End of a Chapter and Beginning of the Next

Last week was my last week of student teaching in 4th grade. In all honesty, it was all very bittersweet for me. I really liked the school I was at…. I liked all the staff and I adored the kids. They are all such great kids. So, it was hard for me to leave, especially since the school year is not over for them. It’s hard explaining that I am done with school while they are still in school. On my last day, all three 4th grade classrooms went on a field trip to Legoland. Let’s just say, whatever the salary is for the employees at Legoland, it is nowhere near enough. There were kids, toys, and chaos everywhere you look. Sensory overload does not even begin to describe what it’s like there. But, the kids had a blast, so it was all worth it! When we got back, they had a little farewell party for me. The kids made cards and some even brought me gifts. My cooperating teacher and the other 4th grade teachers gave me gifts and everyone wished me the best of luck. It was a wonderful send off that made me feel like I am well on my way to being a pretty good teacher!

While I was sad to leave, this week also marked a lot of extremely happy things for me. I officially passed the edTPA. I earned an A in my final class, solidifying my 4.0 GPA. I will be graduating in June, complete with the honor of Sigma Alpha Pi due to my grades. And I am transitioning to a long term substitute teaching position immediately after student teaching. All in all, it was a pretty good week!

Which brings me to this week. Yesterday was my first day filling in for the Reading Specialist at a new school. It is a middle school and I will be working with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders through the end of their school year. It is considered a pull out program, with the goal of helping students improve their literacy comprehension. Because of this,the class sizes are small. My largest two classes have a total of eight students and the smallest two classes have just four students. The school is also testing a new program called Achieve 3000 which I will be rolling out with these students.

My first day was in a co-teaching setting with another Reading Specialist. But, as of today, I am officially on my own. The environment is completely different than an intermediate school, to say the least. My overall size and stature does not exactly demand authority, so I feel I am entering this experience at a disadvantage. Navigating the halls during transitions is quite similar to a cattle drive. The students seem indifferent, displaying their best “whatever” faces and attitudes throughout the day. After the first day, I felt confident in my skills navigating the classroom and conducting myself as a teacher but was still weary about the students.

This morning I returned for day two. One of my 6th grade students was waiting outside when I got here and mumbled a “G’morning Ms Daley.” Progress. She actually did remember my name, so she must have been somewhat paying attention yesterday. The troublesome boy in 2nd period seemed to be in better spirits today and I chalked that up to another small victory. In homeroom, several of the students referred to me by name and at the end of the period several of them said “Have a good day, Ms Daley”. Another victory. I smiled to myself as I managed to get back to my classroom without getting trampled. And then the four 8th grade boys in my 6th period walked all over me. Figuratively, not literally. Although literally is possible since they are the equivalent of football players. Minimal work was accomplished and I spent most of the time checking in with them repeatedly to see just what the frak they were working on (yes, that is a BSG term for all my fellow sci-fi nerdies). Clearly those boys will be a handful…. little do they know more busy work is in their future. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, aside from the 7th grade boy who insists on speaking in a British accent. It’s actually quite entertaining watching a struggling reader attempt to read aloud in a faux British accent. Might be beneficial to lose the accent in my class, Mate. 

Take that, edTPA!

I’m not going to lie, it has been quite a week.

We had class this past week and I was pretty distant. Yes, we had a presentation to do and yes I think I did alright for my part (we got 100%, so I guess it went fine). But, quite honestly, my mind has been anywhere else but the present. I have been worried about passing the edTPA, so much so that it has been haunting my dreams.

There’s the one where I scored a 26, when I need a 35 or more to pass.

Then there’s the one where I forgot to upload most of the bazillion supporting docs. Seriously, there’s like a dozen separate files to properly name and upload.

Bottom line, all my nightmares lead to me not passing for one reason or another.

Then came Thursday. The day when everything would present itself. I was terrified. I didn’t want to check my email or the edTPA website and yet I could not help but hit refresh over and over and over all day long. Until it happened. The email from my professor. Deep breath. Tap to open. Another deep breath. And……

I passed! Someone asked about my score and I quickly said I have assumed a new motto – never ask a woman her age, her weight, or her edTPA score. I’m not going to lie, my score is not phenomenal. But, guess what? It’s a passing score and that’s all that matters. I passed and I will soon officially become a teacher.

It is a huge accomplishment on so many levels. First of all, I succeeded! I passed the edTPA and I am officially graduating with my Masters, not to mention a 4.0 GPA. If you would have asked me 20 years ago if I saw myself as a college graduate, I would have laughed. At that time I barely attended community college. Neither of my parents went to college and, quite honestly, I’m pretty sure my dad never finished high school. It’s not like I would have been disappointing anyone. So, Grad school with the honor of Sigma Alpha Pi makes me damn proud, if I do say so myself.

But, it’s not just the fact that I worked my butt off and did well. I DID it. If you asked me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always a teacher. Ever since kindergarten. Then in 3rd grade I had an amazing teacher and decided to narrow my dream to becoming a 3rd grade teacher. And that was always my dream. Ask my bestie and in a heartbeat she would say that was my plan. Ask my hubby and he would say I wished I became a teacher. So this was my second chance at fulfilling my lifelong dream and I DID it.

And now, amidst all this personal celebration, I am wrapping up my student teaching in 4th grade. Has anyone noticed how close my student teaching placement is to my above mentioned dream job…? Anywho, while I am thrilled to be at the end of the program, I am so sad to leave these 4th graders. They have taught me so much and they have helped me grow immensely. As the last few days are winding down, they keep asking me to stay, which makes me feel like I’ve done something right. All the hard work has paid off. Mostly in ways that cannot be measured by a test score, a research paper, or an intense state application.

I’ve attached a picture of the edTPA handbooks, my official submission, and the supporting documents to show how much went in to submitting the edTPA. Keep in mind, we submitted just one month into our final quarter. And, for the record, everyone in my cohort passed. Go team!!

The Beginning of the End 

Even though these last two weeks were short weeks, they have been pretty busy. I had my midterm appraisal from my cooperating teacher and my university supervisor last week and everything seems to be going really well. I feel like I am doing well with my student teaching, which makes me dislike this whole edTPA process even more. My future is in the balance of something that, in my opinion, does not effectively assess my role as a teacher. It’s frustrating at best. And, honestly, this is where I really want to stomp my feet and shout “It’s not fair!” But, I continue to wait and hope for the best. There really isn’t much more I can do at this point. The waiting is torture and I hope to see my score soon so I can either move on or prepare my resubmission. 

Friday all three 4th grade classes gathered for the first of several mini assemblies for “Erin’s Law” to discuss children’s safety on a variety of levels. Since this was the first lesson, they mostly discussed making good choices and making sure a responsible adult is available. At one point the 4th graders were asked how many are home alone for extended periods of time and how many 4th graders are left in charge of younger siblings. The results were overwhelming to me…. So many students raised their hands! And while I understand the question might be subjective, meaning some of the kids might have raised their hand because their parent has maybe gone next door to a neighbor really quickly or even out to the garage therefore this child had been home alone briefly, I couldn’t help but wonder just how many of these nine and ten year olds actually have been left home alone. It is a little concerning to me and makes me wonder what other concerns I will encounter during my career as a teacher. 

This week was Spirit Week as well as a shortened week for the students. All of the days were Dr. Seuss themed in honor of his birthday this week. Monday we wore green, Tuesday was crazy hat day, Wednesday was crazy socks day, and Thursday was pajama day. I think Tuesday and Thursday were my favorite days, mostly because I had the opportunity to rock an awesome hat on Tuesday and on Thursday I was able to work in my jammies, complete with comfy slippers. In honor of Dr. Seuss, here’s one of my favorite of his quotes:

Spirit Week felt well timed for me. I have begun giving back classes to my cooperating teacher and as of next week, I will only be teaching math. I plan to observe other classrooms during my free times to not only see how other teachers manage their classrooms but also to see what other grade levels are like. I think I know what grade levels I would prefer to teach, but I do also want to not only keep my options open but also make sure I am well-rounded. Knowing that my time here is coming to an end is bittersweet. I am excited to move on to my next steps and to ultimately find a full time job. I feel like it has been a challenging journey to this point and I definitely have my eyes on the finish line. But, I do like my host school and I love the kids. I am sad that I won’t see them to the end of their school year. They keep asking me so many questions about why I won’t be here after March 17th and if I will be back next year. I would love to stop by at the end of their school year to see them again. And maybe by then I will have some answers as to where I will be working next school year. 

Kicking booty and taking names

This week, according to my cooperating teacher, I found my teacher voice. And while it was only because I was at the point of total frustration, it felt great! 

I was teaching the social studies lesson earlier this week and struggling to keep the kids’ attention. They  were not silently listening at the “level zero” as they have been told over and over. They weren’t loud, but they also weren’t silent. I did all the cliché things to get their attention, which worked but never lasted. Then I resorted to one of the biggest mistakes a teacher can make – I started talking over them. And, of course, they just got a little louder. I muddled through the lesson to get to the activity portion in hopes of eventually regaining their attention. Basically the assignment was to write a question, like a news reporter might, and then I was going to redistribute the worksheets so classmates could answer each other’s questions. I explained this, in painful detail, as I was handing out the worksheets and trying to talk over them. Finally, after about the fifth student said I gave back the wrong worksheet, I lost it. I stopped, grabbed their attention for the bazillionth time, and laid down the law. And I had their absolute undivided attention. I repeated the directions. I called on students to repeat the directions back to me. I was stern and harsh and not the passive student teacher they had just been walking all over. They sat silently and somewhat wide eyed as they listened. And that’s when I felt it. A shift in the force. I demanded respect and they gave it. 

I was a little concerned my rise in power would be short lived, but so far it hasn’t been. I do feel they view me differently. Not quite as their teacher, but no longer as the lesser assistant to their regular teacher. I think I solidified my role as disciplinarian a few days later. They left for lunch in a fashion that resembled a small mob and not the orderly straight line they are supposed to use. After lunch, we did a reenactment to enforce the correct way to dismiss for lunch. This reenactment  cut  into their social studies time, which in turn created more homework for them – whoops on their part. Since these this two instances, they have been pretty close to angelic for me. 

In other big news this week, we are working to incorporate Whole Brain Teaching. If you’ve never heard of it, it is cheesy, embarrassing, and awkward. And the kids love it! Basically, as an attention getter, I say a phrase and they say a counter-phrase. One of my favorites is when I say “Hocus Pocus” and they respond “Time to focus!”. Anywho, there’s been a few hiccups in the process, but I absolutely love it! Initially I thought it would not fly with these guys since they are big bad fourth graders, but they are so enthusiastic. And their enthusiasm drives me to do it more often. Depending on the grade level, I absolutely want to use this in my future classroom! Here’s a few examples of what we use in class:

Short Weeks, Long Hours

First, let me say I can NOT believe this week is finally over! We did not have school on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. day, but somehow our four day week felt like it lasted a month…. 

When we came back on Tuesday, I rearranged the seats. My cooperating teacher said I could do whatever I wanted, but I was concerned that no matter what I did there would be problems. At open house this past fall, most of the parents mentioned how this particular group of fourth graders were pretty close. While that has made for a great group of kids, they tend to be a little chatty and occasionally lose focus. My goal was to try to break up some groups but also to try to help struggling learners by placing them with students who tend to be more focused. To accomplish this, I went back to the small groups. They started the school year in small groups, then pairs, then long tables. So far it seems to be working out the way I wanted. Only time will tell. 

In addition to the social studies block, this week I began taking over the morning literacy blocks. For some reason, this part of the day has been most confusing to me. I think it’s mainly because of all the moving parts. Their Daily 5 assignments are posted on the class Schoology page and they utilize a variety of websites that include Scholastic, Night Zookeeper, ReadWorks, and Actively Learn. I’m sure there’s more, but I’m still trying to get the hang of these. Even though I am overwhelmed, I love how much technology they use every day!

That being said, I was observed by my university supervisor this week. It was the first of four observations this quarter. I opted to have her observe the social studies lesson since I feel pretty confident with the content. I have even managed to navigate the technology (finally!), since the lesson is interactive with the iPad. But, of course, we were having connection issues when my supervisor was there. Rather than the audio playing, I had to read aloud to the class, which was fine, just not what I planned. After going through the lesson we had this pretty cool activity planned and the kids were really into it. Things were going really well and I had a pretty good sense of confidence. Until my cooperating teacher said we were about to have a lock down drill and she was leaving to assist the principal. Ironically, my supervisor was here for a fire drill last quarter….

Although the drill went fine, it was kind of eerie. When the announcement came over, the kids all knew exactly what to do. I locked the classroom door and the kids all huddled on the floor behind the teacher’s desk, in a corner where they could not be seen from the classroom door or the exterior windows. I stood in front of them and we waited silently for the all clear. Part of the drill is to make sure the door is locked, so about halfway through the drill someone came by and loudly shook the doorknob to make sure it was locked. And that’s when I felt the sinking feeling in my stomach. I mentally took a step back and assessed the situation. Here I was, all five foot nothing of me, standing between a would be shooter and twenty fourth graders. I smiled down at the kids, who were squished against each other and squirming around impatiently. They wanted to get back to the activity we had been working on just before this. I wondered how many of them, if any, really understood why we were doing this. I quickly shook that thought from my head too. I didn’t want to think about that either.

After the drill, which they completed perfectly, we went back to our social studies activities. The kids were loud and having a little too much fun…. And I let them. After spending just under ten minutes thinking worst case scenario thoughts, I wanted see happy and carefree students. At least until my cooperating teacher returned and I had to assume the tough guy role again, that is.

There’s no crying in 4th grade

This week I took over the social studies block. While I was anxious, I was really looking forward to the activities we planned for the students. This was the second half of a two-week chapter on the U.S. Midwest Region and the kids seemed to be pretty engaged. We had one more quick project before the test and I was looking forward to it. As I began to explain this final project, one student huffed and said “Another project? Ugh! It’s not like I’m ever going to visit the Midwest!”

What?
See, the thing is, we actually live in the Midwest. We are in a suburb of Chicago. Chicago – which had TWO different points of interest in the text – O’Hare International Airport and Wrigley Field. I pointed out the fact we live in the Midwest and this student seemed genuinely surprised by this revelation.
While this may be a humorous, face palm moment, I can’t help but wonder how many of these students are out there. And how do I reach them? Of course my dream is to have a classroom full of students diligently and happily working on my insanely creative projects. Realistically, I know this will not the case on so many levels. But, how do I get things as close to the dream as possible?
On a somewhat brighter note, I finally flexed my teaching muscles. To the extent I made a student cry. While that was not my intention, it appears to have instilled a sense of respect, and maybe a little fear, in the rest of the class. I am student teaching in a district that is fortunate enough to have Chromebooks and iPads available for all students. I love that there is so much technology available for the students. I personally think responsible use of technology is something all students should learn – these are skills they will use throughout their education and into their careers. For the most part, the students are really good with their usage. But, there are times that technology is distracting. After reprimanding a student more than once, I was forced to take away his iPad. He reluctantly handed it over, eyes welling up. As I walked away from him, many students stared wide eyed and the class grew very silent. Hopefully they now know I mean business! We will see how the next week goes.
Speaking of the next week, my cooperating teacher has given me the responsibility of rearranging their seats. She switches things up frequently since this group is especially chatty. I’m excited to have the responsibility of creating their new seating arrangements but I am also nervous I will make the wrong choices. I guess in all honesty, I am just overall nervous every day. I keep wondering if that feeling will go away. Eventually it will…. right??