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Monday, May 01, 2006

Real students, real classroom, real school, real exciting!

When I was meeting with my professor this afternoon to talk about how my teaching had gone earlier in the day, I made the following confession:
"I've been really nervous about teaching for the past two weeks.  Then this morning I decided to stop being nervous and be excited instead.  So I was."

She laughed, but that's the decision I made and it worked out well for me.

Last night when I checked the weather, it said that this morning the weather was supposed to be really bad (90% chance of heavy precipitation) and I don't own a car, nor do I have a valid drivers license.  (I do though own an expired drivers license.  I need to make it unexpired.)  The weather was making me nervous.  I woke up this morning and while it was certainly overcast, nothing was falling out of the sky, so I was good.  I rode my bike over to the school and arrived exactly as early as I had planned (about four minutes before I was supposed to meet my professor and about 9 minutes before I was set to start teaching).  Just as I was locking my bike up to the bike rack, the bell rang and the kids lined up to go inside to start the day. 

As they were all lining up to go inside, and I was walking toward the entrance, I had this momentary fear that one of the teachers would think I was a student and tell me to get in line.  I was wearing my kid sized raincoat (half the price of the adult version!) and carrying my materials in my backpack.  If you weren't looking at my face, I could very easily have been one of the 4th graders at the school.  (I'm kind of tiny.)  Luckily, no one mistook me for a student.

I walked into the office to sign in and meet my professor.  She was there waiting and had the supplies I had asked her to bring for me (rolled up butcher paper, which I couldn't easily carry on my bike).  She asked if I was ready, I said I was, and we walked to the classroom.

We walked in and...there was a substitute?  Yes.  The regular teacher was not there, there was a sub in her place.  My professor asked if the sub knew anything about me being there, and she said that she thought there was something in the plans about it.  

I had sent the classroom teacher my lesson plans last week, to look over and make any suggestions/comments on if she wanted to.  I had heard nothing back from her, so I assumed she didn't have anything to say about them.  Sitting on her desk though, were my lesson plans.  At the top she had written that overall she liked them a lot, (good!) but she did have a few additional comments.  Some of which I could do nothing about now (the suggestion required supplies that I didn't have with me) but I may have been able to incorporate in had she given them to me ahead of time.  Oh well, there was only that one suggestion she had made, and it wasn't a very significant comment anyway.

So, I went to go hang up my butcher paper.  Unfortunately, there was an overhead screen pulled down over the area where I needed to hang up the paper.  The way the overhead was tied down, it looked like it wasn't supposed to go up.  But, since the teacher wasn't there to ask, my professor said that I could detach the thing holding the screen down, and allow it to go up so that I could put my paper on the wall.  I unrolled my pieces of butcher paper, and began to tape them up to the wall.  I had the names of two books written on the butcher paper, and the kids read the names as I was taping them up.  One of the books a couple kids said they had read before (and this was fine - they're picture books so they can easily be read and re-read).

After I put the paper up, I told that students that since I didn't know their names, I was going to give them name tags.  I handed out the (expertly crafted) blank name tags (that I made last night out of note cards, yarn, and a 3-hole punch), and told them to write their names on the name tags, and wear them.  They asked what they should write it with, and I told them that whatever was fine, (though I realize now I should have said no neon pink gel-roll pen.  Because that's pretty much unreadable).  There is one girl in the class who I have worked with before, and therefore I know her name.  She kept boasting that I already know her name.  I made her make a name tag anyway.  While they were making the name tags, the announcements kept going off, because it was still the beginning of the day.  A couple students asked what we were going to do, and I didn't want to leave them guessing, but I didn't say anything until the announcements were done and the students had all finished making their name tags.

Then, I stood at the front of the room, and was a teacher.

I showed them the books we were going to be using.  I told them what our ultimate goal was and how we would be using the books and our class time to reach that final goal.

I started talking and realized that I wanted to point something out on a map, but had never found out if they have a map in their room.  So, I asked the students, ("do you have a world map in here?") and they said that yes, in the back of the room there was a wall map.  I went over and pointed out what I wanted to point out. 

My professor later told me that she was impressed that I was able to go with the flow like that - not really know where the map was, but make a spur-of-the-moment decision to point out what I wanted to point out.  I don't know if she should have been impressed so much as relieved.  I mean, if I hadn't been able to do that, wouldn't that be the sign of a bad teacher?  One of the most important things about teaching, I think, is being able to go with whatever is happening.  Though I guess she was expecting a certain level of nervousness and awkwardness in me that I'd like to think didn't actually surface today.

Next, I had planned on having the students all sit on a rug area at the front of the room while we read and discussed the books.  (Me doing most of the reading, them doing the discussing.)  But, the teacher had rearranged the room since I'd last been there to observe.  The student desks were now in four rows, (something I have never seen in any of the K-5 classrooms I have been in or observed/worked with) and the rows were encroaching on the carpeted area.  I asked the students if there was room for all of them up at the carpet, afraid that I would have to have them sit at their desks (which would have been awkward for discussion).  Luckily, they said that they would all fit as long as the few people who have desks closest to the carpet stay in the desks.  And they did all fit.  They where certainly cramped up there, but they fit.

While I was introducing the story/talking with them about the topic, one of the huge sheets of butcher paper began to fall off the wall.  I didn't really think anything about it and told the students who were sitting underneath it to just toss the paper behind them.  They did and we went on with our discussion. 

Later, when I was talking with my professor, she said that she was again impressed with how I just told them to put it out of the way.  I still feel that it was simply another go-with-the-flow moment.  She said that had I made a big deal about it, they would have too.  Which I agree with.  But I can't really see why anyone would make a big deal about it.  It was a humid day, the tape didn't stick, so I had them throw the paper them.  It seems logical to me.  Maybe if I had been really high-strung/nervous/wanting perfection I would have reacted differently?  I don't know.  Regardless, she made a big point of telling me she was impressed with how I handled the paper falling down.

On the topic of the activity itself, I was really impressed with how the students answered my questions and were tuned into the important details in the stories.  One of my biggest lesson-specific fears was that I would ask a question and the students would just sit there staring at me, the wall, the laces on their shoes, not answering the questions.  But they did!  There were about 10 students who regularly raised their hands to participate and a couple more who occasionally raised their hands.  (This class is fairly small, I'm not sure of the exact number, but there were certainly fewer than 25 students in the room while I was there.)  While I of course would like everyone to participate, I'm quite happy with the number who did.  Tomorrow I will work on calling on some more students who aren't raising their hands, but look attentive and like they might have a thought.  For my first day teaching them, and my first day teaching, period, I'm pretty happy with the amount of student participation I received.  And I'm overjoyed with the quality. 

Based upon my past observations of the class, I had been worried that the students wouldn't be used to answering the types of questions I was planning on asking them.  And that in the unfamiliarity, they wouldn't be able to answer in the ways and to the extent that I was hoping.  Each time I called on someone though, they gave a thoughtful, quality response!  (I'm still excited, and relieved!)  When I was talking with my professor later, she said that she too was impressed with the responses they gave, and surprised about the "quality" based on what she has seen of the way the regular teacher directs class discussions.  (She also kindly gave me some of the credit, for having asked "good" questions, though I'm not sure that my questions were good so much as the kids were somehow able to figure out what I wanted.  I certainly had them talking more, and in very different ways that I have ever observed the regular teacher with the students, though.)

I kind of ran out of time toward the end.  There were two books that I had planned on reading, but I should have just used the one and expanded that one discussion more (as my professor and I discussed afterward).  I squeezed the second book in during the last 15 minutes or so.  So while I was able to introduce it a little, I had to cut out some of the talk about the book, and we didn't get to write things down (on the butcher paper) about the second story.  In some ways, this will help reinforce the importance of reviewing the story tomorrow.  But I had hoped to do a lot more discussion about that book today. 

Overall, I am very pleased with how it wall went.  My decision to stop being nervous and start being excited was a smart one.  I went up there, I did my thing, and it was good.  There is always room for improvement, and we (my professor and I) talked about those areas.  There are also things I did well (like not freak out about the paper falling off the wall).  For my first time teaching real students in a real public school classroom, it was really exciting.

It felt good.

I'm happy.


Blogger robtherunner said...

Thanks for the detailed description of your experience. I know it will be helpful in the future.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Hg said...

YAY for you!

Well done and great description too.

5:15 AM  
Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Congrats! I like how you went in there and did your thing and it was good. More of need to keep that as our focus.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Not Quite Grown Up... said...

Thanks for the comments (on what I realize was a long, long post).

7:43 AM  
Blogger Ms. Sigh Ants said...


10:50 AM  

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