Getting in the Zone

My first week went well for the most part. I had one “bad day,” but in the end it wasn’t that bad and I learned a lot from it. After the first week, I started to get in the zone. I started talking more about environmentalism with my B10 students. It seemed like my students were really getting it and contributing to whole class discussions. They were also more easily able to make connections between their existing knowledge and what we were learning.

School ZoneAfter my seventh lesson, my cooperating teacher and my partner both ecstatically pointed out how well the lesson went. While my other lessons had been going well, this lesson saw me shine. I enjoyed my time and really felt the room become a collaborative environment. I had warmed up, learned much along the way, and got students to see their connection to the material. It was such a great feeling. I think this didn’t happen in the first week as much, because I take time to warm up to people in general. I can be quiet and reserved, but I strive for meaningful interpersonal connections. Although, it does take time.

In future classrooms, I would like to establish a caring environment from the beginning. I really like the idea of starting every week off with a talking circle. I want my students to know that what is happening in their lives and how they are feeling is considered in the classroom. I also want to get to know my students as individuals and for them to get to know me as a person who is helping them learn and learning with them.

Additionally, as I said earlier, I have been learning. I think being a quick learner is one of my major strengths. My goal in learning is never to be better than someone else, but to be better than what I was in the past. As a teacher this means, I learn something from every moment and I use it to make myself a stronger teacher. In the end, this lesson was really important in that it told me that all of my work was helping. This lesson told me that I could accomplish my goals. I can’t settle for being a sub-par teacher. I want to be a dedicated teacher that helps students construct their knowledge. I know that I can do that and if I was feeling down, it was because being that kind of teacher means everything to me. Now I know that as long as I keep pushing myself I can be the teacher I aim to be.

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I Am Still Learning

Learning

I am still learning – and I am learning so much. After three years of university, I have so many theories and philosophies that I have had little opportunity to put into action in a real classroom as an educator. I have been anticipating this moment, but I wonder if you ever feel completely ready.

My first week of pre-internship was hectic, stressful, and worth every moment so far. What I am doing now is something I believe you could never learn from taking a class. You have to stand up and try, because theories and philosophies are great, but practice is a necessary step. I am constantly afraid I will fumble, but I think that’s a part of it. I can’t teach as if I have years of experience – I don’t. What I do have is passion. My passion fuels me, that keeps me brave enough to learn despite a fear of failing, and that allows me to learn from my mistakes.

I am teaching my students about the environment through literature. I am also trying to learn about and from them. I want to know who they are as learners, so I asked them and I observe what they respond to and what they get excited about. I learn from them, things that work and things that don’t. I have learned that my unit plans will change with them and for them. A plan might take three days, when I hoped for one. This was something I needed to learn and I am glad I have.

For the next week, I hope to see students getting involved. I hope to learn more about ways to reach students and differentiate for their needs. I hope to find ways to get students talking about literature critically. I hope to get students seeing themselves in their learning. As I add another class to my teaching duties, I hope to learn even more than I have in my first week. I am keeping organized and caught up and I am looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

 

Reflecting on a Bad Day

I’m sure there are times in every teacher’s career that they have a bad day, and I had one.

I attempted to let students read a short story and discuss and answer related questions in groups. I gave them a guiding time frame, because this was only one of the activities I wanted to cover in the class. The short story was not a difficult read, I asked them to fill out an anticipation guide before and during reading to help them, and I allowed students to work in groups of up to three. I thought groups would be a nice break from the individual work from the day before. Additionally, some students answered the exit slip question, “what should I know about you as a learner?” by telling me they enjoyed group work. I personally, enjoy discussing what I read with others and find it helpful in identifying different potential meanings of a story. However, it became a social opportunity and I could see that many students had completed very little of their anticipation guide. I realized that my class was going to need the entire class to finish what I hoped they would, so I let the rest go until I could cover it the following day.

This behaviour came from two general things. Firstly, in my haste to cover everything, I made the mistake of not clearly connecting the previous day’s work to that day’s. Secondly, after starting out assertive and audible, I reverted to my timid and quiet voice. Maybe I was tired out or nervous, but the students noticed.

FailureI was upset at first. I knew the mistakes I had made immediately. I felt like a failure. After calming down, I made myself acknowledge that I would not learn from beating myself up over it, that I had to dust myself off and take the experience for what it was — a learning experience. The next lesson, I focused on my presence and my voice. I also dedicated the period to connecting everything together and establishing the importance of the learning activities and the routines. The lessons that I have taught since, have went according to my plans and I am looking forward to improving more and more. In the end, things have gone well and I was able to learn from my “bad day.”

In addition, to overcoming fears and learning from mistakes, I really felt the support of my teaching communities. My partner and my cooperating teacher gave helpful feedback, support, advice, and specific things I should do next class to be more successful. This helped me emotionally prepare myself and it helped me make the most out of the lesson I learned.

The Beginning of Pre-Internship

TeacherCartoon (Owls)

I began my pre-internship on Thursday, March 12. I was nervous, as I’m sure most pre-interns are. However, I have been very warmly welcomed and I am feeling more comfortable in the school already. I have been able to observe four classes, be present for a PLC day, and get so many resources from the English teachers at the school.

There are times that I still doubt my abilities, but I have to remind myself that I have three years of education to look to. I also know that this is the real life learning experience I need. As intimidating as it is, I know I will learn so much that will help me to become a teacher.

I am looking forward to getting to know my students, get classroom experience, and for a first, put sequential lessons into action. I want to learn more about meeting students needs. I am also interested in observing more classes and seeing some of my cooperating teacher’s classes in action. I would like to learn about the student resource/help systems of the school.

My first venture into teaching a unit, is the English B10 “World Around and Within Us” unit. I am still putting it together and finding it most difficult to remember what mind space and knowledge set grade ten students are working from. I don’t want to do things that go beyond their reach, but I also don’t want to underestimate their abilities. I know that I am up for the challenges of pre-internship. I would still love to hear suggestions that any pre-interns, interns, or practicing teachers may have. Every bit of knowledge and advice will help me on my journey and I am thankful for all that I get.

Considering Privilege as an Educator

I’ve been thinking about privilege a lot lately. I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts, but there is so much I want to say. It is my goal to be an anti-oppressive educator, so I’ve been considering some bigger questions about power, privilege, and my personal capabilities. What do I do with my unearned privilege? As an educator, what can I do about power and privilege? How can I overcome my own fears around showing my own vulnerabilities?

To begin, I am aware of my privilege as a white, middle-class, straight woman. I was also the traditional “good” student. I had societal support and the kind of personality that allowed me to succeed in the education system. Now that I am aware of systemic inequality and my own privilege, I know that I have to use my voice to make the school system equitable for all.

What can I do about my unearned privilege? I can use my voice to be an ally in changing systemic inequity. That means that I will give up my privilege. It means that I will stand up against injustice; because as an educator, I want to know that the system I am part of does not disadvantage some and privilege others.

As an educator, what can I do about power and privilege in the school system? I can be culturally responsive. I can include many different perspectives, not just those that our history has privileged. As an English educator, I can teach my students to read texts and the world through different lenses to see varied perspectives, privilege, injustice, and unfair common sense ideas. I can question my biases. I can question the way systems work. I can question common sense. I can ask others, and I do, is there something I’m missing? In what other ways can I be a part of changing issues of power and privilege in my classroom and in student’s education? I want to hear more thoughts on this.

How can I overcome my fears around showing my own vulnerabilities?

A huge part of my teaching philosophy stems from my own challenges, which led me to see the way the system did not work for all. As a teacher, I want to give my students a safe environment. I want them to know that I am working to support their learning and their needs, not to satisfy my ego. I have always wanted to be an ally for my students, and for them to know that I will stand with them in that capacity.

However, I am now questioning my ability to use my voice. I am afraid to be vulnerable. I am afraid, sometimes, to use my voice. I am afraid to open up about issues that hit closer to home, about issues that have hurt me personally, about the overwhelming anxiety that I struggled with in high school and continue to struggle with now. It’s too real. I would look weak. Or I would just be making something out of nothing. I don’t want to be looked at differently. Do I have a choice? Do others who feel this way have a choice?

So the next question is, how can I be a model and an ally for my students if I am silent? How can I be an anti-oppressive educator, when I am so afraid to give up the privilege I have from being silent about my personal challenges? How can I expect others to do the same? How can I overcome this and do what I set out to?

 

Assessment: Late Work

In my final assessment class, I watched a video by Rick Wormeli that built off of the ideas I considered in the article,“The Problem with Penalties,” by Myron Dueck. After considering Wormeli’s video on late work and Dueck’s problem with penalties, has got me insisting that we teach constructively and not punitively. This is obvious though. I’ve learned to teach through constructivism. I want my students to construct their own knowledge. I also want my students to be inwardly motivated when it comes to completing assignments that demonstrate what they learned. It has to be a constructive process. Punishment shuts students out and does not teach or motivate them to do their work on time.

Wormeli gives a number of reasons why late marks and zeros (punishment) for late work doesn’t help improve students accountability or success. He asks, would I hold someone who is just coming to learn, and may still be struggling, to the same accountability as someone who is proficient at the work? No.

How could we? A really important part of my teaching philosophy is based on creating a positive and open learning environment. My students have to know it’s okay to fail at something. My students need to know that they don’t have to make them self sick with worry that they aren’t ready to hand their work in or write a test. There does need to be deadlines, but I need to be flexible, understanding, and forgiving. My students’ learning matters first.

Additionally, Wormeli says, most students from kindergarten to grade ten (and sometimes older) have little choice over their daily schedule. Practices, class times, assignment dates, at-home responsibilities are all dictated to them. He describes school scheduling as a factory type model. He then says, adult deadlines require adult capabilities and time management skills. To force such deadlines when they students can’t act on it, is an abusive method according to Wormeli.

I think there needs to be open space to ask students if deadlines are reasonable, if they are being drowned under other tests and assignments, and room for negotiation as issues arise. Students should be able to come to me and know that if they need more time that’s okay.

Moreover, Wormeli claims that the traditional school system conspires against students that don’t get things right away. And, in trying to get through the curriculum, we tell students ‘too bad you didn’t get it the first time it was taught, we’re moving on’. He says, it’s “no way to teach humans.” Again, their learning matters more. If it takes differentiation, and it will, we must commit to providing students with opportunities to learn. In this way, he says that summative assessment is not necessary in good pedagogy. We can always do better as we learn, a factory model doesn’t allow that.

Lastly, he argues that giving zeros doesn’t teach students. He says, getting students to complete the work does. Students needs to become responsible for their learning, and recover from not making the deadline. We can’t assign a zero and expect them to learn to do their work. Late marks and zero’s also do not prepare people for the larger world, he claims. As the real world, allows us to be late more often than not. It is not the end for us, we are allowed to make mistakes, and recover and complete our duties. Adult level maturity comes from making mistakes and learning from them not from feeling the sting of a zero grade.

I know that late marks and zero grades are fiercely debated, but I think we have to be more understanding. Things can quickly become about punishing others for not reaching expectations, but is that the best policy? What do we really want? Do we want our students to learn or be left behind? The purpose of education, in my eyes, is not to punish students when they don’t do as we command. Education should be a constructive process. I want every aspect of my teaching policies to support that.

Dueck, Myron. “The Problem with Penalties.” Educational Leadership March 2014: 44-49. Print.

“Rick Wormeli: On Late Work.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Nov. 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHeij2Zfil4&gt;.

Assessment: The Problem with Penalties

The practice of using penalties as a way to get students to do their work or punish them when they don’t is something that has been debated both way in many of my classes. Do we give late marks? Should we assign zeros? Should we assign homework and how do we assess it? These questions deserve consideration and I know people have a lot to say either way. Teachers and non-teachers seem to take an interest and voice opinions on this subject.

Myron Dueck wrote an interesting article on the problems he sees with penalties and I find myself agreeing with his points. Dueck devises what he calls “the CARE guidelines” for penalties to positively influence behaviour (44). CARE stands for care about penalty, aim aligned to penalty, reduction of undesirable behaviour, and empowerment through informed decision making. Because these guidelines aren’t met when grading homework or using punishment to encourage effort, Dueck says that traditional penalties aren’t effective.

An important part of why I agree that grading homework isn’t good assessment, is because homework is the practice and so summative evaluation of it doesn’t give students the ability to show their improvement fairly. It can also be a practice that perpetuates inequality based on the socio-economic status and home life of students. Not all students have home environments that allow them to do their best work, so it is not particularly effective to grade homework.

It also becomes clear that punishment doesn’t encourage increased effort or student empowerment. Students don’t need to be punished when they don’t do their work or don’t try their best. They need more intrinsic motivations to make them want to do the work. They need to have their personal interests drawn into their studies. Students need to be responsible for and included in their learning. We need to understand what makes students not want to do their work and find ways to engage them, not push them away.

Dueck, Myron. “The Problem with Penalties.” Educational Leadership March 2014: 44-49. Print.