Sunday, September 28, 2014

Making a Difference

                      Making a Difference

I think that most of us can remember (hopefully)  at least one teacher that has touched our lives in a positive way. I know that it might sound corny but the teacher that has had the biggest influence in my life is my father. My father has made a lasting impression on me as both a student and a teacher.
I had the privilege of having my dad as a teacher. He was such a positive teacher. He touched the lives of so many children. Through the years I have had conversations with some of his previous students who tell me how much they loved my dad. He was a Phys. ed. teacher and he was ahead of his time. His goal was to get all kids to reach their personal best. One of his previous students  told me once that he was never the athletic type and that he had a hard time time in gym. However gym class became one of his favorite classes because of my dad. I know that when I had my father as a teacher, I wanted to reach my personal best and I was proud when I did.  His energy and enthusiasm were contagious.
He taught half of the school population every year, but he knew each kid. When I went to Henry Barnard,there were some pretty tough kids that I went to school with. They had the  utmost respect for my father because he had respect for them. Nakkula p26. states that as teachers we "are often reminded of our own adolescence, and the decisions we made," and how we resolved those challenges. My dad had a pretty hard childhood. I don't think that he forgot that and he used his own experiences to relate to his students on a more personal level.
I also had the opportunity to observe and work with my father many times when I was studying to be a teacher. I learned so much from this experience. I have never met a person that had such a love of children and a joy for teaching.


I have had a pretty good life. I have been lucky to be supported buy family, friends, I have had the privilege of a good education, and I have a good job. In spite of all of that, I have had to deal with some incredibly hard things in my life. It is those experiences that I bring when I am trying to relate to my students. Nakkula p49. explains that "Thinking is modeled for us, we connect with it, and we learn from it." We create our own thinking through the connections that we make with others. Too many students do not have good role models in their lives. They are connecting to the wrong people.  I want to be a good role model for my students. I want to show them that even when things are hard there is always a way to overcome adversity. We might not come from the same backgrounds, but I think that it is possible for us to relate on some level.

I agree with Lightfoot when she argues that adolescents must must challenge adult authority  to develop autonomy, and I also agree that they do not need to engage in risky behavior to do so. I am proud of all the after school activities that Bain provides. Teachers and administration have worked together to find money to keep as many kids involved in activities after school as we can. It was easier a few years ago when we had after school sports the arts, and other clubs, however the city cut the budget and all those programs went away. They only clubs they have not cut are Student Council and Science Olympiad. The examples of Janine and Julian can be found in every school. It enrages me both as a parent and an educator that too many of the programs that would provide a perfect opportunity for students to challenge themselves are being cut.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

To Reach out Beyond the Classroom


       To Reach Out Beyond the Classroom

 In chapter one of Understanding Youth, authors Nakkula and Toshalis introduce us to the relationship between Ms. Peterson and Antwon. Unfortunately that is a story that I have heard all too often. Also I am ashamed to admit, I have been a part of. I have always taught kids that come from difficult circumstances. When I first started teaching, my ideas of good classroom management were very different from how I run my classroom now. I thought that because I was teaching some pretty tough students, I had to be tough too. I could control a classroom, but was it a place where kids wanted to be? Were they learning anything? Sure, my honors classes were learning but that is the easy class, what about the others? As I look back I think that I was a little afraid of them. My first year at Bain some of my students broke in to a house in the neighborhood, robbed the family, tied them up in the basement and set fire to the house. Their world was one that I knew nothing about. 

I had a professor in college that offered some good advise. He told us when we got a job, we should drive around the neighborhood and get to know where our students come from. I decided to do just that. I also got to know my students by asking better questions and really listening to their answers. Relationships began to form with my students. Many of them would stay after school for extra help or many times just to talk. In addition to the empathy that I had for my students and their situations, I also formed a new sense of respect for both them and their families (or sometimes not their families).

Nakkula and Toshalis note that both teachers and students learn from one another and I agree. I know that my students are responsible for helping to shape me into the teacher that I am today. We all have been influenced by at least one teacher in our lives, good or bad. Through out my career there have been many many students who have influenced my life.

 I realized that because of the type of job I have and especially the population that I teach, goes way beyond the classroom. I have made meals for families, visited them at home, I have gone to students' houses when they have not shown up to class. I gone to court, to funerals, hospitals, graduations and weddings. I am not patting myself on the back nor do I think that I am doing anything out of the ordinary. There are many teachers in my school and in other schools all over the world who do the same thing and more. Nakkula and Toshalis question if educators should go beyond the curriculum and form relationships. They also ask if this is possible with all students. I know that it is a difficult task but I absolutely believe that it is important to do the best we can.

Rita Pierson is the type of educator that I strive to be. She believes that it is essential for teachers to connect with their students on a personal level. Pierson states that "Kids don't learn from people they don't like." I agree, if we fail to engage our students they will not learn.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Community of Learners


 A Community of Learners

Through out the book Ayers gives examples of the achievements of children through inquiry. When I read about the project on the bridge building project for Bingo the turtle it reminded me of a similar project that my students worked on a few years ago. Our school is located on a very busy street. Cars would drive by the school without slowing down on a regular basis even at the busy times when our students were arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon. One of my students came to me and asked me if we could conduct an experiment. He wanted to see if  cars would slow down if  orange cones were place on each side of the crosswalk. As a class we discussed the reason why this would or would not be effective. The students formed their own hypothesis. We got permission from our Principal and from the Mayor's office to conduct the experiment. The Phys. Ed. dept. loaned us the cones. We place two orange cones on either side of the of the crosswalk on both sides of the street. We also had a speed gun loaned to us by one of the high school baseball coaches. Students took turns recording the data. We conducted the experiment for one month. The outcome of this project was amazing. The result of the experiment was that cars did slow down significantly when the cones were  placed at the crosswalks. My students did not want to stop there. Now they wanted to make the cones a permanent fixture. I spoke with my Principal and he called the local newspaper. A reporter came to the school and interviewed the class. They were so psyched!! Their picture was in the paper along with the results of their experiment. Most importantly the reporter stressed that the class wanted the cones to be permanently placed in front of the school. They got more than they asked for. The cones were placed in front of the school along with.....a crossing guard!! The kids couldn't believe it. They were so proud of what they had accomplished. The crossing guard as well as the cones have been permanent fixtures in front of the school ever since.
 My Final point that I would like to make on this story is that the boy who initiated this whole inquiry project was barely passing my class. He was the leader on this project and he did an outstanding job. Andora Svitak, the inspirational TED speaker states that kids are up for challenges. She also states that "If expectations are low, trust me we will sink to them." This was an important reminder for me never to lower my expectations of all my students.

                                                                    Albert Einstein

One of the other points that Ayers discusses is about standardized testing. On page 85 Ayers states that he grew up in a home where the same language was spoken as on the test, but that is  not true for everyone in the room taking the test along with Ayers. The other day my kids were learning about abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) factors. I had put up a list of items on the board and they were taking turns checking off if the item was biotic or abiotic. One of the items was thermometer.  I have a student from Belarus who speaks Russian. It was his turn, finally he said to me "What is thermometer?" I showed him a thermometer and he immediately got the answer right and was able to give me the reasons why. Another science teacher happened to be walking through my room and he asked me how are these kids ever going to take the science NECAP test in May? This boy is very advanced in science. He is really at a high school level. Are the tests really going to measure what he knows? I think not. So many of my students are very bright and have a great deal of content knowledge. I can see it so clearly. They get concepts very quickly. It is the language barrier that we need to overcome and we will I have no doubt about that. However, what is going to happen when NECAP time arrives? 

                                        “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”                                                                                        Stephen R. Covey

 One of the goals of our team this year is to try to involve the families of our students as much as possible. Last spring we met with the families to welcome them to their new school. We also had our own open house which was in a more intimate setting. Here we were, five different languages being interpreted but we were all there for one common goal. I think that there is potential there to incorporate the parents more . I think they want to be included. Strong parent involvement will improve the education of the children.  Our team was even talking about helping the parents to learn English. I loved the part in the book , pages 100-112 concerning community action. Ayers states the importance of  the relationship between school and community. My school actually does the neighborhood walk every summer to meet all new incoming families. It is a very positive and eye opening  experience. Most parents appreciate the visit and it always gives me a different perspective on my students.                                                                

Monday, September 8, 2014

To Teach the journey, in comics

When I first opened up this book I thought the it would be a pretty easy read. I even brought it to the beach with me! After a few pages I realized how wrong I was. Ayers jam packs this book with his thoughts on teaching, creating a classroom community and most importantly how students learn. I am sure that this will be a book that I read many times and refer to during my teaching career. There is a potential discussion topic on almost any page in the first four chapters. I agree with Ayers on almost all of his ideas, but for this blog I will focus on some of the concepts that apply to my new job this year.

"What hopes do the kids bring?What is the language of their dreams?What experiences have they had and where do they want to go? What interests or concerns them? How have they been hurt and what are they frightened of? What larger universe awaits them?" p.25

I have been teaching for many years and I do wonder about the lives of all my students. However, this quote from Ayers really resonated with me. In my classroom I have children from Syria,  who have been in the midst of a terrible war. I have children from Guatemala and El Salvador who are here to escape from the tremendous violence that is occurring in their countries. I have children who come from Liberia, Haiti, Dominican Republic, China, Philippines,  Belarus and Mexico. These children come from such diverse backgrounds and each of them has their own story to tell. The difference is many of them speak little or no English. The challenge for me is to get to know them and find out their stories. To find out what their dreams are.My ELL teacher and I have already found out quite a bit of information by playing games with them and through some of their drawings but we have a long way to go. I even like the picture that goes along with this quote. Ayers jumping off a cliff. I feel the same way this year. I am taking the leap and I will be learning right along with my students.

"Teaching is an interactive practice that begins and ends with seeing the student. It is ongoing and never completely finished." p.13

It is seems like such an impossible task to get to now all of out students. It is easy to know the students who are good communicators and like to participate in class. Even the kids that act up in class receive out attention. But why are they acting up? Do we know the reasons why some our students' behave the way they do? It is our responsibility to find the answers. Then there is the student who tries so very hard to be invisible. I think that they are the hardest students of all. It is so easy to overlook them. I vow each year to to better getting to know these students but I fall short. 

"Focusing on what I can't do diminishes hope and limits possibilities.It pays no attention to what I can do." p.20

I think that this is essential. There were times this summer I felt very overwhelmed when I was preparing for my new students. We have very limited material and resources, we don't teach in the best conditions. but it really shouldn't matter. If I concentrate on the negative I will miss the possibilities of what my students are capable of. Most of my student are coming to school with many strikes already against them. I agree with Patrick Finn that it is important that my students receive the same education and the same messages that students who come from more privileged and educated backgrounds are receiving.

"I want to build spaces where each person is visible to me and to everyone else - And most importantly, to themselves. Students should sense their own unique power and potential. In this classroom, each is known and understood, recognized and valued." p. 44

Before I read this book, I was playing with the idea of changing my room around. I can't change it that much because it is a science lab and the lab benches can not be moved. I also have tables instead of desks so that students can work with a partner. Ayers created a community area and I really liked this idea. I was able to create a community area this year. It is a place where the ELL teacher and myself can sit with the kids. I don't think that it is as intimidating for our student when we are sitting down with them. I am sure that this area is going to get a great deal of use. It has only been a few weeks in to the school year but we have learned a great deal about our students when we are sitting in the community area. Last semester, part of my research in Dr. Johnson's class incorporated creating a classroom community. Our goal was to get our students to feel secure and valued by one another. For the most part I thing that we had a great deal of success. I wish to continue and build on what I have already started.

"Teaching at it's best is not a matter of technique - It's primarily an act of love. p.11

I think that this quote is my favorite one of all. I think that Ayers is speaking first about the love of teaching. It is not good enough to just have good technique, you have to love to teach as well. If we want students to be excited about learning, then we have to be excited about teaching. Teachers also have to love to learn new things. We can only hope to instill the love of learning by becoming the examples for our students to follow. Finally I do believe that it is vital for teachers to love children. Students know if you care. I tell my students all the time how lucky I fell to come to school every day and teach them. They will give you more if they know that you are there for them.  A few years ago one of my students told me that a substitute teacher that he had for math class that day was mean to him. I said to him, "I say those things to you all the time!" He said to me "yea but you love me." By the ideas that Ayers communicates through out these first four chapters. I think that this was the message that he is promoting.