Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Most Exciting Blur

In the last couple of weeks, life has just flown by. I'm amazed at how I have somehow transitioned from the semi-typical college student, with so many freedoms to this almost adult/teacher. I wake up early to get to school about 45 minutes before students arrive to organize myself and my materials. I teach almost all of the day and am continuously energized by it. I stay a bit after school, thinking about how the day went, getting things ready and making notes on tomorrow's lesson plans. I go home, grade, and think about what I will do the next day. And yet, it's not limiting. I love every second of what I am doing. 

This past week was filled with excitement for me. The reading ISAT was over and we headed into the math session. The week before, my cooperating teacher had asked if I felt comfortable enough writing lessons for this past week. She also told me that I could do pretty much anything I wanted academically because we couldn't really move ahead with our reading series until testing was over. I was brimming with joy thinking about having the chance to work outside the limiting box of BASAL readers. 

I planned enthusiastically, deciding to introduce my students to classic and authentic literature as a read aloud. I settled on "Tuck Everlasting," a personal childhood favorite. So, I came to school that Friday before last week, ready to introduce the book and the direction for the week ahead. I had planned a fantastic pre-reading activity, a questionnaire to engage thinking about themes in the book. Students had to check agree/disagree to a couple statements like "It would be wonderful to live forever" and "It is okay to hurt one person in order to save many." I couldn't WAIT to "break them free" from the confines of the material they were being taught and to push them forward into a level of higher-order thinking. 

How very silly I was. 

We settled into our questionnaire first thing in the morning. The students hardly knew what to do. I explained it a little more, but they seemed confused by the fact that there was no right or wrong answer. They became even more frustrated when they neither agreed or disagreed with the statement. After a small amount of discussion, I  began to read aloud. I don't know how recently you may have looked through the first couple of chapters of "Tuck Everlasting," but it is filled with poetic language, describing the setting of the town and countryside, the behavior of cows and how hot the summer was; no dialogue, no character interaction and not much suspense. The book does get really good after the first few pages, but as I read, there was chatter and a high amount of movement around the room. The times when I looked up, I saw sleeping, boredom and confusion. Mrs. Martinez tried to help, saying that maybe if the students could read along on the ELMO (the technological device that displays something through a camera on the SmartBoard) they might have an easier time following along. No such luck. I realized that this was not working. 

Later on Friday, during our plan period, I gave Mrs. Martinez the lesson plans I had written for the next week. I had modeled them after the many I had received from her, short descriptions for the activities planned for each time slot, that's it. After looking through them for a minute, she asked about a few of the activities I had referenced in some textbooks from home. I had just listed them by activity. She said that the lessons were okay, and that I could hand them in, but that she was going to make back-up plans, because it didn't seem that anyone could follow them. 

It was my second defeat of the day. 

I knew that my plans, both in my head and on paper weren't where they needed to be, but I had no idea what "there" looked like, much less how to get them there. I went home pulled out "Tuck Everlasting", my plans, a large cup of coffee and thought. I had one major realization almost immediately. In being released from Trinity-style lessons, I had somehow under compensated. Just because I wasn't writing four pages, didn't mean that I no longer had to think about each of the learner's in my classroom and how they needed information to be presented to them. I realized that I had forgotten about the two deaf students in our classroom, who join us after the morning read aloud. The activities that I planned could not reference a text that they would have no involvement with. I tossed my plans in the trash, deciding that I would embellish further on each activity, and would create each necessary worksheet or packet ahead of time so that a sub, or my teacher could easily follow along. 

I looked at "Tuck Everlasting." My students showed no interest in the book, even though I was reading it aloud. I suddenly became aware of the fact that my student's had almost no interaction with literature, outside of small picture books or the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series. I couldn't just throw something at them that would require a new level of focus without making sure that it was also engaging and meaningful to them. I needed a new book. I reached out to teachers that I knew, compiled a list, spent some lovely time at the book store and two hours later I had finished reading "There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom" by Louis Sachar. 

It was like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. I knew that this was the book I was looking for. It was short, funny and engaging, all while being meaningful and leaving the reader with a great message. The main character, Bradley Chalkers (a bully and school outcast) even helped me sympathize with a student that I was becoming increasingly frustrated with. I rapidly planned the rest of the week, until I could picture it in my head. My literature activities needed to be on a small scale, so we spent Monday making mini-books to respond in and the student's loved it! 

I showed up on Monday and immediately told my teacher how I had realized the mistake I had made in planning the lessons. I asked if we could look through a rough draft of the plans on Thursdays so that I could incorporate suggestions before I turned the lessons in on Fridays. I shared with her everything I had realized about how the ISAT days needed to go and how I had changed everything. She shared that she was proud that I had done all of that and critically evaluated myself. That's when it all fell into place. In those short couple of days, I realized something at the core of teaching. If you are second-guessing something, it's for a reason and something should be done about it. I also had the nice reminder of how pivotal reading is in the development of a human being. On the very first day of reading aloud and looking at my own class's Bradley Chalkers with renewed vision, he asked if he could eat lunch and spend recess with me in the room so that he could make me a comic about the book. 

In the week ahead, I will implement my second week of plans. Now that I am teaching the whole day, I hope to continue to incorporate reflection into my routine so that I can continue to grow. In reading the book by Louis Sachar, I have remembered how much I love reading and literature. I want to continue to search for books that will inspire the students. 


  1. Hi Sasha,
    You learned some valuable lessons last week. I don't think I can add anything to what Ms. Martinez told you. You have an active class that doesn't have the background needed to appreciate Tuck Everlasting. They may some day, but not yet.
    Yes you need to be detailed in lesson plans that are not part of a text book. It took great courage to chuck your first idea and start over. Louis Sachar's books connect to today's students. I'm glad you discovered him.
    Good luck this week. I'll see you next week.
    Mrs. Hysell

    1. Thank you! It was a really great learning experience. I think part of the important part about teaching is balancing your ideal, perfect world with what is possible and effective for the students.

  2. I enjoyed reading about your transition to a teaching professional. I’m glad you are there and I hope you are too! I think so as you said, “I love every second of what I am doing.”

    Wow! Reading must have been fun. Good choice on the book. Oh, it must have been disappointing about their reaction. Looking back, you reflected and made a good choice in the Louis Sachar book.

    OH NO! Not a 2nd defeat. I’m so glad you reflected on your actions. It takes a strong professional to make the realizations you did. Your learning from this experience was evident.

    Wow you made great strides this week. Even your teacher was pleased. Kudos! You said it well, “If you are second-guessing something, it's for a reason and something should be done about it.”

    I’m sure this week will be just as fulfilling.

    Great blog!

    Prof. Meyer

  3. It is really great to see that you and your cooperating teacher work together really well to make a great team. Being able to share concerns and receive beneficial feedback will really be beneficial for you and your learning to grow as a professional.

    Jessica Colvin