Sunday, September 2, 2012

Rachel K. BTW I'm a teacher now

Hey everyone, 

I'm a teacher now. It happened sort of all at once. I was hired as a math instructional specialist back in July and then got bumped over to a 5th grade classroom teacher a few weeks ago (MY DREAM!) It's been hell on ice since then trying to get a classroom together and figure out what the EFF I'm supposed to be doing. My head is swimming with all the things I didn't get right the first day (like rules and procedures) and I'm praying that I can keep up with pacing schedules and meetings while figuring out how to run literacy intervention assessments on kids I don't know. Boof. In any case, here is the first day's reflection that I wrote: 

September 30, 2012

I arrived on my first day super early, I thought. I readied nametags and pencil boxes and paced around madly trying to figure out exactly what I was supposed to do to turn on my smartboard. Suddenly, one of my students walked in 42 minutes early. I panicked, greeted her, and started her on her entry task. My immediate next thought was, "!$!%%&#%@$#@ THAT TASK IS ONLY MEANT TO LAST 5-10 MINUTES SHE IS GOING TO FINISH IT WHAT DO I DOOOOOO????" Fortunately, the veteran 5th grade teacher next door booted out all of my kids and told them they were not to come back until the bell rung. This did not stop the next wave of kiddos and their parents. I tried my best to greet them all at the door, but their numbers were too many and parents wanted to talk to me about so many things. 

Finally, the bell rang, I greeted my class, and the first question was, "What do we do with our school supplies?"
I didn't know! I had no idea what they should do with their school supplies. I have trapezoid tables instead of desks and I was supplied with no additional closets or bookcases for student items, so for the remainder of the day, students kept their school supplies in their backpacks. 

The rest of the day was equally frantic, but also quite fun. 

The frantic parts coincided with school-wide policies, which were never fully explained to me. I also had to take my students around to places like the music portable, cafeteria, and playground. I had no idea how to get to any of these places for the "mandatory practices" that I had only scarcely processed. I wasn't sure if I could leave the room to ask for directions, but we managed. I have 30 students, so my line is a mile long. If my kiddos learned nothing else today, they learned how to walk in a line. I was pretty proud of that. 

Did I mention that I am replacing the teacher who passed away from her extensive injuries after a hit-and-run? Yeah. The kids knew that too, and it was tough. They all thought they were going to have Mrs. Best-Teacher-EVER and instead they had me (I am now regretting my Hunger Games analogy). That said, I think they all liked me just fine and 90% of them were totally psyched to be at school. Most of my kids are adorable, angelic, Hispanic kids. I have two kids with major behavioral issues who I know are going to make me lose my mind at least twice a week, but I like them all the same. 

I suppose I went into this first year and first day of teaching thinking, "Here I am! The future Rafe Esquith ready to be spectacular and break the mold!" I can tell you now that after the first two days of school, I will be going by the book the rest of the year. Ingenuity and spectacular-ness can wait until my second year (at least). I just need to keep my feet on the ground for awhile.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

The Principal at Gumball Elementary has all of hte student interns write weekly reflections so she can speak to our strengths and focuses as teachers when she writes us letters of recommendation.

Here is mine from this past week at Gumball Elementary:

Weekly Reflections
Rachel K. Sreebny
March 19 – March 23

                The fifth graders are becoming undeniably more puberty-stricken as the months fly by.  The frequency of girls and boys exchanging unkind words has increased and classroom management has become central to my focus as a student teacher. While I strive to keep peace and order in the classroom as any town sheriff might, I also feel strongly that our students need to be reflective of their actions and words in order to develop into responsible and mature middle school students. As a result, I have had more one-on-one conversations with certain students (Betelhem, David N, and Abdi) in order to acknowledge inappropriate behavior and facilitate student-led ideas for improving our learning environment.

                To attend to the focus maximized learning opportunities for all of the students in E-1, Leslie and I have been practicing some of the techniques from Teach Like a Champion, including “3-2-1 pencils down,” “3, 2, 1 – track me,” and tight transitions. The more we practice these techniques, the better they are at getting student attention so I can give specific directions. These techniques are now a part of our tool kit for helping to create better learning in our classroom. They are excellent additions to the techniques we already use, which include “Threshold” and “No Opt Out.”

                Space Colony Storypath came to a conclusion this week, during which the students came up with a set of values in a class discussion. From these values, students wrote laws and rights for all colonists in pairs. I will include our laws and rights as an attachment to this e-mail because I think that they reflect our class values well. Our classroom now boasts a colony constitution and list of rules (and penalties) that will be displayed until we need the space for something else. While the students are sad to say goodbye to the colonists, we will keep up the dolls and mural for a few more weeks. Many students are also keeping an interest in their colonist characters through their fiction writing, which will be a central focus of the coming week.

                My main accomplishment of the week was engaging students in improving their mean calculation skills. Many students struggled with calculating the mean last week as I was introducing landmarks and how to interpret sets of data. To support this procedural understanding, Leslie and I decided to shower the students with mean calculating handouts and games until the students could find the mean, “upside-down, backwards, and in the dark.” Students completed three separate worksheets for which the only objective was to calculate the mean. They had the most trouble when working with decimal values, so that will be a central focus for next week’s boardwork. We also played a game called, “I Mean It!” that I invented:

                Table 1 students come up to the front with their whiteboards and markers.
                Table 1 students take 5 seconds to write down any number between 0-99 (for the first round)
                Then, Table 1 students quickly put themselves in numerical order without speaking.
                Once they are in order, they become a SET of VALUES.
                All other students quickly calculate the mean.
                If students do this quickly, they will go back and find the median, too.
Each Table 1 student will call on a member of the classroom to see what answer he/she got. Once all Table 1 students have called on a classmate, we decide if we are in agreement or not. If all students had the same answer for the mean, we move on. If there are different answers, one of the Table 1 students will calculate the mean on the whiteboard to find consensus.

The students loved this game. They requested this game. I cannot overstate how successful it was. Better yet, a handful of students who usually struggle with math were successful on the Unit Test this Friday. Karla, Brian, and Asia were the most memorable “values” in our class “set.” What I’ve learned from this week is that practicing skills cannot always be put aside for conceptual explanations or group discussion. At a certain point in a student’s learning, he or she just needs to practice a skill until he or she can do it “upside-down, backwards, and in the dark.” 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rachel K. Hunger Games

From what I understand, getting a job within a public school district is ridiculous and competitive. All the jobs come out around the same time (April or May) and none of the interviews really happen until the summer unless you are applying for a really specific or specialized position. Kevin has been listening to my building woes about interviewing without any real idea of how I'm doing or whether or not there is a purpose to these "pre-screening" interviews on campus. Today he told me he felt like vying for a teaching job was basically the Hunger Games.

I was born into a broken family an educational system that does not have any money.
I volunteered to head into "the game" to save my younger sister's life to earn the income to buy back my younger sister's used car.
I become a tribute for the 2012-2013 Hunger Games school year.
People tell me what to say, how to act, what to wear, and how to fake a relationship with Peeta Melark write resumes and cover letters.
I desperately want to head to District 13 the Seattle District, but it is a graveyard (for new teacher positions).
All at once, I and my competition are brought to the arena.
At the sound of the horn completion of the budget, the games begin.
Utter chaos.
There is only one stack of resources and everyone heads towards them at the same time.
Few survive.
Then I hopefully kill everyone receive a job offer and win the games the right to a one-year contract that will likely expire.
Then basically the same thing happens for two more books years until I reach my melancholy ending continuing contract.

Behold, the illustrated version:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rachel K. 7 Devils

Boof, the stress is starting to surround me from upcoming interviews, information sessions, resumes, cover letters, student teaching, the daily disappointments of public school curriculum (not always, but sometimes), revving up for classes at the end of March, and the overpowering knowledge that come the 2012-2013 school year, I have no idea what I will be doing. Will I have a job? Will I be on a waiting list? Am I any good at teacher interviews? I feel like I am, but am I good enough to compete with other people who are good?

So I'm contenting myself with sweatpants, computer games, and lesson planning while I take the "final breath before the plunge," as Tolkein put it.

I'll be honest though. I could easily just listen to Florence and the Machine for the next three hours and cry.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

Rachel Sreebny’s Weekly Reflections
March 5 – 9, 2012
This week, I began teaching writer’s workshop alongside Leslie. She coached me a lot in terms of what the 5th graders have done in the past and how to tackle the amounts of information without talking for too long. The students are starting to dream up their fiction ideas, and it was up to me to get them excited about imagining their own characters. Students were able to make connections to their space colony characters, which they made the week previous for our Storypath unit. We created lists of traits and reflected on our own traits (positive AND negative), which was interesting to assess later on. Space Colony continued this week and we launched into learning about the solar system. I have combined the core content standard mini-unit on space science into the more engaging, narrative curriculum that Storypath offers. This way, the students are learning what they need to learn in order to be at grade level, but I am presenting it to them with a more meaningful and aligned premise. The gravity lesson during the “great blackout of Friday” was a big hit, and even the ELL and special needs students hit the learning target and were able to explain how gravity keeps us on the earth. Students also created informational planet posters, which allowed them to demonstrate their mastery of non-fiction reading and writing for the purpose of gathering and referencing specific research. This research will help students choose a planet that they’d like to colonize during our next episode of the Space Colony.

The only challenge this week was that students for the most part were unable to apply their knowledge of landmarks (maximum, minimum, mode, and median) to a set of values. In order to give students more practice with this skill, Leslie and I are going to use landmarks as our warm-up whiteboard work every morning until
the students can do it upside-down and in their sleep! Other than that, it was another wonderful and wild week at Kimball. I will miss these kids deeply when my internship ends on April 13th.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

Rachel Sreebny’s weekly reflections for Week 20 (Feb 27 – March 2, 2012)
                This week I started teaching all subjects and leading the classroom in place of Mrs. Cake.  It was very challenging, but I had a lot more fun each day and the hours seemed to melt away between the first and last bell of the day.  I had used a great deal of mid-winter vacation to plan for Reader’s Workshop, CMP II: Bits and Pieces for math, Space Colony Storypath for our content and writing subjects, spelling, vocabulary, and general daily items like cougar of the month voting, transitioning, and supervising on the class field trip to the EMP.
                Reader’s Workshop is a lot of fun to teach, but was challenging in that I had to present a lot of information quickly and still ensure that students had plenty of time to build their reading appreciation and stamina. This was particularly difficult coming back from a week of vacation! I enjoyed the curriculum a lot and was able to adapt it effectively so that all students were able to use reading strategies and think about unifying ideas in their personal reading selections. I am looking forward to starting Writer’s Workshop next week because of the similarity and connections between the curricula.
                Math was interesting because the CMP curriculum was originally designed and implemented in 6th grade classrooms. While the subject matter of fractions, decimals, and percentages is nothing new or impossible for the minds of 5th graders, the tasks set forth in the text books were indeed a bit challenging for the majority of students. The most effective way that I was able to teach this curriculum was to have students practice daily on their white board, which Mrs. Cake advised, and I scaffolded strategies through which to solve tricky problems on the board and then let students practice these strategies on their homework. I believe that giving the students opportunities to work on homework in class was a deviation from the norm, but the effect was clear: all students attempted to complete their homework. When we switch back to Everyday Math next week, I will be glad of the 5th grade friendly directions and workbooks once more.
                The Storypath: Space Colony was my favorite part of the week. Although I always felt rushed for time, I chose to look at it as “teaching with urgency,” which was something we were advised to do in our teacher preparation program. I brought in sample books of wallpaper and upholstery and created skin tone paper dolls of all skin tone colors. The students set forth to create their own individualized space colonist dolls, representing multiple nations, ages, and occupations. Students also filled out job applications for their characters, wrote in personal “Travel Logs,” and gave self-introductions in front of their class. It was challenging for students to be heard during their introductions because of the general noise of the open-concept classroom, but I didn’t observe any real nervousness or shyness as I watched the students, and I believe this speaks to the progress they are making as students and as young people. Travel log writing was successful in that this group of students who usually hates writing anything down on paper seemed almost eager to put down their character’s story, feelings, and hopes for the space colony future. My shining moment was when I read ELL student Tam Ta’s travel log, in which she had included the phrase, “See you later, Earth!” It was the most creative her writing has ever been, and I feel confident that student buy-in has been achieved this week in our content and writing areas. I am enthusiastic to start next week with more attention to science  - particularly to the solar system and attributes of its 8 planets.
                My greatest challenge this week was in classroom management. I am not the seasoned teacher that Mrs. Cake is, and so students often took their time during transitions, as if to test how patient Ms. Sreebny could be. However, I believe that my patience and rationale for any reprimands or corrective actions I took were understood as necessary by all of the students. I also had students practice their classroom transitions during the first few minutes of recess; students were timed and judged as they lined up, came to sit down, and returned to their desks. We practiced as many times as we needed to until it was perfect, and I have noticed a small but significant change in their transition behaviors. I will continue to work on my classroom expectations with the 5th graders this following week, and I look forward to reflecting on strategies that are effective so to add them to my own classroom management tool belt. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rachel K. Space Colony (Part 1)

SPACE COLONY - The Tiny Frontier

I started a Storypath curriculum entitled SPACE COLONY (always said in all caps because it is always yelled) today. I am so excited for this and have been waiting MONTHS to get going on it.

Students came up with a list of ideas for the types of jobs we will need on our international space station. I refer to the students as colonists, and the class was buzzing with excitement (and talking over each other with excitement as well). We came up with some pretty good jobs, and even some of the more space cadet students seemed to be interested in something or another. I'm looking forward to day 2 when the students will start making job applications and character dolls.

The students finished their job applications and started working on their character dolls. It was a hot mess. I have four boys who want to be the ship captain, so I'm going to decide on whose character has the most impressive job application to award that gem of a job - MWAHAHAHAH JOB APPLICATIONS MATTER. We had a fantastic 90 minutes of fabric cutting, wallpaper sample tracing, book research, Internet research, and lots and lots and LOTS of discussion. All in all, excellent progress so far; my students are inherently good at running around with scissors and making a mess. We'll see what happens when they find out they have to do work, too. Tomorrow will be the completion of the dolls and we will start writing Travel Logs and Introductions to practice their public speaking skills.

The kids got together in groups and made planet posters today. It was hectic, but I threw together a cooperative learning lesson. Each group of 3 students had a job (either manager, creative director, or researcher), and I prepped a lot of research for each planet because we only had 45 minutes to do 90 minutes worth of curriculum. The posters look fine, but if I could do it again, I would have given them black paper and just had them paste colored paper on it instead of starting wtih white paper. I think they would've turned out more interestingly. The class across the way saw how my class' posters turned out and did exactly that. While I am still in the puerile stage of seething that "the other teacher's class' posters look nicer than my students' and that makes me angry," I will get past that and simply revamp my plans for next time.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

Week 5 (February 13 – 16)
Students worked on their artistic responses for the Themed Literature Unit this week. Students selected to create inspirational posters, thoughtful poems, or realistic interviews. Once a student chose a project and an approved partner, they had a checklist and a rubric to guide their artistic endeavors. The end of this was a great success – students laid out their artwork and comment cards and the entire 5th grade walked around to admire different students’ artwork. Students were encouraged to leave kind or constructive comments on the other students’ comment cards. This was a lot of fun, and made for good practice for our EMP field trip coming up when we return from break.

Students were kind and interested in one another’s artistic representations.

Some students had less time to work on their artistic response projects due to bilingual testing. However, many of these students made tremendous effort to complete their projects, so it was a joyful experience overall.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

Week 4
(February 6 – February 10, 2012)
We continued the Themed Literature Unit in the 5th grade this week with a focus on African Americans who stood up for their beliefs and for others. We read books aloud about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and discussed segregation and civil rights. Students were asked to write “generalizations,” or  to synthesize their big ideas about what it means to speak up for yourself and others. Students were given scaffolded pre-­‐write handouts to help them construct sentences, and slowly put them all together. The generalizations were used the following week to culminate in artistic response projects, which I will discuss in “Week 5.”

The scaffolding of the handouts was appropriate to a 5th grade ability level and encouraged students to follow directions on their own.

Again, making students write was a slow and grueling process. I often spent my time outside of instruction going over errors in writing conventions or missed directions with the 5th graders. While I believe that any one-­‐on-­‐one time with the students is a helpful event, I did feel disappointed at how much guidance each student required in spite of the clear directions. I believe that once students spend more time with me and become acclimated to my instructional habits, this will fall into place.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

Week 4 (January 30 – February 3, 2012)
This week I began the Themed Literature Unit, which I co-­‐wrote with Cleo Peterson. The learning objectives for this unit are based on respect, empathy, and the courage to do what you feel is right. I wanted to bring this unit to the 5th grade because I understand that students from diverse backgrounds must learn to self-­‐advocate if they are to help themselves to reach their personal dreams and to support themselves through times of happiness and strife.

During this week, the students were required to respond to songs about “writing one’s own future,” and drafted letters to a bully in which they were required to use “peaceful language” to encourage the bully to stop being cruel to a character from the story The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.
The students responded well to this, and with a lot of coaching and revising they were able to score well in terms of writing conventions. I believe that the 5th graders need extra time to practice and improve upon their writing conventions. I implemented a vocabulary chart and two concept charts to aid visual learners and ELL students in their construction and understanding of what it means to speak up for yourself and others. The vocabulary chart was popular – students had to listen for the new words in our interactive read aloud each day and would use a hand signal if they heard any of the vocabulary. We would then construct our own definitions from context clues and prior knowledge, which was engaging for students and helpful for students of lower literacy abilities.

Strengths: The unit was both engaging to students and something that the 5th grade team felt was important to talk about with them.

Challenges: Writing conventions were quite difficult to get students to “buy into.” Perhaps it is because the majority of the students are weak writers (either in organization or understanding of basic sentence construction) and writing for them is neither joyful nor easy. I believe that more opportunities to practice basic writing conventions will at least improve student writing stamina if not disposition.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rachel K. Poncho

A quick note:

I went and bought some clothes on sale after Christmas. Most of what I bought is something I would refer to as a "boho maternity poncho." I don't know why I bought things that are huge and billowy and comfortable, other than the aforementioned details. Maybe it's because I don't want the kids to ask me if I'm pregnant after lunch. Maybe it's because ponchos are secretly the greatest thing ever. Maybe it's that they have pockets. The world may never know.


Student teaching began on January 3rd, which was only two days after my entire family left Seattle after a wonderful two weeks of overeating and enjoying each other's company (most of the time).

I am all about mornings. I love my breakfast routine, I love having coffee and reading ebooks on my kindle, and I love the quiet. The hard part for me is going to sleep on time, like around 10pm, like when I'd much rather be watching TV or petting the cats, or doing anything other than sitting around in bed hoping my brain will go into sleep mode.

The fifth graders are wonderful, as usual. One of mine was so wonderful she said this to me,

"You're 27? So's my mom!" 

The first week of student teaching has been the "week of Thursdays," or a week of days much like the ones on which I was intern teaching before the winter hiatus. It was the most boring week of all time. Mostly I sat around and watched other people teach and wandered around waiting for death to come the end of the day. It was planned that the following week I would start teaching my Themed Literature Unit, "Finding a Voice," with my teacher companion Cleo.

Then, suddenly, we changed everything around. The second week back was now to be used to teach Unit 5 of math (fractions, decimals, percents). This was a unit that I had planned only weeks ago while in TEED 521 at school, and I felt somewhat prepared to teach it. However, I was not prepared to start video taping my lessons and writing reflections for something called the TPA, or teacher preparation assessment (I'm 80% sure that's what it stands for).

The TPA is something I have to complete by April for my certification. A bunch of strangers in California are going to watch my video clips, review my lesson plans, and read my reflections and decide if I am fit to teach children. The other part of this was that we have not yet learned how to write the TPA at school. So, all of these changes created the perfect stress storm.

I spent the first week of the math unit teaching my brains out, video taping everything, and slowly getting better and better. I only had one lesson bomb, and that was totally my fault. Slowly I became accustomed to timing, teaching, and not starting every sentence with, "So!"Video taping oneself teaching is something I highly recommend to any teacher out there. I planned lessons every night and went over them with Kevin to make sure they were clear. I created charts for the students to fill with their observations and ideas, and I taught them about FRACTIONS all week. It was glorious, and I loved every second of it.

I spent this past weekend planning the second week of instruction, pouring over assessments and figuring out what students needed more help with, creating review homework, and beefing up the regular homework with more interesting word problems or charts.

And then the snow came. The snow came and we had a two hour delay and a two hour early release on  Tuesday and math was a bust. Now it's Wednesday and there is still snow and no school at all.

The best laid plans of student teachers + important certification materials  = snow.

So instead of describing my teaching this week, I will leave some teaching tips that I've come across during my first week of mathematics adventures:

1. Plan plan plan: For me, knowing my content and knowing where I'm going with it has been key for me as a student teacher. I am always able to answer student questions and I can anticipate their logic or where they might be going with their ideas.

I planned this lesson at home and then took a picture of the whiteboard. Then I simply recreated it!

2. Let the students define the vocabulary: Rather than supplying my students with boring definitions from the math book, we talk about words and then the students help define them with their own understandings. I think this is more interesting and it allows students to construct understanding of new words in a contextualized setting - and that's how we all build our own definitions in life anyway.

3. "Mathematicians!" I use this attention getter when I want my students to listen up and when I want to start a sentence. I simply say, "mathematicians!" and my students cross their arms and answer, "Nyeee-eeeeEEEEssss?" It's fun, it's simple, and it prevents me from starting sentences with arbitrary words like, "so!" or "now!" or "OK!"

4. Ask kids about what they already know to get them more interested in the world around them. This may be obvious to many people, but I don't see it a lot in the classroom. I have a "math in everyday life" chart that we add ideas to every morning. This gets kids to open their eyes and see the fractions or decimals or percents in their everyday lives. What, you mean math is SOMETHING WE USE IN EVERYDAY LIFE? Preposterous!