Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rachel K. Rainbow Lodge

in North Bend, WA (Where Twin Peaks is!)
On Monday morning I embarked on a mini road trip with three of my cohorts for the arts and culture retreat at Rainbow Lodge in North Bend, WA. The girls I drove with are really nice; Hannah and Amber want to teach elementary school and Hilary is looking to teach math or English at the high school level.

The lodge was very beautiful, settled in the tall pine trees and looking smoky in the shadow of the mountains around it. It rained the whole time we were there, but it the moisture made everything seem cozier on the inside and lusher outside.

The objective of the arts retreat is to look at how visual arts, music, dance and drama can be incorporated into everyday classroom study. This, they tell us, is important in that it is a way to connect students' creativity into their learning processes (also it is of value since the arts have zero budgets in most schools and students don't have opportunities to learn them.)

We learned all about the cognitive development of children, young adolescents and teenagers and how movement and music is integral to helping students at these stages of life. We got to sing and play instruments and dance around, although dancing around after lunch seemed to have set off some kind of stomach bug that I had been developing all morning. Yes, I had a stomach bug AGAIN.

So, I was forced to retire halfway through dance class (and I was having so much fun, too.) I spent the rest of that evening in bed trying to feel better and falling in and out of fitful naps. My roommate, Aimee, also had a stomach bug along with another girl down the hall, Renee. It must be going around schools since I seem to have caught it twice now. In any case, the retreat sort of lost steam for me at that point and I really wanted to go home, but the show had to go on!

Drama was a lot of fun, and after resting in the afternoon I had the energy to participate during the evening activity. The teacher was extremely positive and encouraging to us and I think it will benefit how I manage my classroom in the future; the teacher told us it was important to keep kids active and to help them see mistakes in behavior or academics rather than pointing it out to them or to scold. I like that -- more smiling in class! Huzzah!
Roger Shimomura's Depiction of Ichiro Suzuki in an Internment Camp

The next day we had visual arts, which was less titillating than the other art classes we had participated in. The teacher was nice and gave us some tools to talk about visual arts, (we looked at some work from Roger Shimomura) but gave us no advice on how to teach visual arts as integrated through other subject matter. This is a damn shame; Roger Shimomura's artwork spans the history of Japanese internment camps AND pop culture (as seen above). There was also some tension between a few of the cohorts about eastern versus western artistic expression that was not led nor diffused by the teacher and left many of us feeling sour. The notion that our opinions may not be valid because someone of Asian descent says "you're wrong," without giving a supporting argument. Really, it was an example of how not to run a classroom, which may be as educational as learning how to run one well.

The last item on the agenda was to make and present our "culture boxes," which are essentially dioramas that discuss our family culture and sense of self. It was pretty fun, although we didn't do very much with the end result. Now I just have an amazon.com box covered in photos and stickers and nowhere to put it!

After a quick wrap-up, we left North Bend and yammered to each other all the way back to Seattle. All in all a good trip, but I'm starting to worry that doing new things seems to give me STOMACH DOOM. Since we had to present artistic projects at the end of the day, I wrote the following poem:
(something to note is that the "golden apple" award is a teaching award that was given to the movement teacher.)

Ode to Rainbow Lodge (and my Immune System)
Rachel Kay

The rainbow lodge is a magical place,
Where the arts and new teachers come face-to-face,
Yet alas, for one of these teachers was ill,
A week with the children did her immune system kill.
So what was in store for this invalid sap?
How would she manage to feather her cap?
The answer was art, drama, music and dance,
Though her body so ached and wobbled her stance.

First there was music – rhythm and song,
Who knew we had hidden our talents so long?
We warbled in languages nobody knew,
We stomped and we clapped and our confidence grew.

We then went to dance class and left the warm chapel,
To learn about movement from our Golden Apple,
We twisted and turned and jumped through our spaces,
We learned about math, and took our minds to new places.

In the evening we played with the man we called Barry,
We tried poems and costumes, though some were quite scary.
Though dressed like Steve Jobbs, he engaged us all night,
We were welcomed as teachers and cured of stage fright.

And though she did spend more time sick than time well,
And being bereft of the food was HER HELL,
She will remember this voyage with fondness, not ire,
Because it so strengthened her teaching desire.

Here is another one of my favorite Shimomura pieces for no particular reason.
Roger Powah~

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rachel K. Koi

I started my two weeks of observation in schools at "Koi Elementary," let's call it. The building is huge and new and shiny and I got the chance to observe a 4th grade class. My cooperating teacher is Mr. B, who is a former JET alumni just like me and spent some time in the countryside of Hokkaido, Japan. He also graduated from the same MIT program that I am doing!

The school is fancy. It reminds me of the one I went to as a kid in Virginia. It's a little strange walking into a white-bread school with happy shiny kids and fancy shiny parents every morning after talking about disenfranchised, underprivileged children for a week straight. Still, a learning opportunity is a learning opportunity and the staff room has BROWNIES.

I started off my observation roughly, waking up at 5:30am on the first day. Don't worry -- thanks to spring forward, it felt like 4:30am. I got up at this ungodly hour so I could turn in my application for a leadership scholarship at Seattle U, which as it turns out must be turned in by hand. I arrived on campus about 10 minutes before the buildings opened. My stomach hurt all morning, but I figured it was just because I woke up so early. I slid the scholarship application under the door of Madam M and left to catch the bus going to Queen Anne for my first day at Koi Elem. I felt sick on the bus the whole way to school and had to duck into the bathroom before going upstairs to meet my cooperating teacher. Mr. B is a great teacher and he's very nice about answering my giant packet full of questions! The kids so far are great, although a lot of them have focus problems and the class climate is really chaotic. I didn't eat lunch because I was still feeling queasy, and I ended up having to leave school an hour early to go home and pass out with a fever. What a day.

I came in late to school the next day, but was feeling much better and jumped right into the world of short desks and birthday cupcakes and feelings and child development. Mr. B's class was really fun and I was especially liked by the girls in class. I liked most of the students very much, though some were really obnoxious, but I'm not really sure if that's because they are in 4th grade or because 9 of those kids had some kind of focus issue and the class was CA-RAY-ZEE the entire time I was there.

Some funny things I noticed during my two weeks there is that 4th graders never have any teeth in their mouths. There were loose teeth and lost teeth everywhere! Isn't it so strange that we accept as 8 and 9-year-olds that it's OK for our teeth to fall out of our faces?! I now have dreams where my teeth fall out when I'm extremely anxious about things... but at one point it would just mean that the tooth fairy was coming to give me a quarter! Thinking back though, I guess losing teeth is still better than having braces. Another observation is that it will be exceedingly easy to get DIABETES at elementary school from the amount of birthday cupcakes that come through the doors. I must be vigilant.

Still, it was interesting having a huge book of directions to follow in how I observed a school. Instead of jumping in and doing what I thought was best like I've done at tutoring or during summer camp I had to watch and listen, which are difficult things for me to do! I wrote my analysis paper in a little over a day (it was 36 pages and boy am I glad to be rid of it!)

All in all, 4th grade is pretty cool. I'd like to observe some older classes since I still think that teaching 5th and 6th grade students is my goal.

Now I say goodbye to Koi Elem. and hello to my arts and culture retreat, which starts on Monday of next week.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rachel K. Reflection

This was the first week of my year-long Master in Teaching Program at Seattle University. I started the morning off by walking to my new bus stop with my roommate. He wished me luck and I boarded the No. 12 bus up to First Hill. The journey is harrowing! The bus goes straight up the hilliest of Seattle hills for about a mile before reaching flat road again. It makes me wonder just how safe the breaks on the buses are. One faulty move and the bus goes careening down Madison st., killing all in its path! Dramatically shattering through the Seattle Public Library and ending its fateful journey in the young adult section. And then I would be late to class.

We were told to sit with new people every day, which we did after arriving in the large classroom before 9am each morning. It was a great way to meet a lot of people, and I didn't find that I was settling into a group of friends during the week, which was conducive to meeting MORE people.

The class for the first three weeks is called "The Teacher as a Reflective Decision Maker," due to its name, we are all pushed to do a lot of introspective thinking in terms of our beliefs and personal goals as prospective teachers. The cohort (fifty four of us) spent its time making creative group projects, independent thought projects in silence, short movies advocating for technology in the classroom, and a LOT of group discussions. We talked about anything and everything and I felt exhausted after each seven hour day of voicing my beliefs, honing my collaborative skills and reflecting on the days events.

Every evening I was expected to write short reflection papers about how I felt about what we were learning and how it was helping me to become a better teacher. These were difficult because of the broad topics given, but after a few of them I was feeling confident about my short paper-writing skills. Reflectivity is coming easier to me now, too. It isn't often that I've been asked to think introspectively about what I've read or discussed in a group.

At the end of the week I went out with the cohort to the garage, a local and enormous bar located next to Seattle University. It was awkward at first, but after half a glass of wine, it was a great pleasure to get to know so many of the people I had spoken with during the week in a casual setting. I rode the bus back downtown with Renee, a prospective high school history teacher with a penchant for Seattle trivia and Amber, a prospective elementary school teacher who will be accompanying me at Koi Elementary School (name changed to protect the Innocent) next week for observation. We had some chips at Chipotle and then I called it a night and went home to celebrate my weekend and a week of class well done.

I'm feeling very affirmed in my decision to attend Seattle U over UW. I think that introspective and reflective learning is going to do me a world of good in the field of education. Also, I made a lot of art projects during the week! I had forgotten how fun it is to color with markers! Examples live below:
Eerily drawn as a visual representation of learning disabilities the day before the tsunami hit NE Japan

A visual integration project as a reflection of what I learned throughout the week.

On a non class-related note, I have been glued to the news about the tsunami and earthquake disaster that hit Japan last Friday. It is difficult on a personal level to be so far away from Japan during a time like this, but it is a great comfort that so many of my family, friends and coworkers are able to give donations and support to those who need it at this time.