Monday, November 30, 2009

Students exiting class = stampede

Goal of the week: I will set a schedule for my class.

Thought of the day: Clocks
I have removed the clock from my classroom. Actually, I did this about 2 months ago and it has done wonders for the class. I think I need to do it in all of the classes that I teach from now on. I have the times for when each class gets out posted above the area where I collect each of their work. However, the kids were stopping to pack up up to 10 minutes before class has ended. I needed to put a stop to that.

I find it's still a problem. The kids want to get out of my class as soon as possible so they can get out into the halls with their friends. There needs to be a procedure to stop this behavior causing a problem in my class. The issue is them getting ready while I'm still tyring to get some work out of them. I think I'll start giving the students 1 minute at the end of class to get ready. For my students in particular, this is an issue because they have to walk between buildings to their classes and some days it's raining/snowing.

For last period, they are always insane at the end of the day so let's see how this procedure works for them. I'll experiment on them first and see how it goes. I can have them clean up the room while they're at it. :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just keep breathing

Thought of the Day: Break couldn't have come at a greater time. I so need a break. I need it like fish need water.

Perhaps I'm a mudpuppy at this point. I just want to have my life work out.

Things that are working in my classroom:
  • Hot water kettle for oatmeal or tea.
  • Assignment calendar to record each day's work.
  • Student Star Awards
  • Calling parents at warning #2 for misbehavior... (up to 21 a night - ugh)
  • Attention grabber in the form of a Suquishy Ball that I throw around the room
  • Review Jeopardy for candy at the start of each day
  • Set procedure for getting the students' attention (5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - all eyes on me)
  • Student Behavior Cards - logging all phone calls home... and students get a call for anything they've done wrong... lots of time on the phone for me and it's all recorded for posterity.
  • Study supplies table - where everything is organized for the students. They have all spare copies of assignments going back for the unit, their work for today to be passed out, and spare paper/pencils for people that don't have any.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The joys of the teenage years

Goal of the Week:

Just make it to Thanksgiving.

Thought of the Day:

Apparently, my students don't handle labs as well as I thought. We were doing a seed lab for a bit of fun and the students haven't been doing very well with it. They all went crazy over the cheek cells lab. They were tepid about the potato lab. I thought that they would find watching seeds sprout to be something cool. Apparently, I was wrong. They were really fascinated by the seeds growing into plants, but not about the seeds sprouting under the microscope.

At least I know this for next year. I won't make this lab really long and drawn out. It makes no sense to do this when the kids are somewhat perturbed by looking at plants under the microscope.

Also, my students are really antsy this close to break. I, apparently, have enacted the Star Awards at a critical time in the year to pull my students back on task.

You just have to keep repeating to yourself: "They are 14 years old. They are 14 years old."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Return of the Star Awards

Thought of the Day: Positive Reinforcement

I've been trying to have my classes work without positive reinforcement all year. I realize now that this was a gigantically stupid idea. Most of my students don't have any form of positive reinforcement anywhere in their lives. They need it so much. They need to have a physical and visual way to "see" how well they are doing in my classes.

For students in other districts, their grades are positive reinforcement. When they do well, they will have good grades and they will get praise. Here, where most of my students have this eternal sense of "it doesn't matter - I will fail," they need some positive reinforcement. For students that don't get a lot of positivity in their lives, this is a way for them to stay happy. It has made a HUGE difference in my classes.

I have no idea what I was thinking. Apparently, I wasn't. I need to have my students get on board with what I'm trying to do before I try and do it. That is goal #1. Relevancy helps. Clear goals help. Accurate assessing of knowledge helps. However, without students being on board with what I'm trying to do, I won't get to the learning part.

I just can't believe how well my students are coming on board for a few paper stars...

Also, I started this because I had a spontaneous observation from my boss - the academic dean. That was really nerve wracking but the stars helped. Whoo hoo.

Monday, November 16, 2009

One way or another

News Flash #2

Oh, I just had a meeting with my superiors about my continued presence in our graduate program and teaching.

It didn't go very well. There was crying involved. I really, really, really loathe crying in front of people when I need to be professional. I just couldn't hold it in anymore. All of the misery about my failed sense of worth as a teacher came crashing out. I just didn't feel like I was doing a good job and my students were the ones who were suffering.

All of my superiors did a good job of politely ignoring my outburst. I think that made me feel worse and want to cry more, which is exactly what happened. I used to have such control over my emotions.

However, on a more positive note: my S.O. had surprises waiting for me when I got home. These surprises had to wait until after I had gone into the shower and cried my eyes out, but I just couldn't take any more people staring at me while I had an emotional breakdown. My S.O. apparently knew I was going to have a bad day and left me a really sweet voice mail and fixed up my office. I just had to let the air out.

Strangely, I have this sense of calmness about the whole thing now. I feel like I'm a criminal and I've been caught. There's nothing to worry about now. I don't have to worry about things getting any worse and there's a strange sense of stillness around that feeling. Either way, things will work out.

Academic Probation

News Flash:

I sent my adviser from my graduate program (transition to teaching) an email saying that I was seriously thinking about leaving my program. That means I was seriously considering coming in one day and quitting. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Things have been seriously bad lately. I feel like my classes are out of control and the students are not learning anything. OK, I felt like that last year, but there were a few students that were up to parr and they made my day. I'm missing those students now. I miss that sense of inquiry that shows in a student's eye when they are genuinely curious about something. I need that for my day to be complete.

Also, not having to fight my classes tooth and nail in order to get what I need done in the room helps, too.

So... I've got 2 weeks to pull my classroom together or I'm out of the program. I guess my email was just stating what they think of me, really. I didn't feel like I was a good teacher this semester and they seem to have the same impression. At least I'm justified in what I think. Ugh.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

State of Denmark

Thought of the Day: State of Denmark

My mother called me last week right after school on Thursday. They found something wrong with her heart and she was going into surgery in 30 minutes. I didn't have enough time to get down there before she went in for surgery. She wanted to call me in case something went wrong. Apparently, they found a blockage so bad in hear heart that they were afraid of letting her leave the hospital and they rushed her over to the heart surgeon.

I left school and rushed over there. One poor student had the unfortunate luck of running into me on the way out of the building and seeing me in tears. He was unsettled by seeing that, poor thing. I just told him that my mother was sick and I needed to go see her in the hospital and I was worried. I still think he was unsettled. He did say that he "hoped she got better."

This weekend, after worrying about my mom, spending time with her in the hospital, and going to a Saturday graduate class where I mostly sat in the seat, numb to everything that was going on, I just snapped. What am I doing? I should have been with my mother. Then I got really sick. I had one of the worst migraines that I've had in the past 6 months. I was sick all of Sunday and into most of Monday morning. I probably should have gone to the hospital but I didn't want to be poked and prodded by doctors. I just wanted to curl up into a ball and disappear for awhile. I didn't go to school yesterday. This is my 4th sick day this year so far and it's only November.

I've been putting everything on hold for this program for the past two years. I haven't spent much time with my family, I'm always running around too busy to see my friends, and when I do see people I'm so exhausted that I fall asleep. Last year, I had fun in class and I was happy to be in the program even if the costs were great. Now, my perspective has changed. Perhaps it's the drugs making me moody or the fact that I'm not teaching the same subject or grade level as last year. Perhaps it's because I'm not as fresh-faced as I was last year. Maybe I'm just trying to take my job more seriously and that's ruining what joy I got in being an unconventional teacher. All I know is that something is wrong. I think it's me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Learning via Projects"

Goal of the week: Stop the whining.

Thought of the day: "Learning via projects"

I need to get more labs in my classroom. Not only is this good experience for the students because they get to "see" what they are learning about in action but it gives them a taste of what it's like to be a real scientist.

I need to find some good resources to getting labs off the ground.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"To thine own self be true... or something like that."

Goal of the week: "Stop belly-aching." 'Nuff said.

Thought of the day: "To thine own self be true... or something like that."

As I sit in my room, I think about the last few weeks and what hasn't been working in my classroom. The list is a long one and I'm really not happy about it. Lately, I've been wondering why I'm even in this program if I'm such an ineffective teacher. These students have seen a lion's share of ineffective teachers and teaching practices up to this point and I don't want to be another name added to that list.

However, I remember what I did last year and how many students I got on board with the idea that school can be a meaningful thing in their life. I had students tell me that I was their favorite teacher because they actually learned things. When I see my old students today, they run up to me and tell me how happy they are to see me. Where is the disconnect?

My future in this program is not assured. My health issues have made it so that I'm exhausted even more than I was last year (as a first year teacher) and my emotions are all over the place. I've been considering leaving teaching to those that know what they're doing and going back to research, where at least I was competent at my job even if I didn't enjoy it.

I ask myself this at night (when I'm not dreaming about my classroom) - is it right to stay in a profession where you enjoy it if you're not good at it? Or should I go back to something I was good at even if I hated the tedium of it? What is my main goal here with my students? Do I want to help them receive a positive school experience and learn to trust themselves and their intelligence or do I want to push the state standards and succeed at what my bosses and overseers at my Graduate School call "closing the achievement gap?" What is the main goal?

I have had so many people tell me what I need to be doing and what I need to be focusing on that my head is spinning. Other than the nebulous "closing the achievement gap," I've been told conflicting goals from my superiors. Or rather, that how exactly to close the achievement gap is something that no one can agree on. Some say rigorous instruction and adherence to the state standards. Some say that I need to not focus as much on the standards because they're set up to fail due to there being too many of them. Others thing that getting the kids on board with their own education and realizing that it can be positive is the way to go. Then there's the belief that the students need stability in an insane world and that we need to provide them with consistent and fair rules to help them want to come to school. Which is correct, I don't know. I do know that I've been trying to do all at once and failing miserably. I think I need to go with one and just try to do this my own way.

Multitasking has never worked for me. I should try to remember that my greatest gift to my students is myself - I need to be myself because when I do that I love my job and love them.