/* open id delegation ---------------------------------------------- */

Monday, September 29, 2008

I'm the chosen one, apparently...

My school seems to find it amusing to give me a new student each week of school. I'm starting to see a pattern. If we keep this up, I'll be out of table space (I use tables, not desks) by the end of the quarter. The other teachers aren't getting all the new students. I'm not sure why I'm special...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Family Subject Night

Last week we had a Family [Subject] Night. (Insert a specific subject name, removed to maintain vagueness). The goal of the evening was to have families come and participate in Subject activities with their children. We also shared some "tips" with the parents on ways they can help their children practice Subject at home.

I had about 29% of my students show up. I was hoping for closer to 40-45%, but 29% was okay. I'm not sure how many people from the other classes came, so I don't know what our grade-level percentage was.

Regardless, I had so much fun. It's great to see the students in a more relaxed environment and to watch them interact with their families - their parents and siblings. I was able to talk to some of the parents and tell them how wonderful their children were, which I don't have the time or the mental capacity to do (in Spanish) before or after school when I'm trying to do zillions of other things simultaneously. (My level of Spanish speaking/comprehension doesn't allow for multitasking.)

I didn't prepare for this evening as well as I had hoped to. (I showed up at school that day having completely forgotten that the event was that evening...) However, I am excited for our next Family Subject Evening. At least, I think we get to have another. If we don't, maybe I'll plan one of my own for just my class. (If I'm allowed to do that.) I think it's such a great opportunity to establish the school as a welcoming place, a place where the children can come to do fun things in addition to the regular school things. And also, it is great to have the chance to interact with the families informally. If I were to do another Family Subject Night on my own, (or with the rest of the grade) I hope to actually call the families to personally invite them. Maybe that would help me get to my goal of 40% attendance. (I say this all so optimistically, like I have the time to plan an evening all on my own. But really, it doesn't take an incredibly large amount of preparation. Maybe some day I'll actually get around to planning an Subject Night of my own.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thoughts on team teaching?

Seeing as how most everyone on my grade-level team is quite overwhelmed, one of the teachers suggested team-teaching with me. That is, she would teacher literacy/social studies and I would teach math/science.

I am very seriously considering it, but I'm not sure.

The main reasons to say no:
-I am afraid that I would screw over TWO classes of kids on math. (And I'm not trying to be self-deprecating. It's just that I know I am a new teacher, and I know that our math program is one of the funky new ones where you're not allowed to teach the addition algorithm, the kids are supposed to "invent" or "discover" it on their own. So, there's some pressure to encourage that discovery.)
-I have always thought of myself as a "literacy" person. Doing this team-teaching would mean that I no longer teach guided reading groups. It would also take social studies away from me. And while I have yet to actually teach social studies this year, in theory it is my favorite thing to teach.
-I wouldn't get to see my kids develop in small group literacy/guided reading groups.
-My schedule is kind of sporadic. I haven't quite gotten things down to a perfect routine yet. If I did the team-teaching, I wouldn't be able to continue on with an activity past the alloted time due to an activity going really well, or due to an activity going really poorly.
-I wouldn't gain the experience of teaching everything.

Advantages to team-teaching:
-It would force me to follow my schedule. I would have to end things on time because it would be time for the kids to leave/switch classes.
-I would have one or two fewer things to plan for each day. This would allow me to spend more time perfecting the lessons that I do teach.
-The other teacher has 5 fewer students than I do. I would get to teach a class with fewer than 20 students for a while each day.
-My principal decided that we need to become a school performing at the second highest (out of 5 levels of performance) level recognized by the state. This means we need to get 25% of our students exceeding state standards. This is a very lofty goal. I would have a bit less pressure on me, if I weren't the one teaching guided reading groups.

I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. I need to decide soon, because if we were to team-teach, we would begin in a few weeks. There are such strong positives and such strong negatives about team-teaching. Am I a literacy person? Maybe I'm not. Maybe I can make myself be a math person. I enjoy teaching math, and find it really challenging with our fun reform math curriculum. I'm not sure that I'm serving the kids as well as I wish I was during math or during guided reading groups. The teacher I would team with is an experienced teacher, but new to the grade. She is an amazing teacher from what I can see, but struggling to figure out first grade. This would help us both fine-tune our craft in the respective subject areas. Perhaps later in the year we could switch subjects, even.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Technology is Neat.

I got something that I lovingly refer to as a "mini magic board." It is similar to an interactive whiteboard, but cheaper, not as high-tech, and is in fact not actually an interactive whiteboard at all. (It is interactive though.) I used it a few times today and it was so much fun. It would be even neater if I had an actual interactive whiteboard, but what I have is great, because I have it (and the district can't afford the whole interactive whiteboard). I'm not sure if it is a time saver or a time waster, yet. Once I learn how to use it and take advantage of it, I'm sure it will be even better. Today when I used it was already worlds better than last week when I first tried it, so my use of it will improve with time. Regardless, it is really exciting and I can continue being the grade tech-geek. (Yay.)

Also, today I kept loosing everything. My classroom is a mess of piles of paper and I could not remember where I had put the pile of papers I needed at one specific moment. I dawdled on stretching out the opening discussion for an activity much longer than I wanted to, while I wandered around the classroom digging through piles, looking for the papers I needed. At one point, I finally asked the students. "Where did I put the pile of papers I had put on this table a few hours ago?" One child suggested I look over on the round table. I looked over on the round table and there was my pile.

I need to remember to rely on the children more often. They're observant little ones.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reading just for fun.

I have to admit something.

I read "Frog and Toad All Year" yesterday for 10 minutes and today for another 10 minutes just because I wanted to. I didn't tie it into the reading theme, (who are the characters, what's the setting, retell the story.) I didn't tie it into science, (what is the difference between a frog and a toad?) I didn't tie it into math, (If Toad went to sleep in November, and it is April now, how many months has he been sleeping?) I didn't tie it into social studies. I just got them ready to go home a few minutes early, gathered them on the rug once they were ready, and read to them. I mostly just read, and they mostly just listened, and I did comment on the fact that Frog just wanted to be with his friend, and Toad was feeling grumpy, but I didn't really dwell on anything.

It was great but I felt guilty the whole time which is ridiculous because who should ever feel guilty for reading something as wonderful as Frog and Toad?!

But if I was able to have those 10 minutes for Frog and Toad, shouldn't I have used them for something "better" like a mini-lesson on...something. I don't even know.

But Frog and Toad is good story, and the children liked it, and it made me happy and no one came in with an observation sheet at that moment looking for my objectives posted and trying to figure out what state standards I was or wasn't meeting, so it worked out okay.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Goal One: Elimination of Robots

I have been teaching the kids sign language. ("Now you're going to know three languages!" I tell them, "English, Spanish, and sign language!") I think it's fun, and it helps them to be quiet and keep their hands occupied. Sometimes I just have them say "yes" or "no" in sign language, so while it's an alternative to the "thumbs up or thumbs down," it's not really much different. Other times I have them do different things, or I try talking to them using signs. They seem to really enjoy it. (And I really enjoy it, which sometimes is just as important...)

I still haven't had a chance to do science (or social studies, or writing) since that first lesson last Monday. I'm trying and trying and trying, but I just cannot get myself to do things efficiently enough to get anything except for literacy and math done. I'm hoping that once I tighten up my transitions (which are quite poor right now) I will buy enough time to get both of the "core" (tested) subjects taught, with time for the other (equally important, but not tested) subjects of science, social studies, and writing.

I know that I should be able to find ways to incorporate the other subjects into literacy, but with the constraints set forth by the reading program my district uses, it's really difficult to do. The reading program, like I've said before, is FULL - it comes with all of it's own books (some of them really good!) and has a very prescriptive program for everything. And truly, it is a great program - or it would be if I worked at a KIPP school and taught for 8 hours each day (or whatever crazy-large number of hours it is that KIPP teachers work) instead of 5 or 6 like I do now. Getting through the day's literacy activities takes up a large majority of the day. As I navigate my way through the program, I'm sure I will find ways to make it more interdisciplinary so that I am able to teach the children to be (as OnTeaching said in my comments) and to develop multiple ways of thinking and learning, instead of just teaching the children to (hopefully) score at grade level on tests.

So those are my goals for right now. Aside from the making-it-through-the-day thing (which sometime is a struggle), I am working on teaching the kids more sign language, and developing more efficient ways to make transitions (between activities, between centers, entering the classroom, and getting in line) so that I can buy myself extra time to teach lessons that will help the children develop into people instead of into reading/counting robots.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

And just like that, a week has passed.

It was a long week but it went by really quickly. (My internet is not working, so that's the reason I have not posted.)

The child who was perplexing and challenging me ended up being moved to a different classroom, with a more experienced teacher who actually knows how to manage a classroom and therefore will be better able to manage both a classroom and that child, as opposed to me who hasn't a clue how to do anything except make it through the day.

This was most certainly not a suggestion I made, but after talking many times with my principal and VP, just asking for advice and affirmation that I was doing the right things with this child and not screwing him/her up (by setting really bad expectations), they decided that the student would be better served in this other classroom. I am sad, but relieved. And sad and ashamed that I am relieved. But ever since this child was moved, my classroom feels like a different place - my interactions with my students have changed, and I am able to put my focus and energy on the other needy students in the class, the ones who were pushed to the background in comparison to the other child who was moved, but who really should be receiving a lot more of my time. My principal said that s/he wants me to be able to "develop [my] craft" this first year teaching, and could see that was not what I was doing with this child in my classroom. This was cited as the main reason for the student's move to another class.

This situation helps me see, again, how absolutely wonderful my school's administration is. That's what I had heard coming in, and that is what I have experienced since I have been here interacting with them. I'm still in shock every day that they are so great. (Should I be so surprised that I have a competent and supportive administration? I have heard so many stories about bad administrators, and very few wholly positive ones.)

Also this week, every time I turned my head, I realized there was someone in my classroom observing me. This wasn't unique to me - all the new teachers get observed a lot, sometimes in more formal ways, sometimes in less formal ways. Regardless, it got to the point that, when someone came into my room to just ask me a question, I totally ignored her because I thought she was just coming to observe me. Oops. (I was observed more times than there are days in the week...)

And, aside from the stress and the occasional freak-outs (which happen, and I just have to reassure myself that they will pass, and the next day will come, and then it will end, and we all will have survived), school is going surprisingly well. I still don't think I'm really teaching my kids. I don't know that they'll perform particularly well on the tests which assess their learning, and therefore my teaching. But, they are doing activities mostly following the materials we are supposed to follow, and the standards we are supposed to meet. I am hoping that with the zillions of observations I have been getting, I will continue to be given guidance on actually teaching - on making sure that my lessons are reaching the students in the way that I intend them to. And with this guidance and direction (from the amazing higher-ups at my school) I will do better at teaching for learning and teaching for the tests (instead of just teaching kind of for the fun of it without seeing any real results).

Now it is time to get ready for another week. I will take a deep breath and jump on in, as I have been doing, knowing that come Friday I will have found my way back to the surface where I can take a quick breather before plunging in again for the next week.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


It finally happened.

I finally feel totally and completely overwhelmed.

I have no idea what I'm teaching tomorrow, not because I don't have enough content to fill the day, but because I have entirely too much. I don't know how to best fit it all in. I don't know how to worst fit it all in either.

Tomorrow's going to be chaotic and disjointed.

Also, we're probably not going to do science or social studies, again. It's the 4th week of school and I have pseudo done social studies a few times, I haven't done science at all.

Friday, September 05, 2008


Today during my class's special (and one of the three planning blocks I have the whole week), instead of doing anything productive I just sat there. Collapsed in the chair. Too tired to get up and grade or organize or analyze test scores or do anything, except sit and stare at the clock, waiting for the big hand to touch the magic number that meant it was time to go retrieve the children from their special (PE/Art/Music/Library).

Then, after school I had another discussion with the administrators. There may be a change in my class list some time next week. If it happens, it will be horribly bittersweet. I don't know how I feel about it. I'll think about it more if the change actually occurs.

The two above paragraphs may be more strongly related that I originally thought. Issue B is likely partially the cause of issue A. Or if not the cause (in statistical terms), the two are at least strongly correlated with one another (r=.70)

(Oh boy. When I start trying to be funny by joking around with statistics, I know I'm tired.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My passionate liberal idealism is a pain during PD sessions.

I keep being shocked at how well educated/informed I am about certain things.  In all my hours of professional development regarding ELL things, and working with "at risk" student populations, people around me seem to be having "ah-ha" moments, whereas I am just like, "um...I discussed that during college, and did a research project/lesson planning project on the book you give as an example."  I can't tell if I'm being a snob, or if I really did have a wonderfully enriching education, regarding the socio/cultural/linguistic/gender aspects of education.  

When it comes to actually teaching something, I'm pretty clueless.  I had never given a "running record" before last week.  I don't have experience with any specific writing programs.  In the classroom I fumble my way through the day, hoping that my students can feel my idealism (hey! my idealism is back!) and magically absorb that enthusiasm.  I began the first two weeks of school following the scripted curriculum pretty much to the script.  (I'm doing a bit better now.  Not a lot, but a tad bit better.)  When it comes to professional development about how to teach reading, or writing, or math, I'm all ears and my pencil is ready to take notes.  When it comes to professional development about understanding the "culture" of our students, I begin the session optimistic and enthusiastic, and end it kind of disappointed with everyone involved.  How did people not discuss these issues in their education programs?  Was my education program really that different than everyone else's?  (Apparently, I am coming to see, yes.  Yes it was.)  Am I really that much of a flaming liberal?  (Apparently, yes.  Yes I am.)

I feel like that annoying kid in class who can't be taught anything because they think they already know everything.  And I know I don't know everything.  I thought I knew nothing.  But when I compare myself to these other teachers at the PD sessions, I feel so much better informed.  Maybe, hopefully, if I were participating in a graduate level class, I would be introduced to new concepts and theories.  As it stands though, in these PD sessions, I end up frustrated and disillusioned with some of the stated beliefs of the other teachers.  

If one is going to be teaching in a community that is 98% Latino - mostly Mexican, I just assumed that one would work to develop at least a rudimentary knowledge of some of the cultural aspects of their students.  Or rather, to develop a knowledge of some of the emotionally meaningful aspects of culture.  Everyone in this PD session (where my least favorite author was praised, again) was caught up in the "if we have to learn about their culture, why don't they have to learn about our culture" and the "my students just shout out in class, I guess because they're used to just shouting out at home.  Their culture doesn't ask people to take turns when talking."  No one seems to care to discuss what seem, to me, to be the more meaningful aspects of the cultures of our students.  I don't even know what specific examples I am thinking of, something along the lines of the value of family, the fact that immigrants come to the United States because they want to have opportunities that they did not have in the country from which they emigrated - this includes, often in large part, educational opportunities.

I don't even know what the point of this post is, except to kind of rant about the fact that I want to learn more, but I am not comfortable with the content I am being given.  It's probably going to come out all wrong, but I just feel like people should be better informed about some things - which I suppose is what they are trying to do, but it seems very misguided and not very effective to me.  Instead of naming differences and talking about how they are different, why can't we figure out how to use what the students come with to make our classrooms a better place?

Why can't we all just get along?  Let's hold hands and sing, okay?  We'll hold hands, and sing, and eat meals together, and end wars and world hunger, and we'll stop the depletion of the ozone layer, and plastic bottles won't cause cancer anymore and everyone will be happy.