Getting Around

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

First Official Job Application

My first official job application has been submitted. It seems these things are all electronic these days, so as soon as a job posting comes up I can simply apply with my pre-made application on the local system. It's good, except if you need to change something.

I unofficially applied for something else directly through the principal (as I was requested to do), but I never heard anything. That principal wasn't the kind you could call up and ask how the hiring process was going, and I wasn't even all that sure the job was a good idea. Now I'm glad I never heard back. It turned out to be a dud, according to the person who's working it.

Anyway, wish me luck as I keep an eye out for potential teaching positions. Until then, I'll be subbing as much as I can.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Love My Kindle Fire

I got the Kindle Fire as a gift this holiday season. I already had an older, e-ink Kindle, which I love (especially now that I can borrow books from the library--shaZAM!). I figured this was something I didn't really need. After all, I secretly wanted an iPad, and here I was getting something less useful. Or so I thought.

I have become addicted. I already have a phone running Android, so there wasn't that much new to me. But the screen is just so darn pretty. It won't really work in the sunlight, which is one of the things I loved about my old Kindle, but otherwise it's a pleasure to read. I can turn the brightness way down to where I like it. I can check my mail (although the loaded mail app is nothing to write home about). I can get an app to have my calendar available to me even if I'm offline. And I can get magazines without killing trees.

I do wish it had a camera so I could use Evernote more efficiently, but I can use my phone to take a picture and it shows up in the app just fine. In fact, the Evernote app is so pretty I don't think I'll use it much on my phone anymore.

I also wish that there were more educational apps available. I realize that the education market is skewed toward iPads and iPods so there are many very, very good choices available. Hopefully, some of that will make it to Android tablets.

I also learned how easy it was to install an app that didn't come from Amazon. I felt a little evil doing that, but I read a lot of reviews first to make sure it wouldn't mess up my device.

I can see how I'm going to want this thing with me much of the time, even when I don't have a wireless connection. I guess it's time to find a more tablet-friendly purse!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Look at Me, I'm a Teacher!

Over the last couple of weeks I finished student teaching, got my initial practitioner license for elementary primary and intermediate, and got my middle school math and science license additions approved. It's a good feeling. Now, on to the job search!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Placement Switching

I've moved on from my elementary placement into a middle school math placement.  Less than a week in, one of my own children had to stay home from school.  I'm feeling a lot of frustration about it.  I realize that my kid has no control over this.  But I was just starting to do some planning with my new cooperating teacher and she's giving me the chance to start teaching this week--IF I can get to school!

In any event, I like the teacher and the school.  This placement is in a private school, so there are few discipline problems and a higher achievement expectation.  Even the kids who are labeled as "struggling" are taking normal grade-level coursework.  Everyone else is a grade or more beyond what's required at the local public schools.  It's interesting.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Has it Really Been That Long?

Wow.  It's almost been 2 months since I last posted. I'm not sure how that happened, except to say that working as a student teacher is incredibly time consuming. I knew that it would be, so I'm not surprised, but I'm a little frustrated that I haven't been able to reflect much on the experience as it's been happening.

One big thing that's coming up for me is a change in venue. I'm close to completing my elementary placement and I'll be moving to a middle school math placement for 6 weeks. I'm very thankful to have the opportunity to do this, but I also feel a bit like I'll be missing out on those last 6 weeks of elementary. I would have preferred a full-term placement in elementary and then the shorter one to be done after the winter break, but the university I attend insists that all student teaching-type placements happen in the span of one university semester. It's weird that they won't let me pay them even more money to work my tail off, but there it is.

My cooperating teacher and her students have been extremely gracious. The teacher is already planning to have me back as a sub, so I'll get to see the kids again a few weeks after I leave them. It will be nice, but they won't really be "mine" anymore.

I'm afraid I don't really have any big thoughts right now as I'm extremely tired from an overnight field trip I enjoyed with my students, but I felt as though not writing something before I switch placements would make me angry with myself later.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Student Teaching Sniffles

I managed to get a cold that really kicked up Thursday this past week. I know it's common for student teachers and new teachers to get sick, but since I recently worked with the preschool set and I rarely get sick, I was surprised. It was a rough two days until the end of the week, and my cooperating teacher kept telling me it was OK if I needed to take part of a day off since I put in so much time before school started. By my way of thinking, if we expect kids to come to school with colds, I should be there, too. It took some effort to stop scrubbing my hands every time I blew my nose (as we had to do in preschool), though I did go through a ton of hand sanitizer. Ew.

Now that I've done some serious sleeping and some prep for the coming week, I feel much better. But I'm wondering what regular teachers do to get through their tough, I-feel-crummy days.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

First Week of Student Teaching

I've survived the first week of student teaching. Whew!

Actually, it's been great, except for the schedule. I leave home at 7:30am and don't come back until 6pm or later. I am with a fantastic cooperating teacher, so I couldn't ask for more in that regard. In fact, I'll be starting to teach lessons next week already, sooner than is required.

There's been a change in the daily schedule to longer school hours this year, so the teachers are working just as hard to find their groove as the kids are. It's hard to change your mental flow of the day when you've been doing it for awhile. Each class must also have 90 minutes of reading instruction each day (new this year), and figuring out ways of filling that time productively before all the routines have set in has been interesting.

The kids are wonderful. We have new kids, faces already familiar to the teachers, kids who just moved here from another country, and kids with interesting backgrounds. Most of them are ready to learn, which makes our jobs easier.

I can already tell this semester will fly by!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New Teacher Bootcamp Blogging

In my last post I mentioned that I was doing the New Teacher Bootcamp at Edutopia. This week, we're supposed to talk about blogging. Convenient, no? As part of our assignment, I'd like to write a little bit about my blogging experience.

I first started blogging to keep track of great activities I did in my preschool classroom. I didn't want to forget them, but sometimes you do something and then the next year you can't remember how you set it up, or the materials you used, or whatever. I took pictures and wrote comments. I didn't originally intend for other people to see the blog, but I had left it as public in case anyone had thoughts on how to improve what I was doing. I gained a very small following, and then I felt like I had to change my writing style a bit so it didn't sound like I was writing my own grocery lists and posting them to the web.

Now that I'm finishing up my teaching license (my original career was in business and computing and you don't need a license to teach preschool in my state), I'm finding my old blog doesn't really fit anymore. I fully intended to keep it up by posting activities I saw in rooms where I subbed since I was still in and out of schools. But between my classes, working, and family, it just never happened.

My current blog (this one) is an attempt to force myself to reflect on my experience as I learn more about teaching. Ideally, I'd like to have it be a group project, but I have yet to find anyone else willing to commit to joining me. I was hoping to have a collection of people at different points in their teaching careers, such as preservice teachers and experienced teachers. So, if you are a very reflective practitioner and you'd like to have a voice but don't want to set up your own blog, feel free to leave a comment here! I moderate all comments, so you can leave your contact info and I won't post your comment to the public.

Friday, July 29, 2011


I'm taking part in the Edutopia New Teacher Bootcamp this summer, and one of our activities was to use Wordle. I decided to use my blog as a source of words, and look what I made!

(Click to enlarge)

I think this is a neat tool to help students visualize poetry they're working on or see how they might be overusing words in a particular essay.  I know I hate it when I'm reading a book and the author chooses to use an unusual word multiple times in the same chapter; doing so lessens the impact of that word. I can also see this as part of a word, author, genre, or content area study.

What ideas do you have?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

StudyBlue: Flashcard Heaven

This summer, as I've been reviewing for the Praxis middle school science test, I've found a need to make flashcards. I'm a bit of a flashcard person, so studying one topic can run to a ton of cards. Figure in all the topics covered on the science exam, and I'd be lugging around a box of cards everywhere I go, making the flashcard concept worthless.

I found StudyBlue, and I'm hooked. Not only can I use it to create online flashcards, but I can access them from my phone. So, when I'm waiting in line somewhere or waiting for one of my kids to do something, I can study. While I'd love to use some of the paid features, the free features are really all I need.

Today I just played with their quiz generation feature. I didn't really write my cards well to take advantage of the quiz, but I will from now on. It's a great way to mentally reframe the cards you've been staring at for awhile.

If you've been using Evernote to study because you've got a fancy flip cover on your iPad (or because you're an Evernote junkie like myself) you can even link the two up. I didn't have anything in Evernote to start with for my flashcards, but it looks like it works pretty well. You can also use it to take notes in class, but I'm still using paper for that.

And no, I'm not getting paid by these people. But boy, and I happy I found them. I think one day I'll be sharing this site with my own students to help them study.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Khan Academy

If you've not heard of Khan Academy yet, where have you been? No, seriously, where? I've been using Khan Academy to review for the middle school science Praxis exam, and I have to say that I'm impressed. Sometimes I wish the pacing was a bit faster since I'm just reviewing instead of learning, but since it's geared toward learners I can't really complain. I also wish there were exercises and questions for topics other than math (though the math ones are great). There are some good tools for teachers available on the site, as well.

Khan Academy is a good way to try flipping for upper elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. That is, instead of lecturing at school and then assigning homework problems, have the kids watch the videos at home so you can be there to support them while they work through problems. I'm really interested in flipping, since my skills are much better put to use supporting students while they work through their understanding rather than lecturing. I've also seen teachers make their own videos for their flipped lessons, so I'm hoping someone starts to put together the best of the best from across the web so we have a whole library of lessons to choose from.

Remember my Livescribe Pulse smartpen (the new version's called the Echo)? You can use that to create what's called a pencast, which has some similarities to what's going on at Khan Academy and it means you have control over the content. It's not as fancy, but if you don't like relying on someone else's content (or your school won't allow you to do so), it's one way to make your own.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Making an IMPACT

Recently, a report came out on the IMPACT teacher evaluation system used in Washington, D.C. schools the last two years. This was one of Michelle Rhee's big reforms, and there were many complaints about it. While from the report it's clear that IMPACT has some adjustments to make, I'm hoping the districts near me are watching.

My original career was in business. I did programming and workflow consulting. My evaluations were always related to the bottom line, and many of them included input from coworkers and clients as well as my boss. I got frequent, specific feedback throughout the year on my performance and how I could improve. If I needed training, I was sent to training. My job was only moderately stressful. I enjoyed the challenge, but I did have several colleagues who found the constant feedback depressing and quit because of it.

I find feedback in the education world a bit lacking, to be honest. Everyone tells you the first few years are hard. Teachers are messing with the learning of many, many children over their careers. Isn't some honest evaluation and support in the form of training (or even internships) worth it? Teachers who don't get support don't stick around, and since we're all supposed to believe it takes 10,000 hours to master something, that means a lot of people are leaving before they get good.

In my state there is a mentorship program, but your mentor doesn't even have to work in the same building as you do. Several teachers have told me they only communicated with their mentors over e-mail and that their mentors never got to see them teach because they were in a school across town. Mentors have their own classes to teach, after all, and apparently they don't get time to go see the person they're supposed to be mentoring. I want a mentor who can come see me and give me specific feedback on how to improve.

As for IMPACT, the biggest problem I see with it is that it doesn't account for teacher collaboration, another thing I find lacking in education. In the district I hope to teach in, students might see a different teacher for reading than they do for math. But value-added measures being used right now in other areas of the country assume that the teacher you start with in the morning is the one who teaches you everything, at least at the elementary level. That's got to be addressed, particularly if we want to encourage collaboration (and we do!). Right now it also means that the special education teachers aren't getting any credit for the hard work they do, which is not only unfair but unmotivating.

Yes, I do want my students' learning to show up on my evaluation, along with several other measures. I want many observations for as long a time as possible, and I want my development to be linked to those observations so I can target the areas where I need the most work. I'd also like my coworkers to have a chance to give me feedback, and I wouldn't mind the students getting a chance too provided that they are asked appropriate questions.

Once IMPACT is tweaked I hope other districts start looking at D.C.'s struggles and successes. I don't want my job to be based on whether my principal likes me but on whether or not I'm an effective teacher.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spaces and Places

Spaces & Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy At NCTM I was told by many people I talked to that I "had" to go see Debbie Diller. I had no clue who she is (I know, WHAT???), so I tried to get into one of her sessions. For some reason, she was in a smallish room, and even though I got there early I couldn't get in. So, I wrote down her name so I could do some reading later.

And boy, am I glad I did! Within the first 20 pages I knew I would be buying this book (I checked it out from my fabulous library). I am an extreme clutterbug who can't let go of anything, so one of the things about teaching that's been worrying me is creating a comfortable environment for my students. I fear creating huge walls of clutter over the years that will eventually endanger my students! I even did my visual pedagogy project for art class on how children felt about their spaces and what they would change about their current spaces. While Ms. Diller's book doesn't really address how students feel in the environments other than to mention kids with attention issues a few times, I found her book very helpful in organizing my thinking about spaces.

I'm not sure I'll use any of the worksheets she's included to help, but just having some guidance in how to think about my space and in what order to set it up will get me going on the right path. Her philosophies about classroom space are similar to mine, which I'm sure helped me to love this book. Kids are going to spend more time in my classroom than they will spend at home during the school year. It should be a productive, comfortable place for them. Now I feel like I have a fighting chance at making that happen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The First Days of School

The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher This is one of those books that everyone tells you that you have to read. So I read it. And as I've said before, if you are writing an advice book, don't get too detailed about fashion or technology. 'Nuff said there.

I confess to reading an older copy of this book from the library, so I have to imagine that some of my complaints have been resolved in this new edition. Specifically, there's a lot of fluff at the beginning and way too much repetition of the exact same words. I get it, it's important. Only, I don't need to read it three times and then feel like you just sucked some minutes out of my life that I can't get back.

What is good about this book is the content on assessment and teaching to mastery. I've posted before about standards-based grading, but the Wongs were way ahead of their time. The version of the book I read even had a copy of a test that listed the standards alongside each question so you and the students know what standard's being addressed. Brilliant! I could have used more information on how to manage all the data I'd be getting from such assessments. The grade book portion of the book didn't really match with the whole standards-based assessment, so maybe the Wongs are still grading old-school but doing formative assessing based on standards. It's not clear. But it is clear that everyone needs to spend more time thinking about how to get kids to mastery.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Standards-Based Grading

Lately I've become intrigued by the Standards-Based Grading (SBG) stuff that's going around. While many school districts are going toward grade reports that list standards and how well a student is doing in those standards, I think a true SBG believer really does do things differently.

There's the notion that kids should know what it is they're supposed to learn and be allowed to master it on their own time (within limits), which sounds great but isn't really what we do for kids. How often to students get a roadmap of the learning that they're expected to do? Or do they just know their scores for Quiz 1, Homework 3, and Test 5? What if we told them that their scores are to tell them where they need to work a little more, and then let them prove their mastery? Right now, if a kid doesn't do well on Quiz 1, that grade gets figured into the final grade even if they later master the material on that quiz. The grade in this case is not indicative of mastery level but of scores on assessments. A kid could finally "get it" at the end of a quarter but the grade wouldn't indicate that. This bugs me.

A good place to start if you have no clue what I'm talking about is Shawn Cornally's blog. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Little Rant on (Graduate) Grades

What are grades for, anyway? Do they represent mastery? Effort? Performance against a scoring rubric? I just don't know. While I'm still struggling with whether elementary-aged kids should even BE graded in the traditional sense, I do know how I feel about grades in grad school.

They are unfair. More specifically, I think my professors' application of them is a bit unfair.

This is not a gripe about my grades--which were all As and A+s, thank you very much--but about what my grade means. At my university we get grade reports that include context information. That is, we know how many of each letter grade were assigned and how many people were in the class. So, I know that EVERYONE in ALL my classes did well. The lowest grade was an A-, and I think there was only one of those.

Of course you could argue that maybe we really all worked hard, in which case we'd all deserve such grades. If I believed that to be the case, I'd agree with you. The problem is that we are a tight-knit cohort program. We know more about each other than people should know. Some of us have children, jobs, and mortgages to pay. Others of us are right out of college and coasting on mom and dad's dime. So here's what I observed this semester.

Several of our class members had trouble getting to class on time (the record was 2 hours and 30 minutes late for a class that lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes). The lateness was almost everyday. All of our classes are heavily discussion-based, so if you're not there, you can't take part in discussions. Every professor has a provision for discussion, usually accounting for no more than 5% of our grade. Fair enough. Seat time does not equal learning time. I believe in that. I do think the disruptions of coming in late (and then leaving 10 minutes later--not during a break--to go get a sandwich and coffee) should have some consequences, though. The part that's really frustrating is when said persons schedule their arrival right before break and then sign the sign-in sheet as everyone's leaving for a breather. And then they join the rest of us on break. The ultimate is when late people raise their hands to ask questions or contribute to the discussion right after they get settled. They usually bring up something that's already been covered, but not once did a professor call them on it. So frustrating!

Most of our classes allow for life situations, since many of us are squeezed between home and school. So, the occasional late assignment isn't a big deal. Neither is redoing an assignment when you don't like the grade. After all, we're being taught to let students learn at their own pace with lots of feedback, so it seems reasonable to treat us the same way. There are several individuals in our program who turned in EVERY SINGLE ASSIGNMENT late and then complained about the grade. These are people with no obligations. None of the cohort members with kids or part time jobs turned in anything late. If they can get their acts together, surely someone with no responsibilities outside of school can do the same. I would understand family emergencies or dire financial circumstances, but that didn't come into play here except with some of the parents, who STILL managed to get their stuff in on time.

We're not undergraduates. We chose to be in a graduate program. A lot of undergrads are lazy; I was lazy then, too. But the big time is not for lazy people. Lazy people should be asked to shape up or ship out of a graduate program.

So how does this come back to grades? Simple. When a prospective employer looks at my graduate GPA, he or she won't see any difference between my grinding effort, diligence, and attention to detail and the person who didn't bother to come to class or turn in assignments on time. Many of us busted our bums to get good grades, but apparently that didn't matter. All you had to do was pay your tuition and turn something in by the end of the semester to get a good grade.

So why grade us at all? It's not like it means anything.

I feel better now. Thanks.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yelling as a Classroom Management Technique

As I sub around local school districts I'm looking at school and classroom management techniques that I might want to use when I have my own classroom someday. Here's one I know I don't want to use: yelling.

At one school yelling is the way it is. Kids get yelled at all day, right from when they walk in the door. There's a school-wide discipline policy that follows a step system, starting with a warning and ending up somewhere terrible. It's really easy for a kid to get his recess taken away, and given the kids who are in the building that seems like a bad idea. There seems to be this cultural assumption that a kid who isn't behaving the way they're expected to is doing something bad. I'm sure there are reasons for this, but it makes it difficult to be the sub. I've subbed at several grade levels and I heard yelling at all of the kids, even the Kindergarteners. Yelling is clearly not effective, or there wouldn't be so much of it. If yelling made the kids do what the adults wanted them to do, the adults could stop yelling, right?

I have no solution to this problem. If I were working in the school, how could I do classroom management differently in my own room and then let my students get exposed to harsh words from adults as soon as they walk out the door? How could I make my own classroom safe for them and yet productive? These things worry me. When I'm looking for a job I won't be able to be picky. I will have to take what I can get and make the most of it. Hopefully I won't lose my voice in the process from all the yelling.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Middle School Math

I am thrilled to find out that I passed the middle school math certification exam! That exam was a lot harder than I anticipated, and I almost cancelled my score. Not only did I pass, but I did well. Yippee!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A New Semester Begins

In my program we have two semesters of coursework and a semester of student teaching.  Last week the second semester started.  I have to say that my enthusiasm isn't really what it should be, and I can't say why.  Maybe because my two favorite subjects were last semester and the ones I'm not a fan of are all this semester?  Could be.

On the plus side, I got placed in the school I wanted.  I had to earn it.  Now I'm freaking out that maybe I'm not really good enough to spend time in that school.  What to do?

Also, I have a small problem with my wardrobe.  And my hair.  I used to teach nursery school.  I came home splattered with paint.  I did not wear my nice clothes to that school and my hair was mostly functional, not fabulous.  Now I have to look professional.  The last time I had to look professional on a regular basis I wore suits with big shoulder pads and had even bigger hair.  I'm not even sure where to start with this one, so ideas are welcome!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Certification Exam are Stinko

In addition to an elementary license, I'm also adding middle school math.  Unfortunately, the certification exam for this has crappy study materials available for it.  I'm working hard, but this might be a case of having to take the exam to find out what I need to know.  After all, it's been 25 years since I was in middle school, and a lot has changed since then.  Plus, I've slept, which means stuff has been forgotten.

Any tips on certification exams out there?

Oh wait, let me say that I have nothing against the idea of certification exams.  After all, one must be able to demonstrate one's knowledge of the content before being allowed to teach it.  I agree with that.  I just don't enjoy taking them, myself.