Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Good and the Bad

Today was a rough day.

Well, the ending was rough so that put a damper on the rest of the day which went just fine.

My biggest group of students is six 4th and 5th graders. Two of the boys like to cause a lot of trouble but the girls (all in 5th grade) are generally well behaved. They want to participate and are usually engaged. I do have to work to keep them from chatting to each other all period though.

Today was a different story. The girls (and one in particular) would not stop calling out, making comments to other students and talking back when I told her I was taking points off. The boys were a bit sneakier causing their trouble more quietly so that they didn't get called on it as often. This led the one girl to start pointing out everything that the other students were doing. It just got worse and worse as the 90 minute period progressed.

I am so frustrated because I expect that six kids can be have themselves. I don't have a huge class of rowdy kids running around and yelling; I should be able to handle a measly six kids.

Part of the problem is that the space that we are in is so small. Students are sitting way too close together and don't have enough personal space. Then, if I need to separate someone there is nowhere for them to go. I have one small table on the back wall that I could move a student to but they would not be any farther away from the other students.

The space was just part of the problem today though. I don't know what I am doing wrong. My procedures are in place. I have the students wait in a quiet line outside the classroom before we enter. I remind them that they have to enter quietly, sit down and begin the Do Now. One student picks up the composition books from the back table and then they begin on the Do Now.

That's about where the smooth procedures get derailed. They take FOREVER to copy down their heading and the DO NOW question even though I remind them how much time they have left. Usually after I've given them 5-10 minutes to do this they have barely finished copying the question or they've written it down but not responded. I think that today part of the problem may have been that the question was too hard for them. They didn't understand what I was asking. ("Why is it important to know who your audience is when you write a persuasive essay?" We talked about this yesterday.) I'll have to work on that.

Well, tomorrow is a new day and I will try again. Also, I only see the 4th graders tomorrow and that always seems to be easier than the two grades together.


In brighter news . . .

The coaches are starting to be nice to me. I don't know what happened.

Last week one of them was in a better mood than usual so I took that opportunity to ask her for help with teaching my kindergarteners their letters and sounds since I know that she specializes in early childhood. She was very helpful and gave me a lot of good ideas.

Since then, things have been going better. They say good morning to me when they come in the room and actually talk to me during the day.

Yesterday, I foresaw a huge fight coming--it never happened.

There was a tall box belonging to the math coach that had been sitting on the dividing line of the room since the first week of school. I had been using it to put my hand outs and clipboards on while I teach. Well, yesterday she finally got rid of the box. I replaced it with a small desk because I NEED a place to keep all my stuff while I teach and there is no other space at the front of the classroom. Knowing how things have gone so far, I was SURE that she would have a fit and say that it was in the way (it's slightly bigger than the box). I was all prepared for what I would say.

She never said a word.

I don't know what's going on with them but I hope that it continues. I asked them for some advice with my rowdy kids today and they did help some. I think maybe they like it when I ask them for advice. I'll keep on asking if that's what it takes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The nerve of some people . . .

Yesterday I was at our monthly ESL meeting for the region. I was sitting with two other TFAers and one other woman. The guy had missed the last ESL meeting because his school hadn't told him about it. He only found out about this meeting when he arrived at school that morning via a post-it note. Luckily the meeting was being held just down the street from his school and he was scheduled to do push-in for the majority of the meeting so it wasn't a big issue. He was planning however, to return to school to teach the last period, his history class. He mentions this to us and the woman sitting with us starts going into how he can't leave the meeting because it is mandatory. He explains that he learned about it last minute and that his school was expecting him back. He also said that it was a really difficult class and he didn't want to leave them with a sub--he needed to be there with them. So, this woman continues to go into how he can't leave, his school knows he has to be there, "and what? so you're NEVER going to take a day off the whole school year?" He says no, he's going to try not to. She tells him that he is entitled to his 9 days and he should take them off. He tells her that he just wants to show that he is dedicated and build a good rapport with the principal. She says that they don't care if he takes those days off--they're his. Sooo, he goes to the facilitator of the meeting and after arguing with her for a while about how he needs to get back to his class, she lets him go. After he's gone the woman sitting next to us turns and says "You know he's not going back to his school. He just wants to get out of here." I so wanted to smack her. The other TFA teacher said to her "We actually know him and he IS dedicated to his students. He really WANTS to be with his students and he really WON'T take any days off this year." She just couldn't comprehend that this could be possible.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


I don't know why this strikes me as odd, but I can't get over hearing people talk about the Yankees and being upset that they didn't make it to the World Series. I don't even care about baseball it's just that I am used to always hearing about the Yankees as being the team that everyone hates (apart from the random few that are diehard fans but that everyone else shuns). Last night (or was it the night before?) I heard the new anchors talking about how they were bummed that the Yankees lost and I though to myself Even they like the Yankees?? Oh yeah, I keep forgetting that this IS New York. Is this a strange observation?

* * *

I just have to say that today was the nastiest weather. And this is about the WORST weather that we get all winter in Arizona. I don't know how I'm going to make it through the Winter!

Holiday Reading

Check out the Carnival of Education hosted this week by Jenny D.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Thoughts . . .

I don't know how I am going to be able to go back to a full 5 day week next week. These last two have been so great. Not that I have done anything interesting, but the random days off have given me time to catch up and plan. Last night was the first night that I had my planning for the next day done by 6pm so that the evening was all mine to veg. Over the weekend I also planned a month-long reading unit and writing unit for my group of second and third graders.

Yeah! Progress!

But that's about where it ends with my long term planning. I'm hoping to get some more accomplished this weekend. I want to tackle my 8th grade writing plan next.

I'm still struggling with what exactly I'm supposed to be teaching these ESL kids who all speak English. I know that they all need a lot of help with reading comprehension and writing so I am trying to focus on those areas. I just keep questioning myself all the time as to whether or not I am doing the right thing. I'm constantly worrying that I am pulling them out of some important lesson in their classes and that this ESL program is becoming detrimental to them rather than helping them. Maybe if I were more confident about my teaching skills and what I am teaching them I wouldn't feel this way.

And, I know that maybe I shouldn't speak too soon, but I'm not sure if I like being a pull-out teacher. Yes, I have so much more freedom than all of the other teachers. And, yes, especially in my region, where micro-managing is taken to an extreme level, I'm probably the only teacher in the school who doesn't get told what to do. I just keep seeing all of the classes and wishing that I were a classroom teacher. I would love to have my own class of second graders.

I still love the kids in ESL, and the idea of being the first teacher of new arrival students--only that's not my situation. I think I could really get excited about teaching a self contained ESL class. I'm just not in the right neighborhood for that.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Three day weekend!

First day of the long weekend and it's pouring down rain! Well, this should be conducive to all of the planning that I told myself I would do. I won't feel so bad for not getting out of the house an doing something! Though I might pack up my books and head over to the Tea Lounge on Union Street to get some work done. I love that place.

I do feel guilty though that in my first months of living in NYC I haven't had any motivation (or much opportunity) to explore and do fun stuff. During the school week I never get out of Brooklyn and even then I only see my classroom, the subway and my neighborhood. Every Friday night the new teachers at my school go to happy hour. That's usually the biggest outing of the week and I'm generally home by 10 which seems so late! Ah, the life of a teacher!


Today I got my order from I got the 6+1 Traits of Writing book. I really love the concept and want to know more about it. I have all the rubrics for the model (from various workshops at Institute) but I don't really know where to start with implementing it. My plan is to get through some of the reading this weekend so that I can incorporate it into my lesson planning.

I'm hoping to use the 6 Traits to help me take my students beyond the bland Four Square Writing that they are currently doing. I'm going to emphasize that these Traits are applicable to Four Square writing (which they have to do in every single class and in every grade from K-12). I, however, don't plan on using the Four Square in my class. I really despise it. I know that I can get away with that for two reasons. The first is that no one in my building (administrators, coaches, other teachers) know what I am supposed to be doing therefore no one ever checks on me, I've never had my AP come into my room and tell me what should be on my walls or that my bulletin boards aren't up to date, etc. (I'm really sort of loving this freedom). The other reason, and probably most important because this is a justification that I could actually give an administrator, if asked, is that I have to prepare them for the NYSESLAT in the Spring which does not use the Four Square. In fact, it provides it's own graphic organizers which, if used like the Four Square produce the most horrifically organized papers. (I know this from the diagnostic I gave). So, I'm really looking forward to getting to know the 6 Traits and implementing them in my classroom.

Ok, so I'm going to stop procrasinating now and get down to work!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

New KIPP School

KIPP is opening a new charter school in Houston to serve the students displaced by hurricane Katrina. The school will be largely staffed by Teach For America teachers who were also displaced by the hurricane.

I think this is such an inspiring story. I give major credit to KIPP as well as the TFA teachers for jumping on this and making every effort to make this school year meaningful to the students.

Teach For America in the News

Here is a link to an article in the New York Times that gives a basic run down on Teach For America. For those familiar with the organization, the article doesn't present anything new but I thought it might be interesting for those who may not have heard of Teach For America.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Professional development

I completely understand that in theory professional development can be a great thing. Veteran teachers and new teachers alike can benefit from new instructional strategies and revisiting or perfecting the ones that they already use. Why then is our hour-long professional development every Monday such a waste of time?

Actually, I think I can answer my own question. It might have something to do with the fact that our PD is presented as one session in the auditorium to every teacher in the school regardless of what they teach.

Our first session was on protocol for teaching Math to the new standards. There are a lot of teachers who don't teach math. (Me for one). This week we had a session on Four Square Writing. Leaving aside my personal thoughts on the Four Square, this session seemed at first to apply to more teachers than math. Then the presenter said that she would only be speaking to writing in grades 3-8. She said that teachers of the early grades should just "sit back and see what the rest of the grades are doing." There is a K-2 Four Square, but she wouldn't be discussing it. What a waste of time for those teachers. So they are clocking the required number of hours, but they are gaining nothing from it. Why not just let them go home (or work in their classrooms) if the PD is explicitly not applicable to them.

At the end of the hour I saw the two gym teachers make a bee line for the door. I hadn't even realized that they too were forced to suffer through these weekly trainings. Will there ever be even ONE session applicable to them? I highly doubt it.

What if, instead of meeting whole school in the auditorium, we had smaller more specialized PD sessions? We could team up with other schools in the district so that Social Studies teachers, math teachers, early elementary teachers, etc. could work separately to really focus on their teaching areas. Then, PD might actually serve it's purpose of helping teachers.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


There are certain things that the students at my school do without being instructed.

You don't have to tell them how to write the heading on their papers. It has been so ingrained into them that it just comes naturally. When a first-year teacher tries to present a particular way of writing the heading for her class, they promptly tell her that that isn't the way it's done. She's doing it all wrong.

Last week I gave reading comprehension diagnostics to all of my students. When I collected their tests, all of them had numbered the paragraphs in the reading selections. Someone had taught them that this is what you do when you take a test and they didn't need anyone to remind them.

They knew what was expected.

Wednesday we had a fire drill at my school and I caught a glimpse of how orderly the students could behave if only the expectations were set in place. I fully expected our first fire drill to be utterly chaotic. Based on the madness every day when just a third of the students go to lunch, I could only imagine what it would be like when the entire school poured into the halls to try and exit the building.

I was completely mistaken.

Somewhere along the lines, the students had been taught how they were expected to behave during a fire drill. The consequences for misbehavior during a fire drill must have been pretty clear too because every student was perfect. Students were lined up in perfectly straight rows. No one so much as whispered to another student. And everyone walked out of the building in a calm and orderly fashion. Another TFA teacher at my school commented, she had never seen so many students in the hall at one time. She had also never seen the hall so quiet.

All of us first-years were so amazed at how well behaved they were. This just proved how our school could be if only the expectations were set. Did the administration not see this as well? If the students can behave like this during a fire drill, why can't we expect this of them every day?

I feel like the focus is always on the small insignificant things rather than the imortant issues. Don't even think about writing the heading incorrectly but go ahead and run around the classroom and talk back to the teacher. Where are the priorites?

The same goes for the expectations of the teachers. The administration comes around checking to make sure that all ten memos are posted and that the bulletin boards have student work that is not a day over two weeks old, but does anyone even stop to see how the lesson is being taught and if the students are engaged?