4.21.2009

Reflection

Well, I am totally done. I even had my Portfolio interview today -- the final step in the process. Now it's on to job applications and interviews. But before I go there, let me share with you my reflection from student teaching and my 4 years as a college student:

My journey toward becoming a math teacher formally started halfway through my freshman year of college, but the preparation began long before. From tutoring friends to student teaching, this journey has been full of lessons learned and major milestones crossed. Looking back now, I see those lessons and milestones clearly.

As a freshman in college, I changed my major into the education department when I finally realized that I was going to be a teacher no matter what I did; I figured I might as well get paid for it. I chose math education based on the fact that I always did my math homework first and I was taking calculus for fun at the time. There was no great revelation or calling; rather, a realization of who I am and what I am made to be. I had been a teacher all my life; I informally and formally tutored most of my friends through all of junior high and high school in most every subject. I taught piano lessons when the community piano teacher moved away. I had always found that I learned best by teaching and I compulsively taught my friends and family anything I found interesting. I was comfortable with being in front of people, whether it was performing in the school musicals, leading music at church, or being in charge of children at Vacation Bible School or camp. Not only was I a teacher inherently, but I always strived to make a difference in the lives of those around me who were my age or younger.

Once I became an education major, I felt more at home at Olivet. I could pursue math courses freely – for more than just fun – and could begin learning the ins and outs of education. My education classes were informative and enjoyable. I found a lot of camaraderie, particularly with the other math education majors. I also found professors in both departments that were supportive and encouraging. I began forming my teaching philosophy, relying fully on my experiences in high school in traditional, teacher-centered classrooms. At that point, I only knew that to be the option in an advanced math classroom.

As I worked through the math requirements for secondary education, I realized how much emphasis the math department put on getting the fullest understanding of mathematics to prepare me for the future. I took Discrete Math as a freshman and it was the first class that taught me how to think like a mathematician. It taught me proofs and truth tables and patterns. It challenged me in a way no other math class had before with its unique course material. I took two or more math classes each semester through to senior year and became immersed in mathematical scholarship. Though much more mathematically advanced than anything I would teach in high school, I enjoyed the challenges these classes brought and how thorough my mathematical foundation became. It not only taught me high level math, it also opened my eyes to the realms of possibilities that arise when math is taken beyond the elementary level. It taught me application for that lower math – preparing me for the inevitable “When am I ever going to use this?” – and taught me that good grades take a lot of hard work, another life lesson to share with my students.

As a sophomore I had my first practicum at King Middle School in Kankakee. Working as the only female and only white person in this after school program, I learned very quickly the importance of knowing how to interact in a diverse classroom. My teacher, also a black male, taught me a lot about the range of possibilities of home life for these sixth graders, along with how to keep a firm sense of authority. He told me to not smile very much and to work to gain their respect immediately. Though his teaching style was very different than my own ideas, he helped to prepare me for my future classrooms.

Though I learned about a diverse classroom in Kankakee, I learned how to interact in different cultures in Africa. The summer between my sophomore and junior year I had an invaluable opportunity to spend two months in French-speaking West Africa, in the countries of Benin and Togo. I learned French on the fly, prepared for the culture by reading encyclopedia articles and short fictional stories from West African authors. While there, I daily taught masses of adults and children games, like Little Sally Walker and Duck, Duck, Goose, and songs, like “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “Hallelujah, Praise Ye the Lord.” This experience taught me the art of pulling from your resources to fill any left over time. It taught me how to communicate with people whom I did not understand and who did not understand me. While assisting the Peace Corps in a camp for pre-teen girls, I learned the value of human rights and education. I heard stories of these girls being forced into sexual intercourse by their teachers to receive the grades that they deserved by their merit alone. I came to a truer sense of understanding of the prominence education should take in every society around the globe. Though for many people this would serve as a calling to bring about that education outside of their home country, for me it solidified my sense of calling to my own country. We have a good foundation of education, yes, but the passion and appreciation for that in America has all but died in our high schools. This experience, though not directly related to teaching, taught me new passions and focused my resolve to teach in America.

Junior year of college I took a class that helped me along the way as an educator, though it was neither an education nor math class. American Government proved to be an important transition class as I learned from my African experience. We spent countless class sessions talking about social justice, locally and abroad. In some books we read, I felt a guilt complex for not wanting to go back to Africa and stay. Through reading, discussing, and writing papers, I worked through this feeling and gained confidence in where I felt I should go. It seems to be a trend in the education world to have a call to the inner city or third world countries; however, I feel called to the rural setting. These students need a positive influence just as much as inner city students do. I am not opposed to reaching beyond a culture that I am comfortable in, but I feel I can do the best in a culture I know. I know the struggles, the poverty, the pressures, and the indifference to education that comes in many rural settings. I know I can use my lessons learned from Africa no matter where I am. American Government gave me an opportunity to define my calling and give me confidence that I am not just being lazy or that my calling is any less important; because of this class, I now feel assured to accept any destination as a place where I can make a difference.

My last practicum was one that served as a breaker of my teaching philosophy. I previously only saw math as teacher-centered and lecture-based. At Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, I learned that math can be taught as student-centered, cooperative learning, discovery-based. In this classroom, students were always in groups, working together through a lesson. The teacher walked around and addressed questions of the group as a whole, rather than individual. Each person in the group had a role to play to ensure the group members were learning. Students participated in hands on activities, while the teacher used newer technology as a great asset in his classroom. This taught me that the possibilities are endless – even in a math classroom. This changed my teaching philosophy to include a range of teaching styles, allowing room for teacher-centered and student-centered.

During my last semester of college, I completed my student teaching at Central High School. I taught Advanced Algebra, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus to students ranging ninth to twelfth grade. Central runs on block schedule, meaning I had four 90-minute class periods, with an A day and B day. In the advanced math classroom, I had a unique and challenging experience.

First, I faced a challenge academically. With Pre-Calculus, I was teaching some lessons that I had rarely used or seen in five years. Further, my pre-calculus experience in high school was lacking and did not prepare me to use many of those tools in my upper math classes. In my student teaching, I found myself teaching lessons on subjects that I had to teach to myself the week before. This was a struggle that disappointed me, but I learned quickly and my students never knew the difference. Because I had a strong enough general mathematics foundation, adapting my understanding to the more specific lessons, even if I had little previous knowledge, allowed me to go on with ease. In Calculus, however, things worked a little differently. Knowing that I would be teaching Calculus, I only felt prepared for that as long as I did not have to teach Related Rates – the dreaded word problems of Calculus. I had avoided comprehension of these types of problems through a high school year and three college semesters of calculus. Now, finally, I was faced with teaching them. I frantically tried to teach myself – to no avail – the week before. Conveniently, my cooperating teacher is an excellent teacher and removed even my mental block against these problems. I did confess to my students that I had just finally understood these problems before I taught it to them, but it had a useful effect of letting them know the difficulty level. They worked hard and showed more comprehension of these problems than I had in the last four years. These lessons may have shown my students that I did not know everything, but it did show them that I was human and willing to continue my learning.

Most student teachers are probably not challenged academically. Mentally, emotionally, physically, yes; academically, no. However, it was a welcome challenge to me. Still, the challenges came in other forms, like keeping classroom management.

My cooperating teacher, Ms. Carol Davidson, runs a strict classroom. Students know to respect her and she can calm a pending storm in her classroom with just a few words. Students learn to work hard and stay organized in her class, whether they like it or not. She demands much of her students, and she prepares them for their future in ways that they will not fully realize until after school. Picking up and maintaining a classroom like this comes with advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, when I took over the classes, I was constantly surprised at how polite and studious they were. On the other hand, because I was not nearly as effective with my words as Carol was, students soon loosened up and I had classroom management issues that Carol had avoided. I learned quickly (and yet too late) that it is incorrect to assume that students will stay “trained” on the rules and procedures of the classroom if they are not enforced in the same way as before. However, I can learn only so much in such little time. I adapted to the rules and procedures and management practices of my classroom, but the transition time was too much for a few students. I worked to keep the class the same and run it as smoothly as possible, and succeeded for the most part. Still, there were students who found their opportunity to shine, and I spent the rest of the semester trying to train those few again. Overall, I was blessed with a very balanced classroom, with both strict rules and relaxed conversation; however, maintaining that balance was the theme of the semester.

Along with maintaining that balance, I learned some other lessons along the way. I learned that first and foremost I need to earn my students’ respect. In some instances, that is done by sharing with them more about who I am and where I am from. In other instances, that is keeping well defined rules that are enforced with consequences if not followed. In other instances, it is rising above the situation; while other times I need to respond swiftly and pointedly to remind students of the respect that must always be shown. Again, it is maintaining the balance. I also learned a life lesson about the teaching profession. I found that every teacher must struggle with two things: the idea that people should always listen to them, and the belief that no one really is. In the classroom this is a struggle because it leads to pessimism and distrust of the students. In every other part of one’s life, it leads to a superiority complex and more pessimism. Spending the whole day expecting students to listen to you and holding them accountable if they are not, makes it difficult to avoid finishing off the day doing the same thing with your friends and family. I had to work this semester to suppress the thoughts that I was entitled to respect from strangers even though I spent the whole day being entitled to it just because I was a teacher. How do people who spend the work day telling people what to do avoid carrying that into their homes? Probably many people do not avoid it; I must start now to work against it. By seeing my classroom as an opportunity for even the teacher to work toward earning respect from the students, I can remember that I must earn respect wherever I am.

Though there were struggles and challenges, the time spent with these students proved invaluable. The conversations, the questions, the sharing of laughter, the support as I went through my student teaching made all the hardships seem miniscule. As a closure for my time with my students, I asked them to fill out evaluations for me. My university and cooperating supervisors had critiqued my teaching plenty, but what about the ones who were there on a daily basis? I used the Olivet evaluation form, so they knew that this was official and important. They went through the checklist and then left comments to accompany their assessments. The most common “needs improvement” mark was in the categories of “keeps students on task” and “maintains student orderliness.” This supported what I knew to be true, but it was good to have their opinion. Some of their comments were helpful, while others were just humorous. Either way, I felt they reflected the atmosphere of my time in their classroom well. Here are some of the highlights:

[See last post!]

Whether it was encouragement or constructive criticism, I greatly appreciated the feedback from my students. My time in this classroom benefited me greatly as I prepare for my future as a teacher. Going into the semester, I was not clear on whether I would teach right out of college, but after spending time with these students, I feel encouraged to begin my time in my own classroom. I learned an infinite amount of lessons to apply to my own life and to my teaching career; I found resolution in my teaching philosophies; I formed bonds with students and staff that helped to form who I will become as a teacher. After four years as a math education student, I am ready to become the math teacher.

3.31.2009

Finishing Up

This has been a whirlwind! I'm done writing lesson plans; I'm done with Illinois Standards; I'm done ever teaching lessons, though I'm still in charge of Pre-Calculus for one more day. They reviewed today and then are taking a test on Thursday. No more teaching! For now. =)

The most exciting part of finishing up m student teaching is that I decided to have my kids evaluate me. I gave them the same form as everyone else has filled out about me (Dr. Brown, Ms. Davidson). I've collected them all into a binder to keep. They filled out a check list and scored me on a scale of "Needs Improvement" to "Exceeds Expectations." There was also room for comments on the side. The biggest thing they counted me down on was "Keeps students on task." It's nice that they say the same things that I say about myself. I know this to be true; I know this is a result of me being too nice when I started. I also handsome really constructive and positive comments. I wanted to share some of them with you!

"Ms. Lynn! You have been a great teacher to us! You handled us very well and kept us under control most of the time. It's been great having you here with us. I wish you nothing but success in the rest of your life and I know you will do it. You have a great personality and are very easy to get along with. It was nice to be able to be in your class." -Pre-Calculus student, 8th hr

"You're so pretty it was hard to concentrate." -Advanced Algebra stuent, 3rd hr

"You did a really good job teaching our class. I learned a lot and I even had fun sometimes even though I don't like math. You were very responsible, and it was really cool that you knew all our names when you first started so that you didn't have to keep asking us our names." -Calculus student

"Ms. Lynn, I'm going to miss you. When you fist came, I was a little weary about you teaching us, but I was pleasantly surprised at your teaching ability. Most student teachers don't do a very good job but you proved that not all student teachers are bad. I hope you do well in your future career and I hope you find a school you enjoy teaching at! P.S. (There is a math opening at Central!)" -Pre-Calculus student, 6th hr

"You were probably the nicest student teacher I've ever had." -Calculus

"Should've let me sleep." -Advanced Algebra student, 7th hr

"I have had A LOT of student teachers, but I also have not liked any them. Ms. Lynn, you were so much different. You know what you're doing. You got to know each of us personally. You joked around with us. You know how to simplify what you were teaching to our level. I really enjoyed having you as a teacher. Don't take the 2's personally [on keeping students on task]. At times, it's the kids in here that get out of hand. I just think you should put your foot down a little more sometimes. Seriously though, you were so great. Thanks for everything. Good luck in the future!" -Pre-Calculus student, 6th hr

"You're everything I hoped for. You're everything I dreamed. You are so beautiful to MEEE." -Advanced Algebra student, 3rd hr

"I cannot imagine how nervous I would be if I had to come into a classroom full of high school kids and teach as a student teacher. Kids usually have no respect for those new educators. You came in and did an AWESOME job! I'm never sure what to expect when we get a student teacher. They may have their own ideas and ways of doing things that are different from the way the students may be used to. I think both the students and the teacher must be able to adapt and possibly change their ways a little bit. I think this was one of the reasons our class was able to go on without missing a beat! Consider that a huge compliment because I look at Ms. Davidon as one of the best teachers I have had in high school. You filled in and did a great job." -Calculus student

"Don't let kids run your class as you teach later in life. Just be firm and fair and honest." -Advanced Algebra, 7th hr

"The atmosphere was much lighter in here. Everything was laid back but we stayed on task. It was a nice change of pace. I hate this class with a passion but you made it enjoyable for the time you were here. We enjoy seeing new faces. We see each other everyday for years at a time. Thank you!" -Pre-Calculus student, 6th hr

"Will you marry me? -Big Daddy" -Advanced Algebra student, 7th hr

"You are an amazing teacher! I almost dropped Pre-cal second semester because usually student teachers suck, but I actually learned information with you! I am going to miss you when you are not teaching our class anymore! I have seen a lot of improvement since your first day! You have gained a lot of confidence. One thing to remember is that students in high school like to know about their teachers and have fun with them. Once you get that personal level it makes it personal so they actually try on their homework and learn. I do much better in my classes that I have that type of a relationship with the teacher in. I hope that you have a wonderful experience with teaching, make a lot of money, and find everlasting happiness! May God Bless" -Pre-Calculus student, 6th hr

So there's a survey of my surveys. =) Some weren't very useful as far as constructive criticism, but others were very helpful and encouraging. In general, it was just nice to get some feedback from all my students.

7 days left!

3.19.2009

A delightful interlude

So I'm sick. I almost made it the entire time without getting sick, but I didn't make it. I went to bed Monday night with a slightly scratchy throat, then went to school on Tuesday and had to talk the entire day. So, of course, I lost my voice. I've been surviving through my classes, trying to not raise my voice (since I really can't), and have been successful for the most part.

It's a B Day today, so I had back to back Pre-cal, Advanced Algebra, and Pre-cal again. I was making it through alright, but then I was starting to lose my voice more and more as algebra wore on. In the middle of the period Ms. Davidson came to the door and called me into the hallway. Standing there in the hallway were my two friends Mark and Katrina. They came to visit me in my school and brought me a Steak'n'Shake milkshake. They said they were going around to their friends who were student teaching bringing them a milkshake to show support and to give encouragement. It was so happy. It took awhile to get my kids back on track after that happened, but it was well worth it. I got to enjoy one of the best tasting milkshakes ever as I sat in the teacher's lounge during lunch. It's amazing what a little milkshake can do to perk you up in the middle of a difficult day!


Note: I currently have 2 more days of full control, and 3 more weeks of student teaching!

3.13.2009

Pi Day

Happy 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510 Day!

That's right; 50 digits of pi memorized. Just another way I'm celebrating this year!

Also, a pi joke:

Q:What do you get when you take the circumference of the sun and divide by its diameter?
A: Pi in the sky

That, along with pi(e) for sale and a pi sticker, was how I celebrated Pi Day Eve today at my school. Nothing fancy, but it was fun!

So enjoy your Pi Day!

3.04.2009

Related Rates

The day came finally. Today was the day when I taught related rates in Calculus. This may mean nothing to most of you, but to me, this was the day when I taught a lesson about something that I never understood. In high school I don't remember learning these at all. In college I blew off the assignment and banked on partial credit on that question on the test. In Math Lab when students came in with related rates problems, I avoided them like the plague. I've never understood these problems. I was only okay with teaching calculus because I was under the impression that they would be past related rates by the time I took over. Not true.

So what are related rates? Let me give you an example:
Sue is standing on a dock and pulling a boat into the dock by means of a rope tied to a ring in the bow of the boat. If the ring is 2 feet above the water level and Sue's hands are 7 feet above the water level and she ispulling in the rope at a rate of 2 ft/sec, find the speed with which the boat is approaching the dock when it is 12 feet from the dock.

Before this week, I would read a problem like that and cringe. No one taught me a method to the madness of related rates problems. I always saw these problems as a bunch of formulas and labels and numbers thrown together at random that couldn't be straightened out to make any sense whatsoever. Even over the weekend I tried to solve these problems but had to stop because they made me so angry. There are not many math concepts that I have a mental block on, but related rates is one of them.

So today I taught them to 21 high schoolers. As you may guess, I was a little concerned about how this would play out. I considered giving that class back over to Carol for a few days and then just pick it back up after this section. After all, that would be a perfectly respectable thing to do. However, I'm tired of giving up on these problems. I want to understand them. And the best way to learn something is to teach it, right? So Carol gave me her steps to solving related rates (which were ingenious), and I worked on them. I solved 3 of the 8 example problems (that I would be teaching) by myself. Those are the first 3 related rates problems I have ever done by myself. Huge accomplishment for me. However, not really enough, since I need to be able to teach and answer questions on all 8. And then answer any and all questions on the worksheet of 18 problems. So with some help, I got the answers. Then I studied them a lot so I could seem competent. It doesn't look good if I have to read off my notes the whole time!

I started my class period confessing to my class that I had never understood these before this week. You should've seen the wide-eyes. I knew that would decrease any appearance I had of competency, but I followed it up with urges to be active learners for these problems because it's going to be hard stuff. I hope they gained a little more faith in me as we were going through the lesson. I think they definitely believed me that they are hard. =)

It was a weird day, teaching something I previously knew nothing about. It's not like history or something where I could just study up and be good to go. I had to learn how to complete these and any similar problems. But I did it! I successfully taught something that I never understood before. If that doesn't say something about my teaching ability, I don't know what does! I feel good about it!

For you math geeks who solved the above problem, the answer is -2.167 ft/sec

2.20.2009

Time is passing.

It is. Quickly. This coming week will bring me my halfway point. I'll be 30 days into student teaching, 18 days into full-control teaching. Crazy. Here's some highlights of what I've learned so far:

1. There is a direct relationship between how much I sleep a night and how well I can answer my students' questions.
2. Always check to see if you've written down the grades before you hand them back to the students. There are two parts to dealing with homework: grading and recording.
3. It is extremely useful to be anal about being organized. I could spend half a day organizing my stuff to try to stay on top of it. I don't do that, but I do spend a couple of hours every weekend purely on organizing my stuff.
4. Teaching can give you a self-esteem boost. I have a pair of students who said they realized they can't do anything without me. They said I have to go with them everywhere they go for the rest of their lives because they're always lost without me. They said we'd be dawgs. =)
5. Teaching can give you a reality check. Sometimes it's tempting to get caught up in the desires to be liked by students, but then I realize how truly shallow most of their 'liking' is. Establishing myself on that is a good way to fail.
6. Though being liked isn't necessary, it sure makes it a lot easier to run a class.
7. I don't know enough ways to say "Be quiet and sit down." Luckily, I can follow in my teacher's footsteps. Though I'm not nearly as effective as she is, a look of complete exasperation is one of the most effective ways I know to get high-schoolers to be quiet (No one wants to be thought of as annoying by the college girl!).
8. Generally teachers feel the same way about other teachers, convocations, and school policies as students do. They just hide it from the students.
9. I'm a grown up. And I'm okay with that.
10. I don't have time or the energy for anything beyond maintaining necessary relationships. I've stopped singing, playing guitar, playing piano, reading, playing games, and all unnecessary cleaning and organizing. This is sad. I need summer.
11. Teaching should only be done by old people. College students need too much sleep to function properly to run a classroom and have a life outside of it. Probably people will disagree with me on that, but statistically it's true. If I want to get the 9 hours of sleep I should get, I would have 3 hours of free time a night (at least half of which would be used to grade papers), and I would never see my roommates.
12. Weekends are truly the greatest thing ever. Even with a huge list of things to do, the weekends are a magical time full of sleep and t-shirts and flexible schedules and fun times and friends and no peanut butter and jelly. It's glorious. =)

There's the short list. Time for my magical weekend!

2.07.2009

A Mean Teacher

My students say I'm becoming a mean teacher. They told David, the other student teacher, that I was becoming mean, even though they could tell I wasn't really a mean person. Some other students told me yesterday too that I was being mean. In my mind I told them they were being disrespectful and irresponsible and immature. They're trying to take advantage of me; trying to get away with not doing much and talking a lot in class. It's not going to happen, but they're really trying. The only thing that really bothers me about all of this is the fact that that they can see when I'm getting mad and am completely serious about them getting down to work, yet they still defy me.

Not that I'm used to getting my way or anything, but I am used to people responding appropriately when I am angry. How do you deal with people that just don't care if you're angry with them? I got to the point where I would not talk to them except to discipline them and help them on math if they asked. All the other students I talked to willingly and openly and with a smile.

I have to figure out how to manage this classroom. I think they should learn how to grow up first.

Ah, wishful thinking. =)