Sunday, February 5, 2012

Settling In (Oh my goodness this will be my 5th week!)

Before I reflect on the past week in my student teaching experience, I want to take a moment to respond to a couple of questions I have received about previous posts.

"I’m wondering if this new awareness of how you are managing your class is different than what you expected. How did you reach this conclusion?" The classroom management portion has been slightly different than what was expected because it is more of a co-management technique. I had never fully comprehended before how vital it is to know students. I have a slight idea of who the students are, yet I know more about textbook strategies for management. After teaching them for a year and a half, Mrs. Martinez absolutely knows this group of students and knows what will work and what won't. I had always pictured classroom management to be an in-depth process that students were involved in from day one, and I would use many different strategies to control the classroom. Yet that is not the classroom culture that I walked into. I can either be frustrated that it's not exactly how I pictured it, or I can go with the flow and learn how it is that Mrs. Martinez knows how to deal with each student and I can take that learning into my future classrooms. I have chosen the latter, or course!

"Your description of math shows you are using best practices in your teaching. Why did it work well? How did you know?" That math lesson was breaking new ground for me, because I had never been in a placement where it was my responsibility to teach an entire math lesson. I started by thinking about what I didn't like about math when I was in school and what I did like about it. I came to the conclusion that getting students interested and engaged was most important. So I decided to teach median and mode with out very own set of data, collected in partners around the room and out of our seats. I perceived such excitement from the students when they were allowed to get up and move around. However, I knew that it would involve a clear explanation of what they needed to collect, how they would do it, and behaviors I would not tolerate. Once I laid that all out, students followed. Mrs. Martinez and I equally went around the room helping groups. Then we collectively analyzed the data. I could tell that the lesson was working well because nearly all of the students were understanding and those who weren't were asking questions and following along. When I introduced a new method for finding the median, we got up in a line and modeled our set of data. It was an experience of joy realizing that you taught a lesson that incorporated many intelligences and that after informal assessment, realized that almost every student had grasped the information. 

On Monday, I walked in prepared for a typical day and needed the 30 minutes before class began to gather myself and get everything in order for my teaching. I walked into the office saying a cheery good morning and my response (along with the good morning) was that Mrs. Martinez wasn't in today and that I would have a substitute. The principal, looked me in the eye and said "Sasha, take charge. I want you to take charge." So with a new set of butterflies in my heart I set about trying to prepare. The day was slightly more chaotic and I had to teach more lessons than what I was prepared to do. But the sub and I worked really well together. We had a couple of behavioral issues that I had to address and that I did. I followed through on discipline and experiences some freedom in getting to do some activities that weren't "by the book" but that the students really enjoyed. 

One of the things we did was that I pulled up a picture of the night sky and students got to take turns coming up to the smartboard drawing their own constellations. We did this to illustrate how constellations can be unique to the viewer and can be difficult to see without the lines. At the end of the day, The substitute, who had been teaching and subbing for 30 years, said to me "I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed today. I have seen a lot of student teachers and you are by far the farthest along and most in control one I have ever seen. You handle issues in the classroom so well. Where I struggle with the words to use in a difficult situation, you have them. You are a natural." I couldn't beleive the amount of praise she was giving me, but I could tell that it was genuine. I appreciated it so much. It's not often in the "real" world that we are encouraged so, and it was very energizing and refreshing. 

This week was mostly just standard teaching. I am comfortable in my role as teacher and using best practices like discussion, visual concept maps, technology and games to engage students. I took over the RtI time this week and we focused on finding the "Main Idea" in a text.  I was able to find and create some really engaging SmartBoard lessons that helped the kids practice. Then we played a board game called "The Main Idea." The students really enjoyed it, but it took some work to make it effective as opposed to general mayhem (which it was the first day). After the first time playing the game, I thought about how I could make it better. Teams needed to be at table groups instead of all around the room. Each group needed to have their own dice to roll instead of waiting to pass it. Each team needed a stack of new "main idea" cards at their table so I didn't have to hand out new ones after they got the right answer. After I implemented the new strategies, it went incredibly smoothly and everyone had a lot of fun. 

One of the most exciting things that had happened this week was getting to spend time working with the ELL student whose parents don't speak English and often seems confused. When I attempted to discuss her with Mrs. Martinez, she made a comment that she thought this girl had "more issues than what we can address in the classroom." I wasn't sure if this meant that there were extreme issues at home or that she thought she had special education issues. The implication was that she couldn't succeed. Because of my ESL minor, and how I feel about teaching these students, I took that as a challenge. The next day, during their practice reading assessment, I worked with Kelly through it. I realized that her vocabulary was lacking and it was keeping her from having even a basic understanding of the questions. Once I had explained to her everything from what "fins" are to what it means when a question asks you to "draw a conclusion" she came up with all of the correct answers. I wanted to whoop with excitement and I did tell her how very proud I was of her and how smart she was. 

The next day, Mrs. Martinez asked what I was doing with Kelly. I explained that she was incredibly intelligent but that her academic language was such a struggle that she didn't have the basic foundations that other students had. I wanted to explain to her strategies that she could use on her own when working with multiple choice questions. Mrs. Martinez, after realizing that I wasn't giving her the answers, seemed very excited about what I was doing. It was such a joy to have that breakthrough with Kelly and talk to Mrs. Martinez about some ESL strategies that she could use. 

In the next week, my responsibilities increase even more as we prepare for ISAT. I have found confidence in my voice and Mrs. Martine and I have discussed ways that we can help every student succeed by using visuals and teaching good strategies. I want to see myself rise to the challenge and go above and beyond in helping these students prepare. It will take a lot of work, because we plan on reviewing all of the RtI focuses and creating posters for the room. I can't wait to see what the students produce. 


  1. Sasha,
    Having a substitute is a great experience, and I'm delighted that you handled it with such ease in your 5th week! Thanks for sharing the feedback, and showing such competence in your teaching.
    Professor Mattson

    1. Hi Sasha,
      I really enjoyed your blog. What an exciting yet terrifying experience to walk in on Monday morning and find out that you are THE teacher for the day! The principal has great confidence in your abilities. I loved your lesson on constellations. By having the children draw their own pictures with the stars, they took ownership in their own learning. Well done. Using what you learned about teaching ESL really helped Kelly in a positive and effective way. I am a great believer that classroom teachers learn from their student teachers. Great week.
      Mrs. Hysell

  2. Your responses to our questions were very informative. They show your growth and learning. Thanks!!
    I loved your description of your math lesson. This kind of reflection is excellent. Not only did I learn what you did I also learned why you did it and how you knew students were learning. I think having students move around helped to keep students engaged. I’m glad you included this thought: “It was an experience of joy realizing that you taught a lesson that incorporated many intelligences and that after informal assessment, realized that almost every student had grasped the information.”

    I’m so glad that the principal encouraged you to ‘take charge’ when Mrs. Martinez was absent. I’m glad you faced the challenge ‘head on’ including handling the behavioral issues. I’m sure that the students enjoyed the change of having you in charge. And what a wonderful compliment you received from the sub! You go!!!

    I’m glad you are using best practices and reflection to determine the best way to play the game in class. It seems as if your ESL background is helping you make solid decisions and guide your teaching and working with the ESL student. It sounds like you had success and are on the road to building skills.

    It seems as if you are having professional conversations with your cooperating teacher about your work with the ESL student. Here’s another example of building trust and gaining the respect of your teacher; you did well!!

    And now to ISAT testing. You will learn a lot through your experiences preparing for ISAT. I’m glad that you are discovering your ‘voice’ and have professional conversations with your teacher about strategies to use.

    I hope this week goes well.

    Prof. Meyer

  3. Sasha,

    Glad to see you had a good week. I really think it is awesome that the principal wanted you to take charge of the class. From what it sounds like, the principal really seems to trust you as a teacher and feel comfortable with you taking over. In addition to the principal, I am sure it was a great feeling to hear that you are one of the best student teachers that the substitute has seen. It sounds like you are really making a great impression on both the students and staff/administration at your placement. I also think it’s great that you are able to use a lot of what you have learned about ESL to help your students to the best of their abilities. I too am able to use what I learned in special education and structure classes around my students with special needs, it has really made a difference in my class. Keep up the GREAT work!

    Jessica Colvin

  4. I start my teaching master's program in the fall, and I am really inspired by reading your blog. I, too, come from a social justice stand point in my approach to teaching. I am encouraged by your success and humbled by the way that you model openness and collaboration. I hope I'm even half as grounded and successful when I'm at this point in my student teaching! :)

    (Found you via the Nerdy Book Club post you wrote! Hope to read much more of your blog. :))