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Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn: Experience the Wonder of Student Teaching
Thursday, 13 February 2003
Back to School. . . Finally!
I am finally back at school after a week of closings due to snow. The students were wound up! I think that they were glad to see one another...I couldn't get a few of them to keep their mouths closed!

I didn't do much teaching today. On Thursdays, my classes have Library Skills during English class. The librarian came in and gave them a "refresher" on the differences between fiction and non-fiction and a review on the Dewey Decimal system. She also discussed how to search for books using a card catalog! I haven't thought about using a card catalog since 1987! Since I graduated from High School, I have used a computer while searching for books. Now, I find books on my home computer and usually know exactly what I want when I go to the library. I am spoiled, I guess. The librarian told me that the school is going to get a computer system soon, so the card catalog will be extinct. Although the students will be using a computer to locate books, it is still important to learn about shelving systems. They still have to find the books! Computers don't retrieve our books for us (yet!)

After the librarian's visit, I had the students complete some textbook activities in which they had to use irregular verbs and use both past and past participle forms of the words. They also worked on finding helping verbs in some textbook sentences. We are having a quiz on these two verb components on Monday. I reminded them that they had to memorize the 23 helping verbs for the quiz. I hope that they do this. It will be an easy 23 points for them if they do.

Tomorrow I am going to have my classes work on their short stories. I think they like to write. . . or maybe, they just like to not talk about verbs. Since I am getting my webpage in gear for my upcoming job search and Fall classes, I thought it might be neat to put their stories on my website if they wanted me to post them. I am going to try to get them into the computer lab so they can type their final drafts. I am not sure I can arrange it with the computer teacher. Since I am only at the Middle School for two more weeks, we have a lot of work to get done on actually writing the stories before my students need to worry about typing them.

Posted by wendysimmons0 at 8:41 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 13 February 2003 8:40 PM EST
Wednesday, 12 February 2003
Update of Previous Posts
I began my student teaching on January 7th. I was not blogging at the time, but keeping a journal on my desktop. The following are those previous entires.

Monday, January 7-9: Snow Days

Monday, January 13, 2003
My third day of observation is over and I am enjoying myself more and more. Today, I spent most of the day preparing for my first day of teaching. I worked all of Sunday afternoon on my lesson plans and really haven't scratched the surface yet. I have a lot of work to do before tomorrow. Creating unit plans has been a lot of work. It is easy to see why some teachers quit doing lesson plans after their first few years of teaching. On the other hand, when I consider the process of class preparation without using lesson plans, I get nervous. I am certain that my anxiousness has to do with the fact that I am new to this. Additionally, I think doing lesson plans may help a teacher to not get stuck in the proverbial "rut." As with everything else in life, I am sure that a variety of approaches to situations help one to overcome boredom and lethargy.

I spent two periods today completing two guided observations. The teachers I observed are very different in their approaches to teaching but seem to possess a deep love for their students. I observed a computer class with Mrs. H. and then, a health class with Mr. C. Mr. C's class meets during fourth period. They take their lunch break in the middle of class. I think this schedule would be very hard to work with because of the distraction involved in the coming and going of the class. Also, it was VERY hot in the classroom when we began the second part of class. I had a hard time staying awake. I can only imagine what it was like for the students!

Mrs. H. made a really interesting comment to her students today. Several of the boys were talking during class. She told them jokingly, "Grow up!" Then, she stopped herself and retracted her comment. She said, "No, don't grow up but mature! I never grew up, but I did become an adult!" I thought that her comment was a very wise observation on the process of maturation that these young people are just beginning to go through.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003
I began my unit on verbs today. The students in periods three and five responded very well. I feel this way because the students were eager to answer questions, volunteer information, and remained attentive throughout the class period. The students completed the verb pre-test that I gave them in about a five-minute span. I don't think that anyone blew off the test. The questions were answered and a majority of the students missed the same questions.

In contrast, the sixth period class was difficult because of interruptions. About ten minutes into the period, it was decided by the principal that students who rode on buses would be called to leave whenever their bus arrived because of the weather. For the entire period, bus numbers were called repeatedly. Every time I began a sentence, I would be interrupted by a bus call. Needless to say, this was very disruptive to the students. All bus riders hoped that their bus would be called next. When it wasn't, they would let out a disappointed moan. I continued with the lesson as best as I could. Because we were covering action verbs, a concept that everyone seemed to understand on the verb pre-test, I kept on going with the lesson plan. If the concept we needed to discuss were new or an area of difficulty, I would have stopped the lesson. Mrs. L. told me that I handled the situation very well. I asked her what she would have done. She told me that she would have stopped because the students don't listen whenever there is a chance that they might get out of school early. Honestly, I am beginning to hate the snow. The disruptions that the hint of bad weather causes are frustrating to me. I feel that the students just shut down whenever they heard the bus calls begin.

As I mentioned earlier, I administered a verb pre-test to the students. Due to the results of the test, I am going to revise my lesson plans. The classes do not need to spend a lot of time on action verbs, helping verbs, and verb tense because very few mistakes were made on these sentences on the pre-test. I think that I will combine these areas into one class and just review the concepts. On the other hand, I don't think the students have any idea what subject/ verb agreement and direct/ indirect objects are or what it means to say that a sentence is in passive voice. This validates what I learned in my Secondary Methods class. Dr. F. told us to always administer a pre-test at the beginning of a unit. When she first said it, I thought, "What a pain!" This experience has demonstrated how important such tests are. Without it, I would have spent too much time on concepts that the students already understood. They would have been bored to tears.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003: Snow Day, no school

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Today, we began our writing project. This is something that we are going to work on every Thursday throughout my unit. The students will be writing a short story. They are selecting a favorite fictional character and writing a short story about that person in a situation of their own design. For example, one student is going to write about a character from Lord of the Rings. She selected to write about an incident that occurred during Gandalf's childhood. Today, we did some invention work during the period by beginning with a freewriting journal activity followed by a plot developmental activity.

During third period, one of the students asked me if violence was allowed in the story. I was kind of surprised that this was one of the first questions to come up. Although I read several articles about censorship limitations in some of my classes, should have been prepared to answer this question. At first, I floundered and said no. Then, another person, obviously thinking deeply about her assignment, said that she felt that violence was a necessary part of her story. I ended up telling them that they could do whatever they wanted to do on their first drafts. If the story needed to be toned down, I would let them know at that time. I decided this for two reasons. First, I don't want to stifle the early stages of the writing process. Second, I feel that by allowing them to do what they want with the understanding that revision might be necessary would emphasize that fact to everybody that a first draft isn't a final draft. Revision is a necessary step of the writing process.

Once again, school was dismissed early and I did not get to meet for an entire period with 5th or 6th periods. The principle announced at the beginning of 5th period that the students were getting out early. During this period, we completed journal writing and discussed the assignment. Because the period was cut short, we did not get to do the plot organization activity. During 6th period, they started calling buses as they arrived. The students were not listening to me at all. We completed the journal activity. Then, I gave up. Continuing would have been a waste of time. At this point, each class is at a different point in the assignment. It is going to be challenging to catch 5th & 6th up. We'll see what happens next week!

Friday, January 17, 2003: Snow Day, no school

Monday, January 20: MLK Day

Tuesday, January 21: Snow Day

Wednesday, January 22:

Today was a difficult day for me. I taught my planned lesson on verb tenses and on linking verbs. Originally, I was going to teach these two separately but decided to consolidate them because the pre-tests indicated that the students had a pretty good understanding of the concepts. My opening activity flopped. Originally, I wanted the students to break into three different groups and write a paragraph about a trip to the mall. Each group was to write in past, present, or future tense. On paper this looked good. I though that this activity would be a great way to connect grammar with student writing. I planned to write the verbs that each group used on the board while they were reading their sentences out loud. Then we would discuss their word choices and the students would be amazed at their intuitive knowledge of verb tense. Unfortunately, this didn't work. The majority of the group wrote in perfect tenses instead of the simple conjugation of the verbs. For example, instead of writing, "I ate at Pal's," the student wrote, "I had been eating at Pal's." I didn't expect them to do this. Because discussing perfect tenses wasn't on the agenda for the day, I gave a brief explanation of the differences between simple and perfect tenses and we went on with the planned activity. I tried this again with fifth period. This time I gave more concrete examples of what I wanted them to write. Again, the same thing happened. In sixth period, I gave up. I made up a paragraph written in past tense. The students copied the paragraph and changed the verbs into present and past tense. I think that this activity taught me to expect the unexpected. I am still trying to understand why the many of the students decided to write in perfect tense for the writing activity. I am quickly learning that textbook examples and exercises are created for very specific and narrow purposes. I want so much for students to see what we discuss in class "in action." This goal isn't as easy as I thought it was going to be.

There is a child in one of my classes that is going to be hard to deal with. He blurts out questions, answers, and comments constantly on everything I am saying. Mrs. L. says that she just hushes him up by saying his name and giving him a stop signal with her hand. I am going to try this tomorrow. I also might ask him to write down any comments he has on a sheet of paper. After class, I plan to address the issues that he wrote down. I don't know if this is going to work with him. He is very disruptive. He wasn't in class when I started teaching so he hasn't heard my rules. I think it might be a good idea to let him know that I am "in charge."

Thursday, January 23 & Friday, January 24: SNOW DAYS

Monday, January 27: Snow Day

Tuesday, January 28 T
The last few days have been a nice little unplanned vacation for me. I got a terrible cold on Wednesday night. I am still not feeling very well. Although my voice was hoarse and it was hard for me to talk, I taught three classes today. Additionally, we had a two-hour delay. Needless to say, it has been an interesting day for me!

We discussed predicate nouns and adjectives again. Last Wednesday, I felt that the students weren't "getting it." Over the weekend, I did some research and more lesson planning on the topic. I wanted to find some alternative ways to explain this concept to them. I ended up diagramming a few sentences for them so that the classes could understand the relationship between the simple subject and the predicate noun or adjective. We did several simple sentences like, "The dog seems hot." After a few examples, they didn't seem to be troubled by the simple sentences. Whenever I began to add prepositional phrases, adjectives, and appositives, the sentences increased in complexity. Initially, they became confused. I continued to diagram the sentences. This seemed to help them understand the difference between the main parts of the sentence and the descriptors. Toward the end of class, everyone that I called upon got the correct answer. I am going to give them a quiz on this topic tomorrow. We'll see how they do.

I had my first behavior challenge today. Two girls sit directly in front of the podium. Mrs. L. told me that both girls have bad attitudes about school. Today those attitudes reared their ugly heads. One girl said, "I hate this class." Then, the other girl said, "I so much don't want to be here." The first time I ignored it. The second time I gave them the "evil eye" and they stopped for a few minutes. Then, it started up again. I told the R. to keep her "comments to herself" quietly, just loud enough for her and W. to hear. Again, the comments stopped for a few minutes. After they were given an assignment, both girls began to talk quietly again. I was mad but I kept my cool. I asked my mentor if I could move them. She said, "Yes. They've been asking for it for awhile." The talkers were separated and all was right with the classroom. I think the two of them are mad about it. I guess they will get over it!

Wednesday, January 29
We had another two-hour delay this morning. The schedule was switched around so I only taught third period today. We reviewed action verbs, linking verbs, tense, and predicate nouns and adjectives. Following the review the class took a quiz. I was pleased with the results. Everyone passed!

I have a challenging situation that I need to address in my lesson plans for the remainder of this week. Because I have had them everyday that I have taught, third period is far ahead of my other two classes. I hate to do it, but on Friday, I am going to give them some in class time to complete grammar exercises and to work on their short stories. I hope that I can play "catch up" with periods 5 and 6. Everybody will be on the same page on Monday (as long as it doesn't snow!)

The principal saw me in the hall today. He told me that he has been hearing "good things" about my teaching! His comment made me feel good! I am anxious to get my first evaluation completed. I want to get some solid feedback on what I am doing wrong/ right. Tomorrow will be here soon enough.

Thursday, January 30
Today my classes worked on their short story projects for the first time. Period Three began their first draft while Periods Five and Six completed their initial invention activity. It appeared to me that the students enjoyed the class. Writing is something that they don't do much of in their English class. At first this was kind of strange to me. Upon further investigation, I found out that the students do a lot of essay writing in their reading class. It appears that the Language Arts requirements are split between the two subjects. I suppose that this leaves Mrs. L to teach the grammatical aspects of the curriculum and Mrs. W to work on the reading and writing skills. If I were the grammar marm, I don't know how I would feel about this arrangement. Although absolutely essential, I think grammar is the least interesting part of Language Arts. When I was in school, just knowing that we wouldn't spend every English class talking about verbs or prepositional phrases helped me "to get through" until we would begin to discuss poetry or read a Shakespeare play. I am afraid that the students might hate English class because of this split and feel that English is boring and dry. Another issue with this arrangement is that it could lead students to believe that learning grammar isn't a part of the reading or writing process. I feel that the division could leave students compartmentalizing grammar, reading, and writing rather than seeing how these subdivisions should work together. Additionally, in my English methods class, I was taught to teach grammar lessons within a discussion of a novel or discuss writing and grammar issues at the same time. The arrangement here makes such an curricula impossible without stepping on someone's toes. I am glad that I decided to do a writing project with the students. Hopefully, it will give the students a glimpse into how fun it can be to write!

Friday, January 30
If I don't learn anything else from my experience here at the Middle School, I know that I will have mastered the art of being flexible. Today was "Job Shadowing Day." The students were excused from school as long as they had a permission sheet signed by a local business stating they had spent the day working with a willing mentor. When I first heard about this activity, it sounded like a good idea, especially for students in an area like Carter County, where only a few go to college or to the military.

I began to have doubts about the positive effects of "Job Shadowing Day" whenever I arrived on Friday morning. I was running a bit late, arriving at 7:25 instead of my normal 7:15. I expected to be caught in the morning traffic jam but was not. As a matter of fact, there were surprisingly few cars in the parking lots. My first thought was that school had been canceled again. I went inside and found the cafeteria, normally bustling with noisy student activity, was half-empty. I signed in and went to the classroom. I was shocked whenever 7/24 students were in homeroom. Several teachers came into my room and said that attendance was down in other classes as well. During first period, there were four students in class. Second period was a bit better. The rest of the day didn't hold much promise. Of course, I had planned on playing catch up with 5th and 6th periods today and (of course) it appeared that once again, my plans weren't going to come to fruition. I did give a quiz to 5th period because only seven of them were gone. However, 3rd and 6th Periods each had less than five people.

I decided to show a movie during class. Thinking on my feet, I quickly constructed an extra credit activity that basically reinforced the plot information that we had discussed yesterday. I had the students detail events in the plot of the movie, " Where the Red Fern Grows." They listed characters and some traits, described setting and time periods, and identified plot conflicts and resolutions. By adding some structure and connection to the movie watching, I decided that it wouldn't be a total waste of time.

It will be interesting to see how many students have acceptable excuses completed from Friday. I have a feeling that many of them just "laid out" for the day. The voluminous amount of absentees also caused a problem for 5th and 8th grade teachers. They are trying to prepare students for a TCAP writing assessment that is to take place on Tuesday. With all of the snow days that were missed plus the absences of today, many teachers are pretty stressed out about the test. I hope that if the students do not perform as well as is expected, the administration will take the missed days into account before they judge the abilities of the teachers!

Monday, February 3
Today was a "paper grading" day for me. The students were in computer class all day. I got caught up on my quizzes and homework and got everything recorded. Additionally, I read first drafts of student short stories. Many of them were quite good. It is amazing to me how much of a difference reading makes in a child's schoolwork and the ability to think creatively, in general. The students that I would classify as readers seemed to really have a grasp of characterization and plot development. They also used more advanced vocabulary words.

It would be an interesting action research project to sort the papers into two stacks, my guesses for readers and non-readers. Then, I would administer a survey, asking the students how many books they have read over the past month. I am confident that I could correctly classify a rather high percentage of readers and non-readers.

As I was reading their stories, I left a few general comments for the students to work on the next time we are able to write. Although I wanted to, I didn't correct too many style errors and simply placed an "x" at the end of a sentence where a word was spelled incorrectly. It doesn't do them any good if I correct their work. They need to do it themselves. I also left some ideas for plot development if they appeared to need it.

Tuesday, February 4
I went to my first parent/ teacher conferences tonight. My mentor told me that we wouldn't see any student's parents who needed to be there and she was absolutely correct. We didn't talk to any parents who needed to visit Mrs. L. Apparently, the parents of students who are getting Ds and Fs are sent a letter stating the child's grade and that they need to come in to talk to the instructor. Mrs. L. said that sometimes parents of these students are working and cannot come. However, she believes that, in many cases, the parents just don't care. If this is true, I guess the students have little to no motivation to care either.

I did get to meet about 15 sets of parents. All of them were very nice and easy to talk to. I suppose that this wouldn't be the case if I had to give a parent bad news about their son or daughter's grades. One couple encouraged me to continue in my education and "follow my dreams." Another parent told me that their son was actually excited about English class because we were doing some different things that "challenged him." Their comments made me feel good!

Wednesday, February 5
It appears that the behavior problem that I was having last week with R. and W. has cleared up. They have ceased to seeth at me and are participating in class without sighs and a lot of drama. They asked if W. could move back but I told them that this was impossible. I know the chatting would start again. I hate the fact that I have to be a "meanie." I would love to be friendly and permissive with these students but then, we would never get anything done.

During 6th period, a club was selling baked goods from a cart. They were going from class to class hawking their wears. I allowed the students to buy some treats from the cart. They got excited and said, "Mrs. L wouldn't let us do that!" I found out why Mrs. L. wouldn't have let them participate. They began to get out of control. I had a difficult time getting the students to focus on their class work. I ended up abandoning the lecture I had planned and just gave them some seatwork to complete before class was up.

I guess the moral of the story is that I gave them an inch and they took a mile. It is unfortunate, but from now on, I will not allow that class to participate in any of those activities. This type of "during class selling" seems to occur rather frequently at that school. Every Friday afternoon, they bring around a soda cart and interrupt class, asking if anyone wants to buy soda. I have a big problem with these interruptions. In my opinion, selling should be done before and after school and during lunch. It's hard to understand why this is allowed when instructional time is so limited to begin with.

Thursday, February 6:
We got out today at 11:30 because of a possible snowstorm. The students began to go to lunch during 3rd period. I didn't do any teaching today. After an early dismissial is anounced, forget it.

Friday, February 7- Wednesday, February 12: Snow Days!

Posted by wendysimmons0 at 4:43 PM EST

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