Update: I am done

I cannot believe how quickly student teaching began and ended, but as of last Friday I am done. It was really hard leaving my second graders who I have grown to love very deeply, but I told them that moving on is part of growing up for them and for me. I cried because it is so sad to leave this amazing group of children, half the students cried to.
It was important that they were given an opportunity to write thank you notes to me, because we found that gave them the chance to process what was going to happen when I was gone. One girl in particular needed that writing opportunity to express that she was sad and did not want this to happen.
I told the class that I will be back to say hello next semester, and anytime Kathy needs to be out for the day I will come to take care of them, and anytime another teacher in the building calls me to sub I will walk down to their room and peek in to say hello.
Finding a teacher job at this time of the year is not out of the question, but I am not up for the uncertainty right now. Instead I have decided to spend the rest of the school year dividing my time between nanny work with a few local families, and substitute teaching. In the mean time I will continue preparing myself for the job that I pray I will find at the start of the 2011-2012 school year.

Book Share -Teaching with Love and Logic

Teaching with Love and Logic, by Jim Fay and David Funk is part of the love and logic philosophy (learn more at loveandlogic.com), they believe that to get the best out of children we need to teach and discipline out of love, understanding, and compassion.
The book is an easy read with concrete examples of how to use this philosophy in a classroom at any grade level. One thing that I really like about this book, is that the authors are asking the readers to try what works for them and not to overturn everything that has worked in the past. They are not out to make every teacher feel badly about everything they have ever done to their students, rather they are inviting the teacher who wants the best results out of students, and is not yet seeing them, to try some ideas that have worked for others.

I agree that not every rule needs to be written out to the letter, and I agree that when we do that students will find loop-holes and tell us that we have been unfair when disciplinary action is required on something not clearly and fully laid out. I am also very freed by the idea that I do not need to apply consequences the moment I am offended. In fact according to the authors it can be more effective to wait until you have the time to deal with a consequence, because in the meantime the student will worry about what is coming and will be seeking a way to make it better, they will also have an opportunity to cool off so that you are not trying to consequence someone who is ready at the moment they did something wrong to fight over it.

I am also taken by the idea of empathy. Whenever there is a consequence I can say to the child, “I am sorry that this is happening to you” and they will learn that I am not just out to fight with them, but I am actually hoping they will not have to suffer.

What I have applied most of all to my regular life is the plan to give choices with more than one option that I like. I have often stopped myself from getting angry and having a fight by asking myself what options I can allow here. For example, “you may change into a Pull-Up, or you may choose not to listen to a story tonight. The choice is yours” in this example he chose not to change and he was very upset not to have a story. I needed only to tell him how I would live my life, and the next time we had a question about this, he chose to put on a Pull-Up.

I recommend this book to any teacher who is looking for the freedom to teach students who want to be taught, I will keep it in my parent library and I expect to refer to it myself from time-to-time.

Book Share - Yardsticks

One of the books that student teachers in under my supervisors direction are required to read is a wonderful book about the ages of our students and the importance of educating in a way that is age-appropriate. Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14 by Chip Wood gives a fairly brief introduction to child development and makes an argument for the need to teach children at their level even as they are grouped at different ages in a single classroom. Wood points out that at any grade level in any school there will be most often three different ages. For example a second grade classroom may have older sixes, sevens and young eights. Add to this the fact that a child could have been held back and there is another whole year to that group of children. Not only are the students different ages grouped together, but they will also be maturing at different rates.
The book gives age-by-age expectations we can have for our students, but it begins by teaching that there are four Principles of Child Development:
  1. Development follows predictable patterns.
  2. Children go through predictable stages in the same order, but they will not all go through them at the same rate.
  3. The aspects of development do not proceed at the same rate.
  4. Growth is uneven.
So from the start Yardsticks it was made clear, (or if you already know it is brought home) that even a group of children at the same age will have a wide range of needs and will be developed at different stages in different aspects of development.
Wood goes on to stress the need for students physical needs to be met and to be made a high priority in the classroom.
After introducing some facts of development, and some of the ways that teachers and parents can help their children to develop, Wood goes on to have a chapter for every year. In these chapters he explains what is normal at the age.
This book is a valuable tool for parents and teachers to know what to expect of their students. To gain some understanding for the variations in development, but also to be aware of what is normal, and what they might be concerned about.

Sub Plans

I am thinking about what I will put in my bag of tricks while subbing next year. Thanks to my in-laws I have a gift card for Learning Resources, and I am thinking about the best way to spend my money that will be productive in the "right away", so while I am subbing and looking for a full-time position.
What occurred to me is that I need decks of quiz cards. Any old games that have quiz questions (such as Blurt, or Outburst, or Trivial Pursuit) that need some new life can go into my bag of tricks, so I will be going to thrift stores looking for the old games that need new life.
I was also thinking about the valuable resource of Brain Quest, which has decks of questions at any level and are right now on sale on Amazon. With decks of questions in my bag I can follow the sub plans that are left behind, but also add something to do with the class if the plans left do not fill enough time. It will be as simple as selecting a deck that is on-level for the class I am in on any given day.
If there is just a little bit of time I can use a KooshBall to toss as students try to answer the questions, and if there is a lot of time to fill I can set up a climbing game and teams on the board.
I am really excited to have found a fun way to pass time when I sub, because the most nerve-racking thing when subbing is the possiblity of unhappy kids and nothing to keep them occupied.
At the same point if I have a class that is truly unruly I can pull out a question and tell the students that since they don't want to work with my they will sit quietly at their desk and answer a question.
Brain Quest has a question of the day widget that I have added here to my blog (for the time being) so check it out and let me know if you have ideas about what I can do while I am subbing and stuck in unexpected situations. Do you have any stories about subs?

Learning to Blog?

Wordle: Teacher
I spent last Friday at the in-service for making a website. The presenter was Rebecca Hines, who is from Florida, and teaches about meeting the needs of all the learners in the classroom. It was a lot of fun for me.
The goal set for the day was that every teacher would leave with a blog they could begin using right away for whatever purpose they chose to set - parent-teach communication, in-school tool for students, or individual site designed to meet the needs of an individual student. Of course I already have a blog and was familiar with the basics, but I was able to learn a bit about the practical applications for a teacher, and all the teachers were sharing some sites that they have found useful for students. It was a really good day.
Because I already have a blog, my goal was to help Kathy set up hers, and along the way to pick up what I could about the internet and schools, and to network a bit. I introduced myself to other teachers as I helped them trouble-shoot their blogs.
In at least one of my college courses I have already made classroom a web page, but the idea of doing the classroom web page in blog format was a new thought to me. One option for setting it up is as an in-depth asassignment to be worked on at home or school. For example I may have found a marvelous video on National Geographic Kids that I want my students to view. I could make it the entry and follow it up with a questionnaire that was made in Google Documents so the children will have accountability for watching it.
A flexible option for homework could be to link an educational game related to what the class is learning in a given link and tell the children that as one option for their "Give Me Twenty" (free-choice-homework) they could go online and play the games. As an example we found the website SpellingCity where students can type in their weekly spelling words to practice and play with.
Another option for the classroom web page is a substitute for the newsletter. Make an announcement to parents that a feild trip is coming up, party where volunteers will be needed, or just letting them know what is going on in the room; make it private and include photography of what is going on in the classroom to give parents something concrete to engage students in conversation. This is of particular value when helping with special education students who are included in your classroom. They may have particular challenges telling parents about their day in school, but provide the parents with some starting points and you will have increased the language opportunities for your students at home!
To make this parent website important to the students you can assign special projects when the students will be "guest writers" and they can tell parents about what is going on in the classroom. Parents will be able to respond to whatever goes up and in this way they model for the children that school is important, and that model is one of our most valuable teaching tools.
The last way that I mentioned for using a blog in the classroom is to set up a specialized learning plan for special needs students. Again the main thought is students with IEP's who are doing work that is in some way different from the rest of the class. The work that you present on their personal site may not be on grade level, but will be appropriate to the ability of that student.
The gist of what I learned is that there is a lot more to be done in the blogging format than I had thought. I am looking forward to designing some blogs that will meet the needs of my classroom, and I hope that other teachers will be inspired to think up wonderful new ways to tap into the Internet.


Yesterday I was again reassured that I am in the right profession. I love children, and I am a good caregiver.
I spent the day babysitting two little ones (9month old girl and 11month old boy), who were strangers to each other and to me. The parents were in town from Chicago and Toronto to see the U of M game, and these two were not old enough to be away from their mommies all weekend. A friend of a friend put them in contact with me to babysit for the day and some how they felt confident enough in that judgment to leave their treasures with me.
It was a fairly long day with the two babies, but I was able to handle it and give the parents a positive report of how the day went.
The big confidence booster came from the Toronto mom, who had never left her baby for that long before. She told me that with an older child with special needs and the little one being a handful, she was not comfortable leaving them to go back to work, or even for short periods of time so she and her husband can go out. She said from the instant she met me she was comfortable, she enjoyed her day at the game without worrying about her baby. I am very honored that a complete stranger would be so comfortable with me, that she would leave her baby for the first time, in a strange environment, and feel like he was safe and she could enjoy the game. She even joked about how nice it would be if I lived in Toronto and they could get out more often.
I know that I am good with children, but I am not all that great with adults. It is very comforting to know that protective parents find me a safe person to leave their little ones with, even with only a few minutes of meeting. This gives me comfort for how it will be when I go to interviews and need to impress all sorts of adults (parents, administrators, teachers, school board, and whoever else is invited to sit in the interview), I can stand firmly on the knowledge that I know what is good for children and it shows.

Is this hopeless?

Last night at my student teacher meeting our supervisor told us that our university has over seven-hundred student teachers this semester. Today at our staff meeting the superintendent made it very clear that even as much as the staff feels the need for more support, there is no money in our district for employing more staff. It is easy to draw from this that the same must be true all around this area.
I have been hearing since before I began college that I need to be ready to leave the state when I graduate, if I really want to teach. I have been hearing for so long that many many teachers are graduating with their teaching certificates and not finding work in the field. I believed it all, but have been holding out hope that maybe I will find work in Michigan, but now I wonder if I even want a job around here where I will be at the top of the list for layoffs if I am so lucky as to find that job.
It is a confusing time right now for me, and for many teachers around the area. I don't know where I will be in a year from now, all I have time to think about is where I will be tomorrow - it should be another great day with my second graders.


It is only Tuesday, but I have so much to share about this week already that it felt more like Friday!
Yesterday I took the day off from my class to take Kyle to his school across the state. It was very hard for me to leave him so far from where I am, but what he is doing there is important and I am proud of him.
I was not pleased though that the school where he is took so long in letting us know the move-in date, and when I did find out, I found out that it was a day well after most Michigan schools had begun (including both my placement school and the university) so that I could only drive him there if I would take a day away from teaching. I needed permission from my cooperating teacher and my university supervisor in order to take the day off, which I was only able to get thanks to Kathy. She told me and the supervisor that of course I was needed in the classroom, but that if I give 110% while I am at school, and there is a valid reason for me to need a day off, then as far as she is concerned I can take that day. Thanks to Kathy I did not have to put up an enormous fight to take my husband to school.
After the 2 1/2 hour drive home from Kyle's school I still had my first meeting of the one class I am taking this semester "The Writing Process for the Elementary Teacher". I was pleased with this first session, but of course there will be a good amount of writing to keep up with for that class which will need to be ready on Monday nights. The stress of this last semester is really starting to hit home for me. Not too much longer and I will at least be certified to teach!
Today went smoothly, it was very good to return to my students, they are each very dear and I love being in the school. President Obama made an address to school children, it lasted twenty minutes and cut our recess in half. And it was boring. I do not believe that my students were listening to it at all. In my opinion recess is a very important part of the day where children exercise, and unwind. I believe that children who have a hard time focusing benefit from it in a particular way, and I do not even like to use recess as a means of discipline. It is too important! So I was very upset that we were stuck in the classroom listening to a speech. Oh well.
The school year is off to a good start, and I am looking forward to sharing again soon!

You Can't Scare Me!

They came
They brought me an apple
I tied a shoe
I feel like a teacher.

The school is trying to scare me by overcrowding our classroom with special education students and very limited special education support. Half of our class has some nature of worry that has been identified, everything from autism, seizures, allergies to sun, nuts, dairy, etc., wheelchair needs, and partial blindness. Our class is swamped. Whatever their needs though, I have grown quickly to love each of my students, they are beautiful people and I will do everything that I can for them over the next few months.
When I greeted one teacher in the morning Friday she said with surprise "you're still smiling!" and I am. I love teaching. This is my life-long dream and I am going to embrace every good moment, and every trying moment. Many new teachers quickly leave their profession for other work when they realize what society expects of us is so much, with the desire to spend as little money for the service as possible.
Over this last week I have had opportunities to lead my class in games, and to see the big picture of what teaching involves. It is what I expected it would be - I am not quitting!

The Students are Coming!

I have been working in the school for about a week and a half, helping Kathy prepare for the first day of school, and tomorrow is that day!
I have been in school for four years now, and my education will really begin in the morning. We have a class of thirty students who I am looking forward to teaching, and learning from.
Today I need to figure out my first day of school outfit, I cannot tell you how excited I am!

Log September 2, 2010

As of yesterday it is clear that the summer is over and it is time to go to work. On September 7 (next Tuesday) our students will be arriving at the school for their first day. I am really looking forward to meeting all the boys and girls who will be in this second grade class, by all accounts they are a very loving group, so we will most certainly enjoy them.
Kathy has been diligently preparing the classroom and seeking names of students for the last week, and has allowed me to come and work with her as my schedule has allowed, there is so much to learn about setting up a classroom as the summer ends. I am pleased to have such a master teacher walk me through the process of setting up the room and preparing for the students. I am amazed at all the thought and energy that she is putting into making the seating for day one as workable as possible, so that we can start out the year with fewer conflicts. She considers everything she knows and can find out about the boys and girls and places them accordingly.
Our first staff meeting was also yesterday, and it was not very exciting and went well over the scheduled hour. I understand this is a rather normal occurrence, so on Wednesdays when I have staff meetings I will not be planning for an early dinner.
Our class has multiple food allergies and sensitivities (including my own gluten-free diet) so Kathy has made the decision to have no-food birthdays. For many reasons this is a good choice with such a large group of kids, but I am disappointed; being home schooled I never took a birthday treat, so I was looking forward to my birthday! I need to set the best possible example, so I will be positive about this decision.
Today was the first professional development day of the year, and I can see what a burden this requirement is for the teachers. These people came back from their summer vacations and have so much to do in preparing for the students in less than one week, but here they were stuck in a whole day of training. All this would be forgivable, but for the fact that the training was a waste of time. I went there hoping to learn something, only to have a boring lecture covering material that everyone in the room should have known already.
I am glade that I went to the professional development, because it was a good opportunity to meet a few people, go out for a nice lunch with Kathy and others. I also had a short chat with one of the other student teachers in my building, I am looking forward to seeing more of her during the semester.
This fall will be lots and lots of work, and I will know so much more on Tuesday, so stay tuned.


Over the next few months my posts will be centered around my experience as a Student Teacher. This is the final stretch as I expect to graduate in December!
Today I joined Kathy (the master teacher who I am working with) as we took a first look at the classroom. It is fantastic opportunity to see an experienced teacher set-up for the start of the year.
All we did this morning was to pull out and organize the desks, connect the student computer stations, and pull out some books and activities for use the first few weeks.
I am looking forward to sharing with you all the adventures of my student teaching experience in a second grade classroom.

Homework Wars

This is not likely to be my last post on the subject of homework, my opinions on the subject are fairly strong and I think well supported by research and experience. I hope that it is less true than rumored that parents demand homework, because I will not.
This particular writing comes from the class Writing in a Changing World I took in the winter of 2010 with Phil Arrington at Eastern Michigan University.
This class had both strengths and weaknesses, but through it I was able to work my writing muscle to struggle for the grade I wanted. As the title indicates it is in response to John Buell's "End Homework Now" I believe it is worthwhile to take a look at his argument (a quick read) as well as my response.

The Homework War: An Analysis and Critique of Etta Kralovec and John Buell’s “End Homework Now”

Children and families are burdened by homework, and schools are often at a loss for ways to help. Teachers assign homework to take advantage of the time spent outside the classroom, but some people question the validity of demanding work from students that cannot be monitored equally for all students.
We’re all familiar with the image of a small child at the family table slaving over homework. We’ve all seen the image of a frustrated student so overwhelmed by homework that he or she may not enjoy time outside school. Perhaps we have witnessed similar scenarios in our own homes and families. Parents and teachers are constantly faced with the question of how to deal with homework.
Truly our society may be overworking everyone, adults and children. Parents are opting to have children spend time outside of school with additional structured work such as music lessons, sports, art classes, and other activities, which the parents consider important for their own child’s optimal development. The question arises of how much we as educators can expect outside of school.
Recently parents and teachers have been raising the question of how valuable homework really is, as well as how fair it is. Simply stated the question is: should educators take time out of family life for the questionable or limited benefits of homework.
Etta Kralovec and John Buell raise this question in “End Homework Now”. Those who read the argument and found it convincing may want to take another look and ask a few deeper questions about this extreme conclusion that homework has no place in K-12 grade curricula. By taking another look they’re likely to find that although Kralovec and Buell provide some strong reasoning for what can go wrong when homework is overused, they fail to reach a balance for how the home and school lives of children can be mutually beneficial.
Writing in the twenty-first century, a time of school reform, Kralovec and Buell claim that one element of reform that schools ought to be embracing is homework reform. It’s their belief that homework creates disparities between students from various socio-economic statuses, causes undue stress to students, and shrinks “unstructured family time.”
Etta Kralovec is the Vice President for Learning at Training and Development Corporation and John Buell is and author and freelance journalist. The authors have worked together in researching the benefits of homework reform, and come to the conclusion that homework is not of equal benefit for all students, and should not be used by teachers who should be making the most of in-school time.
Kralovec and Buell began considering the issue of homework after a small study they conducted of alternative schools in Maine they “conducted in-depth interviews with more than 45 at-risk students” who identified “chaotic family lives, cramped living quarters, and parents who worked at night” as factors for dropping out of school. “They also kept mentioning their inability to complete homework as a factor…”
In response to these finding the team researched how homework affects the lives of students and found that it “often disrupts family life, interferes with what parents want to teach their children, and punishes students in poverty for being poor.”
The authors’ reason that if homework is not always beneficial, and can be skipped in low-income schools then “either homework is of no educational value… or we are committing the worst form of educational discrimination by differentiating academic programs on the basis of economic class.”
The authors’ also question how teachers can be held accountable for what is expected to be learned in the home, and how teachers can know to what degree the students are doing their own work.
Kralovec and Buell cite three “myths”, arguing reasons for why those who disagree with the end of homework are wrong. 1) “Homework increases academic achievement” 2) ”If our students don’t do lots of homework, their test scores will never be competitive internationally” and 3) “Those who call homework into question want to dilute the curriculum…” They follow each of these points with reasons for why the statements are untrue.
Finally, the authors call for a “focus on genuine reforms,” which includes smaller class sizes, more pre-K education, more resources for teachers and more funding for schools.
Kralovec and Buell wrote this article in 2001 for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, a teaching organization. It is written in the year following the passage of No Child Left Behind Act by the Bush administration, and years of other attempts at school reform.
Identifying homework as a reason why some students drop out of school is a valid issue, and reasoning from that issue that homework assignments need to be modified to the degree that they will be developmentally appropriate for students is sensible. But to call for a complete ban on homework is taking it too far, not accounting for the fact that by developing homework in a way that facilitates communication between schools and homes, everyone can benefit. In their research what Kralovec and Buell found was that the effects of homework are mixed.
I believe that there is positive homework, but it is an art for a teacher to strike the balance between what students need to be able to do in and out of school.
The writers make the claim that teachers cannot “know the level of their students learning if they don’t know how students are getting their assignments done at home.” This implies that all homework is to be completed and turned in and disregards the fact that teachers can assign reading, and studying as a part of the homework expectations. I admit this is an oversimplification of homework, but what about the kindergarten student whose assignment at night is to find a toy that starts with the letter T? This is the very beginning of homework, and in its own simple way encourages students to interact with their whole world as learners.
The authors bring up the sub-question that if homework is invalid we should not use it, but if it is useful we should not use it because not every student will be able to do it the same way. This is a weak statement, as though it were not the goal of teachers to do everything in their power to help students succeed. If they have identified their students as being unable to complete work at home, they should differentiate for that, but to throw out all benefits because not all learners will benefit is to go too far.
The mention of Japanese school system, although important fails to take account for the cultural place of education in that country, the high stakes which school carries with it, and the support that schools receive from families being a completely different style from how it is done in America. Different culture, different history – different outcomes.
I concede that homework may be misused, and is often given without justifications, but it is unreasonable to make the standard that all homework is frowned upon.
Homework is a way to connect the classroom to the home, it should be positive. Teachers need to set limits based on what they know about the class of kids they’re teaching. Any seasoned teacher will say that every year a new group of students sits before them with their own individual needs and skills. One size fits all schools are not effective. To be a good teacher, one needs to be creative in finding the right way to reach each of the children, each year.