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Final Reflection

I didn’t know what to expect from my semester in ED 605.I definitely didn’t expect to write a lot, which became a little bit intimidating at times. I write when I’m not in school – I’ve kept a journal since about fifth grade, but this seemed like something so much more because I was sharing feelings with people who in the beginning were strangers. What I loved is throughout our writing, we stopped becoming strangers right away because there was always something a person could relate to. 

When I was told that we had to start a blog, I was terrified. It was one thing sharing ideas and writings in class, but it was completely different putting my ideas on the web for anyone to see. My friends have blogs, and when I finally learned how to link my blog to my twitter, they were able to see what I’ve been writing, which in a sense scared me even more than having complete strangers read my writing. Strangers can judge and I wouldn’t know, but friends judge and tell you things you may not want to hear. My first blog was probably horrible because I wasn’t writing for myself, I was writing for a grade. After my first blog, I felt more free to write and share whatever was going on in my mind. I didn’t mind posting more than the syllabus said to post. I didn’t mind posting about my name and what it means, and I definitely didn’t mind posting about my hard moment. Blogging became an outlet –  a sense of freedom, especially when I shared about my hard moment.

I had the amazing experience of going to numerous UDATC meetings and seeing how Arcadia helps the English teachers at UDHS. It was nice to know that experienced teachers had reservations and fears about their teaching. When a person has been watching teachers their whole lives (in and out of school), I don’t think they realized that teachers are “normal.” They have fears that any new teacher has, and that was a relief to see. I was also able to see the English teachers work on the curriculum for the semester coming up. That was an intense experience, but everyone managed to balance one another out. If one teacher freaked out for maybe five minutes, there were seven others to reassure him/her about the good that they are doing. I never knew that there was such support and a sense of community in teaching. I never experienced that when I taught. It was basically ‘you have to do this and good luck because the kids probably won’t listen to you because they don’t care.’ I learned then and more now how  to get the students to care, and that’s by showing them that you care. If a person treats teaching as just a job with no feeling, of course their students aren’t going to care; in fact, they’re probably going to be a bit afraid of doing their work.

The one time I didn’t feel very strong was when I had to do a lesson in front of the ED 605 class. It was very nerve wracking teaching your peers, but the feedback was extremely constructive and non judgmental, which made it easier in the end. When I had to do my lesson for UDHS, I’m pretty sure I was the one who learned the lesson. I learned what to do, and what not to do. When to keep going with an idea and stick with that and to not stick to time. When I stuck to the length of time for the class, I didn’t give the students a chance to show their creativity out loud, and I saw that’s what they wanted to do, and I made the mistake by not letting them do that. A lesson that’s meant for one day can go on for more, and I need to remember that. 

This class taught me how to start to become a better teacher. I know it’s going to take time, but I also know through what I consider to be failures, I learned more than I probably would have if everything was a complete success. I do learn from my successes, but I feel I learn more from my mistakes, and I’m glad I made some mistakes. I am extremely thankful for ED 605 and all the people that helped me grow, and listened to me when I felt the tears coming. 

I feel that lately, teachers are now synonymous with the word support, and that’s a wonderful way to feel as an up and coming teacher.

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An Outlet for Teachers

The first UDATC meeting I went to I did not know what to expect. I heard the rumors, but still didn’t expect to see a giant stuffed bear standing in the corner of the classroom the meetings are held. Oddly enough, that bear doesn’t distract from the importance and fun of the meetings. 

I love the meetings between UDHS and Arcadia because as a person who wants to become a teacher, I’m able to see the support teachers show each other when one is having a problem. It’s support that is needed so we all know how to be effective at our jobs. Everyone shares ideas on how to fix a lesson or make it stronger, questions are answered about supplementary materials, and there’s always tons of jokes which makes the meetings fun

Everyone has the opportunity to write a question down and put it in a glass jar and Dr. Gustavson picks papers at random. Then the question is read aloud, and the group has two minutes (in order) to comment. If an extension is needed after the two minutes are up, someone calls for an extension and then it has to be seconded. 

I don’t say much when I’m at the meetings because I’m really there to soak up what everyone else has to say. There are so many good people and so many good ideas in that meeting. It’s a collection of minds and these minds come up with amazing ideas.

I’m extremely grateful to have this opportunity to observe the laughter and the struggles. 

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A Lesson Learned

Well, I finally had the chance to present my lesson to the English class that I’ve been observing for the past few months. Previously, I thought I was going to be presenting to the 10th grade class, but they’re working on speeches, so I presented to the 11th grade class. My mentor teacher turned the room over to me, I was excited and ready, and now I’m not sure where things went wrong. We talked about short stories, and the students told me some of their favorites, and the ones I never heard of, they were ready and happy to tell me what they were about. I thought we were off to a great start. I handed out copies of The Monkey’s Paw to them (some of them read it before, but a lot didn’t) and since they enjoy reading aloud, I thought “why not ask for volunteers to read?” I got the volunteers and we were off! Things were still going well. I saw the students following along; we talked about the first part of the story when it was finished because some of them had questions about what was going on. This is when I started to realize that things weren’t going as well as I had hoped. While they started on the second part of the story, I noticed two students sleeping and one was on his cell phone. Okay. I wasn’t going to let that get to me. Then we broke up into groups to do the collaborative short story. A lot of them had fun with it which made me really excited, but there were still the ones I noticed who weren’t very into it. One flat out refused to switch papers with his group, so the people in that group had to write their own conclusions on their own paper. That’s fine, I didn’t know what that student was going through that day – he could have been having a really bad day. One student didn’t write at all, while one in his group was having a great time writing, and the last person in the group didn’t start her writing until it was time to switch to write the body of the story. I felt defeated.

How do I engage a student who blatantly doesn’t want to do something? How do I do this without calling him or her out on everything in front of the class, or even talk to them at their desk about it, when I’m not their teacher? 

I allowed this lesson to defeat me for two days. I switched majors during my years as an undergrad because I had a teacher tell me I would be a horrible teacher. When I taught for the seven years I did, I felt like I beat that teacher, that I showed him that I AM a teacher and I always will be a teacher. I allowed his voice to echo through my head and call me a failure, which I’m not. Regardless of the fact that I taught before, I’m still new and I’m still growing. There are obviously many things I would change about this lesson, and the first being changing the class time from one day to two. It is absolutely a two day lesson. I would have explained more to the students. I wanted them to focus on the description, and how description can make or break a story, but if I don’t explain that well enough, how are they supposed to know? 

Regardless of the mistakes I have made, after talking with my mentor teacher, and my teacher for my 605 class, I’m not a horrible teacher, I’m human and I made mistakes which I have absolutely learned from. I know what to look for in my own lessons right now. I’m learning how to make assignments more broad so the students have the freedom to write without parameters. 

This was a hard lesson to learn, but I’m glad I learned it. 

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Lesson

I’m extremely excited and nervous for Friday. On Friday, I am going to be doing my first lesson in the classroom I’m observing. Normally, when I’m in the room, I sit with the kids when they’re writing, or reading Romeo and Juliet, explaining certain characters or scenes to them when I see looks of confusion on their faces. I have also gotten chances to read their work and comment on a couple of their essays, which was surprisingly a lot of fun. I have really enjoyed reading the student’s work, which makes me even more excited to present my lesson to them.

I have decided to do a collaborative short story and have the students focus on description. I really want them to see what too much, not enough, and just the right amount of description can do to a story. I’m going to be giving them a few short stories to look over and have them pick out what they feel is strong description along with what they feel is weak description, and explain why.

I’m really excited for this next part because I’m sure there’s going to be time for this. I’m going to break them up into groups of three and each student is going to take out their own piece of paper and for five minutes, they’re going to write an introduction to a short story, making sure to as much description as they can for an introduction. Then they are going to switch their papers with the people in the group, who will have 30 seconds to read the introduction, and then five minutes to write a body to their classmates story. After that five minutes is up, they’re going to switch again, have one minute to read the introduction and body of another story and for five minutes that student will write the conclusion.

I have never done anything like this before when I was teaching. I was stuck on and used to the rule that I had to have the students always write five paragraphs whenever they wrote. I’m extremely excited and extremely nervous because I don’t want to be bad in delivering the lesson to the kids and I’m doing it in front of my mentor teacher, so I don’t want her to think I’m not strong. This is a very big step because I also had to write a lesson plan, which is something I have never had to do before. A lot of people think that’s strange considering I taught before, but the school didn’t require lesson plans because the kids worked on computers a lot and then when it was time for direct instruction, we could choose what to do, and as long as the director knew what it was, there was no need for a lesson plan. 

I just hope that I’m able to do a good job and be strong in my teaching. I’m sure the confidence when it comes to writing lesson plans will come when I’ve written more than one. 

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Student/Classroom Spotlight

As teachers, we have been taught to teach to the test along with teaching in general. How do we make that distinction without confusing our students of our intentions? It doesn’t seem very fair to the teacher or the learner. Throughout my observations I have noticed two extremely different students that I have watched extremely closely, and who I have spoken to in detail about their writing.

The first student Steven** is a track two “learner” who writes to the test. Everything he does he’s writing as if he is taking a test or getting a grade even when he’s told to just write, to not worry about punctuation or grammar. I sat down with him while he was doing a free writing exercise and just watched for a bit. I obviously asked him if it was okay with him if I read what he wrote. Everything was perfect, and as I looked around, I noticed where the other students were typing away with no hesitation, Steven was stopping after every single sentence, going into the view portion of the word document, and checking his spelling and grammar. I asked him why he was doing that and he said “because I have to.” 

Because I have to. Those are pretty heavy words and feelings for an eleventh grader. I asked him why he felt that he had to, and he told me that it’s not a feeling, that he really has to make everything perfect. He explained to me that if he doesn’t write like he’s taking a test, regular or standardized, that he won’t get into a good school. He said that everything is about school and everything is about the test. I asked him if he feels that he’s missing out on the fun of writing and he said to me that writing is not supposed to be fun at his age. I wanted to laugh and shake him at the same time. It was hard because I know how he feels. Maybe he gets a lot more pressure at home, but there still is that pressure in school to be the best you can, and to try to not make mistakes; getting into a good school is your goal even in eleventh grade, even when your teacher tells you not to worry about anything but writing something.

The other student is the complete opposite of Steven. I had a great conversation with Jonathan** my first day of observation about books. He hates to read, and they had to read over the summer, so I asked him how he got into his book when he hates to read. He told me that he chose the book because it was the “most freaky sounding book they offered.” I actually read the book after he told me about it, and it is quite awkward and freaky. It’s amazing and sick all at once. It’s called The Collector and I highly recommend it.

I digress. I didn’t get the chance to write with him about the book, which is what I would have loved to have been able to do, but I did read what he wrote, and he said he didn’t mind if I read while he was typing so that was pretty good. I can just  tell you that he obviously listened to the teacher when she said not to worry about punctuation, grammar or sequence. Jonathan just wrote. And he wrote so amazing even with the mistakes I saw, and even when there was something that didn’t make sense at all, it somehow did make sense because of the freedom he seemed to have felt when he was writing. I didn’t have to really ask him any questions because while he was writing he would just talk to me about his writing. He told me he hates writing but he loves it at the same time. The reason why he hates writing is because when it matters, he freezes, but when he can just write, he doesn’t get worried. He thinks it’s easier to write without worry.

Both students did exactly as they were told. Neither one of them writes a wrong way. They just write. They write well hating it and loving it. 

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Hard Moment

I used to teach at a charter school located in Darby. There was, and still is, a lot of street violence in that area in regards to gangs and drugs. I taught the students who were coming back from Glen Mills Detention Center or were in danger of dropping out or failing out of school. In the six years that I taught at this charter school, I lost seven students to street violence. The one loss that had the greatest effect on me was when one of my seniors, Mohammed, who I had the pleasure of teaching all four years, was murdered in April of 2010. I remember the moment I found out and all of the feelings still follow me to this day.

                The director of the charter school called me the night it happened. I experienced the loss of a family member before, but for some reason this loss affected me more. I was walking to my room while talking to the director, and I dropped to the floor when she told me what happened. My heart fell into the pit of my stomach. I cried out my pain like a newborn. Mohammed turned 18 years old two weeks before he was shot. He had scholarships to two colleges. He was a brilliant young man with so much to give the world, and he was taken too soon. I never did, and I will never say that Mohammed was perfect because he was far from it. All I can say, no matter how many times we would argue we had enough respect for each other to apologize. Mohammed was taken way too soon.

                After I found out the news, I went to work the next day and we didn’t teach at all. We counseled the students because everyone knew who he was. He, at one point in his life, touched the lives of others around him. I hugged 6’2” tall crying boys, trying to reassure them that everything was going to be ok, that they would survive and heal, while I felt like I was just walking around like a zombie because I didn’t know how to deal with this. We as teachers had to physically restrain some students from leaving the school to retaliate, not knowing what they would do after school. I remember I asked his best friend Corey to just come to school the next day. I tried to tell him that violence doesn’t solve violence. We called in grief counselors to help us along with the students. How do we, as teachers, try to put our pain on hold so we can help our students? Is that even possible? Should that even be done? Is it wrong for a student to see a teacher grieve for the same person lost? I don’t think it’s wrong at all. For some students, it’s important for them to see how much teachers care. Some don’t see it at home, and the one place they do see some type of caring is at school.

                For a whole week we had counseling for the students. They wouldn’t talk to the grief counselors we brought in because they didn’t know them and didn’t trust them. We got a crash course in grief counseling while we were grieving ourselves. On the third day we actually told some funny stories about Mohammed and had a good time. It was nice to remember and to cry because we were all laughing so hard, not because we were dying inside. On the fourth day, the 19 year old who killed him was caught, along with a 17 year old Mohammed got in a fight with. It turns out the whole fight was over a girl. Mohammed was shot in the stomach over a girl. There is no sense in violence.

                I have one of his last papers that he wrote on his parent’s life in Sierra Leone. I also have a copy of the last poem he wrote. He always hated writing poetry but was so good at it. He had to write a poem for an assignment, and this was a time where he admitted that he wanted to stop fighting. Unfortunately, sometimes what we want to happen doesn’t always happen.

                I will always remember Mohammed. I will always remember what happened to him. I will also remember how he helped me become a better teacher. Just like I would challenge my students, he would challenge me. He would challenge me by asking me why. Just that one question was my challenge and I am forever grateful for that. 

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I write

I write because it silences the screams of frustration and anger in me. If those screams don’t get silenced, I wouldn’t be able to function. I was taught to write myself out of my depression. If I did that, I wouldn’t be sad anymore and I wouldn’t let the past affect me like it used to. I don’t want to treat my depression with pills anymore, so I write. I write every day. Even when I don’t want to write, I write. Sometimes I’m scared not to write. I write because I’m terrified to write, and how can I tell someone else what to do if I can’t even do it? I write because I want to be good at it and I feel I should be good at it. Sometimes I write because people think I should be good at it. I write to remember the things I want to forget. I write so one day, if I have a child, I can share my writing with him or her. I write to become a stronger person.

                I write because I don’t want to silence the person I am.

                When I was younger, my parents got divorced and I was told writing would be a good outlet for the anger and sadness I felt from my family splitting. I wrote notes to my mom when I would spend the weekends with my dad so she wouldn’t feel lonely without me or my sister. My sister and I would write notes to each other when we were supposed to be asleep. We would slip them under each other’s door like we were passing notes in class.

                I write when I feel there’s no one there who can listen.

                I stopped writing for two and a half years when I was with my now ex-boyfriend.  I shouldn’t have stopped. If I didn’t stop writing, we probably wouldn’t have dated as long. I see flaws in others when I write. I also see strengths. I see myself in others when I write and I see my differences.

                I’ve had a journal since I was in fifth grade.  My journals are filled with happiness, sadness, hopes and dreams. My journals are filled with love. My journals are filled with my life.

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