Student Teaching Reflections

Week 10: 5/7-5/11

This past week was a full one.  Even though I started out sick with a fever and being sent home, missing a full day, and really only having three days to teach, those three days were chock full of experiences.  Some were good, like getting to observe another classroom and going on a local field trip to see one of our own students star as the Music Man, but some were more difficult like coming up against a resistant student, constantly preparing for the M.S.P. (Measurement of Student Progress) and finding time to finish my T.P.A. (Teacher Pedagogical Assessment).  Although, it was full and at times overwhelming, I was able to persevere and complete the week with time to spare to enjoy some of the much needed sunshine.

Starting the week not feeling well was something I thought I could push through.  But as the day wore on and my fever escalated my abilities to connect with the students in a valuable way diminished and I was sent home.  I took the next day off to recover and thank goodness because I felt much better when I returned on Wednesday.  Wednesday was a BIG day in C-6 for one of our very own was starring in the musical The Music Man as the lead.  Although, this trip took away from valuable instructional time at a time in the year when review of conceptual attainment and consistency in instruction is imperative, the students, my mentor, and I all fell it was worth it.  The swell of pride as we watched the courage it takes to be a lead in a production, understood the time, devotion, and hard work he put into staging this show, became an important life lesson that we could not have taught in the classroom.

This week I was able to observe a straight 4th grade classroom and see the differences and similarities that are unique to each, straight grade and multiage, learning environment.  Although, the teacher that I observed is my mentor’s teaching partner the deliverance and style of teaching are very different.  There seemed to be more direct instruction with large group activity as I observed a social studies lesson about the Oregon Trail.  This was a Storypath where the students participate in “family units’ and have to make decisions based upon incidents that occur similar to what would have happened on the Oregon Trail; flash floods, death of a family member, all the food going bad, etc.  This is an ongoing exploration of culture, society, and historical significance through the re-enactment by the students.  It was very dynamic and the students seemed really excited about learning and participating in the journey.  The classroom had an entire wall covered with a map of the United States that they developed at the start of the year.  The social studies curriculum yearlong has been focused on the development and progression of the United States, its growth and settlement, over time.  For the Oregon trail the student have depicted where they have been using yarn to mark their trail and are involved as a group of settlers and family units to decide where they will go to end in Oregon City.   I really enjoyed seeing and hearing different classroom management styles and I feel that this will only help to improve my own ideological preferences for interactions with future students.  I look forward to visiting a kindergarten class this week and am sure that I will glean just as much from the younger age student-teacher interactions and classroom management style.

Lastly, I was once again, in the midst of the pressures of both the T.P.A and M.S.P. preparation for the students, confronted by a defiant student.  Each experience with this type of challenge demands that I seek additional help from my mentor teacher and principal, thus, affording me the opportunity to learn valuable management skills.  I understand the vital necessity for a good relationship with not only other classroom teachers but more importantly the principal.  This partner-relationship offers a team of support for difficult situations and allows for multiple experienced perspectives to be shared.  I am thankful that I am able to see this in action, participate in, and I will continue to seek out developing this style of support in my future employment.

Student Teaching Reflections

Week 7: 4/16- 4/20

This week proved to be exhausting, exhilarating, challenging, frustrating, educating and extremely fun as I was able to take part in a three day camping trip at NatureBridge in the Olympic National Park temperate rain-forest as the teacher.    While, I have been on over nights like this as a parent chaperone, going as a teacher is a wholly new experience that affords a completely different view.  First, the logistics of getting a trip like this to run smoothly is a mountainous job.  Second, this type of “classroom” learning experience forces students and teachers to adapt and be flexible to different styles of learning and teaching as the NatureBridge staff educators take over.  Students learning outside the “regular” classroom through hands on activities support a “real-life” experience rather than just mimic real-life.  Each day offered many occasion to strengthen their social bonds and unify as a group.  Additionally, I understand the importance of timing, when it comes to field–trip planning, as the rest of the week became very hard to motivate and focus the students.  Each day on this trip I was encouraged and my convictions that I am entering the right profession were reaffirmed.

Leading up to this week there was an enormous amount of planning.  Filed trip communications with parents was comprehensive!  Information including; important notices,  monetary obligations, transportation, chaperone notification, scholarships, fund raisings, medical release forms, logistical information, chaperone requests, constant emails, etc., began at the start of the year and continued until the day we left.  Needless to say, this type of learning experience takes careful planning and organization of epic proportions.

The week started as the students loaded onto the bus early Monday morning.   Once seated and secure, which in and of itself is no small feat, all 29 students and nine chaperones were off on an adventure that I am sure will not soon be forgotten. The bus ride was, well, a bus ride… for two hours.  The kids were very well behaved and although one student got sick there was little to no incidents to report.  Upon our arrival we were greeted by the extremely friendly and knowledgeable staff.  They shared their expectations for and of us while we were there and got us sorted into our field study groups.  Once completely suited up for the continual rainfall, students broke into their groups and headed into the forest for a day of exploring and learning.  The beauty of this awesome program is that not only did the children get to learn from different teachers, the staff, but they were able to experience learning from an even more important teacher, the rain-forest itself.   The tall native elder trees,  covered in moss and ferns, every shade of green, dripping in a wet mist and filled with natures beautiful song, became the most powerful educator and the classroom for the next few days.  It was wonderful to see many of the students become immersed in science, nature, and the awe of what the forest had to teach them.  As we hiked throughout the forest and the park the kids learned about temperate rain-forest ecology in a very real way, one that they could never have experienced in the regular classroom.

Just as important as the lesson of forest ecology was the lesson of interdependence within our small learning community.  Social learning opportunities within our small group, between our group as a whole and throughout the NatureBridge facility was established as we shared the space with not only each other but other schools, too.  We had our community meals in a large dining and shared stories of the day, personal family-life, and individual experiences as relationships were strengthened and emotional well-being of the students was supported.  These shared times encouraged the building of relationships and supporting the character for all students.   If you ask the students they would tell you that these were some of their favorite times; just good camp fun! As important as the educational aspects of this type of environmental learning are, the social opportunities to grow as a member of a group hold equal value.

Lastly, Thursday and Friday of this week were difficult for motivating and gaining student attention.  Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the excitement to share and chat about individual experiences, but I think, if given a choice when planning, I would schedule a trip like this to end on a Friday.  Even my mentor teacher and I felt the toll of the awesome adventure.   I, admittedly, was just as tired as the students on Thursday but was able to refocus by Friday.  I think the kids could have used a weekend to recover before getting back to regular work.

I would have never traded this experience for staying behind in the classroom.  I feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in an outdoor educational program with the kids under the guidance of my mentor.  I know that I will be better prepared for any future classroom’s outdoor educational experiences.  I now more fully understand the value of this experience for both academic and social learning.

 

Student Teaching Reflections

Week 6: 4/9-4/13

This week proved to be a very exciting one for many reasons.  First, it was our first week back from a long spring break, and the student’s enthusiasm, to be back with their friends and in school, was palpable.  Secondly, our class is preparing for a three day field trip and our class’s excitement grew with each lesson.  Lastly, on Friday the news that our school will not be closing was announced to audible sighs of relief and hoots of joy.

After a ten day break from school it was nice to see the students walk in fresh and ready to be back “to work”.  I don’t know if this was particular to our class but I seemed to notice an excitement throughout the school from kids in the hallways, in the playground, on their way to lunch and even in other classrooms. Student’s just simply seemed happy to be back.  As I began to teach math for the day, fully expecting to have to re- teach much of what we were working on before the break, I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of the students had retained the bulk of the concept for fractions.  We had full review day on Monday and then Tuesday a unique fractions unit review assessment.  This assessment, that I created, was a bit like musical chairs.  Each student started on one of the nine stations an independently worked through that station for an allotted amount of time.  The rotation was complete when each student had finished each station. This assessment seemed to go well and the feedback the next day when we reviewed the test together was great.  The kids really seemed to enjoy moving about between questions and like the variety of problem solving opportunities to show their understanding of fractions in different contexts.  I was able to better understand what “holes” I needed to address for further understanding of specific skills for individual students and better plan for future lessons.

Secondly, the students in the class have been actively participating and excitedly absorbing all the information we have been teaching about the Olympic Temperate Rain-forest.  We are headed to Olympic Peninsula Institute- Nature Bridge for a three day immersion in the unique biome that is the temperate rain-forest.  Because of the focus on the temperate rain-forest we were able to teach about the ecosystem specific to this amazing biome.  Throughout the week we lived and breathed the temperate rain-forest through study of the Tree of Life, the Temperate Rain-forest Food Web, expert study of the Northern Spotted Owl, development of our Cognitive Content Dictionary (CCD) or academic vocabulary, inquiry charts, sentence patterning charts, layers of the temperate rain-forest, chants and poetry, and much more.



However, the highlight of the week, for the students and me, had to be the dissection of owl pellets.  While at first I was unsure what to expect, (I never had the opportunity to do this before) this proved to be an amazing hands on way to explore, create, discuss, hypothesize, infer, cooperate, and learn for everyone involved. The student’s paired up and worked together and their enthusiasm soared as they began to search the pellet for bones structures to organize.

It was amazing to see these young scientists discover complete sets of bones from ingested animals.  As the students explored they hypothesized what their owl had eaten and categorized bones accordingly.  Then, as they matched and developed full sets of bones, they were able to process the cycle of life in the temperate rain-forest with a bit more understanding. All in all, I think that this will be a learning experience that neither I nor the kids will forge for a long time.

Lastly, as I have mentioned before, the school that I am working at has been on the proverbial “chopping block” for budgetary cuts for the upcoming school year 2012-2013.  The news was announced on Friday that there will be no closing of the school for next year to much elation and relief for staff, students, and families.  However, this relief might be short lived as it is still in the talks for closure the following year 2013-2014.  The moral, at least for the day, was better and it was nice to see many people smiling.  I am constantly aware of the pressure that this type of closure and budgetary crisis’ puts on everyone in a district, town and community.  People become divided and angry.  So, for at least today, I can say it was nice to see the mood elevated…even if it is temporary.

Student Teaching Reflections

Week 5: 3/26-3/30

This week was a short one, with the students, but did not lack in new teaching experiences.  With only Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with the students we made and effort to focus on review of concepts already learned and to introduce our study of Temperate Rainforest before the long spring break.  Additionally, we worked hard to complete accurate assessments before Thursday and Friday when parent teacher conferences were scheduled.  Although, I have been through this experience with my own children as the parent I have not yet participated as the teacher.  I was impressed and amazed at the complete confidence and support that my mentor teacher shared with each student and parent. Each conference was unique to the student and allowed the parents a myriad of information about their child’s academic performance and social growth. Each conference was filled with details of student progress and yet offered glimpses of personal achievements and social growth.

The quick 30 minute conferences do not allow for unpreparedness and by no means was my mentor teacher unprepared.  She has a system of filing that gives each student a drawer with pertinent information and student work to share with each parent.  When it is time for conferences she merely has to organize the paperwork and she is ready to go.  This paperwork includes assessments for reading fluency and comprehension, samples of student math work, writing samples, and M.A.P. testing scores.  She provides both numerical and pictorial graphs for parents to visualize and understand their child’s academic successes as compared to the national and school district norms.  In advance she has students write what they are most proud of for each area; writing, reading, mathematics and social skills.  Each student shares these proud accomplishments as well as goals for the remainder of the year.  The student becomes an active participant in the conference.   What captivated me the most was the depth that my mentor teacher understands the individuality of each of the students.  She “gets” individual student learning style and social well-being.  She supports not only academic but social growth for each student and throughout the conferences was able to share with parents support for any concerns they might have.  I was also able to witness as one student who has struggled for years, finally qualify for the support of a I.E.P.   This turned out to be a relief to everyone; the parents, the teacher and most of the entire student.  She now will receive support to support her academic success and the skills to apply for future learning environments.  It was amazing to see how closely the special educational staff and the classroom teachers work with students and parents all to benefit academic growth.

I feel very fortunate to have participated in such a seamless parent-teacher conference schedule. Although, each conference is only a 30 minute session, in this short amount of time everyone seemed well attended to and their needs were met.  Each conference provided specific individual student details and provided a deep understanding of each student. I am sure that in the future I will develop my own routines for conference time.  For now I am glad to say that I had the experience of witnessing conferences from a teacher perspective.  I hope that when I have a class of my own I will be able to connect as thoroughly with each student’s individuality and offer support for parental concerns as well as my mentor.

Student Teaching Reflections Week 4

Week 4 Reflections March 3/18-23

This fourth week of student teaching was a lesson in experiencing many firsts: my first supervisor observation, my first attempts videotaping for the TPA (Teacher Pedagogical Assessment), my first educator’s job fair, and my first time experiencing the work-load after a day away from school.  This week also afforded me the opportunity to feel a sense of comfort amongst the chaos as I spend more time in front of and next to the students and less time on the sidelines.

My first “set of firsts”, focused in the beginning of the week with preparing, organizing, and developing a unit for fractions and lessons that would be appropriate for the students’ mathematical development of fractions.  The unit needed to meet the requirements for not only student performance expectations and state standards but also be appropriate for my supervisory observation and videotaping for the TPA.   I started the unit by exploring fractions and creating fraction kits with the students.  Then we continued throughout the week to use these kits during lessons to help the students with classwork/homework and to improve their understanding, by using them to play many games, and to support the relationships between fractions and a whole.  Along with the students, I developed a cognitive content dictionary that supports multiple learning styles and defines vocabulary that is specific to mathematics.  I completed two-hours of videotaping and will focus on finding the right ten minute segments for the TPA reflection and submission. The observation by my supervisor was helpful in providing me with concrete feedback about instructional tools and opportunities for me to refine my teaching style.  I look forward to more observations as it is always nice to have feedback to better craft your personal teaching techniques.

The job fair for educators, held in Tacoma at the Tacoma Dome, proved to be overwhelming and exciting all at the same time.  Although, I understand the national crisis that education is facing, it was promising to see so many people still seeking employment as a teacher.  On the other hand the vast amount of people (probably somewhere in the ballpark of 1200 candidates) looking for jobs and the actual jobs available was somewhat disconcerting.  I have faith that I will find full time employment as a teacher… it just may take some time.  The beauty of this experience was that I was forced to revisit my resume and add my new experience to my past experience. This afforded me the opportunity to see my accomplishments of the past two years and realize the potential opportunities for this new career.   I was encouraged when talking to potential employers in various districts about the turnover they imagine happening in the near future, 2-5 years.  Although, the ability for relocating to another part of the state or country is not a reality for me, there are still prospects available for educators to get a foot in the door and begin a career in teaching.

The work load, after a day away from school, is another “first” I was able to experience this week.  I missed a day for the job fair where the students completed assessments.  While this is a good day to miss as the students are focused on their tests, assessments involve time for grading and evaluating which I had to make up for upon my return.  It is easy to see why teachers are rarely eager to take time away from their classrooms when it means that the catch-up work grows exponentially in size.  Even the e-mail load upon my return was tripled in size.  The small actions and interactions that seem to go unnoticed throughout a normal school day become substantial upon your return.  Simply being in the classroom to answer questions as they arise, being available to students, parents, or principal, or even to run ideas/thoughts/plans by colleagues, helps make the daily workload manageable.  While there are and will be times when it is necessary to be away from the classroom I see the great importance of everyday consistency for a teacher’s presence and availability.

Lastly, this week I began to feel like a real part of the class.  I seemed to start to assume more often the role of teacher and with that began to feel a sense of place. This sense of place directly relates to a sense of purpose for me.  I know I am doing the right thing even though I may feel at times uncomfortable in the uncertainty of my future.  Even in the classroom, filled with routine, a sense of controlled chaos that seems to afford me comfort.  Comfort in the knowledge that I am doing what I should be, comfort in the idea that I will always be learning, and comfort in the fact that I can make a difference.  My sense of ease grows each day along with my abilities and strengths as a teaching professional.

Student Teaching Reflections Week 3

Week 3- March 12-16, 2012

Reflections

In this third week of student teaching I encountered yet another myriad of new experiences.  I began new literature circles/reference circles with five different groups of students, three different books and multiple references.  In an effort to support students becoming “ACTIVE” readers and learning to explore different reference materials this time is devoted to creating an environment of exploration. Needless to say there is much planning involved.  With each group meeting lasting only fifteen minutes I have to remember to be precise and ask questions that support further investigation and critical thinking skills for each student.  My goal is to have the students learn to lead the discussions as I become more of an observer.

For the literature circles each of the three books are about the American Revolution.  They all tell a different story and support a different level reader.  The literature circles offer a natural differentiation with a focus on the different Lexile leveled books.  This is nice because it is the first experience I have had working with the whole class:  third, fourth and fifth graders, in a small group setting.  The groups are mixed ages and challenge me to understand differentiation not only for age but academic achievement as well.   The schedule is such that I have the same students every other day.  On the first day the students and I focused on what qualities make a “good reader” successful.  I made each student a bookmark with the acronym ACTIVE on it.  We talked about how good readers practice being active reader and what that can mean.  The book mark read the following;

Good Readers… 

Ask questions

make

Connections

Track what’s important

Infer meaning

Visualize

Eureka!- synthesize

We discussed and shared examples of what each of these good reading habits look and sound like.  After this discussion I asked the students to make predictions for each book and I sent them off to read their chapters.  They understand that when they return for their next literature circle meeting they need to have the assigned reading completed and be ready to discuss the reading with the group.  I have specific assignments for each student i.e., discussion director, illustrator, summarizer, word finder… for the future sessions that they will be responsible for completing.

The reference circles focus on supporting the student’s ability to understand the proper and most accurate places to search for information.  For example, I asked the students, “If looking for information on kangaroos would you look in a dictionary, a thesaurus, the internet or an atlas?”  After they answered, we discussed and looked through each of these reference materials to better define and give students the visual scaffolding needed for better concept retention.  As the groups progress over time, the reference circle time will be used for exploring genres,  literature/writer’s purpose, propaganda, how to read time schedules, how to  look up nutritional information, how to read tide-tables…etc.  The goal is to have these very practical everyday skills become second nature for the students.

The balance between the literature circle and reference circle seems to be off to a good start.  The students are excited about the books that we have chosen to read and are eager to read more.   Our class curriculum for social studies will additionally support their literature books as we begin our study of the American Revolution this next week.   Furthermore the focus on reference guides, material searches, literary purpose, and practical everyday tools for fact finding is fun and exciting for small group sessions.  I look forward to the progression of both literature and reference circles, with these small groups of students, as the next few weeks unfold.

Student Teaching Reflection Week 2

Week 2-March 5-9, 2012

Reflections

On Monday, of this my second week of student teaching, I was afforded the opportunity to learn from a substitute.  She is the prodigy of my mentor-teacher and graduated from the Seattle Pacific University M.A.T. program just last year.  It was great teaching alongside her and seeing how comfortable and at ease she was with the children and the flow of the daily classroom schedule.  It allowed me to see that I, too, will feel more and more comfortable not only in the role of teacher but with the curriculum and schedule in the class as time moves on.

I continued this week to focus on third grade math and started to feel at ease and more effective in my mathematical teaching style.  A common flow began to emerge in this small group as we continue to develop a pattern and routine for our math time together.  As I only have nine students in this group they are easily manageable both during whole group instruction and individually as they work on mathematical concepts and strategies.  I feel somewhat challenged by the pace of the curriculum but am optimistic that I will improve on pacing skills as the weeks unfold.

Science has been a tremendous focus for the class for that last two weeks and we worked hard to finish a science unit before the kit was due back to the district.  Because of this intense focus, students were immersed in a unit that involved force and motion and did so with real enthusiasm.  This unit utilized scientific concepts by applying them to a standard vehicle and then to a vehicle design challenge.  The vehicle design challenge enabled students to meet specific requirements and design a vehicle accordingly.  The students loved this.  They applied their learned scientific concepts as they related to force and motion to develop their group challenge vehicles.  They were forced to work together to designs, test, and redesign, if necessary, their vehicles to complete this challenge.  The students were excited about science and it was fun to see them making the scientific connections from the unit and working together cooperatively to complete the challenge.

This week also brought the real opportunity for discipline.  My “newness” as the student-teacher was being tested by many of the students and because of this I was forced to start utilizing the tools that have already been set up in the classroom for management.  One such “test” resulted in a student challenging me and then continuing to challenge the systems in place for disciple.  This student put up such a fight that the student was sent home from school for the rest of the day.  I was involved in a meeting with the counselor, my mentor teacher, the student, and the mother to discuss what happened.  We discussed what actions led to the discipline and developed a plan to support the student’s opportunity to make better decisions/choices in the future.  Additionally, I had to send three other students to “catch-up club” for incomplete assignments and not turning in work.  The honeymoon is over for the students.  The students now understand that I expect them to behave and participate in the same fashion as their teacher and that I will response to their behavior accordingly.

All in all week two provided me with challenging opportunities that forced me to examine my personal teaching style and adopt the necessary skills specific to my mentor teacher’s classroom style.  Each week seems to teach me a completely different lesson.  The first week was flexibility. This week the lesson I learned was classroom discipline and follow through for behavior management techniques.  I acknowledge that this will be different wherever I end up teaching but that I will need to have some hard and fast rules that I stick by regardless of my location.  So far, solving problems, making good decisions and being respectful seem to be three that I see myself using often and supporting for both academic and social growth of my future students.