The financial anxiety of student teaching.

Not to get too personal, but my old friend anxiety paid a visit this weekend. Life happens and sometimes big purchases need to be made asap (read: car broke, had to get another one). My husband and I have been diligently saving for when I student teach next Spring, but this unanticipated expense has left us with a big hole in our savings and not enough time to fill it by the time January rolls around.

A few months ago, I had spoken to the person in charge of student teaching placements in my University. I had heard that there are occasions when a paid job would be accepted for student teaching. This individual confirmed that this was true; however, what position would be better for a student teacher? A Teaching Assistant? A long-term sub position? And if the latter, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of student teaching if you are already leading a class?

I would really like to know how current student teachers and new teachers have handled the can’t-work-while-student-teaching issue, as well as the anxiety that goes with it.

“Duck for President” is only one recommendation… more please!

This topic came up in my class this evening after I had typed this entry. My professor asked the class what advice we have received from family or friends who are teachers. One of my classmates answered that his sister advised him to start making his own classroom library now.

Hmm…

Questions for teachers (grades 1-6):

1. What books have you found work really well in classrooms? For example, the teacher I observed last semester (2nd grade) read the book, Duck for President by Doreen Cronin during her social studies lesson on voting. The children loved it (and so did I for that matter) and used examples from the text to explain the voting process. I would really like to start compiling a list of good books to use  for various subjects.

2. Are there specific websites or video clips that you incorporate into lessons? I love the idea of incorporating literature into lessons, but in this technological age, it seems that teachers need to build a video library just as fast as a paper library.

3. A teacher commented on my last entry (shoutout to Nina) that to be a good teacher one must “look beyond teaching and focus on learning.” Since then, I have been toying with the idea of incorporating a daily “story time” into my future classroom. I mentioned in my previous post that the teacher I observed last semester asked the parent(s) of the birthday boy/girl to read a story to the kids after all the birthday cupcakes were gobbled up at the end of the day. The children loved this. On the one hand, the children learned vocabularly by listening to the spoken words and participated (albeit unknowingly) in a sort of “book talk,” that is the book selected was recommended and promoted by someone their own age. But HOW did they learn this? Yes, it was a designated time for reading, but the kids absorbed the academics because they were relaxed. They enjoyed the moment. They LEARNED that reading can and is enjoyable. As teachers, do you think a) it would be a good idea to incorporate 5-10 minutes of story time at the end of each day to allow the kids to relax, unwind and savor a story, and b) is this a plausible concept?

Define good…

What makes a good teacher? Ask five different people, and you’ll get five different answers.

I have been thinking about this question a lot lately. Is a good teacher one who is super organized and sticks to the schedule, or one who is more flexible? Is a good teacher one who uses more constructionist methods in the classroom, or one who favors reading a chapter and answering questions? Is a good teacher one who only calls parents when there is a problem, or one who calls home simply to inform parents that their child had a really good day?

With all of the debate these days as to how to evaluate teachers, how do we personally define what makes a teacher good? I do not ask this question to solve the evaluation debate (that would be a whole other entry), but rather because I am trying to answer the question for myself. I want to be a good teacher, but what does that mean?

Looking back on my own elementary experience, I find that I do not favor one teacher over another. Actually, they all seem to blend together. You see, I was bullied a lot in elementary school, so most of my memories are tied to that. For me, I can start picking out different qualities in teachers starting in high school and through college. For example, my high school government and economics teacher asked us to keep a journal throughout the year, and every so often he would collect the journals and respond to them. As a kid, I liked the fact that my teacher valued my opinion enough to 1) allow me to write about it, and 2) took the time to respond to it.

Last semester I was privileged to observe a 2nd grade teacher in a local school district. She planned her lessons carefully, had control over the classroom, and worked closely with the special education teacher (this class was integrated) and with her student teacher. But what struck me as “good” was her understanding of the kids. She treated them as people and created activities focused on the kids relationship with each other. For example, on the first day of school the teacher wanted the kids to get to know each other. She gave each student a cardboard cube and asked them to personalize it by drawing pictures of things from their home life (e.g. a pet), hobbies they enjoy, favorite subjects, favorite books, etc. Then, she took a picture of each child, printed it, and placed it on one side of the cube. When all the cubes were finished, she gathered the students on the carpet in the front of the room and each child presented the cube to the class. While telling me about this activity, the teacher explained that she does this activity every year on the first day of school because she wants the kids to feel comfortable talking to each other and talking to her. If they feel comfortable, the kids will be more engaged in lessons, more willing to ask and answer questions, be willing and able to help each other, and be more vocal (with her) about any struggles they may be having. I can tell you that her method worked and it worked well because the children got along with each other, almost every hand went up for every question the teacher asked, and the kids (remember, these are 2nd graders) had meaningful dialog during lessons.

Another example that I really liked about this teacher concerns the students’ birthdays. Over the five days I observed this teacher, two of the children celebrated birthdays. On each of these days, the teacher placed a little card on the child’s desk to announce that he or she is the birthday boy or girl. Then, when the children settled in, she gave each student a piece of paper with a big birthday cake printed on it. The children wrote birthday greetings to the birthday boy/girl and colored in the cake. The teacher would then collect each piece of paper, assemble it as a book, and give it the birthday boy/girl at the end of the day. Also at the end of the day, the child’s parents (if available) would come in with cupcakes. Everyone would sing happpy birthday, enjoy the treats, and the child’s parents would read a book (chosen by the birthday boy/girl) to the entire class.

Did these activities take away precious moments of teaching time? Yes; however, the teacher realized how important it is for children to form relationships with each other. Plus, she snuck in academic elements into the activities. For example, the children practiced their language and speaking skills when presenting their cubes to the class, they practiced their writing while composing their birthdays greetings, and experienced a read-aloud at the end of the birthday days, listening and acquiring new vocabulary.

I am still trying to define what makes a good teacher; however, I think that being aware that our students are people (albeit little ones) is definitely a good trait. Any ideas?

 

For all intensive purposes, I am a career changer.

My hope for this blog is to document my experience of  learning to become an elementary school teacher. From my readings and classes to what I have observed in actual classrooms, my hope is to talk about it all and hear from others both inside and just joining the field. Comments and questions are welcomed, and any advice all ye seasoned pros can offer is incredibly welcomed.

But to begin this blog, I must point out that  I am a career changer. When people think of career changes, many conjure images of  business men and women suddenly following a life-long passion for writing, traveling the world solo for a number of years and reappearing as life coaches, or opening cupcake shops. Although I do make a mean chocolate frosting, I am not exactly your typical career changer.

For starters, I’m younger than many career changers. I graduated college (with Honors) 5 years ago with a B.A. in English and the belief that I was going to be an English Professor, a great scholar spending hours absorbed in medieval texts, straining my eyes in dimly lit libraries around the world. Unfortunately, it takes time to live out one’s dream, and like many graduates these days I had (and still have) student loans to pay and a desperate need for a paycheck. I knew what I wanted to be, but how was I going to make it happen financially?

The plan was to work for a couple of years and then apply to graduate school. As I said, this was the plan. Now, try enacting this plan in this economy. You name the job and chances are I applied for it. A friend at the time was kind enough to recommend that I take on a part-time job assisting his Professor father on a project funded by a grant. Income: check. Income enough to pay student loans: half a check. Job lasting more than 6 months: not so much.

Since this job was a temporary fix, I continued to send out applications. It was during this time that I applied for a teaching position in my Archdiocese. Although I had briefly researched a teaching career in college (and little me played school with my grandmother during summer vacations), I decided not to take any classes in elementary education because, “I’m going to be professor!” That’s what I told people, but the truth was children scared me. I don’t have younger siblings, and I never babysat as a teenager. Combine this fear with the fact that I did not have any background in education, and to this day I wonder what I was thinking when I sent in that teaching application.

Image my surprise when I got called for an interview. Then, image my surprise when I was called back to teach a lesson.

I only remember bits and pieces of the actual academics of lesson I taught that day to a (rather large now that I think about it) 6th grade summer school class in the Bronx. But the one part that I remember the most is that I absolutely loved it. I mean smiled and danced a jig all the way to the subway loved it. I had never taught a lesson in my life, but the Vice Principal who observed me said that she wouldn’t have known I had no teaching experience if I hadn’t told her. She had some pointers of course (for example, “Don’t be afraid to walk down the aisles”), but she told me that I was good at it.

I didn’t get the job (they went with someone with experience), but I did get something out of the experience: an idea. I had a blast teaching the lesson to those 6th graders, sure. But could I do it everyday, all day? At the time, my nerves spoke louder than the happy feelings, but the memory didn’t leave me.

Fast-forward two years. During this time, I found a job in the city (yay pacheck!), I moved out on my own (yay rent?!), and I got married (just yay!). Just like the plan I had originally made in college, I applied to graduate school… but not for teaching. I still remembered that lesson I taught, but I was still just as nervous. I started taking classes for my Masters in English and found that I absolutely… hated it. Talk about disappointment. I loved my Medieval Women and Milton classes, but something was gnawing at me. Something was telling me this wasn’t the right time to follow this path.

If you ever get this feeling, listen to it!

By now, any enjoyment I had felt with my work had left me. I was only twenty something, but I was going to work everyday and sitting at my desk and crying because I felt like I was dying inside. I did not feel this way because of the people (who I really enjoyed working with) or even the work itself, but rather the volume and the pressure to keep up with it became so intense that the entire department was struggling with no end in sight. I was also a newlywed and barely saw my husband. I missed him. After much soul searching, I found that I just wanted to be happy.

Happy… hmm. That word seems familiar.

I began researching teaching programs in my area and found a graduate program that seemed to meet my interests and needs: elementary education and designed for career changers.  One problem: my job was in the city and I wouldn’t make it back up to my home area (where the University is) in time for class at night. It took a year (and the support of those around me), but I managed to get a job that the University. Within one month, I had applied to the program.

Do I still question if I can teach everyday, all day? Oh yeah. Am I scared about the uncertainty of employment, of unpaid student teaching, of making lesson plans and having the right answer when an answer is needed? So much so that as I type the sentence I feel a little queasy. But I don’t regret my decision. When I was in college I said I wanted to be a professor. What did not “click”in my head at the time is that professor is another word for teacher. Do I still want to be a great scholar spending hours absorbed in medieval texts, straining my eyes in dimly lit libraries around the world? Yes, I do. But I see this image differently now. Now, I see little faces “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” with me. I see the next generation of great thinkers, and me helping them to get there.