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Challenging Students or Challenging Environment

Challenging Students or Challenging Environment

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Even in my own head my most recent post(s) come off as a misrepresentation of what I’m really experiencing this year as a 2nd year teacher and graduate student. By no means have things been easy and just fallen into place properly. If anything I’ve felt as though I have to deal with a lot more chaos than I did at the beginning of last year. However, I’ve been managing it with more laughter and matter of factness, at least in my own head.

This year, I’m working with a lot more freshman students, which is great because its helping me build relationships with the new members of the student body. The freshman class is more independent than previous classes we’ve brought into the school. They seem to be able to work better on their own, and to date haven’t given much pushback when we give them homework or require them to step up to the plate with their work. This has been surprising, but also pretty frustrating when trying to figure out how to bring the same sense of responsibility to our sophomore and junior classes at the school. I’m not quite sure what we can do to bridge the gap for them, but, that will be part of my job next marking period as I work with some of our junior students in the new Post Graduate Prep Elective.

This year’s freshman have been a great social experiment for me. I’ve really been able to push myself and them beyond what I thought I was able to do last year, and with a lot more natural appeal. Had you asked me last year if I was myself in the classroom or some character I presented, I would have answered that I was definitely my genuine self. However, the freshman this year seem to have brought a more relaxed and authentic version of myself into the classrooms as a teacher and my graduate classes as a student. They’ve also helped me realize that no single experience in the classroom starts and ends in that classroom. We live in a world that is constantly pulling and growing on things that have happened previously in all of our lives.

Some of the challenging situations I’ve had to maneuver this year have oddly enough all come from the same classroom. In one class of approximately 20 students on the roster my co-teacher and I have –

  • A) a student who functionally can’t read (well)
  • B) a student who for lack of a better term has extreme mood swings within one period
  • C) a student that has the energy and attitude of a tazmanian devil
  • D) a student that just so happens to be the son of my barber – which has made subsequent management very difficult do to the inherent conflict of interest.

Dealing with these students in the same classroom has been… interesting. Interesting by the way is my new buzzword for, a fucking mess. I will say though that although these students have kept me on my toes I do feel a genuine love and responsibility to look out for their security, growth, and comfort inside and outside of my classrooms.

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A few weeks ago, students B and C, who by themselves have the power to completely derail a productive classroom environment came into class and performed the Dragon Ball Z Fusion Dance. For those of you that don’t know it’s a dance performed by particular characters in the popular anime series that allows them to combine forces, strength, and minds to fight stronger enemies. So far this is probably the single most hilarious memory I’ve had as a teacher. I’ve included a quick video showing the fusion process below, and yes the students literally did this in the middle of class, in unison, together. I died a little inside from shear amazement that they even knew of the fusion dance, and second that they were essentially saying in code that they were combining to wreck havoc together.

Ironically, I actually think both students were able to focus and get a decent amount of work done this day. However, I was taken aback by their seemingly freudian slip. I think subconsciously their act was an admission that they both understood that they had the power to derail the class if they chose to. The whole class period I moved in a semi-state of shock, like what the hell have we gotten ourselves into.

Of course, fate decided that I would be in charge of both student’s IEP meetings. Both meetings brought surprises and challenges never experienced before. One student’s IEP is still yet to be drafted… yet another thing I have to complete this weekend… supposedly. One thing I love about my position as a teacher is being able to connect with my students on a simpler level than their educator. In both meetings with the students, I mentioned the fusion process that I saw in class, and how I was shocked that they even knew what that was. It served as a door opener to students who can be particularly difficult to connect with when not in the mood. Even weeks later I still can’t quite get over having two Super Saiyan students who understand their power to support and disrupt a classes progress singularly and even more-so together.

To tie this back to my initial statement, clearly these students both saw the fusion process years ago at home, and brought the idea into the classroom to really just have a good time and share laughs together. I know I haven’t watched Dragon Ball Z in probably over 5 years, and its been a lot longer since I heard of fusion. In the end, I let both students know that their fusion was hilarious, and I respect them for comedically bringing it into the class. I actually think the three of us are the only ones who caught it in the moment and haven’t forgotten it. However, I’ve already put my co-teacher on game, and let the students know that any further fusion activities will be met with equal force from my co-teacher and I.

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We laughed… and to this day they have continued to be lovely difficult students to manage in the class.

Post Springbreak Update Soup

Somehow its been almost a year since the fellowship officially began. Here is a much needed Update Soup for you guys. 

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Spring Break was March 23 – April 2. Of course the break didn’t seem long enough, but it gave me the much needed rest I needed to help me get through the rest of the school year. Each day is still a struggle. Getting through the day is cool – I mean once you walk through the front doors you have to drop whatever barriers/doubts you have in your head because its countdown to first period. And trust me there are plenty of those days.

My biggest battle right now is with sleep. I’ve mentioned a few times here that my body has been training me for over 15 years to go through life with as little sleep as possible. Well its finally caught up with me. Its been really tough waking up each morning. Not because I don’t want to face the day – its more like my body has just been passing out and resists any urge to wake up. I feel like I dont even know what my alarm clock sounds like anymore. I never hear it in the morning. In the past two weeks I’ve been late to school (which is a huge no-no.) School starts at 8:20. I woke up at like…. 8:15, and hopped on the train at 8:30. I snuck into the school around 9, and of course it was the day when there were some major behavior issues that my co-teacher had to address alone. Just Thursday I woke up at 8:05, luckily I put a shirt on, jumped in a cab, and made it to school by 8:18. I paid $40 to go to a Brooklyn Nets game with my co-workers the other day. I think it was the last game of the regular season. I went home to take a quick cat-nap, and woke up in the 3rd quarter. SHITTY! Most recently some of my friends from YouthBuild came through my school to run a College workshop. They did an AMAZING job, and my students have been talking about them ever since. Afterwards we were supposed to meet up in Time Square at Dallas BBQ’s. Again, I went home for a quick nap – and I eventually woke up 2 hours after we were supposed to meet. Shitty again!

I saw one of the fellows mention in our Facebook group that she was dropping balls left and right, and that’s really the best way to describe how I feel right now. I try, try, try to stay on top of everything, but life right now is just a mess. I’m able to get through most of the teaching, and grad school parts of my life by just making it work. But I’m far behind when it comes to taking care of all of the Special Education and IEP paper work.

We’re in the final trimester, which we call Cycle. This Cycle I’m teaching Math, English, 3 Reading Intervention classes, Math Intensive (which is basically like a Math Intervention). This is my first time teaching math since we had to teach summer school for the fellowship. Initially I was a bit nervous about learning a new content area. I haven’t done serious math since high school – where I went from honors math to general math because I refused to do math homework every night. However, It’s honestly been a beneficial experience. I see many of my Just Words students in my math classes. It’s crazy seeing that students who may have deficient skills in reading/writing/English, can excel and actually enjoy the challenge of math and vice versa. As a teacher its also been interesting witnessing how students behave differently with different teachers, peers, and subject areas.  Students who may be wild/uninhibited in one situation can be relaxed and focused in another. I’ve tried to use this to my advantage. Basically channeling their focus and restraint from one content area over to the next. Again, its all about challenging them on their leadership.

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Here’s a quick glance at my teaching schedule this cycle

I’ve started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone in my Just Words class. The Just Words curriculum is beyond dry right now, and the students needed a different challenge. We do A LOT more one-on-one reading check ins now than we’ve ever done before. Pretty much everyday I’m grabbing about 2-4 students to read with me individually. It’s proved useful to get a sense of where my students’ reading confidence and abilities are. I use the time to build deeper relationships with my students, highlight their strengths/growth areas with their reading, and encourage them to read at home. I’ve also used the Harry Potter text as a read-a-loud text for the entire classroom. Many of the students are shy/nervous/self conscious about reading out loud. Right now my Just Words classes have 12 – 15 students. When we’re reading out loud generally only 3-4 of them volunteer to read. I’m working on getting more of them to jump in. One strategy I’ll try to use is pre-selecting paragraphs I want the less comfortable students to read. I’ll let them know as they walk through the door about their section. This way they can practice/review their sections a few times before they’re called. Hopefully this works, but I’m sure it will take more prodding than just this. 

I feel like I’m developing into a stronger teacher. The art of teaching is a lot more natural now. I mean pretty much I come with a plan, tell the students the plan, initiate the plan, deal with inevitable student pushback, then push them to comply – or trick them into complying. It sounds robotic, but I call it calculated. Teaching, is really a game to get students to do what they didn’t want to do ten seconds prior. This looks different in the classroom everyday, and actually student-to-student. But the end goal is to get them to try something new/challenging so that they can learn. Some respond to a simple look into their eyes and a raised eyebrow, some respond to positive reinforcement, some respond to a reminder of classroom expectations, others respond to deeper private conversations – with a quick reminder of those conversations in class.

I haven’t met with my mentor all Cycle. You guys have heard about the lack of contact for a while… I’ve gotten used to it now. Not just with my teaching mentor, but I guess I’m just used to having to figure out situations for myself in general. It still sucks that I feel like I have to push myself with this work though. It’s partly why I “overachieve” or at least try to. LoL, like I said earlier though I’m dropping balls everywhere so I’m not quite the overachiever people think I am.

I still have no idea what I’m going to do about the LGBT group my students asked me to lead. Perhaps I should start with the Principal/Administrative team and see what they think. Actually that’s what I’ll do. When stuck, always ask/alert the powers that be. That’s what non profit life taught me. They should be able to help us figure something out what a next step should be.

I took about 3 weeks off from working out. March 31 was the last time I was in the gym before this week. If history has taught me anything life falls apart when I’m not in the gym. I’ve just found my way back this week. My goal is to go 3 times a week. Saturday and Sunday are pretty much a given. My schedule has been to go to LIU’s Library from noon – 6 when it closes on weekends. From there I head to Planet Fitness, followed by Barnes and Nobles or Starbucks. Around 10 o’clock I head off to catch a movie at the theater next to Barnes and Nobles. It’s usually my weekend treat to myself. I’ve seen Evil Dead (thumbs up) and Oblivion (so-so) in the past couple of weeks. Today on my agenda is 42.

Even with all of this I’m still enjoying my time here in NYC. Every day is still a new opportunity to grow. And unfortunately growth isn’t easy. One of these days I need to take some time to evaluate my goals and how I’m moving in correlation to them. Moving to NYC quickly put many of my goals within reach. I don’t think my vision for myself has kept up with the progress I’ve made. Anywho, I’m not sure how to end today. I just wanted to give a quick update about some of the things that take up space in my brain. Stay tuned and stay positive, and don’t forget to share Skool Haze with a friend.

Gargantuan Wipe-Board

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I absolutely should not be laying down right now. I have a million things to get done this weekend. And I convinced myself for the 4th weekend in a row that this was going to be the time I get my shit together and catch up to life.

Picture it, I’m in a sprint for my life. Life has pushed a solid 20 meters ahead of me. I’m holding on to a steady pace, but graining absolutely zero ground. I’m at the pivotal point in the race where I see I’m giving maximum effort and it’s just not catching up to this kat out in front of me. No matter how much I open up my stride, switch my breathing technique, pump my arms, flex my ankles, play the curves, or copy his stride pattern in the hopes of slowly eating up ground until I can get in close enough contact to kick for the end of the race.

So little energy, yet so much to do/accomplish. I’m hoping I can get all of these stuff done this weekend. I’ll check back in later to ive you an update.

Obviously I’m the American Women, and life is the genetically engineered Soviet Cyborg.

The To Do List Reads:

  1. NYC Clothes Donation

  2. Chicago Volunteering

  3. Floor (Clean that shit, its been dirty forever)

  4. 856 Cognitive Strategy (Grad School assignment I agreed to revise to get a better grade. I was light weight furious at receiving an 8 out of 10 early in the semester)

  5. Off and Running (Documentary Review and Worksheet creation)

  6. IEP’s (1 and 2 months late)

  7. Conventions (English Assignment to test students knowledge and understanding fo correct apostrophe usage)

  8. iZone (School Development Committee) Response Questions and Reflect Assignment for classrooms

  9. Create Character Map Activity (Grad School Assignment, and hopeful grading opportunity to test students understanding of House on Mango Street stories)

  10. Take out the trash in my room that’s been growing for about 3 weeks

  11. BLOG (If I didn’t write it on there I knew I wouldn’t even think about making time for it)

  12. 885C Reflection Activity (mysterious course reflection involving review, analysis, and critique of my semester in graduate school, and progress as a teacher.)

  13. Student Raffle Ticket Christmas presents (We were supposed to have a raffle in my Just Words class, little did anyone know we all would be broken up come the second trimester. We decided that 3 gift cards for 15 each would be the prizes. I’ve decide to get the whole class 10$ gift cards)

  14. 856 Performance Based Assessment (another grad school assignment that I need to think about, begin, and complete)

  15. 856 Curriculum Unit (ditto)

  16. DIG/IT Grading Chart (Classwide, and Student Specific assignment completion charts)

  17. Respond to a million (Emails)

  18. 8 Student’s names that I feel I should check in with next week. 

*All of this, give or take the grad assignments, should be done by the beginning of the school day on Monday. Let’s see how far I get.*

Presentation lessons learned from Super Tuesday news coverage

My roommate and I sat down on November 6 like everyone else and watched the coverage of the election results on CNN. Halfway through I jokingly told him to turn it to MSNBC so we could see how much better they were covering the results. There was a drastic difference between the way the two stations utilized graphics and visuals to convey the election results. The teacher in me instantly noticed the difference and actually tried to identify why one was more effective than the other.

I was mesmerized at how the CNN graphics caught my attention and got me to understand the information within seconds of seeing it. They used vibrant colors that caught and held my eye. John King was able to expand his images and go into details to help us understand exactly why specific states were voting a certain way (county results). I also noticed that CNN used the bulk of the screen to showcase their results. Their presentation was dynamic. I couldn’t not pay attention even though I tried a couple of times. I’ve included pictures and a video of the results.

MSNBC on the other hand used dull colors. They seemed to use only half of the space available to them to convey information to the viewer. Their images and visuals were unappealing to my eye. I found myself looking at the screen for several seconds, and still not coming away from this with any information about the election.

Teaching is big on Smartboard presentations and powerpoints these days. I’m planning to use CNN to as a model for how I make my presentations in the future. What do you think about the CNN vs. MSNBC graphic usage?

Also – thanks to the amazing and talented Alicia for reading my blog. And yes, I miss and think about my Boston and YouthBuild family everyday.

Struggles of a NYCTF: One trimester into the school year.

Being in the fellowship is incredibly hard. Each day is almost like its own Mission Impossible. Which i tell myself is fun and exciting, I actually think I believe myself most of the time too. Its always been difficult explaining to other people why the fellowship is so taxing and time consuming. Teaching as a profession is incredibly demanding. Each night when I go home I go home knowing that the very next day a class full of students will be depending on me to run a lesson, answer questions, guide through practice problems, demand high academic and behavioral expectations. I’m not a parent, but I imagine this constant feeling of being responsible is what parents feel especially when their kids are young and unable to look after themselves.

The students aren’t the only ones who demand a high level of attention, there is literally always something going on in the school that needs my (your) attention as well. As a special education teacher, we’re required to review and update student’s IEPs, gather info from gen ed teachers about students’ strengths and weaknesses, we also facilitate the IEP meetings with the IEP team, student and parent. Then there’s always the need to give students school-wide assessments, school development meetings, department meetings, covering for absent teachers, as well as managing general student traffic and behavior in and around the school building. This isn’t an exhaustive list, its just what I can think about right now at Starbucks. There’s a million needs constantly rolling around in my mind. The process of juggling and prioritizing these things is a gargantuan task that I wasn’t ready for before the fellowship. Its because of this that I never really feel like I’m getting ahead at my job. If anything I feel good when I feel like I’m only 1 step behind versus the normal 4 steps.

Here are some of the things I’ve struggled with over the past 6 months:

  • —- Staying in communication with people outside of my job. Work is an overwhelming priority that takes up about 90% of my brain capacity at all given times. I have to try to divid the other 10% between grad school, personal health and wellness, rest and relaxation, eating, and fiscal responsibility. Communication is always last on my list of things to focus on, my family has been pretty open about their disdain for my level of contact and visits.
  • —- Teaching is an incredibly rewarding profession. I feel like I’m able to stretch myself and try new things in my classrooms and with my students. However, its demotivating feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing well and what you need to work on. I basically feel like I don’t know what I know, and don’t know what I don’t know. This makes it difficult to replicate my positive teaching traits and change my negative teaching practices.
  • —- My daily schedule is so chaotic that I often miss my meetings with my mentor teacher. We both teach during all of the same periods so it is difficult to observe her and learn from her teaching style. There are also 3 new teachers including me in the building, and we all have the same mentor teacher. Its frustrating hearing that the other mentees get to enjoy more regular meetings with our mentor, and seem to truly benefit from the weekly checkins. I don’t know if I can say I’m experiencing the same luck with my checkins.
  • —- I always feel like I’m on different page than most other people in the school. Translation –  I be lost as fuck in most meetings and classes. This always irks me. Example: On election day we had a staff-wide PD. Part of the ice-breaker was to build a contraption that would prevent an egg from breaking when it hit the ground. Every group made some contraption that packed/padded the egg once it impacted the ground. I suggested and pushed my group to make a parachute with out piece of newspaper to support the padding we had done. At first there was silence, then there was murmors of support, finally I convinced them the parachute would work. When we presented our creation we got a bunch of laughs from the rest of the staff. But low and behold our egg was one of 3 that didnt break. This is a amusing example of me thinking completely differently than everyone else. Most of the time it just leaves me feeling awkwardly different in a room full of people with similar ideas.
  • —- I really care for all of the students in my school. But they drive me BONKERS when they launch a million questions at me (you) without giving me the chance to explain the activity/theory/lesson we’re going through. They also complain all the time. Sometimes I just have to look at them with my You’ve gotta be kidding me -face.
  • —- Anytime I think of a challenge or a struggle I have with this work, I get upset with myself because it feels like I’m making excuses rather than finding solutions.

These are just a few things that I have on my mind right now. I say these not to complain, but to give you a better sense of some of the things I have to think about on top of creating meaningful and engaging lessons for my students. I’m optimistic that I’ll find ways to changes these struggles into growth opportunities to become a more effective and impactful teacher for my classes.

It physically hurts to come back from a 4-day weekend.

One of the things I know is that I have a very specific frame at which I engage the world. This includes my work as a teacher, student, friend, brother, son, etc… Basically the way I view life, and in particular my life, and the standards and rules I ethics I choose to live my life by. I worry that sometimes I’m so tuned in to my own frequency that I’m missing something out there that other people see, feel, or think.  Because of that, I find myself feeling uneasy a lot of times – like this time, right here. Wondering, if there is something that perhaps I’m not seeing that really needs my attention.

I’m more so thinking about at my high school. There just always seems to be so many questions that I don’t have the faintest clue to ask. Its actually pretty annoying and it pisses me off when I don’t automatically know something.

I think I’m going to ask my co-teachers if there is anything else they feel I can be doing to support and lead in the classroom.

Wait, I actually just thought of something. I’m going to make a deal with my Just Words class this cycle. (I don’t know if I’ve explained this yet. But my school is run on trimesters. Each trimester is referred to as a cycle.) Something like, the more they engage, and show involvement in the curriculum, the faster we can go – The faster we can go, the more time we’ll have for games, and activities. Maybe eventually a project or field trip. I don’t think I could handle the stress of that this first try though.

I think my class really rocks with me. They’re behavior is on point… Like… literally no disruptions ever LoL. But lets face it half of them are tuned out. Or at least don’t participate in the vocal parts of the curriculum. I’m going to cut off that back row, no more sitting back there. And I’m gonna scoop Jenga in a few days so they can have something fun (hopefully) while I catch the others up on their assessments. I HAVE TO figure out how to work better with that curriculum. Its seems like 90 different materials, half of which the students don’t have. So I have to make copies. Which is crazy because sometimes they want you to copy like 10 page chunks just so the kids can review. That curriculum is ridiculous. And you have me delivering it so you know its a complete fool.

That poor class. I feel so bad for them. They have to put up with me, a looney 1st-year teacher, destroying this reading curriculum that may well be their last chance to learn how to read. I think they rock with me because they know I care about helping them read, and I’m there to do as good of a job I can for them and for me!

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Today, I had to apologize to my Just Words class. Somehow I had forgotten to take their heavy ass manual home with me over the weekend. I was really upset with myself when it hit me. I told them that I fully meant to prepare for class this weekend, and was upset with myself when I realized I had forgotten their manual. I would do my best to get through todays lesson, and give them free time. We ended class with me doing a Plus/Delta session. Plus, whats going well. Delta, what’s not going well. Needless to say I wasn’t shocked that I put all the positives and they put all the negatives. Besides the candy I brought, they put that as their only positive.