Monthly Archives: June 2010

>Classroom Logo/Motto


At my student teaching placement, we had a “WMS Way” that served as the school’s theme.  The letters SIRR stood for Self-Control, Integrity, Responsibility, and Respect and were drawn on the four quadrants of a shield.  It was a great visual and mnemonic to help students remember the expectations for behavior.

I went ahead and made my own classroom logo, which I don’t want to call a bullseye because it’s really a holon, but I don’t know how well students will react to the word “holon.”  (Actually, I just realized that maybe it could be reversed, putting critique in the middle and then the idea of a target might make more sense…I’ll have to ponder the semantics of that.)


>What does it mean to learn?

>We were driving back from Virginia Beach, and as my family is wont to do during long road trips, we were ruminating about the future direction of us children.  My brother is going to be a high school senior next year, and in his simplicity he asked a rather profound question: “So what do you actually do in college?”

My dad came up with an equally profound answer that I rather like and would like to bring to the secondary level through my own teaching.  In order to be considered a successful learner, according to my dad, one must:

  1. Find and use a new method
  2. to solve a new problem
  3. that is meaningful and important.

Changing the bolded words will change the degree to which you are successful, and maybe at the secondary level the problems and methods are less novel just because of the developmental level attained by adolescents.  But I refuse to believe that secondary students are limited to reciting old knowledge ad nauseum.  Children have an innate curiosity and creativity that, if educed (the root word of education, after all!) and supported properly, will be powerful and world-changing.  I came across the Take Action Science Project that I am interested in implementing in my curriculum (there are altogether too many ideas that I want to try!) maybe during second semester after the OGT.  (I’m still puzzling over how to get anything productive accomplished in the month and a half before the test.  I’m not a crammer by nature and reductionism runs counter to my philosophy of education, but I will have to find a way to bring things down to a manageable size if my second-term students are to have any chance on that test.  But I’ll save my rants on standardized testing for another day.)

>Some crazy ideas

>I watched Avatar over the weekend and was so struck by the many teachable moments in the movie that I may well use it as the focal point in my curriculum this fall.  There are not only the ecological and organismal biology themes, but also references to genetics, science and technology, resource management, space science, and maybe even physics of flight or animal movement.  And of course I would also like to engage a higher level of eco-consciousness, perhaps moving beyond a human-centered sustainability model to a more deep-ecology type thinking.

A few quotes from Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy, and Planetary Crisis, distilled from the rather dense text.  (And sorry, but this is why no one wants to listen to pontificating radicals even when their words are important!)

“ecopedagogy…additionally incorporates [beyond anthropocentric, social justice-oriented approaches to environmental issues] more typically northern ecological ideas such as the intrinsic value of all species, the need to care for and live in harmony with the planet, as well as the emancipatory potential contained in human aesthetic experiences of nature”

“What if that which has allowed us to dominate will be that which in the end destroys us?”

>Review: Freedom Writers Diary

>I suppose the grass will always look greener on the other side of the content area fence, but especially after I read about teachers like Erin Gruwell, I really wonder whether I should have taught English instead.  I feel like there is so much more room in a language arts classroom to let students tell their stories, but I suppose that always depends on the school and the type of environment I set up for my students.  The daily introductions I did with the kids in my student teaching placement were a neat little way of getting at students’ personal experiences and relating them to science, and I think that’s very important.  I definitely want to do some sort of reflective journaling with my classes at least once a week next year, not only to help them think about how science is part of their lives, but also to work on literacy skills and to get to know them better.  The Freedom Writers Diary is written so that entries from all the different students are numbered instead of identified by the writer’s name, and there is no correspondence between number and writer.  At first this bugged me a little because I felt like I never knew who was speaking, but over time I recognized certain students alluding to events they had previously written about, and I guess that is more realistic.  There is never a point in the school year where you suddenly know everything there is to know about a student; rather, you get dribbles and drops from each assignment they turn in, every conversation you have before class, every interaction you observe them having with other students and teachers.  As a teacher, you have to work really hard to get to know your students, especially high schoolers, I’m sure, but nothing happens in the classroom without that trust and familiarity.

Gruwell, E. (2006). The Freedom Writers Diary. New York: Broadway Books.

>Summer Reading List

>Titles I’m investigating for a book-based biology curriculum:
The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
The Making of the Fittest, Sean Carroll
*The Creation, E.O. Wilson (need to read again)
*The Discovery of the Germ, John Waller
*The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

Titles that will probably get me fired:
*Freedom Writers Diary, Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers
Teacher Man, Frank McCourt
Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi
The First Days of School, Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong
Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, bell hooks
Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to those Who Dare Teach, Paulo Freire
*Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy, & Planetary Crisis, Richard Kahn

*Currently reading or already read

>I have a job!

>(I meant to post this quite awhile ago, but I forgot about this draft sitting in the back of my blog.)

I am happy to announce that I have taken a teaching position with Lima City Schools in Ohio. I will be teaching high school biology at the Lima Senior High School of Multiple Intelligences (MI), joining a department of 3. I am really looking forward to learning and contributing a lot in my first year. The school values not only Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences but also literacy, holistic evaluation, building relationships with students, asking the right questions, and educating students for the rest of their lives. I resonate strongly with MI’s statements of belief and already feel warmly welcomed by the principal and department chair, and I am looking forward to an enjoyable and productive career.

>The End, and the Beginning

>Today was the last day of school, and at the end of the day the students had a rapid release fire drill in which they had to exit the building and go directly to the buses or whatever form of transportation was taking them home.  In the front of the building there were hugs and a few tears, then they were gone, just like that.  It’s hard to believe that it is all over, and that the next time I step into a classroom in front of students, it will just be me.  My mentor teacher got me a really nice teacher planner, but I’m trying not to let myself think too far ahead.  For now, I am just treasuring moments like this one, from today.

Last week, Titus verbally confronted another student in class over something the other kid had said about Titus’ family.  Titus has always been quiet and well-behaved in class, so I knew that something must have actually happened.  When I talked to him later, being sure to commend the self-control he did choose to exercise, Titus told me how much he missed seeing his extended family, and that one cousin had contracted hepatitis C from using a dirty needle and another had a dangerous pregnancy.  The strain of worrying about his relatives finally got to him on Tuesday, though, when he got in a fight with another student at lunch.  I happened to catch him being escorted to the office by our guidance counselor, and he told me that he was being sent home for the rest of the school year.  I told him how sorry I was to see him go and wished him the best.  Inside, though, I was more than sorry–I was pretty much crushed…Titus had inexplicably nestled a little deeper in my heart than most of his classmates.  After school let out today, I was saying goodbye to students in front of the school when I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I turned around, and there was Titus!  “I came back to get my Epi-pen,” he said before I wrapped him in a bear hug.  I told him again how glad I was to see him and wished him well, and then he too, was gone.

I’ve been having separation anxiety since last week, and I’ve often wondered whether I was wise to choose a profession where the forever-goodbye is a frequent occurrence.  While it is no doubt going to be difficult, I also realize that as often as I say goodbye, I also get to say hello, and the relationship that grows between hello and goodbye is what makes it all worthwhile.  Goodbye wouldn’t hurt if the relationship weren’t meaningful, and I guess that the strict finiteness of the relationship makes it all the more precious.  To turn the words of Maia Sharp around, “I’m suddenly seeing that every ending means something else is beginning.”  My students will be high schoolers, and I will be a real teacher…all in good time, of course.

>A Year-End Reflection

>The successive field placements of the M.Ed program were intended to scaffold the transition from student to teacher, giving us take increasing responsibility in the classroom as time went on until we were ready for our own classroom (whatever that means!). I thought, somewhat naively, that it would be easier as we progressed through the program, but I could not have been more mistaken. Having been a student for over sixteen years, I have had to make the leap to being a teacher in little more than a year, and I do not feel as though I have “stuck the landing” well, so to speak. But if I have learned anything this year, it is that nothing happens all at once and that it is all right—even beneficial—to accept being a work in progress. And I have had the chance to remember, over and over again, what matters most to me as a teacher.

A week after graduation I went right back to school, and for three months I continued playing a role I knew I was comfortable (and good at) playing: reading articles, writing papers, presenting my work. I got a taste of what was to come from the microteaching assignment in our first methods course, but that was a quick performance in front of a captive and friendly audience. In my head I knew it was never going to be that easy in a real classroom, but I had no idea just how difficult—and rewarding—the real thing was going to be.

On August 26, 2009, at 7:20 in the morning, I stood in Pat’s eighth grade classroom, and heard the terrifying sound of two hundred eighth-graders storming up the steps. Even though I had nothing to do but watch and learn, I was scared. I had never seen so many children in my life, never had to learn so many names and personalities. It was easier than I thought, however, and on October 14, I taught my very first lesson. It was quite successful, I thought: I had dutifully incorporated everything I had learned about inquiry and conceptual change and different kinds of assessment, and the students had responded positively, for the most part. Throughout the quarter I played the part of drop-in teacher, all the while learning from my mentor and other teachers, as well as the classes we were taking on reading across the curriculum and the nature of science. By the time December rolled around, I was practically team-teaching with my mentor and I felt confident about my ability in the classroom. Though I subconsciously felt some anxiety about the person I was becoming, I chalked it up to end-of-the-quarter stress and plowed forward.

I had heard nightmarish stories about the double load of graduate courses and student teaching during winter quarter, and I went in with a plan for tackling the challenges. The students in Betty’s tenth grade class were impeccably behaved and generally knew how to succeed in school, so I thought my student teaching would be a piece of cake. I started running into trouble, however, when I tried to pull them outside of their comfort zone, and I also felt unspoken pressure to teach like my mentor, whose style was quite different from mine. The sense of identity crisis became acute, and I tried to bury the feelings of uncertainty and fear of rejection by working harder than ever at my lesson planning and classwork, casting aside all good intentions of balancing school and personal life. By the end of the quarter, I did not feel like a very good teacher at all: post-tests showed an apparent increase in student misconceptions and I missed the ease with which I had related to my students in the fall. While I was still able to meet the demands of my graduate courses, being a good student no longer satisfied me, and I felt like I was being relentlessly ground down with nothing to show for it. I took these failures as reflections on my personal worth and spiraled through severe anxiety and depression.

My first day in spring placement, back at Wedgewood, felt like a breath of fresh air, but I knew right away that things were different. The students had changed physically, cognitively, and emotionally since the fall, and now there was pressure on them to do well on the Ohio Achievement Assessment. Soon I would have to be the teacher, not just the smiling face who tried not to get in the way too much. I would have to dish out both rewards and discipline, give and grade assignments, and actually try to help them learn something. This shift was embodied, oddly but meaningfully, in a change in name from “Miss D” to being called by my full last name.  (Although in that transition, I got a lot of confused “Miss D…D…D…” and one student’s invention, “Miss Dawoolo” has become my alter ego.)

My first lesson taught on my own was, by any measures, a rather spectacular flop. The students had just come back from spring break and I tried to jump straight into content without establishing my expectations for the class because the big test was in a week. When Pam and I debriefed, she reiterated that a trusting relationship with students was of paramount importance and supported me in taking time to work on that relationship before trying to do anything else. Every day brought new challenges, however, that never seemed to improve: discipline, motivation, expectations, behavior. I had learned a lot about organization during my winter placement, so that was less of an issue in the spring, but when it came to actual instruction I felt like I was pulling teeth, especially after the OAA. As each day passed, I kept asking myself why I could not get the students to focus and do their work. Again, I took this personally, and the fear of failure made me a lot snippier with students and harder on myself. Toward the end of the quarter, I started to realize that there were a lot of things influencing students’ behavior that were completely out of my control, and that was not necessarily a reflection on me.

My father asked what success as a teacher meant for me, and when I stopped to think about it realized that what mattered most to me was making each of my students feel special and important, only part of which was teaching them about science! I spent the last few weeks in my placement focusing on my students as people, not grades or test scores, and I felt a lot better as a result. I think the moment I first felt like a teacher was not when I taught my first lesson, wrote my first test, or even gave my first lunch detention, but when Corey first stayed behind after class to tell me about how his dad was not speaking to his family. These are the moments I will remember even after years of teaching: when Sarah first asked if I could attend her softball game, when Mary said, “Come here, Miss D_____, I want to tell you a secret!”, when Tyler told me how much he missed seeing his family after moving. Peter wrote by his picture in my yearbook, “Remember me,” and there is no chance I will ever forget these little people who helped me change from a student to a teacher this year.