Insights

Hello, blog old friend. I realize that a lot has happened since my last post in August, and I’ve been in such a whirlwind that I haven’t had time to sit down and write! This post is going to skip over some beginning things (I’ll talk about those in my next post), but I had such a fantastic revelation about myself today that I needed to write it down and look at it.

Important background for this post: I’m a teacher now! About 3 weeks after moving to Portland, I was hired as lead teacher at a childcare/early education center; the center serves families with kids 6 weeks to 5 years old, and I work with an adorable preschool class of 3- and 4-year olds. 

I had a meeting with LT today, who is an early childhood mental health consultant. She works for a child and family services group in Oregon, and serves the children at our preschool. Part of her job is also to do observations and feedback for the preschool teachers for our center. We were talking about goals and strategies for my room, and some classroom management ideas that I could use to rein in some of my more energetic kids.

My class ranges from young 3-year-olds to almost 5-year-olds, which means there is also a range of emotional and behavioral levels. Some of my students can be highly active, but know when it’s time to settle down and sit (mostly) quietly on the carpet to participate during our circle time. There are a few students who consistently need extra help to refocus their energy or attention in a more positive or respectful way, and there’s one student in particular who I feel like I butt heads with a lot. I have tried extinction – ignoring the behavior, so he sees that it doesn’t get him the attention that he wants – but he can keep it up longer than I can ignore it and still keep the rest of my kids calm! Removing him from the active environment (e.g. sitting in a chair if he’s too distracting on the carpet) will sometimes work, but he often works himself up into a tantrum that’s just as distracting as his negative behaviors.

He’s not the only child that acts this way – these are 3- and 4-year old kids, after all. They are still learning how to behave and react – when it’s okay to run, and when it’s time to be quieter; how to accept “no” or “not right now” as an answer; how to be respectful. And although he struggles more than some of the others to control his behavior, he’s certainly not the only one who is having trouble regulating physically or emotionally – I definitely have a  few other students who need about the same level of redirection and intervention as he does. But for some reason – there’s no other way to say this – he just gets under my skin. And that makes it hard to sympathize with him. It’s tough to dig down for that little extra bit of patience and understanding that he needs.

But today, when I was talking with LT about my classroom goals, it hit me – a sudden flash of insight, like a lightning bolt. It was totally unexpected, and it staggered me. It’s not really that this student is so bad - it’s that I look at his negative behavior, and feel like I’m a bad teacher.

Time for a deep breath. I found this thought entering my mind, and then saying it almost simultaneously. And as soon as I said it, I knew it was right. When my kids are participating during circle time, or discovering and playing during centers, and this one student is yelling or talking back or running around – I see that one and feel like I’m failing. If I was a good teacher, wouldn’t all 20 of my kids be on task? If I was good at classroom management, wouldn’t I be able to get this one student to lay quietly during nap time, or sit quietly on the carpet? Wouldn’t I be able to have a more lasting impact on helping this one student turn his negative behaviors into positive actions? I have been letting the behavior of one student dictate how I feel about myself as a teacher.

As soon as I said it, I felt relieved; a weight lifted off of my shoulders – off of my heart. I hadn’t even known that I’d been feeling this way, but somewhere in the back of my head, I had felt like I was failing. LT and I talked about it some more, and her feedback helped me realize that I’m not failing, not a bit. I’m a first-year teacher working her butt off to reach all of my kids, and help them to learn and grow as best they can, and I’m actually doing a pretty darn good job. And now I can do even better when I go in tomorrow, with a fresh head and heart. Without the pressure and guilt taking up space, I have plenty of room for the extra empathy, the little bit more of patience and understanding that this student needs from me.

I’d love to hear from other teachers – what “aha” moments did you have during your first year of teaching? What are some experiences in the classroom that helped you focus and improve your teaching style? 

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Devour the World

“I think it’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and build to a reality. There’s hardly a scientist or an astronaut I’ve met who wasn’t beholden to some romantic before him who led him to doing something in life.

I think it’s so important to be excited about life. In order to get the facts we have to be excited to go out and get them, and there’s only one way to do that — through romance. We need this thing which makes us sit bolt upright when we are nine or ten and say, ‘I want to go out and devour the world, I want to do these things.’”

Ray Bradbury, in conversation with Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke. Via Brain Pickings, by way of It’s Okay To Be Smart.

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Begin As You Mean to Go On

“If we want professionals to be confident, contributing leaders in society, we should take every care in making sure that the educational system encourages confidence (not defensiveness), empathy (not self-centeredness) and teamwork (not a star mentality).”

Thompson Penney, FAIA, 2003 American Institute of Architects President, via http://henriettaswift.tumblr.com/

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How To Help Your Student Teacher Feel Prepared

I mentioned the Center for Teaching Quality in a previous post, and how the community there has been a great source of advice and support. (Have you checked them out yet? Go ahead, I’ll wait :) ). One of the Collaboratory members started a discussion about mentoring tips for teachers hosting an intern during the school year. I was really excited about this topic – my senior internship was just this past spring, and it was such a fantastic experience! I really wanted to share how my supervising teacher became a mentor to  me, and why the internship was so important to preparing me for success as a teacher. As a result of my contribution, I was asked to expand my discussion post into an article for Education Week Teacher! It was a lot of fun to write, and I really appreciate being able to offer my voice and share my views as a new teacher. You can check out the article here, and please share your thoughts – I’ve love to hear them!

And for you recent interns out there – what experiences during your student teaching do you feel helped prepare you for the “real world” of teaching? If you think something was missing, what do you wish you’d have been able to experience? Comment on this post or on the article to share!

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So roll on, Columbia, roll on

Five days. Ten states. A whole country. A new life.

After a year of dreaming, a month of packing, and a week of driving – we have arrived in Portland, Oregon! It feels so amazing, and still doesn’t feel quite real. We drove into the city on July 1st, and it’s been an adventure ever since! We’ve gone hiking in Forest Park with Frank, who has discovered the joys of splashing around in the creek. We celebrated America’s birthday on the Hawthorne Bridge with our friends (and what felt like half the city!). We’ve eaten falafel, tacos, ice cream sandwiches, more tacos, and pizza – all local, all delicious. We’re watching Shakespeare in the Park this weekend, and Star Trek in the Park in August. We’ve discovered urban foraging – our neighborhood has dozens of fruitful trees – plum, cherry, Rainier cherry, pear, apple, fig, and hazelnuts; not to mention blueberries, strawberries, giant asparagus and rosemary forests. We’ve seen a dinosaur garden and a dog in a sidecar. And to top off this fantastic adventure, everyone here is so. darn. nice! Portland is just full of friendly, fun people – it’s wonderful!

Admittedly, there is one drawback to our adventure, and that is my lack of a job. I’ve applied to open teaching positions in the surrounding districts, and have also reached out to some local Kumon centers. I am hoping, hoping, hoping that something comes through, and a little bit stressed that it won’t. In the meantime, however, I’ve had some great chats with some amazing people – the Center for Teaching Quality* and Lisa Dabbs’ New Teacher Chat*. Both of these groups have been a continued source of advice, information, and support – I highly recommend both for any teachers looking to expand their horizons and have meaningful interactions with smart, insightful, helpful people! I’ve found so many ideas for lessons, activities, and technology to use in my own classroom (ahem, Portland school districts) – my Pinterest boards are growing!

We’ve made it through the first week of our new life here in Portland – and I am so excited to experience the rest!

Welcome to PDX

Josh, my husband and co-adventurer… excited to be in Oregon!

*You can also visit Center for Teaching Quality on Facebook here, and Lisa Dabbs’ group on Facebook here. And every Wednesday at 8pm EST/5pm PST, you can join in Lisa’s New Teacher chat with the hashtag #ntchat. 

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Philosophy of Teaching

“Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.”
Yes, yes, yes! This is what I want, this is how I want to teach. I want to open my students’ eyes to the world around them, and prepare them to meet the world on equal ground. I want to help my students find their sense of curiosity, their desire to know the answers, and help them develop the tools they need to find those answers. I don’t just want to teach the curriculum; I want to teach empathy, taking chances, self-confidence. I want to teach to the whole child, not just to the student.

The best teachers reach their students on all levels. Their title is ‘teacher’, but their roles are so much deeper than that – coach, nurse, friend, parent, cheerleader, guide. I believe that in order to have the most positive impact on my students, I need to show them that I care for them and support them on all levels. During my senior internship this spring, I had to develop myself on these different levels, in order to connect with my students and be a better teacher. I had to learn how to break down the teacher-student wall a bit, and approach them as a friend when they were excited about something they did; as a cheerleader, when a struggling student just needed a boost to figure out a problem; and as a mom, when one of my students just needed a hug.

I also need to show my students that they can meet me on equal terms. That is, I will offer them the respect and fairness that I expect in return. I don’t believe that students need to have the right answer on the first try – it’s okay to get it wrong. It’s important to emphasize the effort over the final product, because that effort is what will sustain them if they don’t get something right the first time. As a teacher, I need to help my students realize that it’s okay to fail, and show them how to develop the confidence and skills to find the answers. Students need to develop critical thinking skills and perseverance, not just for school, but for life. I am not only creating good students – I am hopefully creating good people.

In creating good people, as well as good students, the tools I use to teach are important. The curriculum is not simply the textbooks that the school supplies – I will use these, certainly, but I am not limited to them. Getting students engaged and interested in their learning is key, and that means relating what I’m teaching to their lives, to the world they know. A pencil-and-paper worksheet is one way to teach or assess, but it’s important to offer more authentic assessments as well. I want to go beyond learning by rote, and into discovering their education. In Language Arts, can students read a story with two perspectives, then choose a side and justify it to me? In Science or Social Studies, students could create an alphabet book with topics from the unit or lesson, using the text features to show me their knowledge. In Math, can a student explain not just how they got the answer, but why it works?

I am a fledgling teacher, and just starting to try out my wings. I know that as I begin my teaching career, I will try out different methods and practices, keeping those that work for me and making them my own. I need to remember to keep an open mind, and a willingness to collaborate with – and learn from – my mentors and peers. At its best, teaching is a shared profession, where teachers are not afraid to offer up their ideas and practices for others to use. Our goals should all be the same – to teach and develop our students into confident, curious, determined learners. I realize that there are some aspects of teaching that can detract from this – evaluations, paperwork, bureaucracy, even parents or administrations at times. Any profession has its frustrations, but the rewards of teaching far outweigh these. The energy, the satisfaction, of walking into a classroom and being greeted by excited smiles are what make everything worth it. I want to do everything that I can to create great students, great learners, and magnificent people.

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A Modern Resume

As I begin the process of job hunting, I have to figure out how to present myself to the world of education, and to my potential employers. I believe that today’s resume can be more than a static, black & white, 1-2 page outline on a Word document. I want to use technology and design elements in a way that connects me to the current and emerging state of education, and allows me to portray a bit of personality.

But – do principals and district offices appreciate this? Can they even view the finished product on whatever computer system is being used? I need to find the balance (and the operating systems) that will allow me to present who I am in a way that adds to my passion for teaching and my desire to be employed, rather than making it solely about the design of the resume or website.

My first attempt to create that balance is an interactive resume on Vizualize.me, which allows you to input your information and choose the basic style and format. You can view my resume by using the ‘Resume’ link near the top of my website, or by clicking this little button right here:

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