Thursday, September 04, 2008

Student Teaching: First Impressions (Long)

Before I get into my experiences student teaching, I can't help but mention the passing of Leroi Moore, who played saxophone in the Dave Matthews Band. He passed away on August 19th from complications due to an ATV accident. He was only in his 40s. I think he and Carter Beauford are the two most talented members of the band, and whenever I see the band next, it won't be quite the same. DMB played at the gorge last weekend, and I didn't make it out this year, but the following video is a pretty cool montage that the band put together to pay tribute to Leroi:

Pictures of people I know, back when they were kids, always make me smile. A lot of it is because I know who they have become, and seeing the path that they have taken in picture form is amazing to me. Another aspect is when I've played a role in that path. Tyler's family made an amazing collage of photos at his wedding, and the pictures brought back memories I hadn't thought of in more than a decade. Tyler in his soccer uniform and long tail hanging down past his shoulders instantly brought me back to being 10 years old and eating orange slices during halftimes of our soccer games.

I started student teaching on Wednesday, and my role has been much more active than I had anticipated. My teacher also has a child with special needs who is in her first year of kindergarten at the same school. On the first day, she had a mild seizure (which is not too rare for her), and I was thrust into the teacher role much sooner than I imagined. I wasn't leading a lesson, but I was in charge of the students and it felt hectic to begin with, but after the first few minutes I settled in and had some fun.

There have been some pretty funny moments from the first two days of student teaching, including one kid's first words in class. Teach had asked what the definition of "routine" is, S. answered "something you do over and over again." Teach said "yes, that is the answer I was looking for! Oh, I see C. has his had up still, do you have anything to add, C?"

"Routine is also what gets you killed if an assassin is after you."

Nice. Boy isn't wrong, but you gotta wonder.

We played a name game today at the start of class and the students were instructed to pick a face-down card from the middle of the circle, say the person's name, then greet the person and ask if they brought their lunch or if they are buying lunch--then place the index card with that person's name in the "Brought" or "Buying" box. It goes fairly smoothly until it gets to H. W picks up H's card randomly, greets H and asks if he brought his lunch or if he is buying today.

"I don't know."

Um... what? You don't know if you brought your lunch to school? Hmmm. Teach decides that H is probably just flustered and sticks his card in the "Brought" box. Lunch time rolls around and H is walking circles around the two lunch tables, so I ask him if he is eating lunch today.

"I don't think so."

Hmm... I'm pretty sure kids have to eat lunch at the school, but I don't know what to do. Luckily Teach shows up and figures something out for H. (I'm still not sure if there are some lunches the students can buy, or what happened--I'll have to ask). At the end of the day today, we are cleaning up, getting ready to leave for the day and I notice a brown paper bag in H's desk.

"Is that your lunch, H?"

"Oh, I forgot it."

Here I was at lunch, thinking how his parents might be neglectful and whatnot, when the kid DID bring a lunch, but couldn't remember that he brought the lunch because he hid it in his desk! That could have been a very awkward conversation with the parents (and I'm sure there will be plenty of other awkward conversations with his parents, but I'm glad the neglectful one doesn't have to be thrown in there).

There is a wide range of students in the class. Very apparent ADHD children, children with gender issues, children with Asperger's, extremely intelligent and socially awkward children, slow children, athletic children, tubby children, introverted, extroverted, leaders, followers, children with no dads, children with no moms and children with two moms. After the first day the room looked like a tornado had just left town. The lost and found covered an entire table and included numerous lunch bags, water bottles, books and notebooks. A lot of the mess had to do with poor planning on Teach's and my part, not having enough time to have the children clean up before leaving--which we remembered to fit into the schedule today.

Besides all the non-ethnic diversity in the class, Teach says it is a fairly typical class as far as the first two days of school go. The kids are on better behavior than they are normally, and they have more energy than they usually have. This leads to a weird dynamic where the kids act out a lot, but they are also very quick to stop, listen, and change whatever we ask them to change. Being quiet in the halls, not hitting each other, not speaking while others are speaking, cleaning up after themselves--the students have done each of these a dozen or more times, but when Teach or I call them on it, they seem to genuinely listen. I think the students don't want to get on our bad side.

Yesterday I noticed Teach asking the students to raise their hands whenever they had a question or something to add to the discussion, but then not calling on a lot of hands. He would either outright ignore the hands or say, "This isn't the time for questions." I felt he could have handled the situation better at the time, because his actions seemed to create a lot of angst in the part of the students, and understandably so. If you raise your hand, like you are asked to do, and the teacher ignores you, I can understand being angry.

Today I started to understand why Teach ignores a lot of the questions. They are dumb! Well, not really dumb, but off topic or have nothing to add to the discussion. One student will be talking about a camping trip he took and 10 other hands will pop up. Nine of those hands will be, "I went on a camping trip this summer, too!" If the student blurts this out in class, she gets reprimanded by Teach for speaking out of turn, but if she raises her hand she won't get called on and doesn't get to share. I think there should be some happy-medium, or the students should be reminded of their 'me too' sign, which is doing the little free-throw jinx "spirit fingers" in the air (at least at this school). There are a lot of questions in general, and almost all of the questions only affect the student asking the question or making the comment. Multiply that by 25 and teaching the class anything becomes impossible.

Teaching is an incredibly demanding job, which I wasn't shocked by, but the point was just made much more known with a few days of student teaching. On the first day of school at morning recess, we played a playground game called Spud, which both Teach and I used to play back when we were in grade school. The game had to be modified a bit for whiny parents--you can't chuck the kickball at other students, you have to roll the ball now. Anyways, one girl twists her ankle during the first recess of the school year. Teach continues to lead the students in the game of Spud while I go to the nurse's office for some ice. Sc. ices her ankle and with the help of L as a human crutch, slowly makes her way back the classroom. Sc and L arrive five minutes after everyone else and have missed the instruction, so Teach has to repeat it quickly for them. The class goes off to gym next and Sc has to hobble to gym and presumably chill out while the gym teacher runs all of the kids around for 30 minutes. If I wasn't there to help with the sprained ankle in the first place, I guess the Teach would just have to rely on a student to either get the ice from the nurse or lead the students in the game.

I'm glad I'm observing 4th grade, which is the first grade the kids start wanting independence. Because teachers can't wait to give it to them. If the sprained ankle situation happened in a 1st grade class, you wouldn't want to leave any student by themselves, and the situation would just be that more difficult to deal with. I feel confident that all of the 4th graders in Teach's class would be able to go on solo assignments around the school. Some would cause a lot more distraction than others, but they would all at least know OF responsible and appropriate behavior.

Being stern with the students is definitely going to be my biggest need for improvement. Teach is incredibly stern with the students, but I also think a lot of that is due to the way he sets up his classroom culture. There are some things I would try to avoid in a classroom of my own, but for the most part I think Teach has great ideas and a good setup. A fear is that since Teach is my mentor teacher, I will need to use the guidelines and culture he has created to student teach myself. This means strictly adhering to the no interruptions policy and always raising hands policy.

I'm toying with the idea of eliminating hand raising, except when called for. Instead of asking if anyone can answer a question, I will just pick a student to answer it, and if they can, great, if they can't, I will pick on someone else. For answers that are broad and class-oriented, I can ask students to raise their hand if they know the answer, then when enough hands are raised I can ask the entire class to blurt out their answer at once. If the answers are all the same, great, if not, I can pick two people with opposing answers to tell the class why or how they came up with the answer they did.

Another thing I am on the fence with the current classroom is Teach's insistence on gender balance. He takes it to an extreme in my eyes. Heck, the students are already COMPLETELY gender separate at lunch. All of the boys eat at one table and all of the girls at another. Teach forces the genders to interact, by having them sit boy-girl-boy-girl around the circle at discussion time (which I think is great), but then he also chooses students in a boy-girl-boy manner. During a guessing game we played, W wittily guessed correctly because she knew Teach would pick a boy this round, because he picked a girl last round. There isn't anything wrong with the way Teach does it, it just doesn't seem worth the effort--what is the harm in picking three girls in a row to answer questions? And wouldn't it be fun to have a battle-of-the-sexes math game every now and then? An area Teach's boy-girl-boy tactics get into trouble is when we have a gender-questioning student in the class, which we have. Putting a huge importance on gender makes L stand out even more--although having a battle of the sexes game probably wouldn't help either!

To end the day today I got called a thief by another teacher at the school, that is always nice. I was sipping my water bottle as I was walking through the halls, coming back from school bus duty. T stops me and says,

"Is that your water bottle?"


"Are you sure? I lost my water bottle and it looks just like that one."

"Well, unless you set it down in Teach's class, this one is mine."

Later, I realized this was a very poor choice of words. The water bottle is quite unique, and I remember thinking so when I stole it from my parent's refridgerator on Wednesday. T comes into Teach's class while we are debriefing for the day...

"Sorry to interrupt you, but I really think that water bottle is mine."

Me: "I'm positive this water bottle is mine, and I should have mentioned this earlier, but I didn't steal it from you, I stole it from my Mom yesterday morning."

"Man, even hearing that, I still think it is my water bottle."

"... sorry? I know it is mine, I practically haven't let it out of my sight all day."

She slowly walks out. Then returns five minutes later with her head in her hands, apologizing profusely while carrying her identical water bottle. They are identical, even down to the condensation marks. I might have easily made the same mistake, so no big deal, hell, she almost convinced me that I did steal her water bottle.

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