What a year!

So, I’m finishing up my student teaching, this week. Wow.

It’s been a long, hard year – and I’ve accomplished quite a bit. I wish I had documented more as I went, but I had a hard enough time keeping my head above water. Maybe over the next couple weeks I’ll be able to reflect upon my experiences and give you all an idea of what it was like.

I wish I had updated with at least a little blurb every day. I didn’t because I thought it would be annoying to just get a few sentences of “kids say the damnedest things,” but they really do. I did keep a written journal here and there, so maybe I will post some of that.

Over the summer I hope to teach summer camp at a local science center, so I will update on that experience as well as the “job hunt.” I have some places in mind, and have been to a job fair, but I haven’t seriously started hunting. That starts next week.

I’m going to miss these kids. Maybe more than I will any future classes… they’ve taught me so much about myself. I intend to visit periodically before their year ends in June.

I can’t believe that I will be graduating in exactly 20 days. It’s been a journey, and I hope you’re willing to follow along to the next one!

“Teaching first graders to cough”

The title of this post is also its inspiration. It’s a search string that brought somebody here, and I was actually disappointed when I realized that my site probably didn’t help them at all.

I have first graders. They cough. I try to teach them how to do it without expelling their ick all over me. I should share.

First of all – NEVER HAVE THEM COVER THEIR MOUTH WITH THEIR HANDS! They’ll just use their hands to spread that nastiness all over the place. Yes, some schools can still give their kids hand sanitizer (thank goodness!), but still… will they use it? Really? In the middle of the hallway, 5 minutes away from the classroom? Exactly.

I always tell my students to cough into their elbow. I guess it’s technically the crook of their arm, but they understand what you mean when you say “into your elbow.” Most of the time, during cold and flu season, their arms are covered in clothes, anyway, so they shouldn’t bitch too much about coughing on themselves. Also, I’m not afraid to tell them “I’d rather you cough on you than on me!”

I got the plague pretty bad, this year. I was sick (like, nasty sick) for over three weeks. Hooray, sinus infection! I don’t want to get sick again, this semester. However, I’ve had a really sore throat for two or so weeks, now… I thought it was getting better, but it seems to be just as bad as ever. I’m thinking I might have some form of strep where only the throat is sore. I’m hoping to get tested this week, and probably go back on antibiotics (joy), but it really is annoyingly painful. Like “I don’t want to swallow” painful. Talking doesn’t hurt really badly, just swallowing and singing. But I can still do both.

Anyway, I just wanted to add this bit of advice.

Cough into your elbow.

(This is good advice for adults, too, who are often worse about washing their hands than kids.)

Classroom management

Ah, the age-old question. How should I manage the behavior of my students? Everyone gets pretty heated about this issue, because there are such differing opinions on what works, what doesn’t, and why. Being new to this, I have my opinions, and what I’ve been told to avoid, but I really haven’t been able to find a system that seems to work for me and my class. Of course, right now I have to follow the school-wide policy, and stay pretty much in sync with what my cooperating teacher was doing before I took over, but I can still tweak things a little.

Some background:

My school follows the Positive Behavior Support (PBS) system. Because I’m a student teacher, I have very little clue what that is, except to know that it tries to redirect negative behavior, and encourage positive behavior, by offering more intrinsic rewards (certificates and recognition instead of candy or toys).

This is used in combination with a school-wide color system. Everyone starts on two green, and moves down to one green (verbal warning), yellow (note home), and then red (go to the office). They can move up for outstanding behavior or if they are able to significantly improve their behavior; purple is the highest, after two green. (They get a good note home if they get purple.) Three purples means they move up to blue, which means they get a special breakfast sometime in the year. Every teacher uses this, and the school recognizes the system. This means that if my students are in music, the music teacher can give my kids purple notes for good behavior, or punish them in the same way we do in our class.

While I appreciate the consistency, it really doesn’t work very well for such a diverse group, especially since the punishments aren’t logical. You talk in line or play in the bathroom, you go down a color. Big deal. This is great for catching the semi-repetitive bad behavior in kids with involved parents, but what about the kids who talk constantly? Or the kids who never do anything bad, but don’t really do anything outstandingly good, either? And what about the kids who are really doing the best they can, but keep getting yellow notes sent home? They have no motivation to try, if they are always getting in trouble.

So, while it’s supposed to be consistent, it’s often tailored to each student, which the others see as “unfair.” I’m trying to teach my kids that “fair” and “the same” are two different things, but first graders only know somebody else is getting away with things they aren’t. I’d be mad if I were 7, too.

My approach to this has been to use my better judgement, and try to use it as a reminder, rather than a punishment. That seems to be working fairly well. My hope is to send home more purple notes than yellow notes, but only if they’re deserving, of course.

What I really want to know is how can I incorporate logical consequences into my classroom? As adults, logical consequences are what motivate us. We don’t touch a hot stove because we know we will get burned. We don’t drive on the wrong side of the street because we will crash. Some of us are careful not to say hurtful things to people because we don’t want to hurt their feelings (or get sued…). I feel like that is what my kids need, too – consequences that make sense and fit the behavior that should change. Yeah, none of them want to get a yellow note, but they get the same punishment for every behavior.

I feel as though they would be more inclined to follow the rules if the punishment fit the crime, you know? Like, if they can’t walk quietly down the hall, I’ll have them walk with me. They hate that, but when half my line is talking and dancing past the principal, what do I do then? I thought about telling the kids who play and yell in the bathroom that they have to go alone in the classroom until they can prove to me that they can behave, but I don’t want bottlenecking at the bathroom or accidents. So, what works?

I hate candy as an incentive. I know the sugar doesn’t make them hyper, but they get enough candy. Besides, I like candy, too. I’d have to refill the reward jar every day. 😉 I don’t really like stickers or other prizes, either. Besides, I think the purple notes are a great motivator, and they have something to show their parents. I need a method of punishment that is consistent, logical, and easy to implement and remember.

Any ideas?

Things I’m learning…

(1) Don’t plan until 3am and expect to be useful the next day.

(2) I’m never going to plan the way my supervisor makes me do it.

(3) Yoga is a necessity.

(4) A masseuse would be awesome.

(5) First graders are smarter than most give them credit for.

(6) Breakfast would be great, if I had the time.

(7) School lunch isn’t vegetarian friendly, but it’s not that bad on the occasions I can eat it.

(8) I pick favorites. But I don’t treat them differently, I just adore them more. Though, these favorites change on a weekly/daily/hourly basis. 😉

(9) Parents… aren’t so bad, sometimes.

(10) Insurance in this country is pretty fucked up. Sorry for the language, but it really pisses me off when a single mother working 2 jobs with two daughters in elementary school gets denied Medicaid coverage for her daughters and the person handling her case can’t tell her why.

(11) I love this job. So much. It’s almost painful, but in that good way.

Tonight there is a special event at school, so I’ll be pretty dead tired at 8pm when I’m headed home. I think I’ll just crash when I get there. I hope to start updating more regularly, now that I’m kind of in a routine. Hopefully that routine will shift a little so I can get more sleep, but that would require me to actually plan ahead… and who does that??? 😉 I have lots of good things to share, though…

No more tears?

So, I’ve mentioned once before that my school system uses Handwriting without Tears to teach handwriting. My teacher gave me her teacher’s guide at the beginning of the year, but I haven’t had much time to look through it.

My school finally got the student workbooks this month, so my teacher started teaching it one Wednesday that I was there.

And I have to say, I’m horrified.

Handwriting WITH Tears

All the reasons to not buy and implement a system like this are there: it’s expensive (a $6 workbook for every student in grades K-2 plus a $6 teacher’s guide for each teacher and whatever other materials they purchased), it’s vocabulary-heavy, and it takes just as much time (if not more) to teach them how to use the method as it does to just teach them how to write.

Plus, it’s everything I hate… cutesy phrases that only vaguely relate to their purpose, lack of meaning, and boring repetition.

I remember learning how to write in elementary school… I hated it. “Write the letter p exactly this way 10 times. Now do it again. And again. Oh, no! you didn’t bring the tail all the way down to the line (that won’t appear on any actual paper you’ll ever use for anything other than handwriting practice)! Start over!” It’s ridiculous and impractical – and kids hate it.

I realize that being able to write legibly and consistently is important, I do… but can’t we, after decades of doing it the boring way, figure out a better way to teach it? I know you have to practice, by why can’t you practice using words and situations (and paper!) that the kids will actually use? Why can’t you just model the correct way and tell them you want them to write the letters the way they appear on their nametags or on the wall or wherever you might have the alphabet hanging in your room?

And, honestly, do we need to confuse them any further with the “magic c,” “frog jump capitals,” and “up, up like a helicopter, slide down, bump”? I mean, seriously – what the fuck does all that even mean? I remember, when I was learning how to write in cursive, my teacher kept telling me a cursive “r” was supposed to look like a chair, and I kept fucking it up. I just didn’t understand how what she drew looked anything like a chair, so I tried to draw mine like a chair instead of like hers, and she kept telling me it was wrong, and I still have trouble writing the cursive “r”. All because my teacher was so concerned about the vocabulary used in whatever system my school adopted to teach cursive that she didn’t notice that it wasn’t working.

I feel sorry for any kids who come in new in the second grade that aren’t familiar with Handwriting Without Tears. They’ll be lost and confused and frustrated. The funny part – the teacher’s guide actually states (on page 23 for those following along), “…there is no strange jargon or indecipherable terminology.” HA!

Ha ha ha! Ha HA ha HA! HA!!!

I don’t know if they’re fooling themselves, but they certainly haven’t fooled me – this system is so FULL of strange jargon that you spend half the time teaching them what it means to “frog jump up” and what the fuck a “magic c” is. I tried explaining this system to some of my adult friends (both education majors and not) and they were perplexed.

I don’t know of any “standardized” alternative to the program, myself, but I’d rather just teach them how to write my own way than use this… though, I’m sure there is something better out there. Any ideas?

Life is what happens…

I do apologize for not being very good at updating. I doubt I have any regular readers (it’s hard to have regular readers when you don’t have regular contributions), but in case you are out there, I am sincerely sorry.

My hope was to update weekly with my student teaching escapades for the week, but that hasn’t happened because… well, because life happened, instead.

My mother passed away in September, and I’ve been trying to catch up from that. I’m okay, and things are generally fine with school and teaching and all, but updating this journal has been rather low on the priority list as a result.

There are so many things to share, though – I’ve taught a lesson that went really well (I want to post the lesson plan), I’m working on a special case study that is both heartbreaking and eye opening, I’m getting ready to teach another lesson on Wednesday, my methods courses are proving tedious and only slightly useful, and I went to a math conference that was simultaneously boring and helpful and extremely crowded.

I’m growing as a teacher, and I can feel some exciting changes taking place in the way I think and plan and work with children. I am starting to feel like a responsible adult, and teaching is more and more becoming second nature to me.

Please, if you haven’t given up on me, yet, don’t. I truly appreciate your interest and input, and am anxious to offer what little knowledge I have, as well.

Thank you.

Student Teaching, week 1

So, last week, I spent pretty much every day in the classroom for at least a few hours getting ready for the First Day of School, 27 August.

Quick and dirty:
Monday the 20th, I helped the Teaching Assistant and another student teacher* paint these lovely crayons on our closets!
Crayons from an angleCrayons from the front
There was also a staff meeting, in which we discussed money (or lack thereof), students (and their overabundance), and teachers (or lack thereof).

Tuesday: More meetings. They sure do love staff development at my school. Last year, they started a new system referred to as a Professional Learning Community or PLC. Essentially, it increases collaboration between teachers and grade levels, and focuses more on learning than teaching – instead of dissecting what you’re doing, you dissect what the student is doing. I also painted this wall:
Yellow Wall

Wednesday: all day staff development. All. Day. Staff. Development. It was useful, but looooooong. At the end, I felt like I was about to die… but I really love the staff at my school, so it was bearable. Better than some of the Teaching Fellows meetings I’ve had to sit through (sorry, Gladys).

Thursday: Meet & Greet. About 20 of our 27 students came in with their families to meet us, fill out paperwork, and ask questions. Apparently we had a really high turnout, and I was able to use some of my Spanish (which needs MAJOR work, but was very useful). We have 8 Spanish speaking students in my class. I haven’t looked through all their files to see how proficient they are in English, but the few I looked through showed pretty high writing and vocab, but low reading levels. All in all, an excited group of people.

Friday: A sad attempt to plan for the first week of school. There was so much distracting stuff going on, my teacher and I didn’t get much done. She’s doing all of the planning, of course, as I’m only going to be there once a week until January, but she didn’t even have Monday finished when I left at 4. Hell, we didn’t even have an updated class list! I’m sure it’ll all come together, though – it always does.

Amongst all this craziness, I’m taking my methods courses. From now through December, I’ll be going in once a week on Wednesdays. I won’t go full time until the spring semester, but I am supposed to teach at least three lessons this semester. The other days of the week, I’ll be taking my five other classes, and pulling out my hair. It’s going to be busy, busy, busy – but I’m already loving it. So far, everything I’ve done has been useful and felt productive… instead of last year when I felt like I was doing busywork that had no purpose.

My plan for tonight and tomorrow (besides do reading for my methods courses), is to put together some short lesson plans that I can teach anytime this semester. I also need to review the teacher’s guide to Handwriting Without Tears, which is the handwriting program my school adopted last year.

I can’t believe the first day is Monday. There’s still so much to do!

* For a while, there were two of us – she goes to another college, and was to be full-time student teaching this semester. This proved to be a bit much for all of us, so she was placed with another teacher (in the same school). She did help us out pretty much all week, though – and was awesome.

Here it comes!

In less than a week, I will be sitting down with my teacher, planning for the coming year. I am very excited about this. Summer camp was a classroom management nightmare, so I hope to pick up a lot of tips from classes and my student teaching experience.

What I know so far: I’ll be student teaching in first grade, with a fairly experienced teacher. Based on the Kindergarten class from last year, the class size will be large (possibly 26 students!), but they had less behavior problems than the first graders last year, so it might not be too bad. My teacher seems eager to help me, and willing to let me take over where comfortable. I’m glad I’ll be with her in the beginning, since it will make the class feel a bit more like mine.

So, there will probably be many posts on my actual experiences in the coming year, and I’ll likely be begging for advice on occasion. 😉 Hopefully, I’ll be able to do some current-event type posting, as well… my intention for this blog was never to be completely about me, but about the world of education in general, too. I’ve got lots of things I want to write about, I just have to find the time to sit down and write about them. Feedback would be awesome!

Student teaching fun, the prequel

So, I have to get a physical before school starts in August to prove that I won’t give the kids TB or some other disease. I understand that, and I don’t mind doing it – they even have a form to take with us to make it easier to get proof and make sure everything gets done. Hooray for the student teaching physical.

Of course, I wait until the last two weeks of summer school to schedule that appointment – *cough*procrastinator*cough, cough*. I call, today, to schedule (just got off the phone, actually), and she actually knows what I’m talking about when I say I need a student teaching physical – which surprises me, because they didn’t last time I did this (remember, I was supposed to do my student teaching in 2004, but became temporarily retarded and dropped out of school) and it took me forever to get the appointment right. This excites me.

For about ten seconds.

UNFORTUNATELY, they only do appointments in the MORNINGS.

Sounds like I’m being a whiny bitch, right – “oh, wah, I don’t wanna get up in the morning, boo-hoo”. While that is entirely possible, my main problem is that I have class from 8am-1pm all summer – wouldn’t you know it, the exact times they have appointments. *grumble* And I have to come in on two separate days, 3 days apart, due to the TB test.

I don’t fault the woman making the appointment. She even said at one point, “I don’t know why they do this – they need to have afternoon openings…” after I told her I have class every day from 8-1 (as is the nature of summer school). She was very sympathetic, and I (luckily) had time free during the reading day before exams, and during what is supposed to be the end of my tennis final (we have a take-home, so I should be fine).

Some people might wonder why I didn’t go in the beginning of the summer, before I had class. Well, my friends, UNC student health only covers you for the semesters/sessions in which you are enrolled full-time. Thus, since I was not enrolled in classes last summer session, I would have had to pay $50 just to get an appointment. So, it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d called at the very beginning of the summer to schedule an appt, the only time I could have come in would be next Wednesday at 9 and next Friday at 10:15.

I’m just glad they weren’t closed on the reading day… lucky me, I suppose.

Oh, and a PS – I really hate needles and physicals, what with the pain and the stupid questions and all. At least with a tattoo, I get something pretty to show off later. The only thing I’ve ever gotten from a vaccine is a scar that everyone assumes is a hickey… *sigh* (Oh, and maybe protection from bygone diseases…)