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!