Friday, December 08, 2006

With winter break fast-approaching (and not a moment too soon), we were asked to write a reflection on our first semester of teaching.

I am currently laying in my bed, having taken my first sick day off from school. I was trying to make it the entire year without missing a day, but this cold just knocked me on my ass. I came home early from school yesterday and then, just about a half hour ago, decided to stay home today. I probably should have taken yesterday off, too. I was reading with the kids in first period and started mispronouncing the words like a drunken sailor and losing my train of thought as I was teaching. In this sense, my performance in class yesterday morning was not unlike a certain American president. At around 11:30, my school’s angelic, motherly secretary said, “go home, Mr. Ewing.” And that’s what I did, regretting the decision the entire way home (with a stop at Walgreen’s, where the girl at the counter had no idea what ginger ale is. Other things I did yesterday: read a solid chunk of the last third of All the King’s Men; watched an overrated documentary called My Architect, which deals with the relationship between Louis Kahn and his illegitimate son; completed a take-home test for a grad school class; slept about three hours on my favorite couch at home; swore at Theo for signing Julio Lugo to a four year deal; defended same boy-wonder GM for signing the wrong outfielder named JD to an overblown deal (he’ll be a great 5th bat in the lineup); explained to my roommates what a fluffernutter is; missed my parents).

I sometimes feel like less of a Teacher Corps member because my situation is so much better than my peers’, especially those who are teaching in the Delta. My school is clean. My administration is supportive and kind. These two factors, though seemingly small, make my job measurably more enjoyable. Basically, they make sure that I can teach with little getting in my way.

At the same time, I know I face issues that my peers do not. Many of my students are on the bus nearly an hour before they get to school in the morning. This means two things. First, they seem to be more tired in the classroom, and on some days I cannot blame them. I hated riding on the bus to school in the morning, and my ride was never more than twenty minutes. Second, this means that students cannot easily get home after school if they miss the afternoon busses (which depart RHS about seven minutes after the final bell has rung). As a result, almost none of my students stay for extra help, although I offer it every single day after school. The handful who do come in for extra help are there because they are waiting to get on a bus to go to an away basketball game, or waiting for band practice to begin. I had always imagined that when I became a teacher, I would stay in my classroom after school and offer help to students, because I truly believe the best learning can happen in an 1-on-1 environment. I am quite frustrated when, afternoon upon afternoon, I am greeted by an empty classroom.

I am afraid that I am not a very good teacher. When a student does not understand a concept, I try to patiently explain it to him, using as many cultural and interdisciplinary reference points as possible, but in my head I am thinking, “kid, this is so easy. How the hell do you not understand this?” Though I try all I can to not let that frustration show, I sometimes fear that my students can recognize it in my eyes.

When my students peer-review essays in class, I make them fill out a sheet that asks two basic questions, among others: “What did you do well?” and “Where could you improve?” I suppose that I should apply the same concept to my own teaching, so here goes…

What I have done well.

  1. I can connect with my students. For the most part, they seem to like and trust me. My roommates and I commonly discuss how great our lives would be if all we had to do all day was hang out with the kids, rather than teaching them. Unfortunately, the job description requires a little more than friendly conversation and mentoring.
  2. I have presented myself in a way that allows my coworkers and superiors to like me. I know that my principal and his staff truly do like me and know that I am putting forth my best effort each and every day. Additionally, a few people at the district office have noticed and commended my teaching.
  3. I do a solid job connecting classroom topics to experiences my students have had outside of school.

Where I need to improve.

  1. Use my position to better motivate my students. In all honesty, I still have no idea how to do this, though I am sure it closely related to #8 below.
  2. Become more organized and more reliable in returning work to students in a timely manner. Additionally, I need to take more time with student work and let the kids know exactly how they can improve.
  3. Give my students more individualized attention.
  4. Make my students write more formal essays.
  5. Have more patience with my students.
  6. Be a better, more consistent, and more fair disciplinarian. Basically, I let too many things slide, to the point where certain students are disrupting the learning of their peers through their misbehavior.
  7. Have better contact with the parents of my students. Although I feel I am relatively good at this, I do not look forward to parent-teacher conferences because I fear those parents will note a gaping hole in my strategy or abilities. Perhaps this fear is well-founded in the sense that my subconscious recognizes numerous fatal flaws in my teaching and personality.
  8. Better define goals for each unit and lesson. The students need a peak towards which they can climb, and I sometimes feel I am not giving them this opportunity. Just pushing them to succeed because they “need to do well on the state test” is not nearly enough, and is probably irresponsible.
  9. Become more of an adult in all facets of my life: how I teach, how I spend my free time, how I approach my relationships with other people, how I define my overall goals.

The above list is by no means exhaustive. There are a hundred – a thousand – things that I need to improve. However, I suppose that I need to start with just a handful and focus on those. To narrow my list even more, I want to focus on numbers 6, 8, and 9. They are all important, but those three goals offer the greatest opportunity for improvement and will have the greatest effect on my classroom.

In short, right now I feel like I am passing. As the sign that I hung in my room says, “Passing is not Good Enough.” I should certainly hold myself to the same standards I use to measure my students.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

just as an fyi..a state senator from Cambridge recently submitted a bill to "outlaw" fluffernutters from school cafeterias in MA. His reason: there is no nutritional value to Fluff. It was soundly defeated!

1:30 PM  
Blogger dd adams said...

studly - felt like deja vu reading your blog ... i could have sworn i had heard it somewhere before ...

lol, who the hell didnt know what a fluffernutter is? i thought those so. boys and their hot pockets had the unhealthy eating award in the to-go bag ...

as for staying after school - do you tell kids, i always do this to the side one-on-one, that if they stay you will get/give them a ride home ... if you are willing, it makes a big difference. and most schools in the delta service kids from a good distance away as well - catering to a central town, but also the smaller pockets of habitation in outlying areas.

i think #1 of your improvements is directly related to #1 of your successes as a teacher ...

saw a screening of 'my architect' while at williams with kahn's kid their to speak afterwards. not impressed by jr.

1:52 PM  

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