Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Story Telling

The art of story telling is something that has always perked my interest. From campfire ghost stories to fairy tales and from mythology to science fiction, I love a good story. I've never been much of a story teller myself, but I think it would be a fun skill to pickup, especially going into the teaching profession.

The movie "Big Fish" is a favorite of mine due in large part to the main theme of story telling. It takes the entire movie for the main character to realize the importance of story telling to his father. I can relate to the main character because until the end of college I was always a very big thinker and not much of a feeler. I now choose not to separate the two. A small story from "Big Fish" is of the main character when he was born. He popped right out of his mom and shot clear across the room and out the door and kept on sliding until a nurse with a quick eye and a quicker hand snatched him up off the hospital floor.

The main character obviously would not remember his birth, but by the time he is in his 30s he has long since realized the story he was told by his Dad couldn't be true. For a long time he thinks his father is nuts to keep fabricating stories and stretching truths. On his death bed, the father tells him the real story, about how his mother gave birth to him in the middle of the night while he had to work the late shift at the factory. Not a very good memory, and in his father's eye, one worth spicing up.

I have to say that I'm a believer that truth can be much stranger than fiction, and the most fun I have reading fiction is when it is as close as possible to truth. I can see the main character's frustration in never being told the complete truth. Last winter I read "The Kite Runner" and was completely engrossed in the story until the story neared the end and just became too fantastical for me to believe. Sort of like the most recent Indiana Jones movie where I enjoyed the movie until the monkey scene... I mean... come on.

What is weird about how I treat truth and fiction is that a series like Harry Potter really appeals to me. Even though the world is magical, the parameters the author has set in the fantastical world hold true, and there are countless aspects of our current reality that make their way into her books. If I create a story set in the 1800s, and a guy walks through the scene with a laptop, I'd better explain where this guy and his technology come from, or the story loses rules to its world. Much like bluffing in poker, actually. If your bluff does not make sense, it will be more likely to be snapped off than a well-thought out bluff. Calling with a flush draw and not hitting, then betting big on the river with a six-high broken flush draw, because now bluffing big is the only way to win the hand, will be much harder to believe than someone calling with air, then betting out when the third flush card comes on the turn or river.

I'm interested in creating short stories involving different people in my life. Friends, family members, online friends, WoW experiences--but interweaving fact and fiction. There are a lot of interesting people in my teaching program, and I often wonder what their lives outside of class might entail. I could use my imagination and create fictional worlds for them, but in order to make sense, those fictional worlds would have to lead those characters to be who they are today. There is a high chance that the person I see in class is much different than the person they are at home, and weaving that into stories would be fun as well. I mean, just think of the fun stories you could come up about your favorite bloggers?

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Temperance (prop bet, anyone?)

My memory is a bit fuzzy, so take the next few lines with a bit of skepticism. Back in college, I had a History class where we discussed Thomas Jefferson's attempt at a life of temperance. He outlined a dozen vices in his life that he wanted to cut out, and he made a chart with one axis of vices, such as swearing and alcohol consumption, and labeled the other axis with the days of the week. Every time he committed a vice, he checked the box for the corresponding day.

A week into his experiment, the page was covered in check marks. TJ gave up on his experiment within two weeks.

This is a pretty good explanation of how I feel about temperance in regards to just about everything. Certain devilish desires I can abstain from, but I tend to believe that a little bit of a bad thing can be healthy for the soul. Alcohol, Poker, Sex... you can get into a lot of trouble being too crazed about any of these three things, but taken in moderation they are all great fun.

That said, how's this for an idea that will never work:

Maximum of 2 hours of WoW per day
Minimum of 1 hour of writing per day

I, like Waffles and many other bloggers in secret (you know who you are), have been playing too much WoW. I'd like to curb my playtime to at most two hours a day. I gave it a shot today, but wound up playing three hours while watching MNF. I obviously enjoy playing the game, but playing for hours on end just takes too much time from more important things I should be doing. I value this blog more than I value playing WoW, but I sure spend a lot more time playing the game than writing--so this shot at temperance is an attempt to change.

Everyone has vices they want to get rid of, whether it be smoking, temper, tilting, drinking, and yes, even WoW addictions. I'm not crazy enough to think I will be able to abide by my newly placed restrictions every day. There are things in WoW that require more than two hours to accomplish, and there will be days I simply won't be able to write for an hour. Instead of seeing a sheet filled with checks staring me in the face (no, I'm not actually going to make a "Temperance Chart" like TJ did), I think I'll shoot for five days a week of accomplishing one hour of writing and less than two of WoW. Instead of just wasting a rainy Sunday afternoon playing WoW, I can get a head start on homework for the next week for class, or start prepping lessons for student teaching. From the look of my two new classes today, I'll be having a lot more homework this quarter than any of my previous quarters at UW.

I'm hoping the allotment of two days of leeway a week will be enough to help me attain my goal, but I fear I'll need a bit more motivation. Do any of you have vices you want to try and weed out from your lives, even if that weeding starts off slowly? I'm up for a little prop bet if there is any interest. I'd be willing to offer up a personalized fictional short story, a drawing, maybe even a heads up SNG with you if you attain your goal. I'm hoping for some good incentive to reach my goals in return... cooking tips, motorcycle stories, rants, back massages...


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Channeling My Inner Schaubs

I went golfing this week. Twice. The only other time I went golfing this year was over in Central Washington, which is usually the only time I go golfing each year. To call me a "hack" golfer would be an understatement. The only other time I've been golfing in the last few years is out at the coast with Andrew, Marc and Tyler. Andrew was in town this weekend for his brother's wedding, so I tried to get the foursome together for a round of golf today.

Marc and Tyler bowed out early, but Andrew sounded interested, so I got a tee time for 9:30am down at Tyee. In preparation for the full 18 holes at Tyee (I haven't played 18 holes in a good five years), I went out to the par 3 short course at Greenlake with my parents Friday afternoon. The longest hole at Greenlake is 115 yards, and the shortest is about 50 yards--it is tiny. The weather was gorgeous, my golf game was on fire, and my dad provided plenty of entertainment.

For playing once in the past year I was amazed at going bogey, par, par, par, bogey, par, par, par, bogey for a 30. I think the lowest I have ever shot at Greenlake was a 29, so being one off my record was amazing. My tee shots were going well and my putting was true, the only part of my game struggling was my chipping, but thankfully I didn't have too many chip shots to make. So I was pleasantly surprised with my practice run, ready for Sunday.

As planned, we drink a bit too much at the reception Saturday night and stumble onto the golf course three minutes before our tee time. The front nine went alright, I shot a 44, Andrew was at 43 and Chris shot a 41. For lunch we grabbed hot dogs at the clubhouse and I couldn't resist the call of a tall, frosty Rainier. I should have though. The back nine ate me up. I must have 3-putted every hole, it was ugly.

Breaking 100 is usually my goal, but I thought I was ready to try for 90. I ended up shooting a 99, but the course was only a par 70 instead of the regular 72. According to my fuzzy math, my 100 goal should be closer to 96 on a par 70 course. I'm not sure what it was, maybe it was the beer, maybe not playing 18 holes for five years, but I left the course thinking playing 3 times in one year was one too many for me... lol.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mason Lake Hike (Photo Dump)

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Summer Cookin'

I cooked ratatouille for the 'rents tonight. The meal was sort of bland, but the cooking experience was nice. My parents have a good setup, with westward facing windows in the kitchen. The sun descended as I cooked, and light slowly illuminated the entire kitchen. I had music playing and the back door was swung open wide, in attempt to make summer last just a little longer. I could hear birds chirping at the bird feeder out back, and at one cooking intermission I saw both cats watching the feeder regally from the porch.


Booty Calls and Addiction

Booty calls and addiction were my themes for the weekend.

The weekend started out innocently enough, with a get-together at the Red Hook Brewery after class on Friday. My carpool friend Sarah decided since Friday was the end of a 3-week "quarter" of school, a trip to the brewery was in order. Amen, sista. After the brewery I met up with Josh, Tessa, Jared, Tyler and Renee at Pies and Pints for more beer and mouth-watering soup and pie, not to mention bite of Renee's decadent chocolate cake and sharing a perfectly rich chocolate mousse with Tessa. After Tyler and Renee left, and the four of us went to Jared and Tessa's for Rock Band 2, which kicks all kinds of ass. Bon Jovi, Pearl Jam, and plenty of other bands that I might one day actually consider singing the karaoke part to. One day. Maybe. Instead, I just strummed the bass all night long, while J&T's shiba inu named Artan nibbled on my toes.

Then the wheels came off the bus.

I played a poop-load of World of Warcraft this weekend. I woke up at 11am on Saturday and played until 1am on Sunday, with brief respites for food, using the facilities, and driving to Tyler's to play more WoW. I had intended to play frisbee and maybe even go watch some frisbee up in Burlington, but when I awoke on Saturday to the unforecasted rain, I was bummed. I had already geared up for frisbee before even looking out the window, knowing that I was late, so when I got out the door and saw the rain, I moped back inside not wanting to add more layers and put in contacts. I drowned my sorrows not in the rain, but in WoW.

Last night I was up to no good. After another steady day of WoW, and about 30 minutes prior to bed time, a mysterious (but somewhat familiar) lady talks me into coming over to her place, saying she's got freshly laundered towels and plans on going into work late on Monday morning. And that, friends, is when I realized there are things more fun in life than playing WoW.

Unfortunately, I've got this week off from school. I say unfortunately, because the forecast calls for more rain, which means I'll be inside, which means I will likely be playing more WoW. Maybe I'll pretend to have temperance and fire up a poker table or two, to take my mind off the addiction that is WoW.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Teaching Experience (Long)

I taught my first math lesson on Tuesday, and it was a lot of fun. Teacher and I talked briefly on Monday about the possibility of teaching the math lesson for Tuesday, but nothing was set in stone. Tuesday morning he asks me if I'm up for it and I jump at the chance. I think I'll just copy what I wrote in my paper journal from Tuesday at school:

My very first lesson! I will be teaching about polygons, concentric circles and congruent circles to my 4th graders in about 15 minutes. I took the last hour and a half getting ready to teach the hour-long lesson... that could be a crazy amount of work in my future.

I can't wait! My introduction will incorporate the students' math homework from last night. One question had them create their own polygon riddle. A set of four questions leading to a certain type of polygon. Most students attempted to answer the question, and I'm taking some of the ones that made sense and putting them into a MS Word document and increasing the font to size 48 so all of the parts to the riddle don't show up at once on the computer projector screen.

From there we transition into a polygon card game. The hard part of the lesson will be the transitions. Transitioning from lunch to the introduction, into the polygon game, then back into more instruction on concentric and congruent circles will be tough. But at least the lesson is only an hour long and sandwiched between lunch and recess!

Five minutes left of lunch--here goes!


Well, that was an experience! I think I modeled how my mentor teacher teaches somewhat well. The first time I got the students' attention I raised my voice to drown out all of the small conversations going on, but I would really like to never have to do that. It worked fairly well, but the next time I needed to get their attention I tried the counting method... 1... 2... and the room was silent after two! It was amazing! It was glorious! Steve has gotten up to 15 before, and there are absolutely no consequences set in place (as far as I can tell), so the kids could have had me counting to infinity if they wanted. I was shocked when the entire room was silent at two--I would have set the over/under at 7 or 8.

Overall, I think the math lesson went OK. I made a ton of mistakes, mostly having to do with forgetting to explain something fully. I planned on using the students' homework to play a few guessing polygon games, but was conflicted whether I could have the kids call out shapes the riddle could be, or shapes it could not be. I started with shapes it couldn't be and the kids just said "circle" or "oval" which are not polygons to begin with. The definition of the mystery polygon would narrow with each piece of new revealed information, but the students would continue to give answers to what it could not be in very general terms--circle, oval, hectogon.

As the students began to groan, I switched the guessing to what polygons the mystery object might be. They got a kick out of it this way, and had much more fun. I had attempted to give them some insight to strategy instead of blind guessing, but the students liked to make guesses!

The final riddle went like this:
1) I am a polygon
2) All of my sides are equal

At this point, the class was in unanimous agreement that the object had to be a square, so I let them go on believing that, knowing that with further clues they might change their answers...

3) I have six angles

"Hexagon! Hexagon!"

I was happy with the way the introduction went, but I bet the teacher was concerned with the amount of shouting out. I didn't really notice at the time, but now writing this I think all the shouting out definitely works in some kids' favor and to the detriment of other kids. It allows kids to slip through, and that is what I want to avoid.

I very poorly introduced the polygon game, already behind schedule. I tried to model the game on the overhead, but I don't think anyone understood me, including the teacher and a parent helper. I also tried to release all the students before I had even explained the rules to the game--THAT would have been funny! Here kids, take these cards and play the game, what do you mean you don't know how to play?? The cards were all jumbled and none of the kids knew how to play, so I had to go through all of the groups and separate out the cards into the two appropriate piles and explain how to play. I didn't have time to get to every group before it was time to move on to the concentric and congruent circles, and luckily the teacher reminded me to tell the kids what to do with their cards before meeting back in the circle, or I would have gotten that question a dozen times.

It sure is true that teaching is the best way to learn something. I don't think I will ever forget concentric and congruent circles. I briefly explained their differences and modeled a few circles using a compass on the overhead projector, then dismissed the students to their table groups to work independently in their student math journals. I had to flick the lights once because the kids did not know how many concentric circles to draw. Teacher thought three would be a good MINIMUM, and I agreed. I then focused on helping M, who had been absent since the first week of school.

M has fine motor skill issues, and trying to use a compass just is not his strong suit. I made some additional rules for him when using the compass, which seemed to help. His first few attempts he pretty much just held the pencil and drew a ragged circle, which isn't quite the purpose of the pencil attached to the compass. I drew a dot in the middle of M's paper, and told him to place the anchor of the compass on the dot, and that he could only touch the anchor and the piece of paper--he could not touch the pencil or the arm of the compass where the pencil was attached. His first attempt with the new rules was almost perfect!

Without the teacher's help and the parent helper, I don't know how the concentric and congruent circle lesson would have gone. There were plenty of questions asked by the students, but nearly all of my attention was focused on catching M back up, and I did not put in place obstacles for the more advanced students to tackle if they finished early. I failed to do that with the polygon game as well. I wonder if there is any adverse effect to always giving additional challenges when some kids will never get to them. I think the good probably outweighs any bad that might come in self-esteem issues for the average and slower students.

*end of journal

All in all, a pretty fun experience. Having a good set of ground rules and expectancies for the students is such a huge part of teaching, as is planning. I felt comfortable with my 90 minutes of planning to give an alright first lesson, but much like school itself for me growing up, I can spend a little time planning and teach at a "B" level, or spend a ton of time and be an outstanding teacher. I'm shooting for the "A" this time around... hopefully it doesn't kill me.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cabin Trip with the Chakos

Zeem also joined in for a great way to spend one of the last 75 degree days of summer. Seven of us headed up to my parents' cabin near Darrington. I headed out early because I wanted to check out the Oso Loop road and do a quick check on the mileage from the river to the cabin. The Oso Loop Rd. is a really nice two-mile offshoot from Hwy 530 with windy turns and two overpasses that cross the Stillaguamish. Ever since riding the motorcycle up to the cabin for the first time last year, I wanted to check out the road through Oso, and it did not disappoint.

I got a few chapters read in Clifford Simak's "Way Station" before the Wife and Dr. Chako (and au pair and kids) arrived. We took a brief tour of the cabin and surrounding areas before Zeem arrived. Per usual trips to the cabin, we didn't spend much time at the cabin proper. From the cabin to the river wound up being 1.5 miles, and the seven of us made the trek while picking blackberries along the way.

The water was a bit on the chilly side, but we still spent a good three hours at the river. The rope swing is still intact, and there were plenty of skipping stones to occupy our time. Dr. Chako has got some skipping skills, and we each had throws that skipped clearly a few times, then started the trail of nearly impossible to count skips as the stone slows and eventually falls from the surface. Older son gathered up enough courage to try the rope swing, getting a nice rope burn in the process. Sandwiches, grapes and delicious chocolate chip cookies rounded out our riverside picnic. A fisher upstream caught a HUGE salmon, but nicely released it back into the river so it could lay some eggs, or at least pee on some eggs.

After three hours of fun in the sun, we hiked back up to the cabin and rode into Darrington for beer, onion rings and fries. An almost perfect end to a fun last days of summer trek. What would the perfect ending be? Ice cream!

The ride back to Seattle was kind of crazy. I was zooming on 530 and passed a few cars on a long straight stretch. The instant I got back into the right lane two motorcycles flashed past me going around 100mph. I thought, "crazy bastards" then realized with them ahead of me, there is no way a cop will pull me over. Maybe not the smartest approach, but it made for a fun and stress-free ride to Arlington.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Being Unique and Praise

How important is being unique? To me, it is a pretty big deal. From playing video games to picking remote hiking trails, I like to take the road less traveled.

Tyler and I have had numerous chats over the years about certain classes in various games we have played. He is usually one of the few people to see the potential in classes that rarely get played--he was one of the first suppression runemasters in Daoc. He was the only one around when he stopped playing the game; six months later he reactivates his account and half of the guild is suppression-spec. In one of our latest games, Team Fortress 2, you can change between nine classes at any point during the round, and I am usually switching to the classes that aren't played both for balance and uniqueness.

I love to go hiking on non-popular trails. Hiking through the woods on an uncommon trail gives me more ownership over the hike than passing by hordes of people along the way. Coming to a lakeside campsite where no tents have been pitched is a very cool feeling.

Uniqueness came to me yesterday while riding the motorcycle down to Tacoma from Seattle. I was the last person allowed onto the express lanes heading south on I-5. On a perfectly sunny, 70 degree Saturday, I was the only soul on the express lanes within view for seven miles through urban Seattle. I-5 was packed going both north and south, which made my uniqueness all the more noticeable. Of course, I took advantage of the solitude and zig-zagged across all three lanes like I owned the highway. As I approached the merge back with normal I-5, I caught up with a red pickup truck and as I passed him we exchanged wide-eyed ear-to-ear grins.

The rest of the ride down to Tacoma I spent thinking about uniqueness and how important it is for students. In my summer health class, Judy re-introduced me to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which states that certain needs have to be met in order for other needs to be considered and for personal growth. Teaching is all about having our students attain personal growth, so an understanding of Maslow's theory makes sense.

Physiological needs have to be met before we worry about safety needs. If we don't have respect for others, it is hard to imagine having morality. Uniqueness fits into this pyramid at the upper level, as self-actualization, but in order to think about one's uniqueness, an individual first needs to feel good about themselves and their skills. Acknowledging and praising each student's unique talents is something I hope to do while teaching. After the second day of teaching, Teach told me about a student he praised for getting a math problem done correctly. It wasn't a hard math problem, but Teach praised the child nonetheless. That student said Teach was the first person to ever say he was good at math. And until Teach praised his math skill, he believed he was bad at math.

Teachers have an enormous amount of power when it comes to the minds of students. One unintended put down by a teacher can mean a life of hatred for a particular subject. My special ed teacher told us on Friday that good teachers are great liars, which I got a chuckle out of. Lying to students and lying to parents are necessary skills for good teachers. While not necessarily a lie, praising a 4th grader for being able to write down his name and add numbers together (which most 2nd graders can do) is not necessarily deserving of praise to me. In a parent-teacher conference, reporting that the student is excelling at math and pushing himself every day is a much different route than "Billy is failing math and won't pass the WASL." Praising students' talents both to the students and their parents is such a boost to self esteem that it makes criticism of students a waste of time.

My next question is how to bring up areas where the students are lacking, and how to deal with the angry parent who waves the failed math WASL report in my face. I thought you said Billy was doing great at math, what gives?! If a student is bad at math, is it enough to praise their ability to add two plus two? Will praise alone open the floodgates to students pushing themselves to try harder math and eventually attain grade-level aptitude at the subject? I think starting with praise and bringing in areas where the student can improve, or give examples of exercises the student can practice might be the way to go.

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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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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Last Night of Summer

First day of school tomorrow. Over the next nine months I'll be spending my time observing, teaching and teaching classes. I'm excited for the start of school, and I am looking forward to learning a lot tomorrow and in the months to come. Other than excitement, there are plenty of other emotions running through my head: fear, happiness, loneliness, anxiety and appreciation are the big ones for me right now.

I am fearful of the teaching process as a whole. But without that fear, I might not be as drawn to the profession as I am. I truthfully am not worried about the kids, I think my students and I will get along for the most part--I am worried about the red tape in public schools and I am worried about the parents. I am worried about not understanding the parents and their beliefs which are different than mine. A parent came in today and returned to the classroom three times with additional information that she thought my mentor teacher and I should know about her son. A fellow teacher came in five minutes later and said the lady wanted her to relay a message because she felt bad bugging us... how is taking another teacher's time to relay your messages ANY BETTER?!? The message? She did not want us to tell her son to take off his hat, because he is Jewish. His baseball hat. I'm not going to make a big deal out of it, but... really??

I'm happy, because every time I question if teaching is right for me, I answer with a resounding "yes." I tend to question a lot of things, including plenty of the decisions I make. Living life without questioning does not make much sense to me, and a point one of my philosophy teachers made at UPS is that the God he thinks exists would want us questioning His existence--which I thought was a pretty cool view to take. I'm also happy at where I'm at in life. Sure, life could be better--living in my parent's basement at 26 was never in my grand plan, but the chips fell where they did, and I am happy with the decisions I've made and I'm confident that I will make good decisions in the future to get to where I want to be 5, 10 years from now.

I'm lonely. I'm single, singleness begets loneliness, ya? Also, I'm in the middle of parents being out of town and I haven't had the success I had in February at having people over to the house. This past weekend was either spent quietly or elsewhere--which isn't bad, but I had plenty of time to wade in my loneliness this weekend and it wasn't that enjoyable!

I'm anxious of the year to come, heck, the years to come. There are a lot of things on my plate right now, and I know the time will fly over the next few years. I'm anxious about tomorrow being the first day of school. How awkward will I be before I settle into the teacher role? I've got a recess activity planned for the second day of school that I know will win me over a lot of kids--Zombie Ball!! So I just have to make it that far without doing anything too stupid ;)

I'm appreciative of a lot of things. My parents are amazing, and without them I would not be able to chase my dream of teaching right now. I appreciate the freedom I have outside of my teaching life to be a well-rounded individual. A lot of my classmates are in situations much more difficult than me, which would make the student teaching process exponentially more difficult. Some have teenage children they try to manage while going to school, some have babies, some work two jobs while also student teaching, and some just have a boyfriend or girlfriend. I am completely free outside of my obligation to school, so each day I get to unwind, have a beer and recharge for the next day. I can't imagine how much harder getting done with 8 hours of school then heading off to 8 hours of work and falling asleep the second I get home would be. Then repeating the process the next day.

With the time I have, I hope to keep a fairly detailed journal of my student teaching experience, and I haven't quite decided how to go about that journal yet. Post it here, create another blog, or just keep it hand-written?

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