Friday, April 08, 2005

Mine and Yours

Talking about teaching makes me happy. Talking about the job search makes me crabby.

So we'll talk about teaching. :)

Today was the unit test for English 10B. I had two and a half people miss the test today (one came halfway through the hour and took the short answer part--he still has to do multiple choice). The two that missed are two students who are in danger of permanently failing (they are currently failing for missing work). Only one student actually had to come in after school to finish the test, and she was the most recent ELL student, SHK. There are a few other students who are ELL, but this is her first trimester outside of the ELL program. (Actually, one of them--his was my favorite poster for the illustrating the chapter project... Really impressive and after I put them on the bulletin board, the next day Amy said, "I really like Chapter 20." She had him the previous trimester, which is nice. He also didn't finish the test, but he offered me what he would do to finish it, and it was acceptable--turn in what he had, give me what's left by the end of the day.) SHK's doing pretty well, I think, considering. She's passing, and once I do some grading this weekend, she will probably boost up beyond the D that is on School Center. There's a lot of work that they have done since I have updated it (which was only a few days ago...), and I hope that she'll end up with a B or an A, though we'll have to see... I talked to her after school about adjusting tests and such, but I also talked to the ELL teacher, and she said that you can offer exceptions for them, but often, especially in the case of SHK, they are too "proud" to take it, which is true with some of my students with an IEP. I respect that, definitely. At the same time, I want them to learn what they need to learn in a certain time period and be able to move on to the next level. I can't help but hope for these kids that have issues I never had as a student... it's not social obligations that are distracting them. It's so much more complicated then that.

Journalism class today... Last night I graded the articles from the second press conference, and I went over writing tips... I made an overhead of tips from their "mistakes" as well as this great piece from the textbook only I have a copy of, which is called Time to Write. I am trying to respond to what some people wrote in their journals when I asked the question, "What have you learned and what would you like to learn?" As I said before, some responses were kind of... rough to read. My mother wrote me a really great e-mail in response to it.

I hope she doesn't mind my sharing it here in this blog, but I think it might help some people who might give the same kind of prompt. It's tough when you get a student who says that they don't like your class and that they aren't learning anything. (I wonder what criteria do they use to judge this? Maybe that would be a good writing prompt... how do you decide whether or not you have learned anything in a class? We'll see how Part II of this writing prompt might go.) The first thing that she told me, which really helped is that I'm brave for having asked these students this question at all. OK, so I might not call it brave as much as not prepared... :) I didn't know what I would get back as a response, so it seemed like an OK question. The biggest part was "what do you want to learn", and I wanted to adjust the way I was approaching things according to this.

Anyway, here are some of my mother's tidbits of advice, and I take them incredibly seriously because she is a phenomenal teacher, and I can say this because I was her student (in AP Language Arts, 11th grade, so long ago) and an observer of classroom teaching:

-Things that work with one class might not work with another and vice versa (and it's not always the "worst" class that it flops in either)
- Be careful about your journal prompts--make sure you're ready for those responses (some might be suicidal, destructive, etc.--know the process/system/and know if you are ready for that)
- *Instruct them on constructive feedback* (I will write about this in a moment)
- Some of her numbered advice:

I think if the students know these things, they will perform better and learn more:

1) That you like and respect them and will do your best to help them succeed.
2) That class will be a mixture of fun and hard work, like real life. There's a time to play and relax and a time to work. If you work hard now, we will have time to do something fun later. Then reward them with a film or a hands-on artsy activity.
3) That you know your stuff, but that you don't know everything. You will do your best to answer their questions and find answers when you don't know. And that they have quite a bit to teach you.
4) That you understand that we all have bad days and you expect them to cut you some slack when you have one, too.
5) That you are genuinely concerned about them as human beings. If you can empathize with them by relating briefly your own experiences as a student, particularly if you experienced the same difficulties, they will trust you more.
6) If you smile at them even when you don't feel like smiling and they don't necessarily smile back.

One thing I will probably change when I start my next class... late policy. 10% per day is pretty generous, which I didn't realize at the time. Amy does 25% the first day it's late and 50% after that. Krista Clercx does 50%, period. My mother says hers ranges... it's tough! One thing that other teachers do... make it tough (like 50%, which is easier for you and not so bad for them) and give them one exception per trimester/semester/period of time you designate... so they can have a "late coupon," and most will use it (my mother, who uses this, says). Some of my students said, "What, you don't give late coupons?" Well, no, but I only give 10% per day, which isn't the same as half that maybe your bio teachers give you. Or nothing.

The constructive feedback is the thing that I will probably have to address next week. Having a mini-lecture on constructive criticism might be good. The juniors and seniors are required to take some kind of communications class--interpersonal communications, public speaking, advanced speech (not certain on the titles, but that's the idea I got from it). Anyway, Amy told me that interpersonal communcations, which she taught, includes that kind of thing... learning how not to make those "you" statements, which is really important in any kind of context. Really learning how to phrase something will help you learn how to get your point across and ultimately, "get your way." (By the way, this doesn't work on some people who are incredibly stubborn... :) some who are reading this blog might know who I mean! This is a good thing too.. for you and for that person... effective communcation in the grown up world, as well all know, also includes never ever forcing anyone to do something we want them to do--even if it's something huge, because we all want it to be sincere. Maybe this might have to be brought up in the classroom, too...) I told Amy about how I wanted to tell them how they need to know how to communicate in a positive way what they have learned and want to learn, but when I read in an English 10's journal that he really enjoyed the way this teacher instructs (me? yeah, right), she said something that really made me think--"If you're going to take those negative reactions seriously, you have to take the positives too." I thought BK was just sucking up, but maybe he wasn't. I explained his situation (junior in a sophomore class, black person reading TKAM, one of the best re-writers of a scene), and she said, "Well, maybe the things you are doing are working for him." And maybe they are. A great piece of advice--if you are going to take the bad to heart, take the good too, or don't at all. :) What is it about the human race (or people like me in general) that allow something bad to cloud our day? This is where that box of positive things comes in to play... I have it filling up, but it's mostly with thank-you's from the cohort! Soon enough I'll have student stuff. I may as well copy BK's journal entry!!

I have been so down on myself that it never occurred to me that it might actually be working for some of those 10B's.

I plan to have my English 10's fill out a kind of survey that will look something like this:

The activity that was the most fun for me was:
a. simply reading the book
b. overhead notes/large group discussion
c. small group discussion questions
d. reading quiz
e. writing a scene
f. interpreting quote
g. illustration of chapter
h. letter to the editor
i. etc. (which won't actually say that, since they don't like abstract but often need actual examples!)

The activity that was the best learning experience, least interesting, least learning experience (all of this phrased better, of course). I also want them to look at these activities and think about what previous teachers might have given them and what might be most appealing and least appealing to them in the past. Those were questions on the questionnaire they had at the beginning of the trimester (three short weeks ago), but I am hoping they might have some more information for me.

There's a pretty big range of learners in my English 10, and I find myself being more concerned about them then my Journalism class simply because I have a lot of impressive students in Journalism, and a lot of "special needs" (IEP, ELL, sickness, etc.) students in the English 10's. Right now... I hate to admit this, but right now, half of them (both classes) are failing because of mising work/quizzes. I have a 10% per day policy, and I was talking to Amy and asking why would so many be failing (which is true for Journalism too--there are a handful that are failing strictly because they didn't turn in work--if you turned in work and did it completely, they are getting 100%--so basically, lots of A's and F's). I'm trying to do something about it, too...

J and M who came in yesterday are still missing a ton, and I made a deal. If they turned in the packet questions, they would have an extension to Monday. Well, J wasn't here today (not excused yet...) and the questions were with J. I told M that if he turned in something that he had missing, he could still have the deal--the letter, the chapter titles, etc. He didn't do it. So now I'm in this position where technically, they broke the deal. But I really don't want them to fail. They just don't use the class time. They get things done if they come in after school, but not during class.

There's a topic to cover in the education classes... what do you do with kids who are 100% capable of doing the work but never use class time... I have e-mailed M's parents once. It might be time to contact J's. (Once I start picking whose parents get contacted, it kind of snowballs... basically, everyone with an "F" at this point, which is more then I would expect---except, they would all be passing if they just turned in the work. Oy!)

Jill said that her goal when she taught HS was to make at least one positive contact with a parent per week. That seems like a really excellent goal, and starting next week, that's mine too. I have a handful of e-mails... I need to follow up on a few parental contacts via e-mail anyway, but I'll see if there is someone I can call, too. Next week has the awful theme of contacting parents.

I have always hated the phone, except with a select few. Basically, my parents and Kelly and maybe a few other close friends. Even Ryan and I are terrible at phone conversations. So if I hate calling people that I like :), then I probably won't enjoy calling people for bad news. I have only made three contacts, and those were last week. So I'm not doing so well. The thing is, I wanted to wait until tests occurred this week, so I could have more instances of positive or negative or effort, etc.

There are 58 now that some have added or dropped. Amy said I could send letters if I couldn't get a hold of them by phone, etc. So I am thinking that after I grade some things, I will send some letters, and at some point in the trimester, I want to do one mass mailing (that she said probably wouldn't be OK, but I'll pay for the stamps--three sets would only be $27 ) that explains any updates on the class and a small personal note on each student. So-and-so has been doing really well on this, but this could be better. That's the idea anyway. Time and money might prevent me, but my original goal had been to contact each parent at least once in the trimester. And since phone calls kind of freak me out, it might be worth a couple of hours' of moving books at B&N in order to pay for the stamps for those whose e-mails I don't have! (Plus, students tend to erase messages/voice mails...)

I have officially made it through my third week.

And I have to say, there is so much more that I have to learn...

And I can't wait.

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