Student Teaching Reflections

Week 11: 5/14-5/18

The Measurement of Student Progress, better known statewide as the M.S.P., is the storm that hit our school last week.  Classrooms up and down the corridor were silent or empty (students in the computer testing lab) due to the intense nature of this yearly standardized testing schedule.  While I feel that testing is necessary the pressure students feel to attian high score and the added high stakes this tests carries for teachers creates an extremely charged school wide environment. Students were scared and nervous.  For some the anxiety was even making them sick and for the teachers it was a challenge to simply encourage students to “relax and do their best” when the outcomes for testing have become such a hot bed of controversy.

In the multiage classroom that I am student-teaching in it was a challenging week for our 4th graders.  All sixteen fourth grade students were required to take both the writing M.S.P.’s.  This is comprised of both a narrative writing exam and an expository writing exam in the same week.  While these are skills that the students have been fully prepared for all year, the reality of the actual testing day was intense.  These students worked from 9:30 until 2:35, with some barely finishing.   The process includes a pre-write, rough draft, and then a final draft to be transferred into the testing booklet.  This would be a lot to ask of an adult.  I was completely impressed with the tenacity and ambition that these students used to focus and complete these two days of testing.  Meanwhile, in the classroom the seven 3rd and seven 5th graders reviewed concepts for the following week’s tests and completed projects that needed finishing.  However, we could not really start anything new with half the class missing.  An introduction to the revolutionary war was started when the fourth grade group was in class but the testing really did slow down momentum of the curriculum.

Next week our student will face the reading, math and science M.S.P.’s for another three days of testing.  Our school has chosen to participate in the pilot program for online testing for these three tests. Because of this we have had to participate in multiple training sessions to ready the students and staff to better understand the test taking tools and strategies specific to online testing.  While I think this is a more efficient way to test students who are digital natives they are being trained by adults who are more or less digital immigrants.  This differentiated learning curve between student and teacher makes training for the test a necessary component of instructional time.  As years progress, and the kinks of online testing get worked out, students and teachers will both be able to apply their personal schema from these testing and training days to future online testing, hopefully requiring less time.   I am happy to know that I now have the knowledge, skills, and training to participate as a proctor in future M.S.P. testing sessions.


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 9: 4/30-5/4

Well here it is week 9, WOW, only 5 more official weeks to go.  I feel really positive about my time in the classroom and the effects that is having on shaping who I am to become as a teacher on my own.  I am enjoying the students, the pace, the structure, the daily planning and re-planning, the collaboration, the challenges, the sense of purpose and the comfort I am feeling.  In a word; I am right where I feel I should be.  Although, the added pressure of the TPA and additional coursework is overwhelming at times and often unclear, I am finding that if I keep the end goal of being a certified teacher with a Master of Arts in Teaching- Elementary Education, it all becomes a bit more manageable.

This week started with another observation/review of my supervisor.  I taught a whole class science lesson from the FOSS science curriculum.  It was fun to have not only students excited, active and involved in the curriculum (they really love science right now) while my supervisor observed, but to have my mentor teacher present as well.  With both my supervisor and mentor teacher evaluating my anxiety could have been high.  However, I was pleasantly clam and comfortable.  I feel as if I have accessed a new sense of comfort in front of the class, evaluators, cooperative peers and colleagues.  This feeling of comfort is good.  It allows a sort of freedom that keeps me from getting overwhelmed by the small details of teaching.  Instead I now feel as if I can be more creative and try different strategies within a lesson, even if that is not what was planned.  Additionally, I feel that, with this sense of freedom, I have more choice. I am better able to access different modalities and increase the benefits of differentiated instruction, moment to moment, for all students.  This skill of creativity within instruction or during a lesson seems to be developing in to more of a natural tendency for me, rather than a deliberately designed activity.  This is not to say that my curriculum is not intentionally planned, however, I am able to better focus on the interests and direction of student needs as lessons unfold and develop.  More flexibility within my instruction offers more opportunities for students to make personal connections and deepen individual learning.

As the next few weeks unfold the added pressures of high stakes testing are going to arise.  This not only a stressful time for teachers and students but for the community as a whole the unfortunate reality of limited instructional time increases tension even more. Because of decrease instructional time I am thankful that I am gaining the skill of flexibility and freedom within instruction.  This will support my effort to create deeper meaning making opportunities for the students with the limited time we do have.

Student Teaching Reflections

Week 8: 4/23- 4/28

This week, although busy with the extra event of a job fair and school wide focus on screen free week activities, proved to be relatively “normal”.  I felt a new comfort being in front of the students teaching more fully throughout the day.  However, the pressure of the TPA and other graduate school requirements has begun to take its toll and I find myself unbalanced.  Trying to teach well and trying to be a successful student are not always cohesive and I wonder if the pressure from graduate school requirements and TPA expectations is counterproductive to the benefit of focusing on actual student teaching in the classroom.

This week I was involved in another job fair and, although, the prospects of employment are somewhat bleak the experience of talking to and with educational employment professionals is a skill that improves with practice.  Job fairs provide opportunities to talk and seek out different school districts.  I have enjoyed the experience of learning about what different districts have to offer equally as much as I have enjoyed sharing what I have to offer that is unique.  The reality for me is that my choices for job opportunities are limited as I do not have the luxury of relocating.  However, I was able to speak with a few districts nearby and hear what they have to offer, what is available, and what will possibly open up in the future.  I additionally sought out opportunities for getting on my local substitute list and began the process required for that.  I feel that continued participation in job fairs and possible employment experiences only strengthens my comfort and understanding of teaching opportunities that are available.

In school this week, a focus on supporting a “screen free’ week offered students that extra challenges, activities and opportunities to participate in community events.  This “screen free week” program hosted a slew of after school activities and multiple assemblies within the school.  Although, these assemblies cut in to some instructional time, students seemed to really enjoy seeing and participating in different educational experiences and having  fun!   Friday offered the last assembly of the week.  This assembly focused on the “safe and caring school” campaign that our school has been implementing all year.  Students from different classes performed skits and sang songs with the shared theme supporting a safe and caring school environment.  Teachers, administrators, students, and community members were honored for their individual participation and the role that they play in supporting a safe and caring environment.

Lastly, I have been struggling with the splendor of feeling more comfortable and effective in the classroom versus the pressure and overwhelming expectations for graduate requirements and the requirements of the TPA.  Time and involvement in the classroom, working with my mentor teacher and the students, provides a foundation that supports improvement of my personal leadership and teaching skills.  Through a constant development and practice of applicable skills and experience I feel as if I am becoming a better teacher, each day.  However, the tasks that are required for completion of the TPA and my current graduate course seem to be contradictory to the benefits of actual classroom experience.  The pressure and extensive time commitment to each of these latter requirements seem to support time away from the classroom both mentally and physically.  Planning for in class lessons, mental acuity, and reflection on actual current teaching is lessened with the extreme amounts of time and planning required for TPA and graduate requirements. This is not to say that I am not completing each assignment, but my observation is that completion of these requirements comes with a cost, and that cost might just be contradictory to the benefits of actual in class experience. I have to question are these overwhelming requirements really helping to support better teaching when actual teaching time and focus is diminished? Needless to say, I am looking forward to completing these tasks as I feel that the real and true experience of teaching and participating in a classroom provide me with better tools to adapt and create lessons.  I look forward to full involvement in the learning environment where I am able to support students, encourage learning through multiple modalities, and participate in effective best practices, rather than just write about it.

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.