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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Compensation vs. bribery

For my student teaching, I am conducting an acti0n research project. In order to do this, I am required to get inf0rmed c0nsent from all of my students, or rather their parents/guardians since they are very much minors.

That’s just not going to happen. There are certain things I need to include in the c0nsent form, which results in a page long note, which is quite long. I translated the letter into Spanish, as a bit more than half of my students require all forms/letters going home to be in Spanish. While all the parents will have the physical capability to read the letter, I feel that many of them won’t understand parts of it – I described everything as simply as I possibly could, but still, it is referring to academic concepts so there are some terms that are kind of academic in the letters. And also, one whole page is long. I’m afraid that many parents just won’t get around to reading and sending the form back. Another issue is that some parents really don’t want any record of their child available outside the school, due to immigration status. While I reassure, several times, that although I will be taking photographs and video, no names will ever be connected with the students, I’m afraid that won’t be enough. Some parents just cannot risk their child being studied in that way.

And, because of all that; because I’m afraid parents won’t read the letter, or will forget to send it back to school, or won’t understand it all and not return the form for that reason, I plan on essentially bribing the students to bring the consent for back.

I suppose that technically I am simply compensating the students for their time and participation. When I say it like that, it doesn’t sound bad. I have participated in psychology experiments and was compensated for my time by receiving extra credit in my psychology classes or by being given money. It isn’t really any different for the students. They are participating in my study, so will be compensated by being given a really neat pencil, or some stickers, or a mini-notebook or something like that. And while there is nothing technically wrong with my compensating the children for their time, I am willfully taking advantage of the fact that by being told they will receive a small gift for participating, I am bribing them. These children don’t have things. They take pencils and crayons from the classroom because they don’t have any at home. They stash stuff in their desks because they want something that is their own. I know that by telling them they will get a gift for bringing the form back, they will pester their parents/guardians to sign the form and return it. I know this and am willingly using it for my own benefit. Because if I don’t get their consent, I can’t use any of the video that I take, since when I videotape, I am recording the whole class. If I don’t get the whole class to consent, I basically have no data.

So, on the day that I hand the c0nsent forms out to the students, I will show them what their gift would be for participating in my study. I will wave it in front of them so they can see what they’d get for bringing the form back. I will be showing them their compensation, their bribe, the only hope I have for actually being able to analyze and write about my research in the way I am hoping to be able to.

I suppose this is always a problem in educational research (or any research involving human participants). It will always be a problem for me if I ever (get over my fear of taking the GRE and) apply for and get accepted into grad school, and end up doing more educational research. Is there a difference between bribing people to participate, and compensating them for doing so? Is the difference in the way the compensation is presented to the participants? Is it in the probability that the participants would participate without compensation? Are compensation and bribery really the same thing?

Friday, October 26, 2007

1st grade crushes.

Yesterday and today, a boy named [M] who is in my class was absent. He is, for some reason, the boy that all the first grade girls have crushes on.

Today a girl literally kissed a picture of [M] that we have on our wall. "[J]!" I exclaimed. "Did you just kiss the picture of [M]?!" She simply gave me a sheepish grin and went on her way.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Today was, thankfully, better than all of last week, and this Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Statistically speaking, it was about time I had at least one semi-decent lesson.

My successful lesson was for science. I used a computer-to-TV-screen (that is, what shows up on the computer shows up on the TV screen) to show some really neat pictures that I found on the internet about our subject. I used an awesome song I found on a kids' science music CD. The kids loved getting to look at the TV screen, even though they weren't actually watching TV. The song was simple enough that they could sing along right away, but it really taught science, and wasn't just a tangential audio-aid. I wasted very little time trying to re-orient the kids' attention. (Very little time relatively speaking...but it was much better than it has been).

What I need to do now is figure out how to replicate this afternoon's lesson.

I frequently use music - as often as possible. I always use visual aids (though I never have used the TV screen before). And, well, I have to admit, I may have allowed the kids to get a little too loud. Or rather, I knew they were chatty, but I was okay with it because they were chatting about the pictures we were looking at. When my CT came in she chastised them for being too noisy/out-of-control.

And I think there, in a way, is where all the very negative feelings I have been having about my lessons and my capabilities as a teacher are lying. Every time she chastises the kids for being too loud, I feel as if she is chastising me for allowing them to get so loud. Sometimes she truly is talking to the kids, but in this instance I felt that there was an undercurrent of a comment directed at me that said, "See, this is why you're having such a tough time with classroom management. You allow them to get like this and they think they can behave like this all the time. If you made sure they were politely listening at all times, you wouldn't have the problems you do have, with them chatting inappropriately and being rude to you and their peers." And I don't know, maybe she wasn't saying that to me, but it certainly felt like it. It certainly frustrated me. I was actually having fun and was excited about what I was teaching for the first time in weeks. Literally weeks. I've been going through the motions, but the motions were kind of bland. My lessons always included visual aids, frequently music, ocassionally partner activities, etc. They weren't bad lessons, but I simply didn't care about them. I taught them and acted enthusiastic maybe, but really wasn't feeling it. This lesson though, I was totally into - I was excited and the kids could tell - they were certainly reflecting my excitement.

Then, when my CT chastised them for being too rowdy, at a time when I didn't feel they were acting particularly inappropriate, it kind of crushed me a little bit.

I think that I have to think more, and hard, and a lot, about my beliefs on classroom management. Or rather, I have to keep trying and failing, and maybe discovering that her way really is best, I don't know. She's had many years of experience and I have had none, so she really should know better. However, I truly was enjoying and satisfied and happy with that lesson, until that point. Maybe it's just my (at the moment) overly emotional self reading things into those comments that are not actually there. Maybe.

Regardless, I very much liked this lesson and the way it turned out. I feel that my objectives were met and the students were actively participating most of the time.

I'm going to be optimistic and hope that tomorrow will result in me feeling as satisfied at the end of the day as I did today.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Incoherent pile of emotions.

I realized recently that I'm just not having fun. Usually, in the past, I just have fun with kids. They're neat! And these kids are neat, they're awesome. So, I don't know what it is that is making me dread every day. I simply am not enjoying myself at all. I'm trying to change that. I feel as if I'm stuck in some type of rut. Wake up, shower, drive 40 minutes to school, get there, run the marathon that is every school day, organize and do some prep work after school, leave to come home at about 5:30, sing to music in car on the way home so as not to fall asleep, quickly stick food in mouth, go to campus to really plan for the next day, come home at about 11:30, wash Tupperware from lunch, set timer on coffee maker, crash into bed. Rinse and repeat.

There is no fun. No frivolity. (No exercise, no friends, no actual cooking, etc.) I'm planning/prepping nearly every waking minute and I'm always, always behind. Which is strange since we never actually get to many of my plans, since I can't figure out how to calm the students down enough to get much work done (see previous posts).

On top of my regular school planning, I have reading and assignments to do for my student teaching university class that goes along with student teaching. (And oh my, I truly love that class - it is the one thing I look forward to every week.) My mind is in mental chaos.

I keep hoping that the next day will be better. I will find the magic solution to my classroom management problems, and suddenly I'll be able to teach again, instead of just manage.

Maybe this was good for me - pull me out of my idealistic bubble. It's never good to be in a bubble anyway. At least now I understand when people say they paid their debt working in "tougher" school districts and then flee to work in the wealthy suburbs. I can see where they're coming from. I dream (literally) of the kids I have worked with in the past, from different neighborhoods. Kids who don't have the complications of poverty, parents being deported, etc. On the one hand, I don't feel that I could really go back and do that now, not permanently anyway. (I may work one more summer for the same camp I have for many years). These kids I'm working with now really pull me in and make me want to search for that elusive something that will allow them to momentarily push aside all the obstacles put before them, and allow them to just learn at school. I'll only be here for a few more weeks. I don't know what I'm going to do when I don't get to see them anymore.

Basically I feel many mixed emotions. I love the kids but hate that I cannot teach them because they won't quiet down for the 2-3 minutes it would take to give directions. I absolutely love the ideal of a dual-language immersion school, but really dislike many of the scheduling intricacies that basically make it so that the kids never have any idea what classroom they are supposed to be in.

I love teaching in theory, in reality though...I'm currently feeling kind of ambivalent. I'm waiting though. Waiting and hoping to find my passion again. I know it's there, it's just been pushed aside by the harsh views of reality. I'm looking for a way for my idealism and the existing realities to share a space in the forefront of my being.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Classroom management? What's that?

Last week, I somehow seemed to have lost all control of the children.

I literally felt like nothing got accomplished at all on any of the 5 afternoons of the week. In the mornings, a little bit got done, but in the afternoons I couldn't figure out how to get the kids' attention.

The thing is, I don't expect them to listen for long - I just need them to listen for 3-5 minutes so that I can give instructions. They can't read, so I need to tell them and show them pictures about what we are going to do. But, even when we were doing really neat hand-on activities, I just could not find a way to be more interesting to them than their classmates.

I have a handful of strategies that I use to try to redirect attention. I do hand clapping patterns, I "count eyes" (also teaches them how to count by 2s), I make the school hand-signal that is used to mean "eyes up here, listen to the teacher" to name just a few. I can't seem to make any of them work. Or rather, the students do clap my pattern, look up at me, or give me the hand signal. It's just that they simultaneously chat with friends.

When I try to talk it through with my CT, she points out that it's not just the kids fault - it may have something to do with my teaching. Which, yeah, I know - that's what I'm trying to tell her. I'm certainly not blaming it all on the kids. I need some suggestions on what I can do in regards to my classroom management and teaching to get the kids to pay attention to me (or their peers, if their peers are talking/helping me teach).

I don't want to be out of ideas, but I really don't know what else to do. I hate keeping kids in for recess, because I think they need the outside running around/chatting/shouting time if I'm going to have any hope of them calming down during class time. For that reasons, I don't really keep kids in from recess. But, should I? Will they know I'm serious if I keep them in? I don't know.

More then being frustrated, I just feel guilty. I'm not teaching them anything! We went through a whole week with very little learning to show for it. I got through very few of the activities I actually had planned. And while it's good that I over-plan so there always are activities to do, I actually want to do some of those activities.

Maybe the kids were extra squirrelly last week. I'm trying to re-vamp my teaching this weekend, but I don't know that I've made enough changes to really have an impact on anything. We'll see, vamos a ver. I just really hope I'm able to connect better this week.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I used to be an optimist...

To add an extra special something to the end of an already quite horrible day, I found out that a parent of one of my students was deported.

At the end of the day on Monday I thought, "Well, today sucked, it can only get better." But then Tuesday was worse. But I was still optimistic. I had high hopes for today! Fun activities planned! Interactive lessons! Hands on science! Cutting and pasting and coloring activities! All will clear learning objectives! However, today was even worse than yesterday. I have no optimism left. I'm kind of worried about tomorrow.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

When a handful ruin it for the rest...

I have been having the problem a lot lately where a handful of students, maybe 5-7 or so, just will not stop talking. It's too many students to ignore and it's too many students to re-distribute throughout the room. I end up having to wait and wait for them all to quiet down. In the meantime, the other kids start going stir-crazy and getting chatty again. (Or they get really frustrated that the others won't quiet down, and start crying.) I can't figure out what to do about it. I recognize that we are at about week 7, and that's usually when my campers start evolving into non-listening chatter-boxes as well. So, it's not entirely unexpected. It's just that I can't figure out what to do about it. It frustrates me because it's just not fair to the 5 kids who quiet down right away every time, and it's not fair to the 10 kids who quiet down fairly quickly after that. And it's not fair to the 5 kids who want to quiet down, but can't because they are being talked to and don't know how to ignore it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Lesson Plans?

So my CT has been asking to see my lesson plans so that we can talk about them before I teach. I was doing this, but then she made it sound like she didn't want them anymore. And then I kind of stopped writing out lesson plans. Which is a bad, bad idea.

Now, I have to make sure to have a real lesson plan.

Oh, and looking more closely at her request - she sent me an email asking to see my lesson plans. She sent the email while I was teaching her class at school. I'm a little confused.

Regardless, I have to make sure to start writing out full lesson plans again. I'm getting lax and it's bad bad bad. (And by lax I mean so busy I don't know how to organize my time so that I can fit it all in, so I kind of mentally write lesson plans, create the materials necessary for the lesson, and plot out the time required in my planbook, but never actually write out the important things like "objectives" and the steps.)

My goal is to write out full lesson plans again...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Unexpected side effects of student teaching.

I wouldn’t have expected it, but due to the fact that I am always busy and running around, have little time to eat (or at least, little time to snack), have even less time to go to the grocery store, and have a daily 60-minute cardio workout in the form of mathematics instruction (seriously, our math program is kind of crazy) I have decreased my body weight by about 7% since school began.

The downside to this is that I basically bought all new clothes for teaching (I had only jeans before – no pants that I could wear to school) and now they are too big.

(I am quite confident that once it cools down and turns wintery, my food intake will increase. You know, building fat supplies for the long winter ahead. (While it may be practically useless, it is evolutionarily advantageous.))