Student Teachers?!

I think it is important to help up coming teachers become aware of what it really is like in the classroom.  Three times I have looked forward to helping to mold a quality teacher.  For many of the college seniors, they have no clue.  Methods class teaches about utopia, which is not reality.  Consider that many of the teachers teaching these classes have not been in the classroom for several years.  Student teachers need to get out in classrooms and observe and actually teach.  Maybe even before the traditional student teaching.  Out of the three student teachers, I have had ONE that was prepared!  This most recent student teacher put me over the edge.  I knew as soon as he started to communicate with me over the phone and via e-mail that he did not have what it takes to be a teacher.  He addressed me very casually, Ex:  “Hey, just wondering if we could meet on Friday.”  Excuse me???!!  “Hey”?? We had a discussion about that right away!  This student came to me as his second placement and he was very “green”.   He had no clue about how to put the students into groups!  He did not anticipate anything about his plans for the day or assignments.  Being his second placement, I was shocked!  The thing that really amazed me was that he actually thought he was doing a good job!  He had no clue that he was horrible.  The first time he taught my class, I had 5 pages of notes!  Most of what I said, he claimed he had not even realized.  I kept wondering, what he did at his previous placement?  He said he listened to a book on tape?!  How would the college he was attending allow that?  Is that teaching? 

The final clincher came one week after being in my class, his supervisor came to observe him.  She wrote one page of information and for the remaining 84 minutes, she played on her blackberry.  When class was over we conferenced.  She directed her first questions to me, what I thought etc.  I said I was very shocked at how inexperienced he was in basic teaching strategies.  His supervisor then said that this young man had problems at his other placement and she tossed on my desk a sheet of paper / a contract sigtned by him and instructors from the college with a list of about 10 criteria he had to improve on.  She told me he was on probation ( news to me!).  If this student did not improve upon the criteria on the list he would be out of the program.  She nonchalantly mentioned that (lets call him Max) had not improved and she was taking him out of the program!  My jaw dropped to the desk, Max turned white!  Here this kid is in his second semester senior year and was being told he had to withdraw!!!!!!????  This just does not seem fair!  How could they do this to him?  How could they let him get this far when he clearly was not cut out for teaching??! He as spent all this time and money to be denied two months before graduating??  I was apalled!  I didn’t think he was treated fairly and dismissing him from the program right in front of me?  Teachers in the field take a big risk and a huge responsibility taking on a student teacher. Being unaware of what I was getting into and what my class was getting into was not explained and that made me angry.  Of course I communicated my displeasure with the entire situation to the powers that be at the local college.  The final comment my student teacher of 4 days said was:  “My cooperating teacher at the other placement stood up for me last time.”  I told him, I was sorry and could not do that for him.  He had not learned nearly enough to be out in the field.

Back to the Grind

One more day of spring break and it is back to the routine.  My family and I spent 6 days in Myrtle Beach.  We didn’t have the best weather but we made the best of it.  We decided to make the 14 hour drive all the way home on Sat.  night.  It was well worth it to sleep in our own beds last night.  Like I always say, it is great to get away but it is also nice to get home.  We have to pick up Potter our puppy, hope he still remembers us.  There is also something to be said for us as creatures of habit and actually enjoying getting back to reality.  I must admit on the long drive home, I couldn’t help but think about the final weeks of school and what I will be doing in class and helping to organize Class Night, helping with Prom and of course final review for the ELA!  And then their will be the distribution of the yearbook!  We need to brainstorm a better way to hand it out to the students.  Last year was a disaster!  So, starting Monday it’s back to getting up early, checking homework, grading papers, driving to baseball and soccer practices and trying to decide what on earth to have for dinner! ugh!  Several of the students from my school have been in Europe and our former Asst. Super. has been blogging and keeping us all informed, it has been great to read and see pictures.  I must admit I am anxious to see some of my students who went on the trip and see their pictures and hear their stories.  OK everyone, let’s get back to it!

Jury Duty

My school district is off this week for Winter Break.  I, on the other hand, am sitting on the jury of a civil case.  On Tuesday, 260 people were called down to the jury room.  A civil case needs 6 jurors and 2 alternates.  Out of 260people originally called in, I am chosen to be one of those 6 jurors!  How does that happen?  The lawyers have told us that this case will go into next week, when I should be back in school.  This troubles me because I don’t like to be out and my main focus in my classes has been on the research paper.  I realize that a sub probably cannot monitor properly what students are doing as far as their progress and cannot answer questions students may have about writing a research paper or doing the actual research and recording source cards and note cards, especially how I want that all to be done.  That concerns me.  I am hoping a collegue can collect work that students accomplish and I can then look it over and get it back to them during the week I will be off.  Sometimes directions or plans that I will send in are not always followed exactly.  I do know that our school has many subs that are familiar with us, the teachers and many of the students and they do, for the most part a good job.  I just want to be the one explaining everything to them, but I am tied right now to doing my civic duty.  I know they will survive without me, I just worry about their progress without me there to push them along.

The court case has been interesting and amazingly taxing on my brain.  It is interesting to see what other people do in their jobs.  The amount of work that must have gone into preparing the case and trying the case seems incredible to me.  The paper work that clutters the tables of both attorneys is monumental and I have to wonder how they know where everything is and how to locate what they need so quickly?  I remember serving before on a criminal case and feeling the same way.  All that is involved in our justice system is overwhelming.  The time, organization and flow of everyday is amazing to watch. 

Research Paper and Hamlet

I recently read a blog of another 11th grade English teacher going through the research paper process with her students.  I was relieved to read that other teachers struggle with this assignment.  Over the past few years I have really fine tuned my teaching of this unit, my collegue and I created a manual for each student that we are very proud of.  What amazes me:  It doesn’t matter how much time I give them to work on it, 85% are doing it the night before.  Using index cards for source cards and notecards makes the entire process so much easier, yet students have trouble telling the difference between the two.  Lastly, no matter how many times I may give directions in class there seems to always be that one person who five minutes later asks:  “So, what are we supposed to do?” Ugh!

Hamlet: I have been teaching this wonderfully deep play for several years.  Each year, I find something different in the text or how I explain something or new meaning and questions raised by my students.  This year I have a really great group who are, mostly, engaged in the discussions we have in class.  They are asking questions and making predictions, it is really enjoyable, yes, class is fun!  I created this exercise for each act called: The things that make you go hmmm….  Thought provoking questions for each act that stimulates thoughts and then discussions.  This year has been exceptional with this assignment.  I look forward to their final project when they present a scene from the play.  This year, thanks to Dana Huff and her amazing blog, I have added a new twist to the assignment. I look forward to seeing how they turn out.

Thoughtful Classroom

I am forever thankful to my former principal / asst. super. for having our district trained in Thoughtful Classroom.  The other day I did an activity and it really went well.  Of course I tweeked what I learned into what I needed but it still went really well.  I am serious, a great class, in my case 84 minutes!, is a natural high!  What made it even better was I am teaching a new play right now that I usually teach with my honors class. I am finding my regular students are engrossed in the story line and so far have been able to verbalize the deeper themes this play provides.  It is such a powerful feeling to hear my students intelligently discuss literature!

Back in the Groove

Over the break I have been trying to relax but at the same time, I realize I am procrastinating on getting ready for school to start back up.  I realized I haven’t been on my blog in a really long time. Perhaps renewing this will get me motivated.  I am teaching a new play to my juniors this year called Fences.  In the past I have taught it with my Honors English 11 class but thought I would try something different.  My colleague and I have decided our theme for this year’s literature is the American Dream.  We started with Of Mice and Men.  Fences is my second piece that takes place in the late 1950s to around 1965 and centers on an African American family trying to make their mark in a blind and ignorant society.  That part plays up the American Dream portion.  The other part is about family and the family dynamic.  A dominant father so desperately wants to take care of his family, the mother wants to keep everyone happy and close (thus the title fences) but like life, things don’t always work out as we plan.  Like Of Mice and Men reflects the importance of friendship, this focuses on dreams and the importance of family relationships.  It is certainly not the “Leave it to Beaver” type of family.  This is one of the reasons why I thought this play would be a good choice for my students who daily have to struggle with family relationships. 

Since I have a block class of 84 minutes, I need to make sure to plan accordingly and effectively.  Much of the play has already brought about  discussion of the time period by incorporating excellent media footage of the civil rights movement from Youtube!  However, I need to think of other activities to supplement this play. We cannot read for 84 minutes!  Do any of you have any literature that would go along with my theme? Have any of you ever taught Fences?  I would appreciate any and all suggestions.  I need a spark to go back to school.

Preaching to the Choir

On Friday, four local schools that collectively teach a good amount of students at the poverty level gathered together in one spot to listen to an expert on poverty.  We heard stories and this person’s observations and much was discussed about the difference between upper, middle and lower class and the hidden values.  Now, as mentioned many times before, I teach in a rural school with several students that live at the poverty level.  Although I found the information interesting, I really wanted to hear how we as teachers deal with this issue.  I believe having a clear understanding of the values that people in different classes possess, yet, how do we deal with students and parents who live in poverty?  How can we teach better to students of various classes, what are some key phrases, what can we incorporate or NOT incorporate into our classes and instruction to reach these students better?  Also, there are the parents and the personal relationships that many people at the poverty level have are also important.  How is a parent phone call with those parents different than a parent from a middle class? Those are the tools that I was hoping to walk away with on Friday, and I really didn’t.  What I have learned I have learned by teaching students who have a vast range of classes.  However, most of the class levels are middle to lower class.  I have had to learn an entirely different way of living from what I grew up knowing.  What did I know?  I thought everyone lived like I did.  I found out differently.  I really wish the  four neighboring schools could have spent the money that was payed to this speaker ( which I am sure was a large sum ) on equipment and updates that we so desperately need for our schools, instead of “preaching to the choir”.  What was  told us and what they showed us, we live five days a week.