A Student Teacher’s Valentine’s Day and “Same Love”

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody =)

This year’s post has a different tone than last year’s, and I had a few requests from friends to repost the humorous Valentine’s Day post from last year, so here is the link :

My (Awesome) View on Valentine’s Day <3

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Today was a unique Valentine’s Day for me, spent in school with all of Ms. C and my students!!  I was welcomed by one of my students with a nice big, warm tea, got handed fistfuls of conversation hearts, was given some Russel Stover chocolates, Skittles, Starburst, lollipops, and about a million hugs.  As the students took a quick quiz at the beginning of class, I passed out the valentines I had wrote for each one of them, and they absolutely loved them.  It took some time to write a personal message in them all, but my students definitely appreciated that I had something different to say to each of them, even if it was as simple as “I enjoy having you in class” or “You make me laugh every day.”

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Stack of 97 valentines I wrote for my 8th graders :)

For my more outgoing students, I was able to mention a conversation or a joke we shared, and for the students I haven’t been able to get to know as well, I mentioned that I was looking forward to spending more time with them during the semester.  I watched as many faces as I could while they were reading my cards, and the reactions I saw were absolutely priceless.  It’s so important for the students to feel as if they’re wanted and valued both in and out of the classroom.  I’m so lucky to have grown up with loving family and friends who always looked out for me, and Renaissance’s community as a school definitely works to provide this support system for all of its students, so I wanted to make sure that my students knew I cared about them too, even though I’m not necessarily a permanent fixture…  The heartfelt thank yous and hugs I got for my cards were well worth the effort, and I’m happy to have put some smiles on the faces of my students whether they got 30 other valentines or that was their only one.

One of the many highlights of my day included a very shy student asking if I would be back at Renaissance next year, as he said: “I’m already gonna miss you, Ms. B.” *tear*  And from one of my more lovably sassy students who brought me some chocolate, “Do you have a boyfriend?”  “Nope.”  “So that means you have to buy your own candy tonight?”  He was playfully looking for a rise out of me, and I could NOT keep a straight face on that one!  Laughing, I explained that I often buy my candy myself, but that I am still very loved even though I don’t have a boyfriend.  It was a funny moment.  On another student’s card I wrote that she always gives me the best, happiest “hello”s, so she used every chance she got to say one of her typically excited greetings.  I would come back to my desk periodically and find my conversation hearts rearranged in different shapes: hearts or stars or my initials!  Though parts of today were more silly than normal, classes were still productive, and my bonds with my students were strengthened over little notes I wrote them.  Sometimes the little things make the biggest positive changes in students, whether it’s their behavior in class or motivation to do well.  I’m totally game to put in the extra effort to make better relationships with my students.  They’re the game changers.  :)

For any Grumpy Cat fans:

lols

lols

My latest music interest is Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Last fall, their performance of the song “Same Love” got a lot of popularity on the Ellen show. Don’t be turned off because it’s hip-hop. It’s actually social justice poetry. Listen and love it. It’s totally fitting for Valentine’s Day especially, as all humans deserve the right to love who they choose.  Please take a look and listen at the music video below!

I love this song so much that I’ve even provided a link to the lyrics. Click here and let the words soak in: “it’s human rights for everybody / there is no difference / live on and be yourself”. Play it again. Share it.

And what would a classic holiday post be without some funny ecards? TheVine also put together a pretty solid collection of funny Valentine’s Day memes, so click here!

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I sincerely hope that everybody had a nice Valentine’s Day!!!

Roses and chocolate or not, you are loved.

And if you’re lookin for some extra cute kids, watch this :)

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Snow Days of February!

For many of New England public school teachers and students, we’re on to day #4 of the weekend of Nemo’s storm, and sadly I didn’t even watch Finding Nemo with all my new-found free time.  However, somebody else did channel their creative energies appropriately:

Take a look at this super short YouTube gem making fun of how New Englanders react to impending snow storms from Vic Dibitetto :)

 

Senior students here at SC spent all day Sunday trying to rescue our cars from the Townhouse parking lot, passing around a mere handful of shovels.  Luckily, my guy roommates are hockey fanatics and had a good shovel they’d used when skating on the Massasoit.  After getting Kristie’s big Jeep out in a matter of minutes, one roommate dug out the snow that blocked Rhonda in, while I scooped snow on the sides that was up to the door handles down to underneath the car.  I only stalled 14 times while finally attempting to get out of the spot, and it only took a 20-point turn to back into the parking space again!  Over an hour later, it was a total success!

The “before” and “after” :)

Later that night as I walked back from work in the Writing Center (where obviously the line was out the door with students who wanted help on papers………), I was shocked to find that the Jeep parked next to me had kindly displaced the snow that blocked them in right behind Rhonda.  I grabbed the shovel, and 15 minutes later, the green beast was freed again..

There are currently huge mounds of snow all over the parking lot, and the parking lot had a lot of scenes like this yesterday:

I know that it’s bad karma to chuckle at those slip and slides, but come on!!!

Hope everybody without power gets it back soon, and that there are as few accidents as possible.  I can’t wait to get to the grocery store this afternoon; my meals of soup and crackers this weekend just aren’t cutting it!  Stay warm :)

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4 Weeks into Student Teaching…

Day 13: In what would be my most perfect, cozy ELA classroom, everybody would love to learn and would read feverishly and write with their heart and talk meaningfully and listen respectfully.  And whether or not they loved the actual reading, we could discuss and challenge each other and collaborate thoughtfully, genuinely, and passionately in comfortable chairs in a circle with tea and snacks and non-blinding/artificial lighting.  We would make nerdy literary puns and work our asses off to create brilliantly thought-provoking and creative writings and projects…  *smile and sigh*  Sounds wonderful to me.  Except in reality, the trouble is that not all students love to read, and not all students realize the potential within themselves to make a difference in their world through reading, writing, speaking, listening, and collaborating…  “Mind over matter” has been a life-changing mantra for me for getting through, persevering, and accomplishing any and every challenge my life has brought me…

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Grit is a hugely underrated quality in our society.  I love that quote about falling seven times but rising eight.  I really do believe that effort is the key to success 9 times out of 10, and I love the fact that “Work Hard” is a pillar at this school.  All of my students, no matter who or where they come from, no matter their diagnosis or prescribed ability levels have the capability to work hard…  It’s tricky to design lesson plans knowing that oftentimes only 1/4 of the class will have actually done the reading homework.  One tactic for still having meaningful classes in which even those who didn’t read at all can participate is focusing the activities on specific pages of the reading.  By chunking the activity’s primary text of the novel into even smaller chunks of the assigned reading, all students can participate as it is easier to skim, manage, and analyze four pages in class than the full forty that were for homework, but the activity can theoretically work to strengthen many of the same skills.  I think that as a teacher this is a difficult skill to successfully scaffold activities and discussions between those who did the full reading and are on top of the comprehension charts and those who have chosen to take a pit stop after chapter one…  I’m an optimist with a twist of realism who is willing to work my ass off for anything.  But there is only so much that I can do to set my students up for success before I have to relinquish the responsibilities to themselves…  As the teacher, I won’t always have students… who want to contribute, but the biggest challenge for me will to be finding a way to motivate them and get them successfully involved without too much hand-holding or me taking it too personally.  I want the best for all of my students and really everybody in my life, and it breaks my heart when I see somebody allowing themselves to fail, because I do think that failure is a consequence of a series of unproductive choices…  I’m going to have to continue to stay positive and encouraging no matter how much I just want to ask wtf is it so impossible to do the reading on time?!

Day 14:  Observation Day #1:  Today was a phenomenal day!  Dr. Z. came and observed me teaching a 70 minute lesson on distinguishing between fact and opinion, and then we had a two hour discussion after.  Students used whiteboards to give me instant feedback as I asked them questions that were either a fact, opinion, or a few that were tricky and could be debated, then we read one of the vignettes from the book of the unit, They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, then students partnered up to create their own fact or opinion statements from another vignette to share and vote on with the class.  They loved the whiteboard aspect and were impressively responsibly about not drawing random things or getting distracted or side-tracked!  The lesson Dr. Z. observed went really well for the most part, though there were a couple of things I could have done to make it better.  One area for improvement in this regard is having directions written or displayed visually, not only orally.  I definitely understand the value of this, and today was a good reminder of just how important techniques like having directions presented in multiple ways is for students.  The second area for improvement was the partner work.  Instead of focusing on the content comprehension, my lesson and DLT (daily learning target or objective) achievement would be strengthened if the activity was instead focused on the skill rather than the text, which the class has been struggling with.  Completing a model of the activity before sending students off into their groups would have raised the success rate of the work, as students would have already understood and had time to process any questions they might have.  Dr. Z. loved that I have good relationships with all my students, and they know that I enjoy being with them everyday.  I’m still working on finding what techniques are best for my personality in classroom management, but those will continue to improve with time.  We talked a lot about student motivation and incentive.  It’s definitely an area of teaching that I would like to do more research in!  What makes people want to learn?  It’s sort of an oxymoron, but can intrinsic motivation be taught?

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After Dr. Z. left, I got to teach the rest of the day, which was so much fun!  After the long reflection of my strengths and areas to improve on, I was able to tweak the things that needed to be tweaked to make my lesson close to perfect.  It was rewarding that I got to make the improvements that we talked about for the next two classes I taught in the afternoon!  Both changes made a huge difference, and the rest of the lesson plan was extremely successful again.  We got a little silly in the last class, which is definitely my favorite, and spent some extra time on the hook of the first fact/opinion questions which in the other classes stayed about me.  We branched out to “Drake is the best rapper,” “Danny is Ms. B.’s best student” and a couple other lighthearted debatable questions.  They loved it, and we were still going towards the DLT even while a bit off topic.  It’s the best feeling when the lessons I’m creating myself are going off successfully for the most part.  I feel like I have a good judge of how long I want the class to spend on the different tasks, and Renaissance’s model which includes the Do-Now, a mini-lesson, the application, and the closure falls in good line with the templates we used last semester.  It makes a perfect combination that keeps me focused on the lighthouse and also super organized.

Day 15: Last night, Ms. C’s Facebook status was: “From the files of room 101… Katie Barsevich did an amazing job teaching a lesson on distinguishing between fact and opinion and continuing to build strong relationships with our eighth graders. Prediction: She is a future teacher of the year!”   After that awesomely flattering shout-out, I made sure to bring us both Dunkin’ hot chocolates this morning :)   I also heard that my mentor teacher Anne Marie Bettencourt has been awarded a Pioneer Valley Teacher of Excellence Award!!  I’m so grateful to be mentored by teachers who are clearly the best of the best.

Today was … the first time that I’ve seen the students do group work in bigger numbers than twos and threes.  I’ve been interested in the components of group work for a while, and I took special attention to how different students worked together.  Ms. C is thoughtful about the dynamics of each class, so some she allowed them to pick their groups…  In other classes, however, she picked those groups, distributing on-task, high-achieving students with those who typically struggle.  This is in the hopes that those students with good comprehension can use their skills and knowledge to keep the other students on task and act as unofficial group leaders.  With my past history of often getting stuck being the one to do the whole project so that it’d be up to my standards, I see problems in this type of system.  Not all students who are labeled as high-achieving have the best leadership or group relationship skills or inclinations, and not all students will work cooperatively and contribute to the group work.  Ms. C tries to keep all group members honest and on-task by having individual and group reflections at the end part of class.  Groups also checked in with the rest of the class at least three times throughout the period, making sure they were progressing towards where they needed to be…  One tip I would really like to try is giving each member of the group a specific role, such as facilitator, time-keeper, scribe, etc.  Should these groups remain the same over a period of time of the year, students would theoretically build relationships with each other to work together better, roles inside the group would rotate, and the individual and group-member reflections would keep students motivated to contribute responsibly.  And as always, the more meaningful and engaging the actual group work is, the less inclined students will be to get off-task…

Day 16:  Too personal reflections about students to share here…  Here’s a clip from Dr. Z.’s response though:

IT IS MY PLEASURE! IT IS SO REWARDING TO SEE YOUR PROGRESS IN THE LAST 6 MONTHS! HELPING STUDENTS BECOME GREAT TEACHERS IS WHERE I GET MY JOLLIES, SO HAVING STUDENTS LIKE YOU THAT WILL BE MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN KID’S LIVES FOR THE NEXT 25 YEARS IS WHERE IT IS AT FOR ME. YOU MAKE ME VERY PROUD AND EXCITED FOR YOUR FUTURE STUDENTS…  STAY WARM AND ENJOY THE STORM!

Friday: Snow day!

Rhonda is the car in the middle.  Think we will make it to school on Monday??

Rhonda is the car in the middle. Think we will make it to school on Monday??

Week 3: Teaching Summaries!

Day 8: Today begins the first full week of my time at Renaissance! I had it easy my first week with the Ed. Prep meeting and the snowday after the first day. Then last week was MLK Jr. Day. So my first Monday at school is in the books! I’d wondered if I’d see a difference in behavior, it being the first morning of the week, but I think college kids complain more than these kids did about it being Monday morning. Thank god I’m a morning person, or I’m not sure if I would survive in this career. Especially because some kids require a teacher who’s energetic to wake them up that early in the morning and I’m definitely fine with being the person to do that :) …

I’ve been doing my best to be as active as possible with Crew. Yesterday, I baked away on Funfetti cupcakes for the bake sale today, and I sat at a table in the lunchroom today with *** and *** publicizing for the selling of Valentine’s cards/lollipops (both as fundraisers). I was going to help run the bake sale at the basketball game that was supposed to be after school today, but because of weather it was cancelled. (We went around to classes at the end of the day instead… Made over $110) Helping the girls at lunch for the next few days will certainly be interesting. I enjoyed being able to talk to them about things not necessarily related to English class, but it is also a test on our relationship moving into different grounds between English class and lunch talk. I think it’s a good thing for the students to see me helping out and being involved in other settings besides just teaching occasional lessons and being in Ms. C’s room. And it’s good for me to see them in other settings too!

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Day 9: I am exhausted. I guess it’s a good thing that I’m putting all my effort into my day to day things that I enjoy, but I feel like my brain needs to shutdown when the clock hits 2:50!!! The school days have been going well, and I feel as if I’m getting the hang of their routines and procedures. The students are all used to me now, and a few, especially crew members, have occasionally come talking to me about their problems with friends, etc… Greeting every student outside of the classroom door before every period and just sparking chit chat when appropriate has made the fact that I am a part of their classroom become just another of their routines… One thing I’ve been trying to focus on this week is the motivation of students to do their assigned reading for homework… No matter how many times it is stressed to students that there will be a quiz after each homework assignment of reading, there is still a solid handful give or take that just doesn’t do the reading for whatever reason… One on one, I have been doing my best to encourage their effort and motivation. I explain the fact that getting to partake in the class discussions and activities are rewarding for their learning, they get to share their ideas and opinions, ask questions, make predictions, get clarifications, etc. and hear those of others…

One student who I’ve been specifically working on is *** (who was) was missing the huge first Target assignment of the semester, which was his 5 paragraph essay. I knew he hadn’t done it, but I’ve asked him every single day since I noticed it was missing from my grading pile whether he worked on it the night before. Can you believe my excitement when he finally said “Yes, Ms. B, I actually did because I knew you were going to ask me again today.” … He came into class all excited that he had a draft of his essay and thought he was ready to turn it in. But when he handed me five separate pieces of paper for each paragraph, my heart sank that it wasn’t in the proper format… His face was disheartened when I told him that he needed to condense it into the usual standard format of an essay. In the hope that he doesn’t completely lose interest or become overwhelmed about the fact that what he had done so far wasn’t enough, I made a point to have a quick chat with him when he handed in his quiz”…

Day 10: Yesterday, all after-school activities were cancelled due to weather, and apparently the sleet and general icy-ness carried over throughout the night. Needless to say, I was in for a little bit of a shock when I had to slip and slide to the parking lot this morning and found my car completely covered in nearly a half inch of quite solid ice!… even manned with my enormous muscles and razor-sharp ice-scraper, the ice on the windshields and windows wouldn’t budge. Resisting the urge to simply shatter my own windshield, I started my ’95 green Honda Civic, lovingly dubbed Rhonda, cranked the heat, and sipped my tea waiting for it to defrost. 14 minutes of shivering later, I kid you not, Rhonda and I were finally good to go… If I wasn’t a little nuts about timing and being early, this morning could have ended much more frazzled…

I’m also super excited about my unit plan — myths! (I’ll be taking over all classes for a full two weeks in April and teaching the unit plan I design. Very exciting :))

Day 11: I’ve been going down to the lunch room every day to help *** and *** from Crew sell Valentine’s grams as a fundraiser. Their idea was to order Valentine’s Day cards with lollipops, sell them in advance for $2 and then deliver them all with the person’s message on them on the day during Crew. They’re pretty enthusiastic about it, except for when it comes to actually doing something productive to move themselves closer towards the goal of selling all the cards and raising money… we had a mini-discussion of goal-making for the fundraiser: how many do you want to sell, how much money do we want to make, how many days should we publicize it to reach those goals, what are the best ways to publicize, what else do we need to do to meet those goals, etc… Sometimes it’s hard for me to watch them struggle in the task, as I am sometimes a more “I’ll do it myself” kind of person, but I am constantly reminding myself to back off and not take control, but instead give them the tools to succeed and have them know that I’m there as full support for them… I think that by breaking down the whole fundraising project bit by bit, they realized more concrete steps to take in their plans of action. I hope with my support they can work to move closer to their goals in the next few days… In celebratory news, *** brought his essay completed today!!!!!! My hounding has paid off :) He was super proud to hand it in today and I was so happy.

One challenge that I’ve been facing is figuring out how to split or divide my focus between students needing constant redirection and motivation, and those who are already ready for a focused, flowing discussion… There’s a small handful of students in the section who constantly need redirection to have their books open and to the right page during discussion, never mind participate. Being one (new) person, I’m finding it’s hard to manage when to spend time on those students who it seems like they need to have constant attention and focus on them to keep on task, but also engage and challenge those students who are ready and waiting… I think the “no opt-out” policy… and cold calling that Ms. C models mixed in with taking volunteers definitely help keep most students on their toes though… I’m definitely realizing how many hats all extraordinary teachers wear. From fundraiser and motivator to discussion leader and peace keeper to listener with open ears and speaker of words of wisdom, (etc.), there is really never a dull moment for the teachers who are truly engaged with their students, their lives, and their school. It’s sometimes overwhelming just how much effort it takes, but the rewards always seem greater.
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Day 12: Today felt like a pretty busy day, but everything went well! Ms. C taught the morning classes and I did the afternoon. Slowly but surely building up my teacher’s stamina. At first I thought the full days’ observing was exhausting, then I was tired after teaching 1 class, and then last week nearly died of exhaustion after the full day’s load. Today, the teaching for the afternoon went really smoothly, though I was mentally tired afterwards… Like her, I am not a yeller, and that means that word choice and tone are infinitely more important tools of behavior management. Ms. C has never once raised her voice to a high level in the three weeks that I’ve been there, but she manages her classes through the words she chooses and when along with the tone and attitude in which she speaks. She doesn’t need to yell to get her message across, as her softer volume and no-nonsense tone and words speak that for her. Another phrase we talked about was “spinning words into gold.” It’s genius and is something that can’t necessarily be taught, but definitely stuck with me to focus on my own language and word choice as I’m speaking. Everyday when my students walk in, I have the power to change their mood and possibly their day, and hopefully a positive change. When a student walks in with a disgruntled comment or upset emotions, sometimes just a quick conversation can turn around their mood and behavior drastically. Taking those seconds or minutes is well worth it for their well-being and also their effect and contributions to their learning and the class’s…

I’ve been impressed with my own instincts and the progress with relationships and bonds that have been created in the twelve days that I’ve been at Renaissance! I’m definitely not perfect but I know enough to be proud of all that has happened in the time and effort that I’ve put into my Practicum so far. In the twelve days at Renaissance, I’ve gotten way more attached to the school, Ms. C, and my kids than I thought that I would in the first three weeks. I love it. I don’t always come across as a softy, and I often secretly care more about people and things in general than I let on. This practicum is helping me break out of that secretive caring part of my shell, as students need to be told daily that somebody cares about them. I think this is a great thing for my teaching and even a good thing for my life relationships in general. The people in my life who I appreciate and admire greatly need to know how important they are to me. This has been such a great first few weeks. I could not ask for a better placement, and there’s no question that I’ve learned more and bettered myself in this time. I can’t wait to see what the rest of my time brings :)