Posted by Bob Greenberger on December 14, 2012
For a number of reasons I have not written about student teaching this fall. A lot of it had to do with time. There was less of it this time around and there were other things to blog about. When they warn you at orientation to kiss you family goodbye, not to take a part-time job if you could avoid it, and so on, they are deadly serious. Somehow, there felt like there was more time at Darien but not so much in Stratford.
I spent 61 class days at Flood Middle School in Stratford, a very different environment than Darien. First of all, middle schoolers are undergoing tremendous changes in their body and their personality. Some could pass for high schoolers; others still look way too young for 8th grade and most vacillate between your best pal and your worst enemy depending upon the day or hour.
In my case, I was assigned to an eighth grade Language Arts class and had four Level 1 classes and one Advanced class. My cooperating teacher was an eighteen year veteran and very welcoming of student teachers. She met with me several times before I began, loading me with materials to read, preparing me for that crucial first day.
Along the way, I got to know some of the administration and the rest of the faculty composing Team Eclipse. We had team meetings three-four times a week so we could share common issues and plan ahead. Our science teacher always integrated our current round of vocabulary words into his own comments, reinforcing our efforts. The others, science and social studies, tried as well.
Over the course of the fall, I either had the kids to myself, taking point in the lessons, or had my teacher model a lesson and then let me try it the rest of the day. Throughout, I was receiving frequent handwritten notes on my performance, both good and bad, so there was a chance to improve. And I think I did, day by day.
Where I still need to improve is classroom management. The district has a program, Make your Day, so there’s a uniformity of how bad behavior is handled. Still, wrangling them proved my largest challenge and one that will require greater effort when I finally get a classroom of my own. Back in October, I think, my teacher said, “Oh, you can teach. It’s the discipline that needs work” which was very encouraging.
I got to plan my required Unit, which was teaching Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” which began a short story unit focusing on horror. That allowed me to introduce it all with a presentation on story structure followed by a piece on the history of the genre. After that, we did “The Monkey’s Paw” and then I took over once more to teach them how to take all the elements studied and write their own horror stories. My teacher was very impressed with how invested they became in the process, allowing us to devote more time to the project.
To prepare them for a trip to Boston, I also got the kids studying “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Longfellow and it was cool as we walked the streets and watching them marvel at being where these historic events occurred. Better, they recalled details and actually asked our guide to take them by the Green Dragon where the Sons of Liberty met in secret. Very cool.
I tried to get along with all the kids and some gravitated to me, and in time grew to trust me, coming to me with their problems or asking for extra help. While I tried not to play favorites, there were certainly some I was keener on working with than others and of course there were some where we just didn’t get along, which is to be expected when you’re teaching 110 or so kids.
Twice a week I stayed after to work with kids on a program called Flash. Tuesdays we worked on creative writing and Thursdays we tried to put together a school newspaper. None were my regular students so it was fun getting to know others and seeing what really interested them. One was a huge Spider-Man fan so we talked comics now and then, which was cool.
And yesterday it all came to an end. I received a passing grade and nice remarks from my advisor so now I can file the paperwork for certification. It is certainly an odd feeling no longer having to get up, put on a (ugh) tie, and go to school. I will miss working with the faculty and certainly miss more than a few of the kids.
What’s next? Once I receive certification I can begin seeking employment. In the meantime, I am hoping to do more subbing in Fairfield beginning after the holiday break. I’ll certainly have enough to do between Christmas and some After Earth work but do hope to get a little rest.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on May 3, 2012
I am waiting for my final grade from my advisor, which is not due until next Thursday. I am waiting for schools that have openings to begin scheduling interviews. I am waiting to see what my next step will be.
Meantime, the final three days were a rush of wrapping things up.
I finally got to observe a handful of conferences between my cooperating teacher and the World Lit students. I was somewhat surprised to see how many were barely 1/3 of the way through their 600 page reading requirement. It’s definitely going to be a struggle for some to do a good job while playing beat the clock. On my final days with the two classes, I got some nods, some comments and two hugs, but most greeted the need of the tenure with a shrug.
Monday, the 10th graders worked in the classroom, using the mobile computer lab, to complete their group projects. Then, Tuesday and Wednesday were the presentations. I wasn’t sure what to expect so was happy to have the wisdom of my other cooperating teacher on hand. Overall, they were pretty good and even though I emphasized I wanted to see creativity, most did PowerPoint or Prezi pieces. One group, though, did a nice filmed piece, using clips from Fahrenheit 451, a soundtrack and each member took a turn before the camera discussing their aspect of the book.
My final class was the final period of the day and it was a weird feeling. The final presentation left a few minutes left and I tried to lead them through a useful conversation but my mind wasn’t sharp. At the bell, the guys jumped up, rushing over to shake my hand. I got waves from the girls. All want me to come back and visit, which was sweet.
Tuesday at lunch, I was surprised with a cake at lunch and yesterday, as the final class ended, I returned to my desk to find an envelope marked “Our Friend Bob” on my laptop. Everyone in the department signed it with many nice notes.
I have been coming to Darien High School just about every day since January 2011 and have grown fond of the building, the staff, and the kids. It’s been a fabulous experience that will spoil me for whatever school follows. I have been made to feel a part of the learning community and couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
The deficiencies found during my student teaching have been addressed and I’m told improvement has been seen. But until I get my grade next week, I have no idea what will happen. Either I get certified and look for work or find a school to repeat student teaching.
One of my teachers pointed out how hard the job is and how much harder it has gotten since she began eight years ago. It’s a misunderstood and underappreciated profession but still a noble calling and I look forward to spending the remainder of my working life being a part of this world.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on April 29, 2012
My last full week as a student teacher has certainly been a mixed assortment of activities. The seniors have been diligently reading their books in World Lit Seminar and every 50 pages or so are obligated to write a journal essay. Every day this week I have been taking a handful of kids to the Learning Connections room or the library to work at a terminal and I would be charged with watching over them, but also getting a chance to do some more reading.
With three weeks to go before their rough drafts are due, the kids are grumbling about the amount of formal journal writing and reading required, wondering if they will ever make it. Of course, last year’s seniors probably said the same thing and somehow it all manages to get done.
During the week break, the 10th graders were to complete reading their dystopian fiction and share their thoughts with one another on Goodreads. Some were terrific, others hadn’t even registered. In some ways, by getting them to post regularly, it got them thinking about the book more than if we just met a few times to discuss it. Overall, it was a mixed bag but I think for the most part it was a useful tool and one I would try again.
Meantime, the week opened with them meeting as groups and having a final formal discussion about their books. On Tuesday, as part of the process, I taught them about how to outline a compare/contrast essay. Partly, this was a tool they could use for the remainder of the unit and partly it allowed me to teach a writing lesson per my advisor’s request.
Tuesday meant once more my period 7 kids shared the classroom with three observers while I worked. I would say the lesson went pretty well, above average, and there was a lot I thought worked.
On Wednesday and Thursday the kids researched the real world to find connections to the issues raised in their dystopian novels to prepare a creative presentation for next week. It was interesting watching even some of the best and brightest struggle while others looked totally lost, unable to articulate the issues let alone research them. The librarian and I made the rounds, giving them guidance, pushing in some places, hand holding in others. In many ways, this was revelatory since I was seeing the students in a very different light.
Another complication was that many forgot what the assignment was asking for so I had to restate it or have them reread the handout.
Friday we reframed the assignment to ensure comprehension of what was expected of them before putting them back to research work and they seemed to grasp it.
I also got my formal evaluation from Tuesday’s class and agreed with some of the points, violently disagreeing with others and it took a while to cool off.
Three days to go and I have no clue if he will pass me or not. An odd feeling.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on April 17, 2012
Eight days. I realized over the weekend I am down to my final eight days of student teaching after the break.
It’s been crazy and hectic as I try to do more teacher observations to work on the areas that have been identified as weak spots. And there remains a ton of paperwork I still need to complete for the Student Teaching program but mainly it’s been all about the kids.
This past week was a short one thanks to my day off for a visit to the film set. But it remained a busy week. Monday was a professional development day and the morning was spent attending four different mini-sessions as teachers explained to us things they had been focusing on throughout the year. It was interesting being taught by the faculty and I did learn quite a few things which was helpful. I spent the afternoon meeting with my advisor, going over some of the differentiation struggles I’ve been having.
On Tuesday, the sophomores came in to review grammar. We spent the period working on relative pronouns, playing a game where everyone stood working with review sheets. For every correct answer they remained standing, sitting when they got one wrong. Last one(s) standing earned extra credit on the quiz.
Wednesday, they met in their book clubs for the first time and spent most of the period talking about the books with one another, although I did have them provide a summary to the others about their book, the world, and significant details found so far. Many worked from their Goodreams.com groups, which has been a mixed activity to date.
I was asked to do a final review with the kids on Thursday and was somewhat stumped as how to approach it since they’ve been filling in the blanks for a while now. I asked for suggestions in the faculty room and was told to have the kids break into groups, writing a quiz for another group, forcing them to study the worksheets. Brilliant and it seemed to go well enough.
Meantime, the seniors spent the week reading and journaling now that they have begun the big fourth quarter paper. I sat there, reading Brave New World and was on hand should there be questions or the need to help them find other works in the library. All in all quiet.
Plenty to do before the experience draws to a close and I can just hope it ends well enough for me to be certified especially now that districts have begun posting openings.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on April 6, 2012
A short but packed week.
After having a good class to end the previous week, I got my written evaluation which indicated my advisor felt I still had significant areas of weakness so I spent a lot of time this week meeting with my two cooperating teachers to figure out what I can do with my time remaining to work on these areas.
As one put it to me, I can “walk the walk” but am struggling to “talk the talk” and in that, she’s right. I can write fiction and nonfiction with relative ease, educationese is stumping me so my Lesson Objectives come out flat. Sure, I could steal from stuff online but I need to have this stuff come tripping off my tongue as I prepare for the hoped-for job interviews.
Similarly, I still need to vary how I teach classes and come up with more innovative approaches. On Monday I was told I‘d be teaching about Relative Pronouns on Wednesday. I looked at the packet we were handing out and began thinking. I then started building a PowerPoint presentation to do some review and move them forward. I also decided to get things interactive and created sheets with the words Who, Which, That, Whom, and Whose printed on one side each. Then, after explaining the lesson, we had samples on the screen with blanks and they had to hold up the word they thought fit best. It was a little corny but it worked and if they put up the wrong word, we talked about it. Then I had them use prompts to write their own sentences in pairs using the pronouns.
I thought it went okay but my CT thought it went really when although when I repeated it yesterday, it was the last period before the long weekend so it was more of a zoo but we managed. I kept getting course correction notes from my teacher so that helped a lot.
Around the department, there was tremendous pressure to complete all the grading since grades had to be posted on the computer before Thursday morning when report cards were to be printed and mailed. I spent Monday through Wednesday reading four classes’ worth of essays and got my grades comfortably done. One of my CTs showed me how to drop the lowest quiz grades, which she promised the kids and then we looked at the final averages, nudging one or two up so they got the next highest rank. Other teachers, veterans no less, were up until 2 a.m. getting their grading done. As a result, the faculty was pretty beat so once the bell rang Thursday afternoon, many of celebrated by going out for a drink. It was nice just hanging out, chatting about school and beyond.
One student actually came to me to talk about his A- and I just looked at him and asked, “Did you learn anything this quarter?” He allowed that he had. I let him know that was the real goal not the grade so he wins and we left it at that.
How am I spending my day off? Rereading material to brush up on concepts and rewriting a Group Project assignment.
So, now I have a few weeks left and plenty of miles to go before I complete this journey.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on April 1, 2012
My head is spinning from the wild week it has been. The third quarter rushed up upon us and like many teachers, I scheduled papers due on that day from all four of my classes so now have a ton of essays to read and grade before the deadline late next week.
In 10th Grade English, we rang the down the curtain on Macbeth, completing the discussion of Act V on Monday followed by the quiz and a discussion of the Ordered Universe during Elizabethan times. On Wednesday, the kids did an in-class essay, using one of two prompts I provided them the previous week so they had time to prepare. Overall, I learned a lot from this unit and suspect should I teach this play again, I’d be doing it vastly differently.
Thursday and Friday were the introductory days in our unit of Dystopia. Oddly, it was also my final couple of days being large and in charge. I’ll be tag-teaming with my cooperating teacher these next two short weeks before she regains the reins after the April break. I spent Thursday discussing what the students thought made up a Utopia and if it could be achieved.
On Friday, I had a full court press as my two cooperating teachers and advisor were on hand to formally observe me. With my advisor coming in, I had tons of extra prep to do including tidying up my Macbeth unit plan to turn over for grading along with other documentation he required. Meantime, my initial lesson plan was rejected as being a little vague and a little all over the place without a real sense of how to differentiate the lesson for those above and below the average scale. I did a revision and raised the red flag asking for help. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on March 24, 2012
Here we are two-thirds of the way through my student teaching assignment and I feel like I’ve hit a nice routine. I am only periodically overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done and am staying nicely ahead on the planning.
I suspect some of the good mood is because I spent all week in the computer lab with my seniors. We decided to give them the week to work on their major third quarter papers and as expected, most wasted at least a period on things other than the assignment. Thanks to the synch function, I could monitor their activities and nudge them back on track. On Friday, I expected to see rough drafts so I could help them hone the language and given them the weekend to really polish it up before turning it in on Wednesday. In theory, I should have been looking at up to two dozen papers today but instead read more like six. Many were still writing so I could at least see progress but others were still revising the outline or revisiting their thesis statements. I begin to wonder if this was really the best use of classroom time.
Meantime, the tenth graders were racing through Macbeth. Given the schedule, we had to work our way through Act III-V this week, with two Act quizzes. As a result, I chose to show them Act V rather than have them attempt to read/act and comprehend the rapid-fire final portion of the play. Thankfully, I had access to the Patrick Stewart version which went over quite well. We also spent time talking about the James Thurber story from the previous weekend, and review the larger themes and motifs that enrich the play. Friday we discussed the play and someone noted that had it been written in the modern vernacular, she would have preferred the story. I pointed out all the great quotations that came from this one script and how the language is as important as the characterization and plot.
I was observed by the department coordinator on Wednesday and we spent quite a bit of time reviewing and discussing the lesson and the unit. He, like my cooperating teachers, appreciates my easy rapport with the students and mutual respect. I liked he noted my thorough preparation and knowledge of the material.
Unfortunately, I also dealt with the unhappy part of the job as I had to report a student for violating the academic integrity policy since he copied another student’s answers on a quiz. I had to speak with both students and fortunately, the violator owned up to the incident and I am now experiencing the academic administration machinery at work.
Similarly, during the department meeting this week, I was partnered with another teacher as we graded practice CAPT tests recently taken by the ninth graders. There were just over three dozen four-page written responses to a fairly wretched piece of writing, which made for mind-numbing work. Thankfully, there were enough truly interesting comments and god awful ones to keep it from being totally homogenous.
Overall, I think I’m getting the hang of this thing.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on March 19, 2012
Last week was another packed week as I find myself staying later and later, prepping and teaching and grading and generally enjoying myself. On Monday, I had my second formal observation from my advisor and while I thought the class went well enough (something my Cooperating Teacher noted), he missed some key details leading to a skewed evaluation which also continues to display a thorough dismissal of school culture which affects the comments. Sigh.
We are now deep into Macbeth and I am enjoying studying the analysis and preparing to bring it to the classes day by day. The kids are baffled by the language and most are struggling with paraphrasing the night’s reading but we are gamely forging ahead. I enjoyed working with them as we deciphered the text and found the themes and the deeper meaning, as I continued to tie the text to historic events, so they’re reading between the lines with me.
On the other hand, they find my quizzes tough. We’re having one 20-point quiz per Act and I am trying out different quiz formats for each Act. We began with multiple choice then short responses and in both cases, they floundered. The vocabulary for Act I sank so many scores, I dropped it for Act II because there isn’t time in the schedule to really review the vocab which is less important than other facets. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on March 12, 2012
Last Friday marked by 31st day as a Student Teacher, putting me just over the halfway mark. Weird.
This was an odd week thanks to the state-mandated CAPT testing for 10th graders. The abbreviated schedule varied by day and it took me a while to get a hang of things as I somehow managed to confuse myself now and then with which class was given when. As it turned out, I had all four classes but only three times each this week for shorter, 42 minute sessions. It meant a lot of revising of my planning but then again, I am told by even the most veteran of teachers that this is a common occurrence.
The first four mornings of the week left me alone until well past 10:00 a.m. but I was still at my desk at 7, meaning I had plenty of time to read, reread, take notes, grade papers and the like.
In World Lit, the classes continued reading The Kite Runner although the fluidity of conversation has yet to really materialize. My period 4 kids have more flashes of life than the other class and I continue to try and find strategies to spark something, anything. One class did do better than the other with a pop quiz but both struggled when I tried to get them to relate their experiences with those of the narrator in the novel.
The two English 10 classes worked their way through Act I of Macbeth and gamely read their parts but few really got the content of the dialogue until we paused and reviewed. It was also clear the night they had to read a scene for homework and come in with paraphrases, they were stuck so I scrapped some of my plans and had them work in pairs paraphrasing the soliloquy that opens scene vii. As they read some of the words and discuss some of the motivations, I am reminded they are still maturing young adults, so are not necessarily comfortable with what’s being discussed.
While period 7 has dubbed me “coach”, for whatever reason, period 8 on Wednesday started with them insisting I needed a nickname and somehow came up with “doc”. We’ll see if it sticks. At least they feel comfortable enough with me to even bother dubbing me anything.
My cooperating teachers ganged up and came to observe me on Friday, which was interesting to the say the least. We were completing talking about Act I and reviewing for a quiz and I had a lot I wanted to accomplish so felt I rushed here and there. It was also more than a little nerve-wracking to have teacher flanking me in the back corners, scribbling away. The kids, though, were great. They were talkative, prepared, and had fabulous things to say. Their regular teacher was floored by their comments and demeanor, thrilled to see them take to the material and I got some of that credit.
Their feedback was incredibly constructive and shows just how much more I have to learn. Part of that is to stop and really focus on what they’re saying; praising the great comments and asking them follow up questions. We also discussed my end goals for Macbeth and that got into a higher level conversation that totally upended my weekend writing plans as I studied and revised the remainder of my unit.
What an amazing process this has been to date.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on March 7, 2012
Last week, I took over the 10th grade classes and finally began Macbeth with them. I was excited about it and yes, a little nervous considering all the time I had spent prepping.
Monday was the transition day, as my teacher handed out books while I took the class through a slideshow setting the stage. We covered Shakespeare’s career, the change from Queen Elizabeth to King James, how he researched Macbeth to find something the new Scottish king might enjoy and which sources were consulted. We talked about the play’s origins and its traditions including the theatrical curse about never naming it directly so some might have heard only about “the Scottish play”, and how to rid one of the curse should a mistake be made.
I got some good feedback on how to make it more engaging so when I repeated it for the second class, it went far better.
On Tuesday, I reorganized the seating chart, breaking up some cliques and sitting students in ways to support one another. Then, we did some anticipation guide work followed by having one male and one female student submit to having their bodies outlined on six feet of paper I procured from the Art Department. We then named out figures and had the kids hang them around the class. From there, we did some acting exercises to loosen everyone up and get ready to act.
Wednesday, we finally began scene one by discussing Shakespeare’s use of the opening to hook his audience. I showed them a clip of three different film variations of the same one page of dialogue and discussed the techniques used in adapting the script. Finally, I had my cast address the class and we were off.
To make sure we don’t lose anyone this early, on Thursday we opened with a recap and sure enough there were questions so we retraced our steps and then began discussing Macbeth as a Tragic Hero, giving them a worksheet to keep tabs on his development. I also had students find quotes about Macbeth’s thoughts, feelings, and deeds, putting the quotes near the head, heart, and arms of our life-size drawings.
In other words, so far so good. They were engaged, they were loose, they were having fun acting out the play and each day, I left the classroom smiling.
On the other hand, my seniors began discussing The Kite Runner and sure enough, despite having the week break to read, many had yet to cover the pages. As a result, it was a week spent pulling teeth and getting some reluctant speakers to step up and tell me what they thought so far. This week, I’ll be trying some other approaches to get them talking about the book.
Friday I got a break by attending a seminar about certification that meant I asked my teachers to “sub” for me, which felt weird but apparently went fine.
This is CAPT week, that is the mandatory statewide testing for 10th graders that impacts the entire school schedule so I have adjusted my plans accordingly and we’ll see how that goes.