Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
So being a new teacher is a little bit more difficult than I thought it would be. While it is tons of fun, it is also a lot of work, and yes, a lot of stress. A lot of people say that teaching is a cake job, but let me tell you something, if they could just spend one week in my shoes, they would absolutely change their minds. If this job wasn’t so rewarding and my kids were not so awesome, I think that I might just loose my mind!!! There are a lot of things that they forget to tell you as a new teacher.
While many of my coworkers are very helpful and informative, they themselves only have so much time that they can give. I have been teaching now for 5 weeks and already feel I am so far behind. Don’t get me wrong. I really am learning a lot but I still have so much more to learn.
I have had many trainings already but still it seems that I have so many more. For instance, we just finished F.A.I.R. testing and I have 20 trainings scheduled to learn how to interpret the results! They can’t come soon enough. I have been teaching Readers' and Writers Workshop now for three weeks and have not had one single training on the materials. CRAZY, I know. I have read the Teacher's Guides over and over again, but I still feel as though I am not getting the full gist. While I am hanging in there and I do think my students are really learning, I can’t help but think that there is so much more that I could be teaching them if only I had been trained in the materials. I so wish more of this had been included in my college education! I plan to continue to give my students my all but can’t wait until I am fully trained.
This weekend, one of the things that has been stressful is the LFS lesson plans and lessons. For those of you who are not familiar, this is Learning Focused Strategies and the lesson plans are pretty detailed with specific activities. Well guess what - if you guessed that I have not been trained, you are correct - and I don’t get trained for another month. So while I am doing my best to meet the requirements of the LFS I really feel lost. Of course, I had training in writing lessons plans in my college prep, but it was woefully inadequate for what I am doing now. Although my Principal certainly understands that I have not been trained, I imagine her looking at my lesson plans and saying, WHAT is she thinking? I also wonder how much more I could be doing for the children in my class if I understood this better. I really want to be really good at this.
I know that every new teacher has her own struggles but I just thought that I would share some of mine. The truth of the matter, however, is that even with the uncertainty and stress, I am so excited to be teaching. Have I told you recently that I truly do love my job!
Friday, September 18, 2009
I would be interested in other Florida teachers' experiences with the F.A.I.R. Our 3rd-5th graders, like Courtney's and like others across the state, are taking the this new assessment on the computer, usually in a computer lab. When the technology works, it is a wonderful thing, but when it doesn't, it is so very frustrating. While things have gone pretty smoothly in our computer lab, today was one of those frustrating days. Not one child that was scheduled in the lab was able to get on to take the test. The system seemed to be down, and no - nobody let us know. That meant lost teaching time for both teachers and children. In k-2 the teacher actually inputs the scores as she administers the assessment individually to her students and our experience has been up and down. Some days it is exciting to have the information instantly available and others frustrating. Sometimes you can't get into the system, sometimes the computer kicks you off in the middle of working with a child and at other times, the test that you just gave does not save. After giving the same test to a kindergartner three times (how does that effect the results?) and it not saving, I closed the computer and quit for the day. In kindergarten you are grabbing little bits of time all through the day to get the assessment done and to have a test not save is a very, very BIG thing. I know it is a huge undertaking to implement a computer-based assessment statewide, but, oh my, the glitches (whether they be county or state) are about to overshadow what looks like a pretty incredible assessment!
Having said all that about the FAIR (and there is much more professional development coming about this Florida experiment) assessment is a very big beginning teacher topic. The truth of the matter is it takes years to read assessments and to see through the numbers to individual students. It's easy to get buried in the mountain of data that we get these days. However, these results early in the year can help to form a pacing guide and provide an overarching big picture of a class. The results can be used to help a teacher know what to teach a class next. Data can be used to help a teacher form groups for small group instruction and to set goals for instruction. teacher can learn to drill down to see what to teach each student next. Beginning teachers really need time to sit down with their assessments and go through what each row or column of numbers mean with a veteran teacher or coach. They need the time to see each student as a whole. This support can give a beginning teacher confidence. They can walk away from such a session understanding why they are assessing students and understanding the individual strengths and challenges of the students in their class. This type of guidance with assessment early in a teacher's career can provide the depth that will make a difference in instruction for years to come!
Thursday, September 17, 2009
So, the students left and I was on my computer checking my class results and I was stoked the second that I saw them. I could not believe how well my students performed. I was looking over the results and found that I only had 5 students out of 22 under 75% and of those 5 students only 2 students had fallen into the "red zone." I had 15 students that scored in the green - WOWZERS! J I will say that I was very surprised with some of my scores when I saw some of the LEXILE scores. Almost all of my students jumped up between 200 and 300 LEXILE points from last year and I had one student that actually jumped up 595 points on his LEXILE going from a 400 to a 995. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited. I guess I can't take credit for the gains and what they have learned from me in my first three weeks?! The thing that I found to be the most interesting is that when I asked the students that had gone up over 200 points if they had read over the summer, 4 out of 5 told me no that they had done little to no reading over the summer. My thought, I’m sure like yours, is how can that possibly be? I guess there is still lots to learn about this new Florida assessment. I can't wait!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
At my school we send "Positive Postcards" all year long. a "Good News from School" postcard appears stamped and in our box every Wednesday and the idea is to send at least one card every week. The postcard goes into the Principal's box by the end of the day so she can keep up with all the good things that are going on school wide and she mails the postcards. By the end of the year the goal is to have sent at least one postcard to every student in your class letting the child and their parents know that you are proud of something that the child has done. Teachers also send good news postcards to parent volunteers and others that help in their classroom. I can't begin to tell you how often a child has come in to tell me that he received my postcard and how excited he is. I also can't begin to tell you how often a parent has stopped me to say thank you. The picture below is twins who both received a postcard. They were so excited that their mom took this picture and sent it to me! So... Courtney, when you come home next weekend, you can expect to receive your own stack of stamped postcards that you can use to send to the children in your class. Let me know how it works out! I'll bet you'll be glad you took the time to write, "Great job!"
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Today I received my first paycheck and “WOWZERS” - I’M RICH!!! I’ve never seen this much money at one time in my life. I can’t even imagine having this much money at one time, although I guess I can now, because there it is in my bank account! Now what to do with all this money? Maybe I'll go on vacation, take the girls out, be nice and take the boyfriend out - HMMM! Oh yeah, that’s right - with the big paycheck comes real life - paying all these bills that I have never had to pay before. Sorry girls. Sorry Jordan. I guess my vacation will just have to wait. By the way who knew that having a car could be so expensive?! Do you know how much insurance costs? Whew! But, I’m not worried I’m rich, rich, rich. I’m not sure that I have even made this much money in a whole month before. I don’t know what to do with myself. I guess I’ll just think about all of the money that I can save for that great vacation over spring break. Yep, that is what I am going to do because now you can just call me money bags ! I can pay all my big girl bills and save money all at the same time. I love payday!
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Open House is a great time for students and parents to mingle with and get to know their child's teachers. What they don’t tell you is that it’s really a chance for parents to have a mini conference. Although the principal talks about it not being a mini conference night, it absolutely is! Open House is suppose to last from 6-7 pm but I left the building at 7:45 thanks to the mini conferences that are not suppose to take place.
I learned the day of Open House right after school that I was going to have to speak in front of the parents. Our Open House is done as a pod with all four teachers together. When I was told that I had to speak I was okay. How bad could it be? Little did I know that they were going to give me the two sections that I know nothing about - school celebrations and parent conference night. I was nervous, stressed, overwhelmed. I was still getting the run down 15 minutes before Open House began. But I did my best from what I could remember from our 15 minute conversation and my pod-mates told me that I did a great job. They may have just been making me feel better since I was so nervous, but it worked.
Let’s move to the positives and more interesting aspects of the night. The first parent that I talked to said, "I hope you don’t take offense to this but you look just like one of your students. You are just so adorable." I guess I could have taken this offensively but I decided that I would just hear the "you're so cute and adorable" part. I had three parents tell me that they were so glad that their child was in my class because they come home energetic and excited about school. That made me feel good. Since I have always assumed I was meant to be with little kids, it made me feel like I just might be a match for this older age group. I was also told by two parents how excited their child was to be in my math class. This really made me feel good because as a new teacher I did not expect to hear good things - especially after "meet the teacher day" when all of the parents told me how young I looked. I remembered their faces at the thought that I was not only new to the school but new to the teaching profession. Overall the Open House was a great learning experience and I feel that I really got to know some of the parents. Meeting them helps me understand my students even better. However, I do have to admit that I am really glad it's over!
Friday, September 11, 2009
From the Apple
Open House leaves most beginning teachers nervous, if not quaking in their shoes. It even leaves some veterans with a few butterflies. These are some of the things that we suggest to our teachers.
- Put an attractive sign in and pens close to the door or right outside the door for parents to sign in. Afterwards you may want to know how many of your parents attended and you might need to match a parent's comment with their name
- Write an agenda of what you are going to cover. Write it on the board or provide a hand-out. This will also remind you of what you want to cover!
- Your classroom and your office should be neat and clean - well organized.
- Post a daily schedule.
- Post school wide Behavioral Standards/ Classroom Covenants/ Class Promise.
- Make sure your classroom libraries are organized with books labeled by genre, author, theme, level, etc.
- Put a "Giving Tree" on sticky notes of things that you would like to have donated for the classroom. Parents can easily just take a sticky note.
- To stop from having mini-conferences have a paper for parents to sign up for a conference. When the parent says they want to know how their child is doing, just tell them you would love to discuss their child's progress and ask them to sign up for a conference.
Things to cover:
- Readers' Workshop, Writers' Workshop, Math Workshop, Science Workshop
- Homework expectations
- Planner (Home to school communication)
- Your Newsletter/ Blog/ Website
We have found lots of different and successful ways to present to the parents
- a PowerPoint with lots of student photographs
- a demonstration lesson where you actually teach a lesson to the students while the parents watch
- student led agenda where you have a list or flow chart of what the students go around and show and discuss with their parents - this is very stress free for the teacher, but you need to practice with the students beforehand
- video such as "A Life in the Day of a Third Grader" - another low stress presentation
- activity based Open House where you set up activities/ lessons for the students to complete with their parents as examples of the things you do in class
- teacher led presentation where the teacher(s) talk through the points to be covered (often the most stressful.
One of the things that our Principal always does so parents don't stay for hours on end is to come over the Intercom and thank parents for coming at the ending hour so that they know that the Open House is officially over. She then stands at the door and says good-by to each parent and child personally. I'm sure she gets her fair share of mini-conferences but she also says that she would love to discuss the issue so she asks them to please call her tomorrow so they can discuss the issue at length.
Open House is really a wonderful time to get insight into your students. Sometimes meeting the parent explains everything! Try to enjoy this experience and use it as a time of celebration of the work you have done with your class!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
From the Star
No matter how many years of college and preparation that you have, no one can really prepare you for what you encounter in your first year of teaching - especially when it comes to behavior problems. When I was in college I had lots of practicum work. I would go in, take baseline data, do interventions on a specific child and then take data on the results. I always choose the child that the teacher seemed to be struggling with and each time my interventions would succeed. As I saw these differences I wondered why the teachers always had such a problem with the child. However, now I realize that it is not that easy. The truth is that it is hard when you have 23 kids in a class of varying ages. It's hard to find the time to take data and continuously work one on one with a specific intervention with a specific child while you are managing all the other students. I feel like a juggler with too many balls in the air.
Being a Special Education major I thought that there was nothing that I hadn’t seen or couldn’t fix - especially in a “regular” education classroom. I think I had even become a little overconfident in my behavior management ability (remember I had been working with children one-on-one in my practicums!) By the second day of school there was one child that was jumping out at me. I had a third grader that just didn’t have any desire to do any work. At first I was not sure if the work was too hard or if it was a behavior problem. I found out very quickly that the work was not too hard. It was an issue of defiance, somewhat passive aggressive, not because he did not like me or despised the work but simply because he did not feel like doing it. In only two weeks I felt as though I have tried everything!
Let me start at the beginning. First I tried moving the student to a seat at the front of the classroom - proximity control - so that I could keep my eye on him, not to mention that I moved him to a seat that was near students who were more motivated - what other teachers call the "high" students. When this did not work, I tried to move him to a seat at a table where he could work independently. When this did not work, I started to get a little concerned because no matter where I moved him he seemed to get distracted and did not do his work. No matter what I did he would just sit there and look around the room - anything that involved him not doing his work. After all of my attempts I decided to take it to the next level. I called my mother!
After explaining the child and his behaviors she told me that I needed to get him to "want" to work for me. I had to use myself as the "external reinforcer until he could internalize the feeling and feel good about doing the work inside himself" (her words- not mine). After hanging up I thought, "Yeah right! I'd checked and he hadn’t ever done work for his teachers before. I had even talked to his mom. He wouldn’t do work for his own mother, so why would he ever decide that he wanted to do the work for me?" As I began to think deeper about what my mom said I thought “Hey that might really work” and besides I didn't really have any other ideas. So I began to think about all the ways that I could build a close relationship with him. I figured that the best way to build this relationship was to tap into his interests and use positive reinforcement. To my surprise this has turned the child completely around. He has now begun to finish activities and assignments. I also figured out that letting him work with one of his 4th grade buddies as a mentor has really helped.
So... this is what I have learned. When you have a child that is not motivated, you have to turn that around. You start by working on building a relationship with the child, using lots of positive reinforcement for what the child is doing right. It's easy to look at all that he is doing wrong. You have to work at finding things he is doing right! For some children, hearing all that good stuff makes them feel a little better about themselves and motivates them a little to give the work a try. Finding the right "friend" to buddy them up with can also make the situation better. I'm not sure this will work for every child and in every situation but it worked this time!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
As I reflect on what I will be offering Denise who I am mentoring this year, I feel sad for her that she will not be receiving the intensive support that Jennifer's beginning teachers are getting. How can I make up for the lack of an intentional support system available to Allen's teachers in Maine? It will be a challenge but reading about Jennifer's well-planned program I feel like I have many additional ideas for support. This week Denise will be observing me early in this kindergarten year so that she can see how we deal with behavior issues from the beginning of the year. Jennifer reminds us that early in a teacher's first year she has to get behavior management under her belt before she can move on.
That leads me to Courtney and behavior issues that she may be dealing with in her first year. So Court, what is your biggest behavior challenge?
Monday, September 7, 2009
So I got the job, but that was only step one. As I began my first week I realized that I didn’t really have clothes that were appropriate for an intermediate classroom. I am used to being in preschool classrooms where you wear Capri's because you go outside every day and everyone knows you can’t wear long pants in Florida - the heat is brutal. I am also used to wearing what you may call "comfy" clothes and flats because you are up and down with the students all day. As I looked in my closet to see what I was going to wear, I was doomed - no clothes and no money to buy clothes. “What am I going to do?” Well like all smart daughters, I called my mom. She was here in a heartbeat. This is when the tough part started because everyone knows that my mother is the NAZI of professional dress. She has lots of rules - NO BUTT CRACK showing, NO CLEAVAGE, and NO JEANS. Now I understand the no butt crack rule, but I am not going to lie - some shirts seem a lot shorter when you bend over than they did when you were standing up straight. However, now I do try to check before buying! Then there’s that no cleavage rule but what the Queen doesn’t understand is that when you’re my age and you have boobs, it is hard not to buy shirts that show some cleavage when you bend over. Let’s just say that the “Teacher” clothes in the ladies department are for ladies and they make ladies my age look about 40. No offense to anyone who is older because I mean 60 is the new 30 but I am trying to look young as long as possible and dressing like an “old” lady does not help - once again, no offense intended. Not only that but I look about 18 in the face. Of course you may be thinking, "So then what’s wrong with the older lady clothes?" Let me put it this way - when I wear them I look like I am 5 again playing dress up in my mother's closet! Oh and the last rule - my favorite - no jeans. WHAT? Is she crazy? I have pairs of jeans that look nicer and more flattering than half of my professional pants. And one more thing, Mom - those jeans with the holes are definitely in style. I thought working with all those young teachers at Chets Creek would keep you up to date with this generation's trends.
Now - about that "unwritten" dress code. That is true. When I started I was unclear about the dress code at my new school, but as I began to talk to some of the teachers I started figuring it out. Rule #1: You can wear your hair up (like in a ponytail), but only once a week. If you forget the rule too often, you will probably get the, "You know your hair looks a lot better down. Why don’t you try that tomorrow?" from the Principal. Frankly I love to wear my hair up and I think it looks nice, so we'll see... Then we come to the shoes. Rule #2: Heels. Let's just say she likes heels. You can wear sandals but wear them more than once or twice a week and you'll probably get the, "Oh, I didn’t know that we were going to the beach today." And yes, I did pick out the 5 inch heels and my mom did give me a hard time (because she thought my feet would hurt by the end of the day) but when you've been short your whole life, you've had lots of experience wearing heels.
My mom really thinks you should look like you're going on an interview every day. She wants teachers to look crisp and sharp and she probably will tell you about it if you get too far away from "professional." And probably the next day you’ll have that more professional look. I guess her point is well taken in that she doesn't think what you wear should interfere with a child's education. While we agree on the point, I guess we'll have to disagree around some of the edges.
Mom and I did buy clothes that we both liked and I have been approved by the principal so far, but who knows? As the year goes by I may slip up and end up on the show "What Not to Wear." Overall I am extremely happy with my new school clothes. They do look great, stylish, and might even be called “professional”. Now, time to teach!
Friday, September 4, 2009
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
From the Star
So today was the day - my first day with my new 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. How exciting - and oh so frightening. Just think about it, a Special Education major with an endorsement in Early Intervention and I have been placed in the "BIG Kids" class! And did I mention that I am 5'1" and half the students are bigger than I am!
To add to the pressure, for anyone that doesn't know, I am the daughter of Dayle Timmons - yes, THAT Dayle Timmons, the phenomenal Florida Teacher of the Year! Talk about living up to the family name and reputation! At least, I'm in another county.
My classroom is one of four in a pod with a shared space in the middle, so I sort of share my space with three other teachers. Good thing we get along. I do love my other teachers. They have gone out of their way to make me comfortable and have given me so much help and advice. I give them lots of credit for getting this "newbie" through the first day.
When the parents first came I noticed that they didn't even look at my classroom (after all that work!) They were much more focused on "oh my gosh - my kid got stuck with the new teacher." They didn't really say it but I could just see it in their faces. So... my goal this year is to show the parents and the students that I am here for them and I am going to make a difference in each and every child's success in my class!
I thought I learned a lot in school but they forgot to mention a lot when it comes to your first day of teaching. I mean I forgot to pick up my children from PE on the first day - probably not a real good start. When the students got back to the classroom one of them said, "Ohhhh, the PE coaches are really mad at you!" Oh great - making mistakes and my day isn't even half over. And then I forgot to bring the students' ID numbers to lunch. We don't eat until 1:05 so at least the kids didn't mind waiting. R-i-g-h-t!
I have a multi-age classroom with 3rd-4th-5th all in the same classroom. That was new to me and you're probably thinking the same thing I was thinking - how does that work? After just this first day, it really does seem to work. I will let you know more about how it works as the year goes on and I really fully understand how it all works! Lots to learn!
All in all, I had a wonderful day with my children. I was worried. Kids this age don't have the best reputation - I had even had a few nightmares. However, I was totally delighted to find out how wonderful and respectful my students were on our first day. I know we are going to to have a great year! Until next time...