Monday, January 31, 2011

Stress and the NCLB

     Finally had school, and it looks as though the following days may be canceled again too. This is, in a way, good; although I like getting into routines, I love breaking routine. So viewing teaching as a prospective career (not that I actually have any other realistic options after five years of college for this) I can feel hopeful that random acts of nature will keep things somewhat unpredictable.
     On that note, I've been posting a lot about the hardships of students and especially the flaws of teachers. I'd like to now take a blog to reflect on the hardships of teachers. Teachers I have encountered seem to be under a lot of stress. For one there's this new thing called accountability, meaning if a student fails a subject it's pretty much the teacher's fault. While it makes sense to me and I don't disagree with it, it does probably add to teachers' stress. Going along with that there's all this high-stakes testing. For those who do not know—many public schools' funding is determined by how well the students do on their standardized tests. High test scores equal higher increased funding, while lower test scores equal decreased funding (This is from the No Child Left Behind Act.) If a school's test scores sink too low, the school can be characterized as a high-needs school and possibly be taken over directly by the government. You basically don't want to be working there when/if that happens. There's a bunch of other stuff too but moving on; with this kind of system a problem arises. You may have heard of this: Teaching to the test. It's when students learn how to take a particular test instead of learning actual concepts and subject matter not on the test (like history.) Sure students learn something and the school gets more money, if i works out, but students are less equipped to problem solve in the future and much important curriculum is left out. (Did I mention Social Studies?) That's the controversy anyways. A lot of people don't like or agree with standardized testing or with the way classroom curriculum is changing, so I guess there has been some debate in the teaching world the past decade or so. How will I avoid teaching to the test while still giving my students the skills they need to complete the test? I (am going to) have bills to pay after all. I can't just give up my job because I think the students need to know about the fall of Rome more than having another expository writing drill.
     So with all that said, there's basically a lot of pressure on teachers. It is a pretty important job after all. Kids are the future! If the next generation isn't educated then what hope do we have? With this mindset in peoples' heads, there is all sorts of criticism and scrutiny out there for the teachers of today's youth. In conclusion, teachers can have it rough. There's also apparently a lot of politics in the profession which I think a lot of people that go into the field aren't prepared nor were they looking for. Good teachers have probably been pushed at for stupid reasons somewhere sometime before. Of course, none of this worry I'm expressing actually applies to myself. I can totally handle it! That's why I'm not deterred at all; I look forward to the challenges ahead. However, for the average person out there, being a teacher might be for stressful than they had originally thought, and I just hope that this stress does not impair their ability to give quality educations to their students.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Just an update.

Well, it's Saturday so I do not have school. I guess most full time jobs have weekends off right? Anyways, I probably won't update this blog every Saturday and Sunday—I'll save my extra thoughts for holidays and unexpected days off. However, if I do have anything to share I may make a weekend post, so be sure to check back. I'll be checking others blogs anyways so maybe I'll think of something.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Facebook Blues

     Wow, another unexpected day without school. I guess this is what I should get used to. Not that I'm complaining; random days off are pretty nice. That being said I expended all my extra thoughts yesterday. Hmmm... Well, I've been considering deleting my facebook. I've heard some of the stories: teacher goes on a vacation, pictures (four) of her drinking alcohol in a bar show up on facebook, "parent" complains, she is subsequently fired. There are other instances out there too. While in the recent past I've been more careful as to what pictures of me show up on facebook, who knows what random snapshot of my past will come back to haunt me. It's almost humorous how one can work towards something for so long, and then some small oversight can take it all away. On the other hand there's a number of people I really like out there that I may have a hard time connecting with without facebook. Moving on to a job and someday my own place of living, it'll be even harder to connect with people. Everyone has a social need, how will that be fulfilled? So, to delete the facebook or to not delete the facebook. What do you think?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Additional Thoughts: Who I am and what I am to do.

     There was no school today, so I'll just share some more thoughts I've had.
     Think back to the best teacher you've ever had. I hope everyone has had at least one teacher that really helped them. Now think back to the worst. I'm sure everyone has had at least one teacher that just... did not help, in any way. I can certainly think of a few teachers that I just hated being around. I can also think of a few teachers whose class I looked forward to all day. Of course, every student is different and has different needs. While I always appreciated the kind teachers that would seldom discipline students, maybe other students would take advantage of that. In other words, where as I benefited from one style, others benefited less.
     Another thought I've been having is how much I empathize with the students. That's probably a really good quality, like how when they're bored, I can really feel their boredom. However, I've been thinking that maybe I am identifying with the students more so than the teacher. Like, here I am, back in 5th grade. I'm some kind of boy genius or something but I'm a 5th grader. "Awe maaaaan we have to learn about some guy who crated yahoo!?0 This sucks I want to go play xbawks." Or something like that. What I'm saying is I'm not thinking of myself as a teacher. I don't know, maybe I'm just making stuff up. I'm just trying to decide the kind of teacher I should be. Or maybe, the kind of teacher I can be.
     I don't know about other peoples, but I went into teaching because I wanted to make a difference. There's easier and better paying jobs out there (apparently) that I could have gone for, but I wanted something that could make me feel self-actualized. Anyways, just for the record, I am not nor have I ever been deterred from this job despite many warnings of the difficulty, hardships, politics, and other miscellaneous quips concerning the profession.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Maybe s/he's going to..? - And other tainted beliefs.

Today started off slow but was interesting overall. A writing prompt in the morning asked the students to write a story from the point of view of a hockey puck; a number of them didn't understand. I went around explaining point of view to them and I think they got it. Yeah! Self-actualization! Another interesting moment: We were reading about Deborah Samson ( and the teacher asked the students for predictions on what might happen in the chapter called "Leave me, I am going to die." One student said "Maybe she is going to cut herself?" The teacher played it off like 'kids say the darndest things' but I thought it could be a red flag. The entire class is always so sullen it'd be hard to tell if one was actually depressed...
     Moving on, during lunch the teachers eat together in a lounge. The past two days I sat with my cooperating teacher but the lounge was packed today and I wasn't eating so I relinquished my seat and sat off to the side. I overheard some of the teachers chatting about how one male student of theirs was just "creepily staring" at another female student's behind (this was probably from a higher grade.) I also heard the comment that "he'll be registered for sure one day" (I image they mean as a sex offender.) Also, to remove any doubt, when other teachers asked "who" they exchanged the students names around. Both the male and the female he was staring at. Obviously I feel this is pretty inappropriate for teachers to be chatting about, at least in this negative way, but that's not what I wanted to talk about. What I really thought about was, if you really are concerned with a student's behavior towards the opposite gender, for example perhaps a male students shows significant hostility towards female peers, how do you handle it? I guess it's just not my responsibility to help a student in this kind of development, but if I could not help but be concerned, what to do? I'm pretty sure teachers lose jobs for just like, mentioning the existence of sex to students (pregnant teachers, obviously the work of the Stork) although maybe as a male working with children I'm just a tad bit paranoid at how people will perceive me. Anyways I concluded that if you were to take it upon yourself to address such a topic, it would have to be with the whole class (and obviously in an appropriate way.) Even if it really was geared just to benefit one student, that student couldn't be singled out. As a final note about this, when I was in elementary/middle school, I never imagined that the teachers got together in private with each other and chatted about the students... I wonder what they said about me. I wonder what assumptions they made...
     I've written enough for now so I'll just sum this last thing up quickly. I had a nice little debate with a teacher about the DREAM Act today (If you don't know about it you should look it up.) I'm all for it, I think it's great! She was pretty opposed to it. She said she used to think my way, but her beliefs have been "tainted" by some of the things she sees as a teacher (There is a high probability it would help a number of the students in my school for that matter.) She's against people getting free rides through life. I figure people have it rough even/especially if they get some money from the government. I also didn't think she fully understood what the DREAM Act was so I was mostly just relaying facts I've heard. Anyways, I love debating. I just couldn't resist. Hope she doesn't give me any negative report because of it, but I can't worry about things like that if I want to act genuinely.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

5th grade - Or Purgatory?

Ok ok it's not that bad. But I truly had this thought watching the way the students dragged themselves along from one activity to the next. What exactly happened was this: The students wait together in the gymnasium for their teacher to pick them up and lead them to class. They leave in a specific line order which the teacher constantly reminds them that they had better be in. The teacher also tells them to move to a certain location and stop and wait. She is additionally strict about maintaining absolute silence the whole time. So this morning (just my second day mind you) she tells them to stop at the foot of the stairs, however, they don't. The line shuffles halfway up the stairs when she notices and yells at them to halt. "We were supposed to stop here. L***, you've been the line leader since the beginning of the year. You should know..." When the line gets to the classroom (moving in silence the whole way) the teacher noticed L*** smiling. "Is something funny L***?" And so the student stopped smiling. This seemed pretty strict to me. I know this is considered an inner-city school and the students probably need some level of discipline to stay on task but this just feels down right oppressive. A close friend of mine has also visited many schools in this area and has told me that "it's a theme I see a lot of in these schools—no talking. Ever." I don't know how I feel about this. School is where we get socialized. It's where we learn how to be social. It's an important skill! With kids being on facebook more than actually conversing with friends it seems even more important now. And yet, the only time they are able to talk to each other freely is for about 1 hour a day at lunch time.
     This led me to think about the importance of a "happy" classroom. For a teacher, how important should the atmosphere of the classroom be? A teacher's job is to make sure students are learning the essential skills they need to know. Students enjoying themselves at all is not necessarily necessary. So should teachers even care? I want to believe that a happy student will be more interested in learning, but what if it doesn't statistically make a difference? (They aught to do a study.) The teacher told me that I'll be escorting the students in their line myself soon. I wonder if I even can be so authoritarian; I truly believe in an authoritative approach.
     On a lighter note, when the teacher left for a moment leaving me watching over a few of the students in the hallway, they started asking me how old I was. I wasn't sure if it was appropriate so I told them I can't tell them, but then they started to guess. I kept telling them even if they guessed it I wouldn't tell them, but they did that strategy where they just start at a low number and go all the way up. When they went by my age, I couldn't help but give a little grin and... they picked up on it!!! They guessed my age and when they dared me not to confirm I couldn't say anything, they had me after all. Then the word spread faster than you could say "no talking!" The entire line all of a sudden knew how old I was. It's not a big deal, but it was pretty funny. Too bad exchanges like that will seldom happen because the students are just constantly being drilled for standardized testing all day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't be their friend - My first day.

     Today was my first day student teaching—basically I'm a volunteer assistant teacher, or in other words, an intern. Pretty much my whole college career has led up to this. Once your interested in pursuing education as your major you immediately hear about student teaching. Anyone who was or about to student teach had survived the rigors of the education department (known at my particular school) and was now in the big leagues, or so it seemed. Now it feels like a transition. I am no longer a wild college student, I no longer live in the dorms, I will no longer be seeing friends every day nor staying up late every night playing video games. At the same time, I don't have an actual job and do not have the accountability placed on me for having such a job. I suppose anyone who had an internship would understand. Anyways, that is an explanation of my position and an introduction to the blog. On to my first day:
     It's funny. I was so nervous in the weeks leading up to this day. This morning however, I was pretty calm. It just felt like another field experience to me (which I have had an ample amount of thanks to my school's program). Perhaps I was hiding my anxiety with my infallible sense of humor (as I often do) but in any case, I felt ready. I had a folder, a notebook, a pen, and I was crazy cold! It was -3 degrees out there! Had to be mentioned... Anyways, I got in the class, reintroduced myself to the teacher (we had met weeks before) and chatted about anything that may be relevant while waiting for the students to arrive. It was a while before the teacher let me introduce myself to the students, which felt very awkward to me. I felt like they were all starring at me thinking "Who's that guy?" Well I eventually was able to introduce myself and then the only task left was to try to familiarize with these kids. I'm usually really bad with names but I was given the idea to make a seating chart, which I did. Sitting there for around 2 hours as the teacher taught regularly gave me plenty of time to just look at a student's face, look at their name, look at their face, recite their name, and repeat for every student. Then do it again. And why not, again.
     Hmmm, as an aside, I'm new to this blogging thing. So far I've kind of focused on the benign parts of the day. I'll try to get to the point...
     Early in the day the teacher asked me to create a new homework chart. Just the name of each student with a bunch of grid space (for stickers; joy.) I accidentally skipped over a student's name and when she complained her name was not on the bored, I quickly apologized and ran over to write her name in. I also light heartedly said I would write the lines in for her too. She seemed pleased and sat down. Immediately afterwards she raised her hand to volunteer to share a writing prompt she had wrote. I wondered if, after being treated in a respectful way (as opposed to being treated like a child) this motivated her to want to share. Well, it turned out she was one of the students that seems to like to volunteer a lot, but it was an interesting thought I had.
     Another moment that struck me significantly was in the morning as I chatted with the teacher. Among our conversations she gave me some advice, instructions, etc. Anyways, what had struck me was one of her suggestions to me. "Don't be their friend. That's my only request." Of course I can understand that to some level. It was one of the first thing I learned some three years ago during my first field experience. Kids need an authority figure in their lives. They need someone telling them where to go and what to do (that's the theory anyways.) If I go down to the kids level, such as playing tag or chatting about video games, I am seen as another kid in their eyes, and that's not what I need to be. Whether that's right or wrong it's something I've been taught and I've been thinking about the extent of this philosophy ever since. That's how I understood why I shouldn't be their friend, but I hadn't thought about the previously described philosophy in the same guise as a "friend." Can a teacher not be a friend to their students as well as an authority figure? Can a friend not also be an effective leader and teacher? Perhaps her advice only applies to a student teacher only around for a six week program, such as myself (leaving my previous field experiences, never to return, tore at my heart strings to say the least.) She later reminded me to "Keep it strictly business." I suppose I will just have to see what happens. Kids just naturally befriend people sometimes, and I can't help but be genuine. I feel it is one of my strengths.
     A final interesting moment today occurred as I watched the teacher run a short lesson. Throughout the day (before and after this event) the teacher complained and confided to me how her students are highly unmotivated and, especially during class lessons, unresponsive. This characteristic of the class was demonstrated to me during such a class lesson which was about the students reading some short text and understanding the content. Do you know who Jerry Yang is? Perhaps, we are on the internet after all. Well, I had never heard of Jerry Yang before. Why? Because I couldn't care less who Jerry Yang is. And if someone like me who listens to NPR when driving doesn't care who Jerry Yang is how can a 5th grade class possibly be interested? So the text that the students had to comprehend was about what Jerry Yang did, the kind of person he is, and his favorite ice cream or something. The teacher asked her simple questions testing the students comprehension of the text, "What is Jerry Yang doing while his friends are playing outside?" To which she got no replies. She described this as "pulling teeth." She continued this until, fed up, she condemned the students to writing their responses silently; all the while Jerry Yang's face broadcast over them on the projector, smiling. Jerry Yang is the creator of by the way. All I'm trying to say here is that I know fifth graders are typically unmotivated, but choosing some material that is somewhat relevant to their interests might help a little.
     That's all for today, let's see what tomorrow brings.