bursts into fits of laughter, including Teacher, who needs to lean on the podium for support. In the breaks of laughter, Russell explains (through his own chortles) that as he diligently took notes, a spider dropped from the ceiling onto his notebook. Russell (apparently) doesn't like spiders in the best of times, but the unexpected arrival was, needless to say, a bit of a shock. Good sport that he is, Russell joined in the uproarious laughter, and it took several minutes before the lecture could get back on track, although everyone - teacher and students alike - continued to stifle giggles until the end of the period.

Your turn!! Tell a story about a time you & your class laughed together.

source: photo courtesy of ivanwalsh

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Progressive Survey #2

2. How do you feel about being evaluated?

Even though I know I'm a good teacher, I still get nervous! I doubt that will ever change. You always hope that the kids are on their best behavior with an administrator in the room, and I've never had any trouble. But I have heard stories of teachers who had to send a student into the hall, and she was so surprised the kid had the brilliance to act up in front of an admin. Ah well. If a kid is gonna do that, chances are, the administrator already knows his/her name!

Despite my nerves, I know it's a necessary evil; at my former school we had one scheduled evaluation and then 2 surprise visits. After the tenure year, you only got evaluated every two years, but I think it would be worth at least one drop-in a year to keep those lazy teachers on their toes. So, in short.... evaluations make me nervous.

Your turn! :)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Progressive Survey #1

1. If you could teach any other subject, what would you teach?

Let's throw out what I'm currently qualified to teach. With the proper motivation, I could get qualified to teach just about anything, as long as I take the time to get educated in it! So let's think outside the box here!

Able to teach anything other than a core English class, I would love to teach Art History or Journalism. Art History is another love of mine, and I would love to be able to continue to explore that subject through teaching it. I would definitely go back to my own beloved AP Art History teacher and beg that he let me borrow his wisdom & resources.

Journalism is another option, as I would love to engage students in the practicality of writing, as well as the skills of questioning. Though I know it would be extremely stressful, I'd like to take on the challenge of a school paper. I guess technically journalism could fall under my current subject, although technically I don't have any specific training or background in it.

Since I've had some downtime to think about what I want to do next in my career, I did actually poke into how I could get certified to teach AP Art History.
Ah, dreams. One day, maybe?

Your turn!
If you could teach any other subject, what would you teach?

*photo: Rain, Steam, and Speed by JMW Turner

Monday, January 4, 2010

Read & Respond

I'll be out of the classroom during our transition; I knew I needed to find some way to update this blog, though, so both you and I don't forget about it!

Taking inspiration from another blog I love (not teacher related, but still wonderful: Fab Finds Under $50), I decided to set up a little "Inspiration Calendar." For the next few weeks, I attempted to come up with a survey-like question for each weekday. I will post the question and my response, and I encourage you to leave YOUR response in the comments section here!

Perhaps instead of an inspiration calendar, it's more like a progressive dinner. A survey, in steps.

If you have a question you want to submit to my "Progressive Survey," email it to me! rflute71 at gmail dotcom.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's first episode!