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 yahoo.com 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.