Monday, November 29, 2010

I am Blessed: A Post of Thank You's

I have been truly blessed in my life and during this experience to have such an amazing support system. There are many, many people that gave me advice, let me cry to them, and simply encouraged me throughout this time. Hopefully, I will not forget anyone in this very important entry. This is bound to be pretty long, so feel free to scroll down to your name if you don't want to read about everyone else. Also, I am sure not everyone mentioned in this post will read this, but you can believe that I told them in person how much I appreciate them.

Jodi Chesbro- I could not have wished for a better mentor. You are exactly the kid of teacher I hope to be some day and I feel so lucky to have worked with you. Thank you for all of your support and encouragement, not to mention your friendship. I could not have done this without you and I am forever thankful to you for that.

Fred Lugo- Thank you for making me part of the Bales family pretty much as soon as I arrived. You are such an amazing principal and I hope to work with you again some day. I appreciate your support and your willingness to be flexible in order to make my student teaching successful.

Michelle Bjorklund- Thank you for giving up your classroom to me and for being so flexible. I honestly would have quit if I was in your position. I do not know how you are able to keep going with a smile on your face, but I truly enjoyed working with you.

Shauna Hall- Thank you for being my friend and walking with me every day during our prep to the office. I would not have survived this if I did not have you to complain to and laugh with every day. I hope you can survive without me. Haha.

Katie Preston- Thank your for sharing your house with me for the past four months. I loved living with you and appreciate all that you have done for me. I am so thankful I was able to share this experience with you and get advice from you along the way. Oh, and thanks for providing motivation for me to complete my field notes and lesson plans on a weekly basis.

Cornell English and Education departments- I really want to list professors individually, but that would take too long. I am thankful that I have such amazing professor that have taught, inspired, supported, and encouraged me throughout my education here. Whenever people ask me what my favorite thing about Cornell is (besides the block plan), my answer is always my professors. I would not be who I am today without you.

Cornell Fellows Program/Haffke- I am thankful I attend a school that believes in their students and wants to provide them with opportunities that they would not have without the financial support. I would not trade this experience for anything and I am forever thankful to the Fellows program and Haffke (the alum who donated money for me to do this).

Casey Daugherty- I know I haven't been your student in four years and I haven't even seen you in about a year, but you are one of the main reasons I ever pursued teaching. You continue to inspire me and I am continually thankful for everything you have done for me. I honestly would not be here if it wasn't for you. Thank you for that.

My friends- I could list people individually, this post is already long enough and all of you know who you are. Thank you for always putting up with when I get stressed out and ridiculous. For allowing me to call you and cry or listening to all of my boring teaching stories. Thank you for encouraging me to apply to this in the first place and understanding when I was too busy to talk. Even though you were all far away from me, I never would have gotten here or made it through without you guys.

My family- It would not be a thank you post without thanking my family. Thank you for supporting me and never holding me back from what I have wanted to do. Thank you for your love and encouragement. I know it has been difficult letting me go to school out of state and even further away for student teaching, but I never would have done it if I knew you couldn't handle it. Thank you for listening to me cry and telling me that I was being too hard on myself. Thank you for seeing the things in myself that I have never been able to see.

If I forgot anyone, I am truly sorry. It is not because I love you any less, but simply because this was long list.

Now, the final question remains as to what will happen to this blog now that I am done student teaching. Well, the answer is that I do not know. I could say that I will promise to keep posting about various things, but if I say that, I am far less likely to actually do it. When I am feeling inspired and have the time to do it, I will post again. Until then, I love you and thanks for everything.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Everyone Get on Your Desks So She Can't Leave!

Wednesday was my last day of student teaching; I think my students were trying to make me cry. Eighth graders are normally thought of as moody, hormonal teenagers, but I saw evidence of really sweet, cute children on my last day. Many of my students made me cards, brought me a soda, or some Chapstick (they know me well). The day started with my homeroom coming in and making me close my eyes and not look into the classroom; they had a surprise for me. When I entered my classroom this is what I saw.

They made this sign for me in art the previous day; it will now receive a prominent location in my dorm room this January.

As the day continued, I kept receiving more and more random little things. Nearly every student signed this giant card for me. (Those are some littler cards in the middle and a Dr. Pepper chapstick).

Furthermore, if given the opportunity, every student loves to write on the white board. They took advantage of my leniency on my last day and wrote goodbye messages all over the white board (I normally do not allow students to write on it). This is what it looked like by the end of the day.

One of my favorite stories of the day, happened in afternoon class with my homeroom. I took them outside to play and we went back in for them to get their stuff in the last few minutes. My rule is that every student has to be sitting in a chair before I dismiss them ("the bell does not dismiss you, I do). One student, J, that I have had a lot of trouble with, was sitting on his desk.

Me: Whenever J sits in his chair, I will dismiss you.
J: Quick! Everyone get on top of your desks so she can't leave.
(A few students get on top of their desks)
Me: I have to go guys! I cannot stay in Arizona. (Laughing and very flattered). Just leave; you guys can go.
Students: No! Don't go. (All rush to front of classroom and give me a giant group hug).

I came very close to tears at this point, but managed to hold it together. At the end of the day, I had a long line of students outside of my door to give me hugs and say their final goodbyes. I was anticipating some sort of sorrow over my departure, I was not expecting it at this level. This is the sort of the day that really shows me why I want to be a teacher in the first place and that I have what it takes to be a good one.

After all of the students left, I had to go up to the office to return my key. I went into my principal's office to say goodbye to him and Jodi was in there as well. Saying goodbye to them was truly the hardest part of leaving. I held it together all day, but I lost it at this point; tears poured out of my eyes and I could not stop it. I was truly blessed with such wonderful support from my mentor and my principal, not to mention the rest of the Bales staff. I feel incredibly lucky to have received such a unique and comprehensive (albeit bizarre) experience. I would not trade this for anything.

(Look for a post of thank you's very soon)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Are you sure you can't stay?"

I honestly cannot believe I only have three days of school left. This past week was pretty wonderful. Everyday (except Monday, which was not awful, just not as good), was really wonderful; the kids were good, worked hard, and we had quite a few laughs. I know people rarely associate the classroom with laughing, but that is one of my favorite parts about teaching. My students are so hilarious! Whether they intend to or not, they make me laugh pretty much everyday. I love that I have been able to build a relationship with them where we able to joke and laugh together, but still learn. That is truly wonderful.

This week, we worked really hard on our final writing assignment. I asked them to write a story about where they saw themselves in five years: graduating high school, starting college, going in the military, their 18th birthday, or anything else. I liked giving them this assignment for a few different reasons. First, I really like hearing about what they want to do with their lives. True, at this point, their goals will probably change, but I like thinking about them growing up and being successful. I also assigned it to help motivate them. At this point in the year, attitudes are growing and motivation is waning (vocab word!). If they think about what they want to do in the future, it gives me a chance to think about some of the choices they are making now and realizing that they may not lead to the life they want. It also gives me the opportunity to talk about how their choices now, truly can affect their future. Plus, it is really funny/interesting to hear their perception of high school and college; it is very skewed, but I do not have to heart to tell them that.

On Thursday night, I went to go see the midnight release of Harry Potter with Katie. I knew there were two battles I had to face in making this decision. First, being able to stay awake that late to watch the movie in the first place. With my "grown up"/"teacher" sleeping schedule, it is pretty impossible for me to stay up until 3 am. However, thanks to pure excitement and schoolgirl fandom, it was pretty easy. Plus, it helped when (spoiler) Nagini came out of the giant hole in the floor, jumped at the screen with her mouth open, and made me (nearly) pee my pants. The second, and much more difficult battle, was teaching the next day on only three hours of sleep. Teaching really wipes me out most days (hence the early bed time) and I was not sure I was going to be coherent enough to teach. Thanks to my good friends coffee, Diet Dr. Pepper, and Coca-Cola, I managed to survive. I simply had really cute bags under my eyes and said a few silly/unintelligible things. It was completely worth it. If you haven't seen it already, go right now. Do not even finish reading this post. Or at least make plans to go see it.

But enough about Harry Potter (is it ever really enough?), I only have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday left. Really, only Monday and Tuesday count because Wednesday we are having another Diggory day. Well, one of my classes might not earn it before then. They did not have as much fun this week because I had to be mean to them, but this not really the point. The point is, this is the end. I think it is finally hitting the kids, and me, that I am actually leaving. I tried not to mention it, but it kept coming up that I was leaving very soon. Every time, at least one student would say "Do you have to leave?" "Are you sure you can't stay?" "Can you come back for Disneyland or graduation?" or something along those lines. It simultaneously breaks and warms my heart to hear them say these things. Honestly, if I had the choice between going back to school and staying here, I do not know which I would pick. As much as I love and miss Cornell (not to mention my friends), I love teaching. Even when there are days when I hate my students and I would prefer to not wake up at 6 am and grading is not the most fun activity, I would not trade this for anything. Honestly, I complain just as much about Cornell and I think everyone knows how much I love my school. The same is true of teaching.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Importance of Being Flexible

To be perfectly honest, this past week was pretty much a waste of time. On Monday, most of the eighth grade went on a field trip to see Math Eureka!, a math play (yes, you read that correctly, a play about math) in Phoenix. I stayed behind with the approximately twenty students who did not attend. We just watched videos, played games, and played outside all day.

Tuesday was one of the few days I could actually teach a legitimate lesson. However, Jodi thought it would be better to show a movie that day for a variety of reasons which are mildly complicated and not really something that should be blogged about.

On Wednesday, about half of my students went on a field trip to see a production of Alice In Wonderland at the high school as a reward for good behavior. We rearranged the students a bit and most of the day they took a math test. The rest of the time we played outside.

Thursday we did not have school because of Veteran's day. It was nice having a day off, but it was pretty weird to have it off in the middle of the week. We didn't really do anything special; Katie and I did some shopping and saw Morning Glory.

Finally, on Friday we took the district writing benchmark. This took nearly the entire morning, so it messed with our schedule again. However, in the afternoon I actually got to have all of my students for the normal amount of time! We had to finish the movie from Tuesday and then we worked on some grammar that we are trying desperately to finish up.

So basically, I taught one lesson the entire week. While I have learned so many different things during my time here, one of the most important things I have learned is flexibility. While this week was very abnormal, teachers constantly have to be flexible with what they are doing. There is always a plan and always a schedule, but those things can and do change. There have been so many times this year where I will hear we are doing one thing one day and the next day we are doing the exact opposite of the original plan. And in my own teaching, I often find myself change lesson plans in the middle of class. For example, if my students are not understanding adverbs, it is important to take the time to re-teach and get to whatever else I had planned for the day at a different time.

I am going into my last full week of teaching. I feel about as nervous to end this experience as I did beginning it. This is truly the most bittersweet ending I have ever experienced. Look for a more exciting blog post next week.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Magic of Poe

This week seemed to last forever again, but it was actually a pretty good week overall. This was my third week of teaching all of the classes and it feels pretty normal now. Still exhausting and stressful, but normal. As the end of my student teaching gets closer and closer, the more I am realizing how difficult it is going to be to leave my students. I worry about them and do not want to "give them back" to the actual teacher. I know I have to and I know going back to Cornell will be great, but a large part of me really wishes I could stay just a little longer. I feel like I am just now really starting to to get the hang of things and really understanding the world of teaching. But now, just as things are starting to make more sense, I have to leave.

Anyway, we continued our unit on reading suspense stories. I think (the days kind of run together sometimes) on Tuesday we read "The Sniper." It is a short story about, surprise, a sniper in Ireland during the Troubles. I showed two videos as part of my anticipatory set (teacher language!). The first gave a brief history of the civil war/the Troubles in Ireland, explaining who was involved and major events. The second video showed actual photos and video footage from the late 60's to late 90's which gave the students a clearer image of how heartbreaking and terrifying the Troubles were (and still are, even though they signed a peace agreement, there is still violence from time to time). I don't want to give away the ending of the story, but when I read the last sentence, it was great seeing their reactions. Seeing them have an emotional reaction to a story and to the lives of people in other countries was really refreshing. Junior high students are, typically, very self-centered and seeing them think about the problems of others for a little while was amazing.

On Thursday we started our Edgar Allan Poe unit. I read "The Tell-Tale Heart" aloud to all three classes. There were very few students who said the did not like the story; honestly, I think the students who said they didn't like it, just wanted to go against the majority. It was so fun seeing the level of engagement as I read (quite dramatically)- I could feel my students hanging on every word. On Friday, I showed to one of my classes a pretty cool animation of the story that I found on Youtube. However, I was quite flattered to hear them say that they found it more engaging when I read it to them. Even though Poe tends to write well above an eighth grade reading level, my students really love him already. Anything that can get my kids this engaged is pretty magical.

On a slightly less happy/successful note, I was also reminded this week of how mean junior high girls can be. One of my students turned in something and had drawn pictures of her classmates on the back. Overall, they were cute and nice pictures. However, one picture was of another girl and was labeled with a rather unfortunate/rude nickname. The student who drew this picture is an excellent student and is, normally, a very nice girl. I was pretty shocked to see that she had turned something in with something like this on it.

This was also upsetting to me because the girl who was in the picture is another one of my top students. I love having her in class and always look forward to reading her work. I know she can be a bit of a mean girl to other students, but I honestly believe this comes from her home life. She is in a truly tough situation that I cannot even imagine being able to handle. I do not know how she is able to be so successful at school when her home life is so tough. I am continually amazed by her. Because of this, it is really upsetting to me that the other girls are being so mean to her. I really wish I could make them realize how their actions affect and hurt others, but, at this age, they generally do not seem to care.

On a lighter note, I only have 2.5 weeks left in Arizona. This next week is going to be pretty easy too. We have field trips both Monday and Wednesday in addition to no school on Thursday. This week will definitely go by quickly and should be pretty stress free.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Campfire in the Classroom

This past week seemed to last forever; by Friday, I was completely exhausted and felt like the week was twice as long as it actually was. I'm still working on building my "teacher stamina." Teaching all of the classes all day really wears you out and my body is not adjusted to it yet. Plus, my voice tends to hurt at the end of the day because I do not normally talk this much, especially not using my "teacher voice." On Tuesday, I read a story aloud to my students during the afternoon class and my throat was killing me by the end of it.

Overall, it was another pretty solid week. It was a little more difficult than last week, but I would still call it successful. We have been working on writing scary stories and my students got really into them. Friday afternoon, I found a Youtube video of a campfire and figured out a way to make it loop. I projected this and then we read our scary stories by the campfire. Plus, my best class during the week got to eat marshmallows. It was really fun and it was great to hear their stories read aloud. I was pretty impressed with a few of them. One of my students, who tends to be a little shy, read his aloud and it was definitely the scariest of all the ones read aloud. It was great seeing him be so successful when I normally do not hear much from him.

If I were at Cornell student teaching, then this would be the end of my lead teaching all of the classes; pretty much everyone else just does two weeks of the full teacher load. However, since I cannot ever seem to do things the easy way,  I still have three and a half weeks (aka one Cornell block) left of lead teaching. It actually only amounts to about 15 days because we get out of school for Veteran's day, have a field trip one day, and my last day we are doing Diggory day.  Here are my thoughts and feelings in a stream of consciousness fashion about having only 15 days left to teach:

It will be really nice not feeling responsible for a group of 70 thirteen year olds, but I will still think about them all the time and wonder if they are being successful without me. I am looking forward to being a student myself and spending time on campus and in the library and with my friends, but I will miss the lolz my students bring to me on a daily basis. Thank God I won't have to make lesson plans anymore or write field notes or be required to blog weekly or wake up at 6 am or dress professionally. But it has been kind of fun feeling like a "real grownup" and what if I think of a really fun lesson that I know my students will love and won't get to put into the classroom right away. It is going to be truly miserable being in Iowa in the middle winter when the weather will be absolutely beautiful in Arizona. I am going to miss the trip to Disneyland and their graduation; I will miss them walking across the stage and seeing them with great, big, proud smiles across their faces on the day they have been looking forward to all year. The moral of the story is that I am looking forward to the end, but I also am going to miss my students and will think of them often. I intend to get the most out of these last fifteen days.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Passing on my Love of the 90's

My apologies for not posting yesterday; Katie and I were gone nearly all day because we went to Phoenix. There was really incredible book sale put on by the Phoenix public library and I got 11 books for $8! We spent three hours there and did not even get through all the books. It was pretty amazing.

Last week, was my first full week of teaching all of the 8th grade language arts classes. I was really nervous about taking on this challenge, but after the first week, I feel pretty hopeful for the next few weeks. The students have developed some pretty bad habits and they are difficult to change. However, we have really started using a system they used last year and it is proving to be fairly effective. They use integrity cards; if, the student is misbehaving or is irresponsible, then they receive a hole punch in their card. If, they do something outstanding, then they receive a sticker on their card. They also need it in order to get into dance, sport events, and other activities. If they have too many punches, then they will not be allowed to attend the events. At the beginning of the year, we really did not use the cards much and we are now using them a lot. This seems to have improved their behavior.

This week, we also began a unit on suspense/scary stories. We are currently writing our own scary stories and my students are really excited about them. On Friday, a few of my students asked if we were writing and when I told them no, they were visibly disappointed. It makes me incredibly happy and excited that they are actually looking forward to writing and not rolling their eyes every time I tell them to get out their draft books. This also makes me hopeful for the readings we will be doing in connection with the writing piece.

Also on Friday, I showed my students an episode of "Are You Afraid of the Dark?". I was excited to realize these episodes are on Youtube and they are completely relevant to what we are learning. I love everything about the 90's and loved this show as a child. My students were completely enthralled with it. At this point in my life, I do not really find the show very scary or creepy anymore, but they were still pretty creeped out by it. I suppose they are still young enough that they do not notice the cheesiness of the show.

Even with the stress and extra amount of work involved with teaching all of the classes, I am hopeful and excited for the remaining weeks. And after such a successful week, it really makes me feel much more confident about my abilities as a teacher and what my future will hold. Let's hope this week does not change all of that.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Here's to the Next Five and Half Weeks

Well, the end of fall break is here. I am back in Arizona and putting off writing lesson plans for tomorrow. Being at Cornell was beyond wonderful; it felt so right being back on campus. Being away has been so much harder than I thought it would be and I look forward to January when I will be back full time. It was great seeing all of my friends and my professors as well. My professors really gave me a lot of encouragement and compliments that helped me to remember why I am here in the first place, which is something I desperately needed.

There are only five and a half weeks left of my student teaching. Right now, going back to school tomorrow sounds like the worst thing I could possibly do, but I know once I get back into the swing of things, it will feel normal again. I also know that these five and a half weeks will go by so quickly and then I will start missing my kids once I am back at Cornell.

Tomorrow, I am going to take over all of the English classes. This is where student teaching becomes even more stressful and I am in full on teacher mode all day everyday. I am hoping that starting after fall break will give us a "clean slate" with the kids and I won't have to struggle too much with them. I am planning on treating tomorrow pretty much like the first day of school in order to set ourselves up successfully for the rest of my time here. So, here's the next five and a half weeks! Bring it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Just Call Me Miss Swaggoner

As of right now, I am officially on fall break and I am sitting in the Denver airport waiting for my flight to Iowa. I thought fall break would never get here and this past week seemed to last forever. However, the past week was pretty good, I had some really good days with my students.

On Wednesday, there must have been some sort of miracle or something because my students were wonderful in the morning. Perhaps it was because they were pretty drained and still half asleep or maybe it was because we were having parent teacher conferences that night and the next night. Whatever happened, it was great. We worked on our descriptive paragraphs and I showed them the one I wrote about Cornell. They were really interested in my college and what I had to say about it. I even showed them a few pictures, which was pretty funny. Many of them thought my college seemed HUGE, even though Cornell is so tiny. Their concept of college and Iowa is really skewed, but I find it rather charming. At any rate, after I modeled some writing for them, they started work on their own paragraphs. This the remarkable part: they were actually quiet and I saw nearly every student at least begin writing.

On Wednesday and Thursday the students had half days and then we had parent/teacher conferences after that. I was a little nervous for this because I had never done anything like this before, but they went really well. Of course, it was mostly parents that I had zero complaints about. However, there were a few parents I really wanted to talk to that did come; I am hoping it will make a difference after fall break. Overall, the conferences were really successful, but they made for a really long day.

On Thursday morning, we pretty much finished up everything we need to do before break. Thursday afternoon, I did the fun writing activity they loved where I give them a beginning sentence and they continue the story. Then, they trade papers and continue on another person's story. Again, there were a lot of stories including Justin Beiber, either positively or negatively. I believe every single story included him somehow. In one story, I beat up Oprah, glued her to the road, and then went to the moon on the cow. Where they come up with these things, I do not know, but I love reading these stories. They are so funny and really allows them to show their creativity.

Friday, we already planned on pretty much having a free day. Jodi brought her dog, Diggory, to school and we played with him all morning. In the afternoon, we started watching the Princess Bride and had an assembly. At the end of the day, I was in the Social Studies room where they were playing Oregon Trail as a class. Unfortunately, I got shot, had my leg amputated, and died. Also during this time, my students decided my new name is Miss Swaggoner. Overall, it was a really fun day and it allowed me to really enjoy my students. It are times like this and stories like I talk about above that make me love my students.

I am now making my way to Iowa and cannot wait to get there! I really need a break and cannot wait to feel like a normal college student again. After fall break, I only five and a half weeks left. It has gone by so quickly already. Even with all the difficulties, this is something I would not trade for the world. I am learning so much and I know this experience is setting me up to be a great teacher in the future. Hopefully, this break will give me the motivation and energy I need to get through the remaining weeks.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

One More Week

This week was a pretty average week at school: a few ups a few downs. Overall, pretty solid. The new trend seems to be the beginning of the week starts off pretty rough (maybe including tears) and by the end of the week it feels okay again. Hopefully, this next week will start smoothly and end smoothly. Granted, it is the week before fall break and the kids are definitely going to be wound up. And let's be honest, I am looking forward to fall break as much, if not more than the students are.

Anyway, on Wednesday, I attended another training. This time, it was for Step Up to Writing, which is a supplemental program that focuses on, as you probably guessed, writing. Thankfully, this presenter was much better than the last one and the curriculum is actually really good stuff. I have been struggling a bit with teaching writing, so I am definitely going to start using this in my classroom. I don't remember if I was really a good writer or a bad writer in eighth grade, but my students really need some extra help in writing. It is difficult to teach because there is not an exact formula to follow; you give a writing assignment and everyone will do something different. You know good writing when you see it and you know bad writing when you see it, but how do you teach good writing? I am still figuring this out...

On a not related to school note, I went to see Anberlin last night in Tempe. It was truly awesome; the best concert I have been to.  They had the perfect combination of new songs (which are fantastic) and old favorites. They sadly did not play one of my favorites (Inevitable), but it was amazing regardless. Also, the lighting was really amazing. They had, what I am guessing, were a bunch LED light bars. Considering their newest album is titled "Dark is the Way. Light is a Place" it makes sense for them to have incredible lighting. I will post pictures on Facebook as soon as I find my camera cord.

This is a really short post, but that is probably okay considering most of my posts are pretty long. One more week and then a much desired week long break. Here's to hoping for a successful week!