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.