Sunday, September 25, 2011

Comments on "The Impact of Poverty on Education"

This past Thursday I attended a convention seminar entitled "The Impact of Poverty on Education" at Loyola University. The link to their website is here

There were several things discussed at this convention. The discussion built on the ideas of using more integrated technologies in the classroom and to make sure that students are learning to use the tools that will help them be successful in the future. There was a discussion on the importance of community schools in the lives of children, this was well put together and an interesting theory, however remaining common sense. It was nice to see this idea organized in a tangible way that is easily applicable and understood.

The most interesting presentation that was made was a discussion on the fact that "poverty has not caused the achievement gap" and that ultimately schools have become re-segregated thus making poverty a race issue. While I have no intention of discussing the race issue of poverty here, I would however like to discuss the experience I have had with the re-segregation of schools. This discussion culminated with the notion that the concept of poverty should be re-identified as "structured disadvantage."

In my classes I have 76 students. Four of those students are White. Another four of those students are Hispanic. Almost the entire staff of teachers are White, the principal is White, and the two assistant principals are Black.

As I have said before, I come from a town where there were a total of twelve or so Black students in my entire Junior/Senior High School. I never realized how this could be considered an issue, it just seemed normal. I am sure that in some places it is normal, central Florida being one of those places. However, even when I look back at it now, I realized that the high school everyone always considered the "bad" high school was the school in not only the lowest income area, but was also predominantly African American.

I believe that it is just as common sense as anything else discussed at the convention to discuss here that these issues are connected. Baltimore truly is a city that never really escaped segregation, the people who could just moved to the suburbs and the people who could not have been structured into a perpetual state of poverty and re-segregation.

I wish that the conference had discussed more of how to mend these issues, not just that they exist. Renaming and redefining a state of existence is not going to make changes. It might make it easier for people to distance themselves from the issues though. Ultimately, I really am interested to see where the community schools idea goes, or if it will realize that while building a better foundation for social development, it still has limited means of bringing in the resources to move students forward into this century.

But even the smallest steps can still take you forward.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Adventure Travelling...Because I'm an intern/co-teacher

Last week and this past Monday I had a very unique opportunity that many teachers do not ever have the time to enjoy. I got to travel around with different classes, jumping between different teachers and grade levels to simply observe and be a part of the class for the day. I took a lot of notes and here I would like to share the most interesting or unique events or techniques I observed.

September 15, 2011

6th Grade Language Arts
Environment: Students at large tables, reminiscent of elementary classrooms, lots of color and reminders on the walls, class job / student responsibilities chart, lots of vocabulary everywhere.
- The teacher uses a warm-up strategy called "Caught Ya!" where the students try to catch her mistakes in the warm-up. The warm-up is individual sentences from a story that will go on all year.
- The class only corrects mistakes in green pen rather than in red.
- The students are very interactive and each table uses a whiteboard to come up with answers as a group and respond to the teacher's questions.
- When the teacher reads aloud to the class, the students raise their hands and when called on, ask things like "May I make a prediction?" before stating their question.
- The class was well round down, with a few minutes to spare that was given to the students to chat.

7th Grade Science
- The "organized chaos" was well handled, students were allowed to chat a lot during the class making it their responsibility to get the information if they chose to talk. I noticed from sitting with the students that they are very good at multi-tasking and that they were generally talking about the material anyways when they were chatting.
- The students got very excited when they found grammar or spelling errors in the teacher's work. It was quite funny.
- "If they are working and getting something out of it, I'm okay with the organized chaos." I felt this to be essential.

7th Grade Math about:startpage
"Don't be afraid to bail on the lesson," if it's not working, it probably isn't going to.

7th Grade Spanish
- Probably my favorite thing that I saw done today was a disciplinary measure. The teacher has a chart with each student in every classes' name on the board. Each time a student is misbehaving, the teacher directs the student to mark their name. The student gets up and in front of the class marks their name with an X. If they get to three Xs I believe their is some other disciplinary action. Anyways, the point is that this seems to actually impact how they feel about misbehavior because everyone in all the grades will know who was misbehaving. Additionally, what made me appreciate it the most was that there was an incidence where two students were whispering to each other, only one was caught. Later after class, the other student came to the teacher to say they had been talking too and then went and put a mark next to their name. This ownership and acceptance of responsibility was very interesting to see.

September 19, 2011

8th Grade Math
- Today was exam review day. The teacher not only posted corrections and went over the test but reviewed the previous week. The teacher posted who did and did not have the homework from the last week for the whole class! It was awesome, I really liked the sense of openness and the forcing of responsibility on each student through the utilization of the other students.
- Used the terms "novice," "apprentice," "expert," to describe the students performance as they work towards "mastery."
- Lots of shout-outs: bonus points, highest score on each section, hardest questions, etc.
-Popsicle stick calling cards
- Everyone knows each other's scores, not exactly, but at least their performance, through a mastery board of each standard in the back of the room
- Each student did a reflection handout after reviewing their test scores and the test itself to identify what they did well on and what they need to work on and then to identify strategies to improve.
- When I met with this teacher after class, they shared a very important piece of advice with me. After an observation, when discussing with a teacher what they did in class, focus more on what the students did rather than what the teacher did and didn't do. This can be how the students responded rather than what they responded to. This helps keep the blame off the teacher and keeps them from becoming defensive when you discuss with them.

6th Grade Science
- Class jobs, positions, responsibilities at every table
- This was the only room that I saw that had college ever presently in mind, there are pennants from many schools hanging up above the students from the ceiling. This is so important to remind them of their end goal!
- Because the class is quieter the teacher has a container of "opportunities" which is a popsicle stick with every students' name on it, and mine and the teacher, and when there is a need to answer a question the teacher says "Opportunity please!" and the designated opportunity student draws a stick.

8th Grade Science
- Respond well to "the timer"
- Environment: Classroom is clear and soothing, lights off windows open, very few things on the walls, mature environment
- The teacher gives individual verbal reinforcement to students loud enough so that all students can hear as the teacher walks around while the students are doing quiet individual work.
- The Tableau - After reading a section from the story students choose a single moment to recreate at the front of the room. Then the rest of the class gets to guess what scene it is. It is a "moment frozen in time" to help the students visually remember the story. Afterwards "Show them appreciation please" aka clapping.
- At this school the bell rings every 45 minutes even though some classes are 90 minutes, during the five minute time between the bells aka at 40 and 45 minutes, the teacher allows the students to break and talk. The students love this!

I visited several other classrooms however I was unable to take notes on all of them. I hope that some of these notes and observations will be found useful to some. It was quite a refreshing day and it was really enjoyable to go see what else was out there. The most important thing that I got out of these days personally was that my high school love of science class was renewed and I have been convinced to go ahead and get my dual certification in high school science as well. Life is just so much fun when everything is hands on, I really enjoyed these classes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Inclusion Assignment: A very intersting set of articles and a little story

Educational Alternatives Connect the Dots #2: Perspectives on Inclusion
Margaret Roth
September 21,2011

Reading Assignment for Connect the Dots #2 includes:
Chapter 13 from the textbook
The Unintended Side Effects of Inclusion of Students with learning Disabilities: The Perspectives of Special Education Teachers
The Unintended Side Effects of Inclusion of Students with learning Disabilities: The Perspectives of School Administrators
Middle School General Education Teachers’ Perspectives on Including Students with learning Disabilities

Assignment: Discuss the different perspectives of general education teachers, special education teachers, and administrators in considering inclusion of students with learning disabilities. Which aspects of effective teaching practices are most relevant to your classroom?

It seems that from ever level of the educational process, from classroom teacher to district law makers, a different perspective and approach to the inclusion of students with learning disabilities is proposed. In these texts the main perspectives that were discussed were the perspectives of general education teachers, special education teachers, and school administrators.

To begin with, lets discuss the perspective of the general education teacher, in my opinion, the teacher with the most comprehensive understanding of how students as a whole, regardless of additional needs or not, interact and experience effective learning. Overall, general education teachers are supportive of the inclusion and incorporation of students with learning disabilities into their classroom in theory, however upon implementation have many struggles amassing the necessary resources and adapting their teaching style. The teachers involved in the Ornelles study discussed that their main problems were feeling that they were less than equipped with the knowledge of what to do with SPED kids (a term clearly displaying their feelings of discomfort), that they struggled with integrating student accommodations when state testing opposed these accommodations (calculators), and that they struggled with always keeping the student aids in the loop. Most importantly, the general education teachers have realized that by having more adults in the room and including the students with needs in their classes, the overall performance of students has improved and the stigma of “special ed” has been removed. In summary, the mentality of general education teachers seems to be that if you can give a student to make him successful and make him understand the big picture, he should be allowed these resources and included in the general education classroom. More importantly, it seems that general education teachers agree that by making these types of accommodations, they have been forced to push the boundaries of their own conventional ideologies and develop more interesting and engaging lessons for all of their students and ultimately improving the academic success of all of their students.

Probably the perspective which sees the most diversity in opinion is the perspective of the special education teacher who’s role as an educator has been dramatically altering over the past few decades of educational theory due to changes in legislative implementation. As addressed in the Tankersley study, many general education teachers feel that inclusion practices have benefited their students while possibly negatively damaging their professional life. The main points that the special education students shared with the investigators were that they were able to “get out of the basement” and stop being viewed as outsiders to the school communities, and that their students have the ability to learn from general education students and as special education teachers they have the opportunity to learn teaching strategies from the general education teachers. However, in the face of positivity, many special education teachers feel that students needing special education services are not truly getting what they need due to the lack of training of the general education teacher and the lack of collaboration between the two. It seems to me that the other main problem that special education teachers have with inclusion practices is the amount time that their professional lives reach into their personal lives and that general education teachers do not have an understanding of the difficulties of being a travelling teacher. Most importantly, special education teachers feel that they and their students do not always have the support necessary to be successful, but that this will likely improve as inclusion becomes more the norm.

What could likely be considered the most distant perspective of special education inclusion in classrooms is the perspective of the administrators. In the Crockett study it is first noted that school administrators are the most essential aspect of successful inclusion practices. In the study many of the administrators reported that they, in all forms, are held more accountable for their actions regarding all students including special education students. While their perspective is immediately distant from the classroom, administrators may have the greatest comprehension of how inclusion of special education students affects the school community as a whole. The administrators seem to have a neutral opinion on it, for they see and hear the stress that it causes the teachers and some of the students, as well as the benefits it has for general education and special education students alike.

As discussed in the Ornelles article, I personally am most affect by the co-teaching segment of the discussion. At this point in my teaching career I am acting as a co-teacher in an inclusive general education classroom. In each of my classes I have a minimum of four students with IEPs and a maximum of seven students with IEPs, therefore all of my classes have at least two adults and up to four adults in the room at any given time. Personally, I feel that while I am really enjoying working with all of the students, I am also the adult given the least respect initially. This is due to the fact that my co-teacher really is the one doing the teaching and that I am assisting all of the students when they need help. Furthermore, all of the IEP aids have been with these students for several years, so I am the most unknown face in the classroom. It is not that the students are disrespectful, it is just that they are more comfortable with me and see me as an intermediate between the teacher and them. The aspects of effective teaching practices in relation to special education inclusion that are most relevant to the classroom that I co-teach in is the interaction between special education students and general education students and the effect of increased adult interaction on all students. Due to the fact that there are often three or more adults rotatating to help all of the students in our classroom, the students stay on task more and are able to have many one-on-one opportunities every day. I personally make a point to stop and talk directly to each group of two students a minimum of once each class period. Probably the most important aspect of the benefits of inclusion that I have seen so far is the inclusion of an autistic student in our upper level seventh grade language arts class. Not only does he excel and participate actively in the class, but all of the other students are supportive of him and understand his many ticks as though they were part of their everyday normal lives. That is the best part, they are normal to these students and they respect the student’s differences. Because this student has been in with this group since they were in fourth grade, he is able to be completely included in all activities. Even though this little tangent is off topic, I will now describe a moment that really touched me and was probably the first time I truly understood the value of inclusion. At recess this student plays four square with everyone else, however the student is not the best at four square and sometimes falls and trips up. There was one incidence where the student fell onto his hands, it looked painful to me, there were no scratches or blood, but he sat on the group and looked at his hands. He had the face of tears, I was afraid it was coming, that I would be dealing with my first crying student. However, his classmates knew how to deal with this, like it had happened before. One of the girls got down with him to tell him it was okay and showed him that his hands were fine it just hurt on the inside. At the same time many of the other students were also saying consoling and soothing things to him to make him feel better and they helped him get up. As soon as he was up he was happy and fine again and jumped back into the line to play again. In a place where inclusion was not the norm and there were students that did not understand and support this student, he would not be able to have such a happy and supportive experience in his school. It made me very happy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Teaching Philosophy

The Experiential Individual, A Teaching Philosophy
by Margaret Roth, written September 13, 2011, edited September 16, 2011

As a student, teacher, leader, individual, I believe that it is safe to say that I have a unique background and a unique foundation of experience. So does everyone else. My philosophy of teaching holds its heart in the assumption that every student has a unique wealth of experience, that they are an individual, and should be approached as such. Every student has an equivalent capability for growth and development based on their personal situation. Therefore, every lesson, every activity, every moment of our interaction should be focused on enhancing the growth and development of the individual student.

Coming into academic teaching in the public education system for the first time, I have had a few essential experiences that have influenced my development of this philosophy. I had a wealth of affluent opportunities and resources provided to me in my secondary education. I attended a university dedicated to both the philosophies of universal philanthropy and of the cognitive and physical development of the whole child, a modern higher education version of the Renaissance Man. At university, I was deeply involved in a program dedicated to developing leaders from students through experiential education resources. It is to this program and the great teachers I met there that I owe the development of my self as an individual, with my own hopes, dreams, and personal drive to make my desires a part of my reality. As well as my decision to become a teacher. In this program I developed as a technical leader, with organizational and tangible physical skills, and I developed as an inter and intra-personal leader, with an intuitive understanding of the workings of group dynamics and personal struggles to success.

I believe that with the utilization of these two stylistic approaches to the student, a teacher has the ability, and ultimately the responsibility, to become an educator. I see it is my responsibility to not only teach and to instruct, but rather to be skilled at teaching, to be always a student of the process of teaching, not merely a passive being playing through the motions. By approaching a student as first an individual, then equally as a student who must learn skills and as a student that already possesses skills, a teacher has the ability to guide the student to growth and success. The student as an individual has a series of worthwhile experiences that have made them who they are at this point in their life. It is the teacher's responsibility to facilitate additional experiences and to foster an understanding of how these experiences are valuable, and demonstrate how they will continue to further the student as an individual.

Ultimately, I believe that as a teacher, or hopefully as an educator, I will have the ability to encourage students to go beyond everyday meaning and enable them to reach into their futures and take whatever it is that they desire most. I do not expect every student to love reading or to love science, but I expect them to understand how they can use the messages and meanings of these subjects in their own life. I do not believe that it is my responsibility to make every student in my class a lover of my subjects, I do, however, believe that it is my responsibility to give every student the opportunity and the resources to become an individual, and to become a leader, through literary fluency and scientific understanding. If nothing else a leader of themselves, an individual who is devoted to their personal experiences and views their life as something worth experiencing. To make them active individuals and leaders, to escape a passive world.

In summary, I chose to become a teacher, and ultimately an educator, because I want to help students develop their self confidence in all aspects of life through the venue of academic success. I have chosen to focus on both English and Environmental Science because of my desire to share my personal love of these subjects with students of the next generations, the students who a comprehension of these subjects will be increasingly more essential for. At this point in my teaching career, I have chosen to teach in the urban setting of Baltimore City because I would like to experience the systemic problems which plague many of the major school systems in our country first hand. More importantly, I do not believe that things which are easy are always worth doing and I do not believe that things that are easy truly facilitate individual growth. I desire to be pushed out of my comfort zone and to be stretched thin, so that I may grow and change to fill in my personal gaps, to improve myself as an individual through experience.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"It will never get any better than that"

So to preface, I would like to date this entry as September 7, 2011. That is it's date it occurred and the day that I originally wrote about it.

This morning I woke up not knowing that today I would have probably what will be my most memorable day as a teacher. The morning was alternating between pouring rain and annoying drizzles. I woke up late, not late enough to be a problem, but late enough to be irritated. I had Diet Coke for breakfast instead of coffee, enough said. I have a tendency to get upset about halfway to school and start crying for some distinctly undefined reason, either instigated by a song, or a series of thoughts, or because I have an overwhelming fear of wasted time, of wasting my time. This morning I think I was afraid of wasting my time.

When I got to school, the morning had a turn. There a half block away from the school doors was a parking spot, just the right size for my car, it was the only one on the block. THIS NEVER HAPPENS. I park and get my rain jacket on, jump out of the car and start booking it to the doors. Just as I take a few steps down the sidewalk, I hear a girl and her mother turn around and yell good morning to me and wave from the crosswalk. Having rain all over my glasses, I am unsure who this student is, so I just smile and wave back.

I finally made it to class, I'm only half soaking wet because of course I was wearing gore-tex, the rest of the morning goes by relatively smoothly. I was mostly just observing and assisting in small groups, we were learning to write BCRs today which is just a state test specific format for writing reading comprehension responses.

Then in one of my classes, as I was passing out some papers, one girl stopped me and excitedly a few questions.

"You have a red truck don't you?"
"Yes, well it's really an SUV but yes, I have a red truck."
"I knew it! I saw you get out of it this morning! Did you see me wave at you? That was my mom, too, and my little sister."
"Ohhh yes! I did see you. You waved at me in the crosswalk. I couldn't see very well, but I thought that was you!"
"Well do you remember where you parked? That was my house, you parked right in front of my house!"

I am fairly certain that I smiled and laughed and said something about how nice of a block it was and that at least I know it will be safe there. She laughed and we went on with the lesson and the rest of the day seemed to just blur by. It was an early dismissal day so the students left after lunch and then the teachers all had a faculty meeting. It felt like the longest meeting ever, and honestly I was just ready to go home. I was still having mild mental crisis and had not been able to shake it.

I trudged out to my car with many more things than I had arrived at school with, it was still raining of course. I unlock the car set my things in the back door, and then I hear "Ms. Roth! Ms.Roth! Hi, Ms. Roth!" I turn around and there is my student standing in her doorway with a staircase full of adorable younger siblings, two little sisters and a little brother. I yelled back "Hello!, what are you guys doing?!" I cross back across the street and am introduced to each of her siblings and they are all laughing and are very excited. I told them it was very nice to meet them all and that I was excited to meet their parents the next night, at parent teacher night. Then I poked some fun and told them to go back inside so they don't get all wet, my student gave me a hug and told me she would see me tomorrow.

I crossed back to my car and they all waved bye as I drove away, out of my rear-view mirror I saw the curtain of their front window move and a few little faces press against the glass and hands still waving.

I cried on the way home, too.

It was the first day that I really started to connect to some of the students. For the past several days, ever since we discussed the "J Factor" aka the "Joy Factor" in our seminar class, I was holding onto a sinking feeling that I might be getting ready to suffer the longest year of my life, that I really might be in the wrong place. I'm finally starting to see how much I might mean to some of the students. That just being there for students who don't have very many people there for them can mean so much.

I told my Dad this story the next morning on the way to school, well really I had told my mother and she had repeated it for him. He told me a few things.

"I don't care how long you teach, it will never get any better than that. You will always be a very important person. That's a tear jerker Margaret Helen. It will never get any better than that."

I cried on the way to school, too.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Fourth Very First Day of School

So what did I learn today, today on my very first day of school? Well, I guess this is really my second, well my third, fourth very first day of school if we are measuring life on a timeline. Anyways,  I have to admit that I don't feel I learned anything dramatic or life changing about my students or about the world, but I learned something perspective altering about myself. I have never been around normal students. I have never been in a class with people who have trouble. I have never before experienced average. 

On my very first day of school ever, I went to Holy Trinity Episcopal School in Melbourne, Florida, wearing a green plaid jumper and white Oxford shirt likely paired with black Mary Janes as my mother was fond of dressing me in. It is in this outfit that I spent the next ten years of my life, at a school where 90% of my friends were the children of either doctors or business owners. As far as I know, every one of the twenty nine other students I shared those years with has been college bound. 

My second very first day of school was at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High School where I was one of fifty students who graduated with an International Baccalaureate diploma and a load of AP credits. At the time, I had become quite a fashionable little surfer girl, so I am sure I was rocking some sort of too short shorts, volcom t-shirt, and skate shoes. The entire time I was there I was not only in accelerated academic classes, but my choice of elective was at times more difficult than my actual classes. Let me put it this way, my senior year I was an International Science and Engineering Fair Delegate. I graduated with IB, AP, NHS, and a weighted GPA of something outrageously unnecessary like a 4.7. 

My third very first day of school was at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland. By this time I was like most college girls, alternating between sweats and college t-shirts and cute dresses, depending on the day of the week. While starting my studies as an Environmental Engineer, and transferring all around the academic realm of higher educational fields, I found what I wanted to do. I graduated with a double major in English and Environmental Earth Science. It was during this experience that I found something more important than school, I found out how to be truly passionate for myself. I found my love of teaching through the university's outdoor leadership program. And so I'm here today,today on my fourth very first day of school.

I arrived very early, dressed in a sleek and simple black skirt, yellow top, and my favorite grey sweater, to pick our class up from the gym. There I stood, on the other side of the wall, they were looking at me, I was looking at them, they were watching me. As I walked them to our room, a dress code violation nightmare of blue plaid skirts, shorts, too many bracelets, oxford shirts, Nike sneakers, and slacks, I realized something, but I'm not entirely sure how to explain it. All that I can really comprehend is that by the end of that class I realized that I had no idea how hard the things that in my experience seem to be so simple, can be so hard for a student who struggles, a student who was not as privileged and lucky, no, as blessed as I have been. I have a distinctly different comprehension, a distinctly different perception than these students. This I think will be my greatest challenge.

From our teaching instructors, we've been told a lot lately that our students will struggle with this our students will struggle with that. I learned today that I do not even know what the word struggle means. I have never struggled, not with anything. Things have been hard for me, but more because I chose to make them hard on myself. My fear now is how can I teach an individual who's experience and reality I have no comprehension of?; Yes, I have been a seventh grader, yes I have been in middle school, but I have never been a struggling seventh grader. I have never been a struggling student. 

With this as a realization, I hope that something is said about my aptitude for success or at least my desire to be challenged. The class I found myself most drawn to today, my first day of school on the other side of the wall, was the class I have been warned will be my hardest class. Because I saw them struggle, and they kept going. I hope that I will be able to do the same, I will be able to keep going. 

I do not intend for this to be my last very first day of school.