A blog about all things pertaining to Trent Lott, Leadership and Blogs.

Friday, December 23, 2005

First Semester of Teaching

Yup. Heading to Mexico tomorrow. No more teaching for now. Took me a whole week to get my head straight again, but I'm kind of enjoying this return to civillian life. I forgot what this is like, when you close your eyes and don't see crowds of screaming children, when you can sleep in past 6:30 in the morning. (at first I was automatically waking up at about 7:00 anyways, but I'm pleased to report that this morning I scarcely stirred until 11:00.

After one semester of teaching, I can be certain of two things:
1) I will not be a lifelong teacher. This is sort of interesting for a while, but will not suit me as a lifelong vocation. I need a job with less paperwork and less dictatorial powers. If there's one thing I don't like about this job, it's being in charge, and telling these poor kids what they can and can't do. I know they need that right now, but I'd rather be the one teaching them proper TP techniques when all is said and done.
2) I will not have to quit, and I won't have to bow out in shame mid-year. 2006-2007 is another story, and is still under consideration, but I can certainly make it through another semester, and then I'll have the opportunity to reevaluate.

So yeah, I can yell louder and I know how to add fractions, and I can honestly say that the mathematical abilities of my students have not receded since I came to the job, and a good number have even improved.
Everyone says that the second semester is easier. I believe 'em. There were days at the beginning when all I could say to myself is "Ari, just remember, no future day will be as bad as this one right now, it only gets better." It is and it will continue to do so.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Reflections on Summer Blog

The trepidation-tinged excitement, the perpetual preoccupation with polishing my act before the lights dimmed, the pervasive assumption of an initiation into the rareified and transcendent craft of teaching ... what a fool I've been.

Looking back, I find this to be the most striking feature of my summer blogs, this sentiment that I was on the cusp of something life-changing and utterly foreign to all my prior experiences. But time inevitably breeds familiarity, reminding one that after all life is life and thanks to the space age we're all well aware that there's nothing new above the sun either. This job certainly has it's disroportionate share of headaches, heartaches and satisfying experiences, but it's still a job when all is said and done. Maybe I'm not so much jaded as spoiled and I've forgotten the soul-calcifying torpor of a regular desk job, but I'm also a big proponent of the idea that you can make any experience into what you choose because they're all really the same when you get down to it.

So teaching is a bit routine right now. To be honest, I've found it still hasn't lived up to either extreme, it's neither as difficult nor as satisfying as I've been led to believe. Sure the kids drive me nuts some days and make me feel like I'm fresh off the boat, and sometimes they learn really well and that's kind of fun, but yeah ... really just another job with a little added dash of tabasco or something.

Right now I've got to find away from staying off autopilot. It's easy to challenge yourself at the start when you're helpless and have no other choice, but this is much harder when you're doing well enough but still have room for growth. Hopefully that beatiful winter break coming like a sprite can in the desert will allow me some time to reevaluate and find someway to ward off this incipient ennui.

Monday, October 31, 2005

October is the Kindest Month

This is what we were told, but I'll stick with April on that one because October has proven excellent, grade A best month ever.
Maybe it has to do with the magical day when the fabled "new math teacher" arrived and whisked away 59 of my students, leaving me with the eminently manageable load of but 113 malleable souls. I cannot describe this difference, but it's something akin to spending three months with a half ton chevy parked in your living room before being magically towed away by towing elfs one morning. And I refer to the short lived Chevy line of trucks which kicked, screamed and threw wadded paper around the room. And they uh ... are trucks that don't do their homework and ... what's the word for bad extended metaphors going nowhere? Conceit?
Anyways ... I'm out of survival mode, that's for sure. Maybe it's only since I've got so few kids now that it just seems better, but I do believed I learned a great deal in that early epoch of the giant classes and thunder lizards. Like swinging with a weighted bat before going to the plate, my new task seems much lighter. The atmosphere is better, the classes are more relaxed and even somewhat positive at times. The kids are engaged and seem less adversarial.
But at times I look fondly on those survival days when my only job was to keep kids in their seats and hope for an early bell. Because now I look around the room and realize that my job isn't just to duck paper balls but to teach. Suddenly I notice kids that have tuned out since day one, and whom I never had the opportunity to deal with in the survival days. With post-survival comes responsibility. Now I feel bad when a lesson doesn't stick or seems boring to the kids while previously such concerns were furthest from my mind.
Unless I suffer from a discipline relapse, this will be the November challege, to shift the focuse from good management to good instruction. It's much harder, and I certainly still have some management issues to iron out, but for the most part things definitely seem to be moving in the right direction.

Success is Saying Goodbye

People come to teaching for a lot of different reasons, some more altruistic than others. I think that this profession in particular readily creates a facade of self-sacrifice that often covers up somewhat less honorable motives. Some are here for the power, to impose their will upon a group of impressionable young'uns. Others may at times enjoy a little nibble from the banquet of self-righteousness spread before them. After all, what better way to stick it to your consulting firm friends than to remind yourself that you ... you are doing something important ... for society ... to save the world ... Christopher Reeve may have passed on but I'm still here teaching.
For this reason I approach the subject of a success story with no small degree of wariness. Whose success? The personal success, the private glory of a teacher who succeeded in changing a kids life or exposing a young mind to the wonders of social studies or the joy of sitting still in class?
As I've found, sometimes the success of a child and the success of a teacher do not always converge.
Dymond was trouble from day one. I knew this would be the case because she reminded me so much of myself at her age. Gifted, bored and inclined to mischief. She didn't need to pay attention, so why should anyone else.
I was always amazed at her ability in math, and I always graded her tests first to make sure I didn't have any errors in my key. But her behavior was another story. Talking to everyone around her, calling out, making noise, all the things that I once did for which teachers always told me "I hope someday you have kids who act this way to you".
At the end of a detention one afternoon I pulled Dymond aside and gave her the whole "in this world being smart is not enough ..." speech. I asked her if she would be interested in switching to an APAC gifted math class. Her eyes lit up and she eagerly agreed.
With some reservations at losing my best student I made the arrangements with our math coach, contact the APAC coordinator and a week later she was gone from my class. My averages on the district tests will suffer a great deal, and I'll probably miss the satisfaction of working with a truly gifted student. But this is her success, not mine. Just so I don't get too lonely she sometimes pops back into class, calls out to her friends and disrupts our lesson for a little while and reminds me what I'm missing.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Deductive vs. Inductive

At the Jackson Public School convocation right before school started, the keynote speaker was some teacher from New York, I believe, her name was Successful McTeacher but I don't recall for sure. After she spoke for a while about some vague teaching strategies that ultimately worked because of her personality and for no reason of relevance to me, they showed some clips of her in the classroom. She would introduce a concept and shout out a questions to advance the student's comprehension and the students would shout back answers. I wondered ... this is great for the students inclined to shout back, but what did the others gain from the experience? I saw this again when a teacher from another middle school came to my classroom to model a lesson through some math teacher exchange program. It looks great for observers because it feeds off the intelligence of the best kids, but the remainder are inevitabely left behind.

My impression is that this is true of most inductive teaching strategies as well. I would rather my students learned just about everything through inductive teaching, but only in a world where all my students bore the potential to acquire knowledge in this fashion. Our curriculum is packed and leaves us little time for anything but a quick and cursory treatement of each math concept. The few times I chose to introduce a topic through inductive strategies, I found myself compelled to move on as soon as a few smart kids "got it." I doubt if anyone else gained much benefit from the excercise at all. I can see that deductive teaching does not provide the same intuitive grasp of the subject matter, but at least everyone can gain exposure to the processes and methods necessary to gain competency in the subject. Otherwise I'm no different than the teacher who teaches to a few smart kids shouting out answers and leaving the others behind. For now I'llmostly stick with deductive, forego the intimate knowledge of the subject matter and just try to keep as many students as possible on the same page.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Reminisces of Mrs. Raucher

Most influential math teacher .... that's an easy one. We'll get back to that in a minute.

School opens again tomorrow. After a week and a half hiatus I'm somewhat concerned about what I will find upon returning to Peeples. It does not provide me great consolation that I don't even know which classes I'll be teaching. When asked today whether tomorrow would be an "A" day or a "B" day on the block schedule, my assistant principal replied: "Gosh, I don't know ... we have to look into that." Yup.

I can't imagine that they can fit any new refugee students into my classes, but hey, when you're already past 180 young'uns I suppose it won't really make much of a difference. Maybe if I can get enough more I can fashion my own army or something.

But we have power, drinking water and the sporadic internet access seems to have stabilized. All I can say is Mrs. Raucher never had to deal with any of this.

A short, bent woman past middle age with bright red hair and an odd smell that followed her around the room. Decked out in her pi earrings and "math is fun" pins, she did not simply instruct but lived, breathed and surrounded herself with math. Her room was plastered in math posters of all kinds and seldom engaged in conversation on any other subject. On Pi day (March 14) she baked us pies and her solemn celebration of the holiday left us all a little concerned.

If she was just a little less absurd, if she showed any glimmer of another person within her, we probably would not have given her the respect that we did. Of course, we made fun of her to no end, but she did too. She seemed to truly love her bizarre mathematical existence to such a degree that she demanded our respect, even as we laughed.

I'm not certain that one could differentiate between Mrs. Raucher's teacher persona and the eldery woman who drove home at the end of the day with tired feet and a hankering for a stiff drink. Mrs. Raucher was undoubtedly a successful math teacher as she so readily drew her students into her bizarre alternate math universe. On the other hand, I would never aspire to emulate her, because my persona in the classroom is only a small little distortion of my self. I will always go home to a regular life, and will always leave "Mr. G" in the Peeples parking lot.

It's one thing to adopt your teaching style to fit your own personality, but a very different one to "be yourself" in the classroom. As far as I can tell Mrs. Raucher really was just being herself in our math class, and herself just happened to be a crazed math fanatic. As for me, I'll have to take the smaller amount of true math enthusiasm I harbor and try to get as much mileage out of it as possible.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Management Plan?

I wouldn't quite say that my management plan is in shambles, but it certainly has "evolved" a good deal from its initial state.

Much of the problem for first year teachers is that you enter the classroom with little knowledge of the particular situation regarding detention, office referrals at the school.

I did not include detention in my management plan, but now I know that the school offers saturday detention, and this serves as an excellent deterrent to misbehavior.

My management plan reserved office referral for severe infractions, but it seems that most of the other teachers have a much more liberal approach to the disciplinary method. I've been hesitant about giving referrals, but if I had made a few more examples early on I'd probably have better managed classes today.

Calling parents is key. I also didn't put this too early on in my management plan but I've now learned that particularly for sixth graders, speaking to parents is a crucial component of classroom management. I'm making up for some lost time now, but it still makes a noticeable difference.

So today, where am I. Disruptive students get a warning, then a call home, then detention, then an office referral. They come quick.

I'm still working on other management aspects. Most important right now is practicing smooth transitions between topics or activities, and finding ways to keep everyone busy. Most of my problems are from kids who are smart, finished with their work and booooooored.

Right now my classroom is a somewhat negative environment, where I'm constantly giving out warnings and punishments. I need to find a way to incorporate more positive incentives without inviting more disruptions.

Bathrooms. Probably my greatest headache of all. We have no air conditioning. An hour and a half is a long time for a sixth grader to stay in class. I had one kid faint and an another nearly piss himself. I have to let kids go to the bathroom, but then I find that most of my class is wasted dealing with a stream of requests. Beginning next week I will issue each student two emergency passes. They may used them at any time, but once they are done they will be finished for the semester. Hopefully this will provide some sort of resolution, but that remains to be seen.

Katrina the Merciful

Well now I've survived three weeks of school and one hurricane.

All through my years as a student I've experienced joy at the prospect of a snow day, and who could forget the infamous "extremely cold temperature" day back in 93. But no youthful relief, no excitement at the prospect of a day away from my classes could rival the giddying news that jackson public schools would be closed for this entire week.

Perhaps this is an indicator of how my first three weeks have gone. I've found out that this job is not impossible, just extremely demanding, mentally and physically draining to an unimaginable degree. I think that this is where first year teacher's problems come from. At a point the teacher's mind and body reach such a state of fatigue that trifling troubles seem much greater.

A good nights rest and some peace of mind can help enormously in this regard and I've done my best to keep 'em in my shopping cart.

Not that my kids don't drive me crazy. I can't believe how much variance there can be from one day to the next, or even one class to the next. Last Wednesday I handled my kids like an old pro and thought to myself that this job could be easy. The next day brought me back down to earth, with two of my classes reaching the classification of "Zoo" and me ready to throw in the dry erase board. I've learned that there is little certainty in this job, and you can never, ever, let your guard down.

Things should improve. At the height of my thursday insanity i snuck away from the lunchroom for a minute and dragged myself, half staggering into the principal's office, desparate for some assurance that my load of 184 students will some day be reduced. She promised it would. When it does, I imagine that it will be something like the old "livestock in the house" story. Bringing my classes down to even 26, 27 students would seem an unimaginable luxury.

In the meantime, I'll take this vacation, and thank the hurricane gods for putting a silver lining on this otherwise catastrophic storm system.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

ready or not

Yesterday I received a letter sent from my principal to all the People's Middle School staff members. In addition to the information pertaining to the upcoming orientation and professional development week, the letter also implored, advised or warned us to "get ready ... get ready ... get ready!" The reason being that we must all be ready to "hit the ground running". One one hand, I am concerned that no amount of preparation will allow me to properly "get ready" for what is coming. I read the letter with no small amount of concern and trepidation. My consolation is this: I will hit the ground running, as anyone landing on a treadmill will immediately discover. I'm excited for this, that in another week, I will be literally swept along a course with no ability to slow down. This is a good thing, as long as I can keep my hands on the steering wheel. Maybe the best way to think about the coming year is as something similar to the movie speed. Can't slow down, just try your best to keep control and not to crash into anything along the way.
In other news, living in Mississippi has exceeded my expecations in nearly every regard. I came here with many prejudices about the southern folk, the southern lifestyle and the average summer temperature. The biggest surprise for me has been the discovery that I don't mind the heat, not even during yesterday's heat warning. And the people ... I cannot say that I approve of the predominant beliefs and habits practiced in this part of the country, but I am somewhat reconciled. I arrived here as a smug northern liberal, and perhaps I still am. What has changed is that I think I'm beginning to understand the south, and why the south is what it is. I have many friends back home who preach liberal values and condemn this part of the country without ever bothering to consider that this does more harm. Worldly people that vacation in argentina and southern france and can claim a diverse and broad education know very little about the second half of their own country. Perhaps this will never change, but I cant help but think that perhaps the democrats would have run their last presidential campaign a bit different if they undrestood this region a bit better, and if they had done this it might be a different country today.
Forget it, the point is not ideas and movements and politics right now. I've got some kids coming and we've got a lot of numbers to crunch.