Art, my first passion

When I was a kid I wanted to be an artist. My mom got me watercolor pencils, I always had a coloring book and a sketchpad. I am terrible at drawing, absolutely terrible as people in my BLOCK class now realize. However, I loved art and I remember setting up an easel and paining and even those weren’t the greatest I still loved doing it. I still love to draw and paint even though I don’t do it as often as I should.

I was homeschooled so I never really did take an elementary art class and the art teacher at my old high school was mean, rude and never gave enough time, so I never wanted to take an art class with her. I moved as a junior and then it never fit in my schedule even though I knew BMac was an awesome teacher. As a freshman in college I was encouraged to take an Art History course by my amazing advisor and it was and still is my favorite course I ever took (there were two parts but I count them as one).

What does this have to do with anything? Well my cousin married an art teacher. She is amazing. She has a FB page where she posts what her students are doing in class and this last week she shared their sewing projects. They drew a picture and then sewed it. How cool is that! She is constantly posting awesome amazing projects that her students are doing and her classroom looks amazing. I wish I had a teacher like her. Someone so passionate about what they are teaching that even kids who probably don’t like art that much do because they get to sew! They get to create their own art and bring it to life! She loves what she does.

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I got my placement the other day for student teaching and my first placement is middle school. I have never observed in a middle school nor really thought about teaching middle school (actually that’s a lie but I lean more toward high school when I picture my future classroom). It makes me nervous because I don’t know what is expected in a middle school classroom. My cousin’s wife teaches K-12. I couldn’t even begin to imagine teaching all grades and keeping them all straight but she has such passion and it shows throughout all aspects of her life. I love looking through her FB page and seeing how proud she is of her students, seeing their art, and seeing how far they have come. I want that passion. I have that passion but I so want it to show through all the time. It should show through for all teachers. As an English teacher everyone assumes I teach grammar and writing but I do so much more. I love reading so much and I want to instill that in my students. I want them to become stronger better writers and I want them to succeed. Every student in my class could get an “A”. It is possible if only I am passionate enough and care enough. My students don’t have to walk out of my classroom remembering proper grammar (I still don’t) but I want them to walk out strong readers and writers who know I care deeply about them and their learning.

-A

Check out Tranda’s FB page: RepCoArtRoom

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Why English?

When I tell people I am an English Education major they usually lift their eyebrows, give me a ghost of a smile and tell me good luck. It’s either that or they tell me they hated English in high school. I used to think I was going into education because I liked English. I then thought I was going into education because I liked to teach. While I think those are two very important mindsets to have if you want to be a teacher I know now I am going into education to change how we educate kids. I honestly never thought I would be interested in administration because my heart is in the classroom but the thought of going for my masters is no longer something I don’t want to do but something I might do.

I am in BLOCK right now. This is the last semester of college before I student teach*gulp* and it is meant to prepare us for student teaching. It’s the last education courses we will take before we get our degree and it is meant to cover everything that hasn’t been covered yet. I had heard a lot of things about BLOCK from various people so I didn’t know what to expect. Some people said it was hard, others just told me to show up, pay attention and you’ll pass. What I didn’t expect was being told everything I learned in my English classes was wrong. I guess that might be an over exaggeration but that’s how I felt this last two weeks of classes. Everything in me was screaming that telling kids they are worth a percentage is wrong but what can I do against a system that has been in place for years? I know education has made some incredible advances in recent years but we are still assigning grades and hours and hours worth of homework. I don’t believe in homework and honestly I don’t believe in grades either. Grades tell our students we care more about a number then them actually learning the material and homework tells us that we don’t actually think students are learning in the classroom. I understand the value of grades because we do need to assess where students are at. However, as a student that never helped me. I still remember failing math test after math test and while my teacher cared that I was failing he never bothered to sit down with me and ask “what do you not understand? What do we need to work on to get you where you need to be?” He was a good math teacher and he genuinely cared but he was a part of a system that thinks grades are the best way to motivate students and to show their learning. It’s not. The plain truth is grades do not show you where a student really is.

I took Comp I and II in high school. I spent a good chunk of the first semester wiring a research paper. I was super proud of that thing because I had written draft after draft and when I was ready to turn it in I knew it was good. Now my teacher gave the final grade but as a way to assess the students across the district all the English teachers got together and graded the papers. They then averaged the scores and handed those back to us as well. It didn’t affect my grade or factor into my grade at all it was just a way for the district to see and compare across the schools. I got a two on my word choice (which don’t even get me started on this 1,2,3,4 number system). That was all. I was given a number and nothing else. Do you really think this helped me as a student? Haha, no. I looked at that number and thought “I failed”. My “word choice” whatever that means, was a two, again whatever that means.

When my mom student taught she had a third grader cry because this little 8 year old went down on her standardized test from the year before. She was crying over a standardized test that didn’t affect her. An eight year old was so stressed about a test that she cried. She was eight. Let that sink in. There was a girl in my class that was a really really slow test taker. She was incredibly smart but she was just really slow. It sucked because no accommodations were made for her and she had to finish tests in the allotted time. Tests stressed her out because she had to finish otherwise she would get a bad grade even though she knew the material.

I hate the word smart because it everyone is smart in some way or another. Being smart doesn’t mean anything because I can read a hundred page book in a day. I could not foil a binomial but my old roommate who struggles to read even ten pages could foil ten binomials. Just because you don’t know the material does not mean you aren’t smart. It’s because whoever taught it to you didn’t care enough to make sure you understand what was being taught. My geometry teacher was a nice person. She was a good advisor for National Honor Society. She was a terrible teacher. She knew geometry. She understood it, she just didn’t know how to teach it. She would literally watch my class every day copy each others homework right before we had to turn it in. She knew we were doing it and yet she didn’t care to take the time to ask us what we didn’t understand. I still don’t understand geometry to this day because I had to teach myself and I was already terrible at math.

One of my professors for BLOCK told us that when we write behavioral objectives we need to have a percentage to measure what percentage of the class got the material. So say I was teaching how to cite properly (which honestly no one knows how to cite properly) and I said with “80% accuracy”, that meant I wanted at least 80% of the class to get it. If the entire class is not getting it you aren’t doing your job. It should 100% always.

As I write this I know I will never reach every student and inevitably as much I hate to say this someone will fall through the cracks. Someone will get left behind because I work for the pubic school system that cares more about numbers than students. I will have to turn in grades and more than likely assign homework as much as I will hate doing it. However, I shouldn’t be afraid to push back. I shouldn’t be afraid to present the research that shows reading the Canon or the “classics” is a waste of time because students aren’t actually reading them. I shouldn’t be afraid to change the face of education because I refuse to let those students fall through the cracks. I refuse to accept 80%. I refuse to keep students the same way we have been teaching because as a veteran of the public school system I know from first hand experience it doesn’t work.

-A

How many synonyms are there for the word awful?

 

According to thesaurus.com there are thirty-four synonyms for awful and yet that alone would describe the week I had. My financial aid is still on hold (insert sad/angry face) because despite the millions of forms I turn in every year they never seem to have the one they need. My education courses and my English courses never seem to align and then I am faced with the dilemma of producing what the professor wants and what I know is right. My brother texted me with some news that made my blood boil and then frustrate me to the point that by the time Friday rolled around I was so ready for labor day weekend. I spent the weekend working which was a blessing in disguise because I was able to focus on work and forget about school. I went out with a friend on Friday night and was able to vent my frustrations over drinks. I then hung out with a friend today and overall it was a good end to a horrible, miserable, awful, disgusting (need I go on) week.

Will I have these weeks while teaching? Oh, yes. I do not look forward to them but I read an article on Teaching the tough kids and it brought it all back into perspective. I will get through this semester. My financial aid will come through. Despite what my brother and his fiancé want I will be there for them. I have friends in English Education who are in the same boat as me and are going to be fighting the same battle as me but we will do it together. Some of these “tough” kids, as they are called, do not have the same opportunities as I do nor do they have people fighting alongside them. It is a really short article but one dear and near to my heart. I was not a tough kid whatsoever but I saw kids who were and I saw teachers leaving those kids behind because they didn’t have the energy to deal with it. These are the students who need you the most because they will slip through the cracks. I just spent a solid fifteen minutes trying to find another article to share but I can’t :(. This other article was about a teacher who at the beginning of every school year would have students write down an imaginary seating chart. She never used these seating charts nor shared them with the class. She was using them to see the students who didn’t have any friends in the class. The students who were likely to fall behind because they didn’t have peer encouragement or support. These are the students we need to be looking out for. The “tough” kids because at the end of the day they aren’t tough, they are alone, afraid and lashing out the only way they know how.

As teachers we will go home to a house, food, and preferably some kind of companionship (furry or human). Some of the students in your classroom will not be going home and may not even know which home or where home is that day. Some of your students will only be getting one meal a day, their free lunches at school. They may not be paying attention not because they find Shakespeare boring but because they didn’t have breakfast and are experiencing low blood sugar.

When I walk into my classroom someday I’m not going to see labels I am going to see students. I’m not going to judge them based on the past because they deserve a new start and they don’t deserve that label. Just like I am allowed to move on from this menacing, enraging, pull my hair out, last week my students are allowed to move on as well.

-A

 

Week One: In the books!

I have been knee deep in books all week trying to read everything I can before I fall asleep from pure exhaustion. It’s been a rough first week of school but I am so excited! I get to read actual fun books (and yes Professional Development books are fun) and by having them as an “assignment” I can justify to myself that reading Phoebe and Her Unicorn graphic novel counts. If you haven’t read Phoebe and Her Unicorn I recommend it, but more so I recommend graphic novels and audiobooks for those “picky” readers. I had just myself to play with growing up so I spent a lot of time reading, but that is not the case for everyone. I only really started getting into audiobooks and graphic novels in recent years, but every time I hear someone say their kid likes graphic novels or audiobooks I always insert myself into that conversation because I want to know the why.

I have a friend whose son is eight and he is listening to the Harry Potter Books on audio cd. I asked his mom if he likes audio, and she said he loves it. I personally am a physical paper copy type of girl, but whatever gets kids interested in books and reading is worth trying. Some kids don’t like to read simply because they aren’t strong readers not because they don’t like books. When a pleasurable activity becomes a chore most kids won’t be interested anymore. I know I hated assigned reading in high school and college and I love reading!

I’m excited to be taking a course that will help teach English Language Arts, but I already know that as a teacher I just need to do two things: I need to model reading and writing. I  know that is not all I need to do, but if I come to class every day prepared to read and write just like my students it shows them I value reading and writing-it’s not just a task I want them to do.

I have slowly been discovering my voice through the power of poetry-something I never thought I would do. I have never really liked poetry, but words have a way of expressing feelings you never could have thought possible. Words are crazy beautiful things that can open up a whole new world for students only if we show students that it doesn’t have to be a chore but a way to express themselves and discover their own unique voices.

-A

It is not the end. It is simply the beginning

When I first started out in college I was sure that I wanted to be a teacher. I was sure that I wanted to teach English and I was positive I was never going to change majors. I’m not going to lie I did think about changing majors. I did think about just becoming a lit. major, move to some remote location and write book reviews for a living (I think that is every lit. major’s dream), but I stuck with it because I didn’t see a purpose in that. I want to make a difference in kid’s lives and even if they still hate English after I teach them it won’t matter because ultimately I am there for them not for me.

This might be the end of the semester and this course, but for me it is just the beginning of a long life full of kids. It really truly is wonderful when a passion and a career come together. I love kids. I love English. I love the idea of being able to teach them someday a subject I am passionate about. That dream isn’t that far enough considering if all goes well I will be student teaching next spring, which is a terrifying thought. However, I feel much more prepared to teach writing then I was a semester ago. Honestly before this course I hadn’t given much thought to teaching writing. I’m not a huge fan of writing and would prefer to spend my days reading, but being able to express yourself on paper is a wonderful feeling. I just finished writing a critical essay for another course, and it was a lot of fun. I had the option to do a more creative paper, but I went for the critical because I wanted to be challenged. I wanted my voice to be heard, and that’s what I want for my students.

My favorite part of college so far was my semester I took Shakespeare, because I had to write so many critical essays, but in each and every single one of them I made my voice heard. I was told I had to write about a certain play, make sure it was argumentative, but I could what choose what I argued about. It was the best feeling in the world because my voice was being heard, and I hadn’t felt that kind of power over my own writing in a very long time. It all starts with choice, and if I have learned anything this semester it is that student’s need choice. They also need to be able to have their own voice when writing. I don’t want my students to write for me I want them to write for themselves.

If I have enjoyed reading one person’s blog this semester it has been Jessica’s. She has great voice and from what she has told us she had great English teachers as well. English teachers that encouraged voice in her writing and read aloud contemporary lit. as well. It has definitely been a joy (haha) reading the thejoyouslifeofjess.

I learned so much in this class and I cannot honestly fit it all into one blog post. We started off the semester talking about the history of writing and honestly at the time I didn’t see the point in it. Writing has a history like everything else so what? It honestly wasn’t until I started researching écriture feminine that I found out the history of writing matters. It matters a whole lot.  It doesn’t matter to just women, but anyone who has written out of the canon because they aren’t old dead white guys. History is my other passion and I get pretty angry when someone says no one else in the history of blah blah, did this or that. Well honey they did so get over it. The same goes for writing. History repeats itself, a lot (just read the Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson), and it is important to   recognize those cycles in order to know where people are coming from and where they are going. We need to know our history in order to change the future which is why we also studied contemporary practices in writing.

I studied writer’s notebooks because as a student I was never encouraged to keep one. I love my writer’s notebook and it is a way for me to vent my creativity. The one blog I kept coming back to however was Eli’s English-Only is A Problem because I didn’t know schools enforced English-Only rules. My advisor/professor at my community college told us about schools that encouraged bilingual teaching and how the waiting list was so long for these schools because parents wanted their students learning two languages. It just shocked me that students from another country aren’t encouraged to speak their native language. I understand the push to make it so students are able to communicate with their teachers and peers but being bilingual is simply incredible. Why would anyone encourage you not to be bilingual or share your native culture/language? I had a friend tell me that she overheard a teacher telling some girls (they were from Thailand, I think) “English only”, when they were chatting with each other in their native tongue. These girls weren’t even allowed to speak to each other in their own tongue and as a human being that makes me angry. Isn’t one of the rights of this country freedom of speech or does that only apply when you are speaking English?

Looking back over this post I realized how much I learned, but I dreaded this class when I left after the first day. I was confused because the rigid structure of the typical classroom was not there and I so wanted it to be. I’m so thankful it wasn’t but at the time I longed for the familiar. Dr. Miller warned us it wasn’t going to be easy (changing our mindset), but he knew he couldn’t teach us how to teach writing if he didn’t give us room to explore our own voice. I know I am still going to struggle teaching writing but I feel better equipped then I was a semester ago.

-C