Monday, June 26, 2006

Summer School Reflection

What I really learned in summer school is how a teacher’s teaching style “creates” a certain classroom environment. I watched a couple of authoritarian teachers, and the differences between my class and theirs were very noticeable. I am more of an authoritative teacher (I took an online quiz). I took notes on the good and the bad of each. This is all opinion, of course.

First, authoritarian teachers have presence. Everyone knows who the teacher is. The authoritarian teacher has an attentive class, but more because the teacher tells the students to pay attention, not always because the students fell fully engaged. The teacher does a lot of the writing on the board, while asking the students questions about what is being written on the board. The students do not discuss the material with themselves, and the students do not ask the teacher many questions, especially during the guided part of the lesson. The teacher does not come to the students, but instead places some distance between the teacher and students.

On the other hand, the authoritative teacher has rules but also encourages independence. I think I’m this. I don’t believe in making the students raise their hands, and I don’t really make the students be interested in the lesson. I’m more a part of the class. I’m always walking around the room, talking with the students, asking specific questions to make sure they understand. The students can pretty much ask questions anytime they feel. The students don’t sit for long in my class. I’m either picking people to write on the dry erase board, or I give one student a dry erase marker and say, “when you finish your problem, you can give the marker to any one you choose.” It changes it up a bit. The advantages—the classroom works for different learning styles. Some kids need to go to the board (most kids), some kids need to hear it, some students need to discuss it with other students. It isn’t intimidating at all. There is more of a free flow to the class. Personally, I love it. It fits me, which is the most important thing.

Also worth noting, I’m overly organized. The board, the notes, the students’ notebooks, everything is structured down to the last detail. It helps me feel in control enough to let the students have some freedoms in leading the discussion.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Girls in Summer School

We’ve had summer school now for 10 days, and we only have 9 days left, which is ridiculous. We have 10 girls and 1 boy in our summer school class. It’s fantastic. They are so well behaved and positive. They are also surprisingly competitive. Many of them have commented on how much they like summer school. One girl said this was the first time she was interested in school and excited about learning. (I can’t believe an 8th grader said that.) So far, they’ve had 3 tests, 1 notebook grade, 10 participation grades, and 24 homework grades. The average grade in our class right now is an 89.

I have started noticing the little differences in an (almost) all girl class (our one boy is on a trip right now). Last Wednesday, a girl suggested that we all wear pink the following day. So that the one male student wouldn’t be left out, I suggested we all wear pink or red. Today during break, one girl touched up her nail polish, and one girl fixed another girl’s curls.

The only male in our class today is Mr. Taylor. The first time he taught, we talked about how much different his booming voice is from my voice and Adryon’s voice. It’s great; he’s a natural. He told a student today that he liked her haircut. She calmly replied, “Oh, I didn’t get my hair cut. I just got my weave taken out.” Classic. He’s going to learn so much from these girls.

I’m starting to believe in single-sex classrooms. I think girls and boys learn differently, but I think the change to single-sex classrooms would have a bigger affect on the classroom environment. The girls seem more confident, and they participate more in summer school. When they first started summer school, they wrote on information sheets that they didn’t like math because it was confusing or because there was too much to remember. I hope we are changing their minds.

Then again, some of the changes I notice between our summer school students and the Delta students I had could be due to the fact that these students are grouped by performance level—they all did poorly last year in Algebra I. Whatever it is, these girls (and boy) are a pleasure to teach.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

5 pieces of advice

1. Keep organized

Use a three-ring binder to keep your lesson plans, transparencies, worksheets, tests and quizzes together for each class. Keep a file on each student that includes phone number, address, and photo copies of work, especially any tests that the student failed or cheated on.

2. Use all your EEF money, the sooner the better

You have to plan ahead for this, but try to spend all your money at least by Christmas. My administration told me only after it was too late that EEF money has a deadline, and if you don’t spend it you lose it. Also, look for catalogues other than those your school gives you to order from. My school only gave me an office supply catalogue to order from, and I found out only after I had spent a lot of the money that I could really order from any catalogue I wanted to. Request catalogues from different stores that sell workbooks or other materials you may want.

3. Call all parents

At the beginning of the year, try to call every child’s mother or father. You’ll be amazed how many phone numbers you’ll get that aren’t correct, and you don’t want to wait to find that out when you actually need to get in touch with someone. Many parents I never spoke to (though I sent home letters) until the final days of school after they had found out their child had failed my class. I think those final days of school would have been smoother had they actually spoken with me before.

4. Make a template letter to send to parents when a student fails a test is caught cheating

Have something that is easy to modify and send to parents after every test. It should include your classroom phone number, the best time to call, and your after school tutorial schedule. Have the template approved by your principal. Print it on the letterhead for your school, and keep a copy in the student’s file.

5. Keep your door locked at all times

This one is for safety. You should be the one to decide who gets into your room. Students skipping class will try to come disrupt your classroom all the time. Parents, often angry parents, will try to come into your class as well. I kept my door locked all the time, and once after I opened the door to let a student out to take the attendance to the office, a student barged into the classroom threatening his ex-girlfriend and even chasing her around the room. You never know, so keep your door locked.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Biggest Challenge of the School Year

The biggest challenge of my first year in MTC was dealing with my administration, and parents are a close second. Really, parents are only second because they weren’t as involved until the end of the school year, after their children had failed my class.

When I was in school, I never thought about the relationship between the teachers and the administration. I don’t ever remember seeing a teacher talking with the principal. I thought teachers operated on their own, and only used the principal as a disciplinarian for unruly students. The situations I faced were ones I never considered I would be faced with. I never thought my principal would argue with me in front of my students. I never thought my principal would storm into my classroom to paddle someone. I never thought I would have to send my students to the band hall for discipline because the principal was also the band director (being a principal should not be a part-time job).

One of my most recent confrontations with my principal happened after the aunt of one of my 19-year-old students interrupted class and asked to see my grade book. I refused, so she made the principal interrupt my class again. I explained to him that the woman was not the student’s mother, and that I had been instructed not to share grades with any adults besides mothers and fathers. He told me a story about how the student didn’t really have a mother, that she hadn’t seen her mother in a long time. I told the principal that was a lie because I had met with the student’s mother in the past month. Then, he told me that I should tell the aunt anyway because she might be a positive influence on the student. I said that it would also be illegal for me to share grades without the student’s permission because she was 19. This really set my principal off. He first told me that he didn’t care what the law said, he just wanted to do what was best for the student (really, he wanted to appease the scary aunt). Then he said, “In this school, I’m the law and if you don’t do what I say I’m going to write you up for insubordination!” I didn’t back down, though. He finally let me get back to my students.

My principal returned after school to again discuss what had happened. I told him that I had recently taken a law class at Ole Miss, and had specifically asked my professor if we were supposed to give out grades to parents if the student was 18 or older. My principal told me that it’s more important that I do what he says, because I don’t want to have a bad working relationship with my principal. He told me that I wouldn’t want my principal to not like me because my principal is the one that evaluates my performance as a teacher. He said that I wouldn’t want my principal’s personal feelings towards me to be the cause of a bad evaluation. It was an unexpected threat.