Exploration and Discovery

Exploration and Discovery
The Outdoor Classroom

Monday, May 23, 2011

teacher as parent

I don't feel right about my son, Jimmy , passing onto 7th grade  without expressing my frustration with the experience he had in 6th grade. While he loved his math and science teacher, and his grades were not terrible, I found the communication lacking, and my ability to help him on his homework or prepare for tests less than satisfactory. I went to a parent teacher conference at the beginning of the year with both of his teachers, and found the result unsatisfying, and not really worth the time spent. My primary frustration was with his Language Arts and Social Studies teacher. I can tell that she loves her subject, and has spent a number of years developing her curriculum, but with that in mind, I cannot understand why she doesn't have a syllabus. So many of her larger projects are/were assigned with short notice and no written explanation for a parent to guide or support their student.
I reached out to this teacher on a number of occasions and offered to help correct papers, or post grades, or anything to bring her up to date so I could get a handle on Jimmy's grades and determine whether he was keeping up with assignments. As it turned out Jimmy was behind on assignments and his teacher only accepted late work on certain things. In Jimmy's defense, I found that he had been told of large projects very late, or been given an assignment verbally as he was leaving class. This was confirmed by a number of parents of students and former students of this teacher. And this is why I am writing. It sounds as if this has been going on for some time. My son has survived the experience, barely, and I do not believe my talking to the teacher directly about any of these complaints would be any more effective than it has been in the past...so I just wanted to go on record.
I haven't even started with my frustrations about his PE teacher. I am dreading 7th grade for Jiimy. My older son Max was lucky enough to have a great, young enthused young woman as his language arts and social studies teacher; the flip side of that was the nightmare of having a staunch, hard line, non-accommodating or differentiating math teacher. I am afraid Jimmy will fail in this man's math class, but know he would thrive with the partner LA and Social studies teacher- these are my choices?! 
As a parent, who happens to be a credentialed teacher, I am more than willing to have a second text at home for my son to work from and to insure he is keeping up with his readings. But I need be informed what text, AND WHAT EDITION, they are using in class so I can get the correct text. Please insist that teachers post their assignments on school loop- and if there is a long term project to attach, the instructions. These kids are LEARNING how to get organized, but they are not there yet. As a committed, though over extended working parent of three children, I need all the help I can get from the teachers in order to help my son be a prepared student in their class- this is a partnership, not a blame game.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I spent most of yesterday organizing my classroom materials- organizers, books, supplies, lesson plans, and standards summaries by grade level. I want to start. I am learning A TON working as a sub. I have seen the benefits of adding theater as means of learning about history, the power of a great read aloud book to quiet even the rowdiest of kids, the critical importance of being completely prepared, the results of daily routine so the kids practically don't need me there as a sub, and I want to try it out; I want my own classroom so I can start working on the process of becoming a better teacher...even before I am a teacher. I know it is going to be hard and an emotional roller coaster, and that part scares me a little, but I am excited about the learning curve and seeing the results in the kids understanding and enthusiasm. I LOVE watching the lightbulbs go on!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fairness and What's Right

There are always a few loose canons. A boy who can't sit still, a girl who shouts out whatever she is thinking, another who wants to play to the crowd and get entertainer of the year. But what about the 60% of the class that is interested and trying to understand and would like to learn, but is too shy, embarrassed, or not willing to stand up for their educational rights. I don't want to spend more time focused on the few kids who create discord and disruption; I want to teach the kids who want to learn and watch the light bulbs go off over their heads when it starts to click. How to structure a classroom so that the kids that WANT to learn can get what they need, and the kids who need to learn how to function in society can get that, and the kid who functions way above class level can make it clear enough that I can provide them with some specialized, stimulating, independent work- all without sucking the joy out of me and making me a crab apple.

Friday, May 6, 2011

friday ...oy, i made it...kinda

My tummy hurts. I feel as if I am the picture you see in the dictionary if you turn to the page "stress". My brain is a twisted knot and I have to remind myself to breathe.

Five days subbing in a K/1 split, volunteering a little, and then my son's 12th birthday.  On one bookend of the week his real birthday with family presents and home made cake and on the other bookend, his party with 5 buddies for a sleepover. Fortunately my husband understood my overload and agreed to take them to the movie so I didn't have to sit through the action-packed gore and sweat.

I recognize that this was a particularly hard class to sub in, but the fact remains that it was not even a full class (only 15 students), and I am pretty competent, patient, and a multitasking kind of person...what is the district and the world thinking! First graders and Kindergartners are not developmentally or academically on the same plain.

To expect Kindergartners to do independent academics is ridiculous- centers maybe, but even then only with a lot of individual explanation of the activity. And in some wacky, administrative standards- based universe, they think introducing 1st graders to fractions at the end of the year is a good use of time.  It is impossible not to question the rationality of these people. Many of my first graders could not even trace the pattern blocks to determine what fraction of the shape they took up.

A friend who is involved with training and preparing new teachers says that in her program they discourage people from subbing, because it turns so many folks off from the profession. I can truly understand why that is true. You have all the challenges of the classroom teacher, enough time to reflect on what you would change on a given day, and maybe another day to try to restructure an effective lesson, but not  time enough to see what works with each student day after day- all the work and little of the reward. And you still kinda fall in love with a few of the kids taboot.

I am told that it is easier when you get your own classroom, but I am not sure I can entirely believe that. I can see that there is more ability to control the environment, build rapport, and communicate with families about how best to support a child at home or after school.  But some of the problems I faced would not have been vastly different if it had been my classroom and I had developed the routines with the kids.

At the end of the day I tried to evaluate how much time I spent teaching and it made me sad to think it was probably less than two hours out of a six hour day. Between attendance, calendar time (in the younger grades),  English Language Development time (which is critical), and SSR (sustained silent reading which is also critical), lunch, recess, and bathroom breaks you are left with only a couple of solid blocks of time. A mini lesson in math or language arts might take 15 minutes each, and then modeling an activity to reinforce that lesson, and then setting up the groups and getting folks started...and then having 15 people at once say "I need help Ms. Leishman", "I don't know how to start Ms. Leishman", and you realize maybe, maybe, four people know what you expect, have some grasp of how to do it, and are capable, willing,  and engaged enough to begin the activity on their own, unaided.

I do not remember school the way I experience it from the other end now. I would never have socialized nonstop in class, or gotten out of my seat without asking, or ignored the teacher when they were talking to me- I may have been a bit of a goody two shoes, but I don't think even the kids who got in trouble were as clueless and checked out or disrespectful as the kids I am seeing now...WHY IS THAT?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Long Pause

It has been a long time between entries. I have had so many different experiences and classroom experiences between then and now. Tonight I am a bit exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed. I am "guest teaching" in a K/1 split with 16 students. 2 of these students receive services and my inexperienced guess is that 2 more need them. Then you layer the age difference, developmental difference, and academic challenges on top and my overriding feeling of where do I go, how do I improve what happened today (and yesterday). How can I teach kids who need a nap after lunch, are 5-6 years old and aren' t going to bed until 10 or 11 at night for an early start school.
The fact that I am a sub, with a limited knowledge of the kids routines, doesn't really help any of us. I remind the children about 4 times a day that I am not their teacher, and though she left me notes, and we will DO all the things she left me notes about - it might sound different or they might have a new partner or any of the other myriad deviations to the way it has been since the beginning of this semester.