The Bittersweet of Books and Student Teaching

Yesterday was my last day student teaching in the sixth grade and the term bittersweet was never more true. There were days that I couldn’t wait to move on to the high school and yet when I was sitting alone in the classroom reading letters my students had written me I started crying. Despite the fact they drove me to my limits most days I will miss those kids something fierce. You form bonds with high school kids but it is a different kind of bond with middle schoolers. Even the kids who I knew didn’t really like me wrote me really sweet letters.

I wrote each of those self absorbed sixth graders a personal letter and their responses were why I am a teacher. Almost all of those kids said they were going to keep that letter and that fact alone almost made me start crying. I am not normally an emotional person but saying goodbye to those kids was really hard. They don’t tell you that in college. That student teaching is going to be hardest thing you have to do not only because of the workload and the fact that every night you want to go to bed by 7:30 and that at the end of the eight weeks you won’t want to leave your kids because they are the best thing about your day. They don’t prepare you for these things…nor do they prepare you for interviews or the post interview adrenaline where you to calm yourself down you attempt to read said letters and have an emotional breakdown and then suddenly realize you can’t have your kids see your terrifying crying face so you just force yourself to calm down and then once again you emotionally stunted because you didn’t allow yourself to cry…(I’ll do it later when there is no one around to see me ugly cry).

I only wish I had more time with those kids 🙂

Today I decided to reward myself and get my mind off the interview (they will let me know beginning of the week this next week (insert grimace face emoji)) I decided to finally finish A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Mass. I loved the first book in the series and even though I love buying books I am kinda a cheapskate so I waited until the second one was in paperback to get it and then I waited until like two weeks after the third one came out in hardback to buy it, so that happened. Anyways I started reading this book what feels like a year ago but in reality was only 7 months ago (that doesn’t make me feel any better :/) and just now finished it. I honestly have no idea why it took me so long to finish it because I have had time to read it especially since I started student teaching. As much as I complain about how much work student teaching is it was nothing compared to last semester’s workload (19 credit hours, work on weekends, club activities and packing). So all in all I really should have found the time to finish it before now. If yesterday wasn’t painful enough the last 100 pages of this book were guaranteed to rip my heart out and then slap a bandaid over it on the last two pages. As if that little glimmer of hope at the end of the book really helped my mood at all.

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This book was a complete 360 from beginning to end. One moment you are screaming at Feyre because she is an idiot and then the next you like “Girl, you are totally justified” and then once you are screaming at words on a page because Feyre is once again the dummest fairy to be alive. Despite the emotional roller coaster ride it will put you on this is by far one of my favorite fae book series. I have read two outstanding book series about fairies, in my two decades plus a little on this Earth, and this is number three (The Tithe Series by Holly Black, and The Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr). It is a fast paced, groundbreaking, novel full of sexual tension, true powerful love, strong female characters, and actual love. When I say actual love I am referring to the selfless kind of love that breaks people free and doesn’t leave them feeling trapped and alone. Incredible, incredible book and I am kinda mad at myself I didn’t finish it sooner. I am very pleased with myself however that I have the third book in my possession already but I probably won’t start it till later. I am trying to read Wrinkle in Time, the graphic novel Speak (in preparation for when I teach it to the high schoolers) and a book by an amazing author, Amee Bender, (who is somewhat of my personal idol in the book world) so I’m pretty swamped for the time being, not to mention I am listening to Wonder on audiobook as I drive back and forth.

P.S. if anyone knows of any good Court of Thorn and Roses fanfic floating out there I think I am finally at a place where I would love to start reading some 🙂

-A

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Respecting Your Students

I have been reading a professional development book about helping those students who are struggling emotionally. I haven’t finished it yet so the blog post on that will have to wait but it brought up something I have been thinking about for a long time. Respecting my future students. Last week I went and visited my schools for student teaching and my cooperating teacher for sixth grade sat her students down and had a serious conversation with them about respect. It was a really important conversation but what was more important was that my teacher recognized her students as people. Granted they are only eleven, twelve, years old but they are old enough to be treated like people. She could have told them they are awful little children that need to start respecting their elders more but she chose to have a honest conversation with them about respect. She didn’t demean them in any way and it was really encouraging to see that she treats her students like people and not subordinates that she has to instruct.

Our students are people. They may be younger than us. They may have had a lot less life experiences then us but even as I type that I don’t think it is true. Sometimes educators and non educators overlook the fact that we expect students to be young adults and yet we don’t treat them like they are. When students enter high school as Freshmen in four very short years we are expecting them to enter college and know what they are going to be doing with the rest of their lives. I didn’t always know I wanted to be a teacher and honestly it wasn’t until I was a Freshman in college that I knew teaching is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. However, we expect our students to be thinking about their futures as kindergartners. When I was five I either wanted to be a nurse or an artist. Considering I hate the sight of blood and needles freak me out and I have no real artistic talent I don’t think I was going to grow up to be either of those. My sister-in-law knew she wanted to be a teacher since kindergarten but we cannot expect that of all our students.

If we want our students to walk out of our school in four years mature, young adults ready to tackle college then we need to start preparing them for that in high school. That means that we need to start treating them like the people and young adults they are. Granted they haven’t been through four years of college yet but I guarantee you my future students have dealt with more crap than I will ever deal with. I grew up a pretty sheltered life and I am thankful to my parents for that. They have always loved and supported me but not all students have that kind of support. I was a camp counselor for three years and some of those kids came to me from broken abusive homes and camp was their one highlight out of the entire summer. Students are maturing at a younger age because they are being forced to.

One of my professors today said more than likely we would all be student teaching in rural white middle class communities and as I thought about where I am going to be student teaching I realized that isn’t true. The community where I will be student teaching is about fifty/fifty (Mexican/White). These Hispanic students are not coming from middle class backgrounds. They are poor. I have seen those communities, I have worked with those kids. I may be student teaching in Nebraska but that doesn’t mean my community is predominantly white and middle class. These students lives are rough and many times hearing their stories broke my heart.

These students coming into my classroom are young adults not because that is merely a label they were given but because they are adults in young bodies. They are already grown up and we need to start treating them like that. Yes, they are your students but in four years we are going to expect to start living on their own and start owning their own education. How can we expect that to happen if we don’t start at the high school level?

-A

Student Teaching (Insert scared face emoji)

Last week was Thanksgiving and I ate a lot of turkey and pie all week long (I went to a friends house for Friendsgiving, ate pies at work, and then went home and had turkey). The week before that I went to NCTE which was a blast and then the day after we got back I got to go visit my schools. It was nerve wracking and not altogether what I expected. I really like my cooperating teachers and they sound like people I will get along with great, but I am not prepared like I was hoping to be. If I am being a hundred percent honest I expected to walk out of their building feeling one hundred percent ready for the spring semester and I feel more overwhelmed then ever. Am I really ready to be a teacher? Will I ever be ready?

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I can say with confidence that I am going to love my sixth graders. Middle school was a rough time for me but the kids seem really nice and my cooperating teacher is a great teacher. I wasn’t expecting to like sixth graders so much but I am super excited. The high school intimidates me because it is huge, not at all what I am used to, and even though I keep telling myself high school is where I want to end up high school students intimidate me. I’ve worked as a camp counselor for several years and I love working with high school students but camp is a lot less formal than a high school classroom.

All the same I am still super nervous because eventually I am going to be taking over class, someone else’s class, and actually teaching…(insert scared face emoji again). All the same I have been working for three and half years toward this goal and I don’t want to give up. I want to teach and eventually I am going to have to go into that classroom alone and start teaching.

I hate change and new situations. It takes me a long time to become comfortable around new people and new situations which is probably why student teaching scares me so much. This blog post is starting to sound more and more like a pep talk for myself but I don’t want to have a bad experience and I don’t want to negatively impact the students I am teaching. I had some great teachers and some not so great teachers. I only had one student teacher in my entire school career and looking back he wasn’t my favorite but then again looking back I also think he was given reigns to the classroom the first day and told to do whatever he wanted. I actually learned a lot in that class and it wasn’t a terrible experience but as much as it probably isn’t going to happen I want all my students to like me. I do not want to be that teacher that the students hated and didn’t learn anything from.

There are a lot of big changes happening very shortly, moving back in with my parents, student teaching, getting up at five in the morning (UGH!), and having to learn a whole new routine. It’s going to be tough but honestly every time I have experienced new big changes God has used them for good so I can only hope He knows what he is doing because I don’t.

-A

 

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

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