Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ernesto Gama's Interview with a 1st/2nd Grade Teacher

Mrs. T teaches in one of the newest schools in this mid sized agriculture city. The school has been around for about a dozen years or so, and it is still considered to be fairly new. The school is located in the border lines between the east and north sides of town and is surrounded by a really nice community and neighborhood.

There are 735 students who attend this school ranging from grades K-6th. 703 of these students are Hispanic, 656 of these students are classified as English learners, and all 735 students classify as low income students. The school itself, while in pretty good shape, has had some recent remodeling due to mold issues in some of the classrooms. The school is on its way up academically and its setting up itself to be one of the best elementary schools.

Mrs. T has been teaching for 11 years and all of her teaching years have been at this one school. She is regarded as one of the best bilingual educators in the school. Also, she is an expert at educating combination classes as she currently does. Mrs. Teacher has taught grades 1st through 5th and most of her classes have been bilingual.

In regards to her teaching philosophy, Mrs T. responded, “I have always been a strong believer in every student and that every student has the ability to succeed. When I first started teaching, I wanted to be the best teacher out there because I knew that I could make a difference in these kids’ lives, either as their teacher or as a role model which a lot of children don’t have. When I first started teaching, I was like every other new teacher. I did everything by the book, from lessons to teaching methods. I did it all and I found that it wasn’t really helping me or my students in any way, shape or form. I have learned throughout the years, while still sticking to the required curriculum, to implement my own teaching styles and strategies that I know are going to benefit my students.”

Her view of an ideal public school system has a mixture of my philosophy as well. I’m not sure if it is due to both of us being Hispanic or that we both see what kids desperately need and are not getting. Mrs. Teacher simply noted, “When you become a teacher you will see things on your own that will make you think how did it ever lead to this? Your teaching philosophy will evolve through time so that it meets your needs and those from your students which is the key. I have always loved working around children and they are my passion. My entire life revolves around the kids and this school. But like I said, I have evolved and I have slowly been giving myself some time to enjoy my own personal life as well.”

In regards to how she organizes her classroom for the students, “I like to have a class where I can see all of my students from one angle as well as having all the students the ability to see me. I have a teacher’s desk, but I never sit in it as it is not my thing to instruct from there like most teachers. I group all of my children by level because I have tried to mix things up between ability levels but it never works. The advanced kids get frustrated with the kids who are behind. The behind kids don’t get motivated because they feel less than the smarter kids, and in many cases the behind kids tend to copy from the other students. Although this isn’t always perfect, this has been the most successful way for me to keep my class on task and easier for me to keep track of as well.”

How hard is it to run a combination class? “At first, you think to yourself and say, how did I get myself into this? This is really hard work and a combination class will really test your teaching skills to the max. You will sometimes find yourself doing the work of two teachers and in most instances, you cannot do anything about it and this is where it hurts the kids and their education.’

How do you cope with having to teach two different grades at the same time and teaching two different themes or topics? “It can get a bit hectic at some points, but you just have to learn to instill in your children the ability to work independently which can sometimes backfire as well because it’s an issue of trust and some kids are just not ready for that type of responsibility. By teaching this to your students, you are not only giving yourself time to pull kids aside or teach a different grade, but you are also teaching them a necessary life skill that they will always need. This is also a great way for you to do some assessments or interventions with the struggling students.”

Finally, what has kept Mrs. Teacher so enthusiastic for over 11 years has been the ability to see the difference a person can make in the child’s life. “For me it has been the way in which children learn and how they learn. If I was able to teach something new to a child, then I will feel like I have succeeded. This is the satisfaction for me. My motivation comes from them because I know that I can at least help some children learn. I know that I can not make everyone a genius or make everyone understand a different concept everyday, but that is why I took this challenge and this is what motivates me to continue doing this for as long as I have and I never see this changing in my life.”

After concluding the interview, I was surprised to find out that some of my teaching philosophy is the same as Mrs. Teacher. I would one day love to run my classroom like she does and have the ability to have all the children in the class admire and respect her the way the children do in her class. What really sparked interest during the interview was her tone of voice. She seemed like she was really uncomfortable by the standardized curriculum based teaching and the many restrictions put on teaching. Although she did say that she finds ways to implement some of her own methods in some lessons, I know that this is always going to be a struggle for every teacher. I also enjoyed the fact that she was very insightful on how she told me that not to get too caught up on my teaching philosophy as I would ideally want it to be. The reason is that it will evolve within time and I will always know when something needs adjusting and when something is working fine, which I greatly took to heart because I am the type of person who likes to stick to something and I know that I will find ways to be flexible in the very near future.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Vanessa Haag's Interview with a Third Grade Teacher

Mrs. Em has been teaching for twenty-one years. In that time she has taught at an high-performing school, a low-performing school, a low SES school and a parent-participation school. She initially earned her credential in Oregon, though her teaching career has so far taken place in California. Mrs. Em has taught multiple subjects grades one through five.

The school where Mrs. Em currently works is a rural K-6 school with 563 students; 51.2% of whom are Anglo-American and 44% Hispanic; 30.2% of the students participate in the free/reduced lunch program and many of the students are English Learners.

Mrs. Em’s professional philosophy is that “everybody can learn.” She says that “sometimes you just have to find different ways.… We’re here for the kids.” Mrs. Em strives to make sure that all her students are learning and being challenged. She hopes their education leads to either vocational or higher education; she wants the students to keep on learning. Ultimately she hopes the learning “comes from themselves, that students know they are in charge of their learning.”

Mrs. Em believes in getting students to be self-initiated learners. Mrs. Em told me the story of a little girl who was her student one year. This child was an English learner and could hardly read. The story culminated in Mrs. Em’s ability to elicit a passionate response from the child that she wanted to be able to read more than anything. Mrs. Em found out what the girl’s interests were and provided her with books that correlated with those interests since the girl’s family didn’t have books for her at home. Mrs. Em told the child that it was up to her to practice reading every night and that her own self-motivated practice is what would lead to her catching up to the rest of her peers in class. Despite being over a year behind, the girl caught up to the reading level she was supposed to be at for her grade. Mrs. Em believes in “teaching kids how to learn so they’ll want to educate themselves”.

Mrs. Em explained to me how public school provides the socialization and life-skills that children need to function later on in life. Mrs. Em thinks that the purpose of public school is to “educate the masses who can’t pay for private school… so things are equal.” When discussing with Mrs. Em the function of public schooling as an equalizer she said that “it never will be [equal to private school]” but that teachers should strive to provide students with an equal chance to succeed.

In terms of instruction, Mrs. Em places her students in groups, she says this way “they’ll be able to help each other.” Within these groups she always places one or two “highs” and one “low or English learners,” then fills in what is left. Also, she always places a “pull-over” table in her classrooms so that a space will be available to work with students, for a variety of reasons, either one-on-one or in small groups, at her discretion. By working with pull-over groups, Mrs. Em is able to provide extra-support. For her advanced students she tries to make “go-to folders,” folders that are filled with things the students can do when they finish early. She says she can only tend to these folders on occasion, if time permits. This is how she meets the needs of her diverse learners.

When I asked what keeps Mrs. Em enthusiastic about teaching, her reply synched up with what she found to be the most rewarding; Mrs. Em says, “it’s the kids.” Seeing the growth and progress of the students, knowing that she makes are real difference, is what keeps her going. It’s a special treat to have the students for longer periods of time because that way “you can really see how they grow.” I can tell that Mrs. Em is proud that some of that growth is directly the result of her teaching.

While reflecting on this interview it occurred to me that Mrs. Em’s philosophy is similar in many ways to my own. I was a little surprised as Mrs. Em’s teaching style is one that it has taken me quite a bit to reconcile myself with. Mrs. Em is a very structured, disciplinary teacher. Over the while I have known her I am steadily realizing that while at first I could not picture myself teaching the way she does in her classroom that her style of teaching is effective in many ways that I hope I don’t have problems with in the future; primarily in the area of keeping order and being firm with discipline. Although Mrs. Em’s teaching style seemed foreign to me in many ways, I anticipate that eventually I will adopt some of her teaching practices.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sara DeCuir's Interview with a Fifth Grade Teacher

Kathy, a fifth grade teacher with 26 years of experience, is an energetic and humorous teacher who is committed to her students’ progress. The majority of her teaching career has been at the fifth grade level. She has taught two years at the third grade level and a year of first grade. Thirty-nine percent of the student population at her school is English language learners, and 74% low income students. Her current class consists of 14 boys, 15 girls, and nine of whom are English language learners.

Kathy is a Cal State University graduate. She majored in liberal arts and was drawn to the teaching profession through her exposure to tutoring school children during her undergraduate years. Kathy recalls her experience as a student teacher. After her first observation, the college of teaching recommended that she drop the program because they felt she was unfit to be a teacher. I was very surprised to learn this. Kathy said that even though she had a negative student teaching experience, this is the profession she wanted to pursue.

When asked what her philosophy of teaching was, she was taken aback for a moment and had to think about what it was. Finally, she said it was very simple, that every child has something to offer the world, and it is her calling to help each student realize his or her own potential. Every child has something special about them, and they all have a contribution to make to the world. Kathy feels that it is her responsibility to guide children to what that special something is.

According to Kathy, the purpose of public education is the opportunity for every citizen to receive an education regardless of race, sex, or economic status. Public education is to give everyone a chance to be successful. She believes that public education is to make sure every citizen is literate. Kathy felt that without public education, certain minority groups would be even more disadvantaged. She believes that every citizen has the ability and right to read and understand their rights and liberties as a citizen of the United States, and to be able to simple everyday tasks, such as reading a medicine label, or how to cook a meal.

Kathy’s pedagogy is to teach to the high students and reinforce the low students. She allows for lots of work in groups and pairs, in order that the stronger students are learning from their teaching efforts and the lower achieving students feel more comfortable and are receiving more one-on-one assistance then Kathy could ever provide. Much of Kathy’s teaching pedagogy is influenced by the climate of standardized testing and still meeting the needs of her diverse student population. Kathy explained along with the other fifth grade teachers, they group students according to their test scores and by also providing low scoring students with peer tutors. Kathy also explained that though she stays with the curriculum pacing guide, she would interject other activities or examples that she felt would be more appropriate for her diverse classroom.

Kathy always starts class with a smile on her face. She non-verbally communicates to her students that she wants to be there. What keeps her so enthusiastic after teaching for almost three decades? Simple, it’s the kids. The student’s personalities and energy keeps her going. Kathy says that there is always something new to learn. Kathy tries to have a sense of humor about things. If she gets up tight the students sense that, but if she is smiling and having fun, it creates a more productive learning environment. And of course, she has more fun too. Lastly, trying different things in her classroom also keeps her enthusiastic about teaching. Kathy goes out of her way to read different novels, try different art projects, and learns new ways of doing math. That way it is like a new year for her too.

One rewarding thing about teaching for Kathy is when a child gets a concept and they realize they are really smart. Kathy feels rewarded when a child feels like what they have to say is valued and their opinion matters. Also, when a child starts to gain more social skills and they realize it’s okay to be nice and it’s not scary anymore, they can let down their defenses and be kind. What Kathy finds most rewarding about teaching is when a child realizes that they make a difference in the world. Looking back on her 26 years of teaching and all the lives she has touched, she is glad that she chose the profession of teaching.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Michelle Arakelian's Interview with a Kindergarten Teacher

“Education is choice,” states Ms. D, a kindergarten teacher at H. Elementary School is Seaside, California. These are not just words, they are a commitment.

Ms. D has always had a strong involvement in education, whether it was as a student or a teacher. Ms. D completed both her undergraduate studies and credential program at a California State University campus. In between completing her undergraduate degree and beginning of the credential program, Ms. D worked as a preschool teacher. After attaining her credential, she worked for 6 years as a first grade teacher. Her 7th year she moved to another school where she continues to teach today. H. Elementary, where she now teaches, is considered an underperforming school and has a large Latino population. Eight of every ten students enrolled in the school qualify for the Federal Free Lunch program and 18 of the 24 students in Ms. D’s classroom are English language learners.

When looking at the physical condition of H. Elementary, it’s a small but welcoming school. There isn’t any debris or garbage scattered on the grounds, the school has been recently painted pleasant beige with a bright blue trim. On a couple of walls, the afterschool program has painted bright and colorful murals. A mural of physically and ethnically diverse students in caps and gowns is painted on the outside wall of the cafeteria and can be seen from the front parking lot as a statement of motivation to all to “Do your best.”

From the outside, the warmth of the inside of the classroom can already be felt. The windows are decorated with students’ work; recently crafted rainbows, pictures of students smiling, and curtains of reds, oranges, and yellows. In the window nearest the door are posted class rules, homework rules, and a wish list. Below the windows is a long shelf with hooks beneath it for the students’ backpacks.

Upon entering the classroom, it is clear that this classroom is a place of structure and learning. The walls, much like the windows, are decorated with students’ work. There are self portraits accompanied by photographs of the students from home. On the wall above the sink are strips of manila paper on which students have written their numbers, one through six. Above the chalkboard the alpha friends are placed as a bright visual reminder of each letter and letter sound of the alphabet. On the wall above the rectangle carpet and library area is a plethora of information: California Standards, site words, poems, crayon shaped colored strips with color names, and phonics cards decorate the wall and encourage reading.

This is Ms. D’s 14th year of teaching in elementary school. During those 14 years, she has taught kindergarten, kindergarten-first combination, and first grade. This year, Ms. D is back to teaching kindergarten. This year started out with an additional road block; the cap of 24 students per kindergarten classroom was removed and to begin the school year, Ms. D had 28 students. With 28 students between the ages of 4 and 6 with little to no previous schooling or education, how does a teacher stay motivated? “The beginning is hard, you feel like you’re drowning… but when you begin seeing the progress, that in and of itself is my true motivation,” says Ms. D. She goes on to explain that the first couple of weeks are focused primarily on procedures and routines. Once the students are familiar with the structure of the classroom and the way it runs, the learning begins.

When looking into the classroom, one can see a variety of learning styles. How does a teacher meet the needs of all these students? “There is such a wide variety of learning styles and to reach each student you have to utilize a variety of teaching styles. In kindergarten, this can be especially difficult because the students aren’t sure how they learn best because for many of them, this is their first exposure to formal learning. Trial and error is a daily practice in my classroom,” says Ms. D. “I try to give instructions in a combination of three mediums; oral, auditory, and kinesthetic.” Ms. D believes that if she wants her students to do their best in the classroom, she too must do her best.

When asked what the purpose of public education is, Ms. D replied, “There isn’t just one purpose of public education. The first purpose of public education is to train students to be independent learners.” One way Ms. D incorporates independent learning in her class room is through peer tutoring. The students are encouraged to work together, share ideas with one another, and help each other. “The other purpose of public education is equality. The only way to equality is through education, so in a larger sense, equality is only possible through public education.” Without equality, our pluralistic democratic society would become a caste-like system where making a better life for oneself is virtually impossible.

But can one make a better life for oneself based solely on academic development or social development? Which type of intelligence is more important? “I used to think that we should be creating a touchy feely happy place that encouraged students to be confident in who they were and to be able to get along… After a couple years, I realized that you cannot teach one without the other [academics without socialization]; they go hand in hand. Students must have academics to have a voice and be heard, but they must behave in a way that earns the respect and attention of those listening. Academics and social behavior are not mutually exclusive; they should be taught together.”

As I wrapped up my interview session with Ms. D, I asked her for a quick word of advice for beginning teachers in the field. “Work hard to give your students a choice in life; don’t just let life happen to them.” Ms. D understands that we cannot wait until students are self sufficient to begin teaching them how to be model citizens; it starts from the beginning; it starts in kindergarten. Inspired by Ms. D, I will strive to instill in my students that they do have choices in life, and equip them with the proper tools to take advantage of those choices..

Friday, November 27, 2009

Jessica Nail's Interview with a K/1 Teacher

When walking into Ms. O’s classroom at E Elementary School I am overwhelmed with color and warmth. Students’ art work lines the walls of the classroom and letters and words fill the room. The school is composed of 582 students of whom 75% are Hispanic, 17% White, 3% Asian, 2.7 % Filipino, and 1.4% African American. For Mrs. O the small, a close knit feel is what drew her to the school in the first place.

Mrs. O has been a teacher for the past 15 years. During those years she has taught kindergarten, K-1 combo, first and second grades. She is a sweet, caring 38 year old women and a delightful person to be around. Her love for teaching really shows through her interactions with the students and her fellow teachers. Mrs. O is still extremely passionate about teaching even through the demanding years of teaching and tough students. Mrs. O received her teaching credential from California State University, Monterey Bay in the first year of the program.

Mrs. O’s ability to stay motivated despite the difficult demands is due to her ability focus on the little amazing moments instead of dwelling on challenging ones. One factor in her success is that every night when she is at home she reflects on the day and thinks about how she could have done better. “Some days I go home and feel rotten because I had to yell or raise my voice to the kids, but then I try to think about how I can turn it into a positive note” Mrs. O stated. She claims that by reflecting on each day, it allows her to see the positive changes she is making in each students lives. She also knows that for many students the classroom is really the only place that many students feel safe.

At E Elementary, the school abides by the state standards, but does give the teachers some flexibility with the pacing of the book. When asked if this structure bothers her Mrs. O said, “No, not really because it is really helpful so that you, as the teacher, do not have to think of every lesson plan on your own.” However, Mrs. O did say that it does prove to be difficult when some of the students are not progressing with the rest of the class, but they have to move on because of the pacing guide. She does not have to be on the exact page as each kindergarten teacher but they do have to complete the lessons by the designated deadline. To supplement the materials in the teacher handbook, Mrs. O provides the students with fun, interactive opportunities to build on the standards. Such lessons include art, music, and writing journals. Mrs. O is very proud to say that all of her kindergartners are writing by the end of the year.

When spending time in Mrs. O’s classroom you can see her passion for writing and art throughout the classroom. Her passions can be seen in the daily poems that she reads with the class and the multiple forms of way the students are exposed to writing. “I love grammar!” Mrs. O expressed. She organizes the classroom so that the students are able to participate in centers during their language arts instruction. One main reason she does this is so the students are able to engage in a wide range of activities throughout the day. Another reason is to able to work closely with each small group one at a time, allowing for an increased amount of time each students are able to interact with the teacher. The centers increase the student’s independence and ability to work well with other classmates. She also fills the day with books and songs to encourage students’ participation and the use of language.

One of the main things I expressed to Mrs. O that I am apprehensive about when beginning my teaching career is dealing with the parents. Mrs. O’s advice was “not worry too much about what they think about you because it will make you sick. You have to realize that you are doing the best that you can. Also, what I learned from my mistakes was to always call or send a note home if anything out of the ordinary happens to a student.” Mrs. O explained about the importance of keeping the parents involved for the parents’, the students’, and your sake. There are going to be those difficult parents out there but you just have to make sure you keep the communication open.

Through the many years of teaching there have been many difficult situations and students, but Mrs. O still remains enthusiastic about teaching. “You can’t let the students run the classroom. If you let them run the show it will drive you crazy. But they also need to have fun and look forward to coming to school.” It is the little moments where a student does something really sweet, or a student finally figures out how to write their name, that makes it all worth it for Mrs. O. From talking to Mrs. O, I realized that there is going to be so many things that could keep you up all night thinking about, but you just have to let them go and know that you are doing your best you can.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gloria Oh's Interview with a Kindergarten Teacher

Ms. G is a kindergarten teacher in a small school in a residential part of town surrounded by trees and houses, making it almost unnoticeable. The school serves students from kindergarten through sixth grade, with 558 students. The racial makeup of the student population is fifty-six percent White, fifteen percent Hispanic, fourteen percent Asian, six percent Black. Nineteen percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Ms. G earned her teaching credential at a Cal State University. She always enjoyed being around children and knew that she wanted to be a teacher. She first started teaching fourth grade at a school where she for five years. She was then offered a teaching position at her current school teaching Kindergarten and she has been teaching there for twenty years. She has no interest in teaching other grades.

When I entered her classroom, the first thing I noticed was that the decorations in the room were created by her students. Hanging from the ceiling were fall leaves that the students had painted. On the walls, there were paintings that the students painted along with their names proudly painted on the top. On a side board, there are pictures of a student, with the caption “Super kid,” along with an interview paper with the child’s favorite color, favorite food, etc. Every week there is a new super kid, so that every child will feel special for a week. The super kid can pass out pencils and will be at the front of the line for the entire week. Just from looking at the room, I could tell that the teacher deeply cared about her students and saw each one of them as individuals.

The layout of the classroom is organized to optimize learning in different contexts. There is a rug, where children can gather around when Ms. G is reading them a book. There are also three clusters of tables, organized as station 1,2, and 3. Each of the station has different activities. Every twenty minutes the students change stations and work on a different but related activity. Against the wall, there is a paint station, where students can explore their creative side by painting on poster paper, which will later be hung up on the wall.

Ms. G is well respected in the school, she has won many awards after being nominated by the parents and was even featured on television. At the request of their parents, two of her current students were put in her classroom after being with a different teacher. I first sat down with Ms. G during lunch to ask her some questions. I was curious to her teaching philosophy and how she is able to stay so energetic and positive after teaching for so many years. I wanted to know what she thought was important for her students to learn in her classroom.

Throughout the twenty years of teaching kindergarten, Ms. G has seen many changes. When she first started teaching, the purpose of kindergarten was for development; now it is all about fulfilling the curriculum standards. Her philosophy of education has always been for the support of the “whole child.” Now she feels that every time she turns around there is a new assessment test she has to administer. She does not feel that this is necessary for such small children. She feels that in kindergarten students must learn about manners, how to behave as good citizens, and having lessons that are geared to their development. She feels that the standards for kindergarten are too much, that they are putting too much pressure on young students. With their short attention span, it is hard for them to process that many information.

When asked the purpose of public education, Ms. G told me it is so that every child can have the chance to have a good education and succeed, no matter where they are from. She makes every effort to get to know each of her students individually, especially the ones that need her help the most. She has a folder that she regularly reviews which she uses to keep track of the progress of each student. On that folder, she had each of the parent fill out a questionnaire asking them the strengths of their child and what they hope their child will learn. She then uses that information when creating her lesson plans. That way her instructional strategies are tied to the needs and interests of each student. She mainly uses direct instruction, but when they go to their tables to work on their workbook, they are allowed to look at each other’s work and work together. To meet the needs of English learners, she finds ways to teach the individual child while also teaching to the rest of the class. For reading, she read the book Tortillas y Lullabies, a story that is also translated into Spanish. Both the English learner and the whole class enjoyed and benefited from this story.

I learned a lot from the interview. If I had merely observed her classroom, I would not have heard the wisdom that comes from teaching for 25 years. While the future of education is shaky, having a strong stance on what should be taught as well as having a passion and love for teaching is what will make someone endure. Ms. G is an exemplary model of what I hope to accomplish as I start teaching, and hope to still hold on to that passion after years of teaching as she has.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lorena Mendoza's Interview with a second grade teacher

This teacher has been teaching second grade at this school site for twelve years in this small agricultural community. The school is a Title I school with kindergarten to fourth grade classes and currently has about 830 students enrolled. There are approximately 94 percent Hispanic students and 4 percent White students. Of those 830 students 70 percent are English learners and 73 percent are on the free/reduced lunch program.

Her philosophy of teaching is that students should be able to teach each other and themselves. She believes students should take ownership of their learning and that teaching and learning are reciprocal. Teaching should involve collaborative learning. Students should have a respectful learning environment where they can learn and become better citizens through collaborative learning. She tries to teach her students character building, independence, and responsibility. She hopes to also develop a culture of metacognition in her classroom by teaching her students to reflect on what they know and what they need to know. She uses a lot of collaborative learning in her classroom.

The students sit in rows facing the white board so that everyone has a partner to pair-share. She changes the lessons by sometimes moving students to the rug where they can interact more. One thing I noticed about her classroom is how she does not have her own desk. She spends all day moving around the classroom and checking students work.

For instruction, the school provides a pacing guide for her to go by. The teacher edition also tells her where she should be and helps her plan out her lesson plans. However, she does spend more time if needed on those lessons the students seem to need more help on. She organizes files for each story in the unit and also for materials according to the day. The white board shows what students need most. Her library collection has a variety of good books and organized by reading level.

One of the instructional strategies she uses is the GRR model (gradual release of responsibility). Because of the curriculum the school uses, she often uses direct instruction. However, students have the opportunity to do collaborative work through pair-share. She uses whole-group, small-group, and non-volunteer responses. She also uses the l Physical Responses method of acting out vocabulary words. Activating prior knowledge and informing students of the learning objective before lessons is very important for her. She tries to use scaffolding as much as possible and preteach/reteach methods.

She finds time to meet the needs of diverse learners during what she calls workshop. During this time, she works with individuals or groups to help them with things they need more help on. The students have their own workshop folders that are individualized at their level to work on their own pace. During lessons, she is constantly assessing students understanding to determine if they can work individually or need more help. She also sends more homework for those that need more help. Parents get a progress report each week telling them how their children are doing and what they are learning.

The main thing that keeps her enthusiastic about teaching is the students. Seeing progress in her students demonstrates she can make a difference in their lives. She also enjoys the collaboration with other teachers and her school. During the school year, the professional development she participates in often gives her enthusiasm by seeing what works in other schools. Knowing there is a goal to be met at the end of the school year and trying to get there also helps.

Mainly what she said is more rewarding about teaching is being a part of the student’s education. Seeing their progress in learning and how they enjoy learning outweighs the negative. This is also what I learned from this interview. I learned that teaching can be a very rewarding profession. At the same time, it takes a lot of hard work and time to accomplish the goals you must meet. I learned that you can make teaching fun and enjoyable for everyone including yourself. This interview, along with this class, has taught me that teaching is truly a profession.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kelly McLean's Interview with a K/1 teacher

Elisa is a teacher at a small school in medium sized town. The school is fifty-six percent White, nineteen percent Hispanic, and ten percent Asian, with other ethnicities including African Americans and Filipinos. She is one of eleven teachers at the school and teaches a kindergarten/first grade combination class.

Elisa got into teaching as a second career. She worked in insurance for many years before becoming a stay-at-home mom to her two daughters. When her daughters started attending elementary school she became involved in their classrooms as a volunteer and found it to be very rewarding. She got her teaching credential and immediately began working as a bilingual teacher for five years, in kindergarten and first grade.

Elisa is a native of Panama and thus a native Spanish speaker, so the bilingual classroom was an obvious choice for her starting out. After five years, she realized her views on bilingual education did not match with what she was doing, so she moved to her current school and has now been teaching there for five years. When I asked her what her thoughts were on bilingual education, she said that “true bilingual education should extend through high school…doing it for a few years isn’t enough.”

While she has only been at her current school for five years she is an integral part of the leadership team, helping to make decisions about curriculum, meetings, and staff development. She works closely with two other teachers and the school’s principal to make decisions about how to handle the small amount of resources they have available to them, and takes this job very seriously. She is well respected by the teachers and staff of the school.

Upon transferring to her current school, she taught fourth grade for two years, then a four/five combo, and then sixth grade. She is now teaching another K/1 combo upon request of the principal, who wanted a strong teacher in the lower grades. She is getting readjusted to the grade level, and says that she hopes she will get to stay in it for a while, as it is the grade where you really the kids grow quickly. She was excited for me to come back after the break, because the students “finally understand the routine, understand what you expect from them, and are growing so that you can do more with them.”

Elisa’s philosophy of education is that “you have to concentrate on where the students are developmentally and who they are as individuals to be successful.” This has become especially important to her over the past few years when the curriculum has become incredibly fast-paced and the tests have become harder and harder. She feels “you need to teach to them, not to the curriculum” and this is her constant struggle in the classroom.

 Although she has to follow the pacing guide exactly, Elisa does her best to stay true to her philosophy of education. She seats the students in three long rows of ten, with student placement varied so that they are interacting with other students that may be above or below their level. She allows them to work together and ask questions of each other when they are working on their own, and feels this classroom arrangement allows them to learn from each other when she cannot be right there to help them all. Whenever possible she separates the students into reading and language groups so she can give more personalized attention to the students that need it. This is very hard in a large class of five and six year olds, but she has created a very structured time schedule in the classroom, and sticks to the routine every day so the kids get used to it. She does this in hopes that they will be accustomed to the schedule, be better able to work in groups, and allow her more time to cater the material to their level of understanding.

When I asked Elisa what she thought the purpose of public education was, she said, “to give everyone equal footing and a basis for success.”  After a minute of thinking she added, “I also think it is partly indoctrination into the expectations of our society.” This was very interesting to me, because it is not something many people say, but it is very true. School not only gives students the knowledge we think they need to be successful, but shows them how we expect them to work and think, how we expect them to interact with their others, and how we expect them to treat people. It is easy to see that Elisa realizes she is not just a teacher to many of the students – she incorporates manners, health, hygiene, and social learning into teachable moments throughout the day. Her philosophy of teaching to the individual extends to their social and emotional health, and this is obvious in the way she treats her students and encourages them to make good decisions.

I asked Elisa how she stayed excited about teaching. I was especially curious to hear her answer, because she has a lot on her plate, and has told me many times how frustrated she is with the pacing guide and the amount of material that has to be taught.  She instantly responded, “The kids! They’re so funny and keep things interesting. And especially at this age, you see them grow and learn so quickly… I like the process of planning how the classroom will work and the materials for each day. I try to think about how it will go in the classroom, almost like a running film in my head, and then seeing if it actually happens that way. It all depends on the kids.”  Elisa also mentioned that she loves being able to create a community of learners. No matter what the kids are like when the come in the classroom in September, they often come together by the end of the year and really care about each other. This is something she loves to see, and something that keeps her motivated year after year.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Jennifer Pena's Interview with a third grade teacher

Nestled amidst a large stretch of lettuce fields of this small city, lies a charming new elementary school. The school, which services students from kindergarten through fifth grade, has a 74 percent Hispanic student population; 40 percent of the 445 students enrolled are ELL students with Spanish as their first language. The Asian population comprises the next highest percentage of students, at 12 percent (2/3 of which are Filipino). 10 percent of the students are White, 3 percent are African-American, and 1 percent describe themselves as “other.” Nearly half of the students enrolled receive reduced cost, or free, meal plans.

The school has a generally collaborative spirit; the principal has set up a culture of community and allows the staff a wide range of freedom in their teaching strategies. The teachers are supportive of, and connected to, their colleagues, students, and colleagues’ students. The school atmosphere is positive, supportive, and personalized, as is evidenced by the morning announcements that enthusiastically remind students, “to always be the best you can be.”

Sue is a thirty-six year veteran teacher whom often heads committees to improve school programs. She has an excellent reputation among her colleagues as a committed and caring educator. On a warm autumn morning, I observed Sue’s third grade language arts class and noted a wide array of teaching strategies aimed at building safety and support in the classroom. Later, I sat down with her to discuss her philosophy regarding the importance of structure and flexibility, choosing common sense over state mandates, holding high standards for all students, and to discuss the rewarding adventure that still keeps her enthusiastic after all these years.

As I entered the classroom, I immediately felt a sense of structure and order. The classroom felt inviting and safe. Sue’s class only hosted eighteen children (sixteen of whom were present on this day). Because there were so few desks, and they were organized in groups (“island” formations) throughout the room, the room felt spacious and uncluttered. “I always start the year with groups of four to six so they can do cooperative learning, so they won’t be alone. The groups may change. It depends on the personality of the class.” Student artwork lined the walls, along with various nutrition posters and collages. A large map of the world prominently hung at the front of the room and was accompanied by a banner that read, “The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” Shelves of neatly stacked games and puzzles sat adjacent to bookshelves of varied children’s literature. Posters depicting respect, cooperation, and friendship encircled the room. In the corner, the teacher desk blocked out an area that clearly separated Sue’s space from the group space. Sue’s manner of dress and appearance were pulled together and professional (as always), commanding a certain level of respect from her students. As students quietly took their seats the room was filled with a serene, calm energy.

As I witnessed the class go over their language arts homework from the previous night, I couldn’t help but take note of Sue’s choral answering technique; students would answer a question out loud, all together, while their teacher snapped rhythmically. They seemed excited and engaged. After the homework had been discussed, the class moved on to new spelling lists. Through a process of scaffolding, Sue modeled her desired mode of student participation, then allowed for group practice, before finally asking individuals to attempt tasks unaided. As I discussed with her later, cooperative learning in her classroom is used as a means to create safety. Numbers are written on each desk of an “island” and are used in group-jigsaw activities. There is safety in group-support while, at the same time, each individual is held responsible for knowledge and participation. Math class is run in a similar fashion; all students are given individual slates on which they are expected to write an answer and hold it up. Everyone is expected to participate. Students are permitted to call on their peers for answers. “The peer influence encourages many more volunteers than if I just call on them. They want to be chosen by their friends.”

As the students finished their language arts lesson and began to select books for sustained silent reading, Sue joined me at the back of the room for a candid and thoughtful interview. From the age of twelve, Sue knew she wanted to become a teacher after being inspired by an amazing sixth grade teacher. For the past thirty-six years she has taught first through fourth grades in multiple classroom settings: team teaching, looping, combination classes, and an “open classroom” (a trend during the 1970’s in which two master teachers and five student teachers ran a first, second, and third grade combination class with sixty-three students). “It was insane. It lacked structure. I think that’s why I like things structured. Kids need structure. It makes them feel safe.” Yet if this tendency toward a highly structured classroom begins to feel too strict, she balances it out with humor. “We love to laugh.”

Despite her need for an organized, structured environment (she tries to stick to the schedule, although it doesn’t always work), Sue bases her teaching philosophy on flexibility. The purpose of public school “is to educate future good citizens; to enrich the lives of students and families in order for students to be the best they can be, so they can have good lives.” Yet, as the face of education changes, and students become more diverse, her methods of instruction have to roll with the tide. “You have to try everything you can to reach different children at different levels. If something doesn’t work, don’t use it, even if the district has adopted it. Do whatever works.”

Nearly four decades of teaching has taught Sue that educating children is a process of trial and error. Luckily, she feels the freedom to practice differentiated instruction and test various teaching strategies in order to adopt the ones that work best for her, without the pressure many contemporary teachers feel to standardize (much of this is due to the flexibility of the Principal). Math lessons are tailored to fit the needs of three distinct achievement-level groups. Reading lessons range from full group sessions, with stories being read three times and discussed paragraph by paragraph, to partner reads with the lowest readers reading aloud to her and then listening to the story on CD. The cloze technique works well for Sue. She is also a firm believer of extended vocabulary development and, above all else, she views scaffolding as a necessity. “After thirty-six years you don’t really think about this stuff anymore; you just do it.”

In response to Sue’s emphasis on changing demographics and the need to alter instruction techniques accordingly, I was curious to know how changing family dynamics affected her methods of teaching. The seasoned professional looked at me solemnly and described the “brokenness of children.” “Schools aren’t failing,” she said. “Families are failing. Some kids, you just have to love them. But you still hold them to very high standards, both behaviorally and academically. You try stuff until you get them there.” She then handed me a weekly progress report that is given to each child every Friday to be signed and returned the following Monday. Her high standards and emphasis on work ethic were clear. “This takes care of a lot of problems before they start.” As Sue’s main contact with parents, careful documentation and organization of these reports is crucial. “Parents are the hardest part of this job. Document everything.”

In the midst of pressures from the state, pressures from parents, and increasingly difficult home lives for children that affect their ability to learn, Sue is more enthusiastic about teaching now than she ever has been. “I love it more now than I did when I started. I feel like I’m just now getting good at it. There’s always an adventure in it.” She had planned on retiring several years ago, but just can’t seem to give it up. She still loves teaching too much. Sue described how the day-to-day challenges of teaching can feel exhausting and disheartening at times, but there are those “Ah-hah” moments that make it all worthwhile; the moments when a child finally “gets” something that has, until that point, eluded them. The excitement of understanding something is contagious. Sue told me the story of a problem student she had had and how, twenty years later, he came to find her and tell her how much she had changed his life for the better, and to ask her opinion on a career choice as an adult. “When you see the progress they make, and you think you had some hand in it, that’s very rewarding. Few and far between, but very rewarding.”

As I thanked Sue for her time and walked away, I began to reflect back on several of her comments. I realized that teaching is like an ever-changing jigsaw puzzle. One piece may fit one day, but not necessarily the next. Teachers must attempt to fit a number of puzzle pieces into a given location until something works, and state-prescribed puzzle pieces do not necessarily fit in every puzzle; one must use common sense in developing teaching practices. Even then, the pieces must be constantly monitored and adjusted. Teaching is the art of finding a balance between structure and flexibility, and requires constant problem solving. Education is an exciting, and cognitively demanding, profession; there is a direct ratio to the amount of effort you exert and the rewards you experience. The enthusiasm and excitement of teaching, along with the challenges and frustrations, are par for the course of an adventure in education.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lani White's Interview with a first grade teacher

Ms. Khan has been teaching in California for over 19 years and remains enthusiastic about her occupation as a teacher. Currently Ms. Khan is working in a K-6 elementary school with 563 students of which about half are White and most of the rest Hispanic. This school is considered rural with 21.7% of the students enrolled being English language learners. At this school 30.2% of students receive reduced price meals.

Ms. Khan received her credential in 1990 from Chapman University, but did the majority of her course work at the California State University of San Jose, CA. Next year will mark Ms. Khan’s twentieth year of teaching in the elementary grade levels. She has moved around from the third grade, to the second grade, and is now happily placed in a first grade self contained classroom. Ms. Khan received her credential as a bilingual resource teacher, which allowed her to work at various schools and districts in this coastal California area. Ms. Khan’s ability to communicate with students speaking a variety of languages has allowed her to become an excellent teacher in both English and Spanish. She is also a huge asset to the school she currently works at because of her bilingual skills.

Ms. Khan tried various other occupations before finding teaching as her passion. When asked about her personal philosophy on teaching she firmly replies “teaching is the one place where you can really make a difference.” The difference she speaks of is in the lives of all her students on a daily basis. Ms. Khan has taught students of various language levels as well as various socio-economic levels. Before Ms. Khan was a teacher she was a social activist who wanted nothing more than to “see change in the world.” Teaching has enabled her to create visible changes within the lives of her students. Ms. Khan also states that teaching “is fun. The kids are quirky, and they keep me entertained.” Her personal pedagogy is very diverse, she states, “Whatever works.” In the classroom she utilizes a comprehensive style of teaching filled with direct instruction, cooperative learning, pair shares, and group work. Ms. Khan considers herself a “pragmatist, if it works I’ll continue to do it, if not I will change my methods. I am always looking for a better way to teach something.” Jokingly she remarks about how she “is not a stick in the mud like some of the older teachers in the school.” Ms. Khan’s belief of the purpose of public schooling has to do with society; she feels that “every child has the right to schooling and an obligation to society to become a functioning member of the information age.” She wants students to be able to function in a society, and know what is required of them to be a “good citizen.”

Ms. Khan organizes the classroom differently every year depending on the students enrolled in her class. Her classroom is a small portable building, so space is limited, but in general, she encourages students to take on independent responsibilities, and supplies individual attention as much as possible. Her classroom is very colorful with students’ works on most walls. There is a “reading rug area” and a worktable that seats 7 in the corner. The desks are arranged in two straight lines across the room. Instructional strategies used include direct instruction at the front of the class, pair shares during reading on the rug, small groups at various locations of the class, and individual attention at desks as well as at the back table. Ms. Khan has found ways to meet the needs of diverse learners in a climate of standardized instruction by “using your resources, i.e. parents, TA’s, and aides.” The priority is for adults to be working with students. She also utilizes leveled groups for language arts, supplemental materials for understanding, and open-ended activities to engage students in projects. Ms. Khan is a strong believer in students Zone of Proximal Development. She recognizes different levels within the class and engages students in work that is at their level, not above and not below.

How does Ms. Khan stay enthusiastic about teaching after all this time? “When the students get it, I know I am doing the right thing.” She states that nothing makes her happier that when a student gets to move up from remedial reading into grade level reading. She also “loves kids, they make me laugh and I love getting paid for doing something I love.” The rewards of teaching for Ms. Khan really come from the students themselves, but she also loves how every day is different. “I’m a restless person so I need my lifestyle and work to change regularly, or I’ll go insane.” The interactions with students coupled with the creativity of lesson designs, based on the required curriculum are Ms. Khans rewards for a hard day’s work.

This interview has given me insight into a functioning teachers viewpoint on education. I am interested in why some teachers can become so jaded and angry while others such as Ms. Khan remain enthusiastic and pleasant, even in times such as these. The answer lies in they way they see teaching and what gives them pleasure from teaching their students. I also learned that it is okay to take the over prescribed curriculum outlines provided, tweak them a little and make them your own lessons, lessons that engage the students but are based on the pre-prescribed, unengaging, curriculum materials required by the districts.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rachel Plumlee's Interview with a third grade teacher

Mrs. E is a third grade in a K-6 school with less than 500 students in total, located in the mountains between Monterey and Salinas. The school is made up of predominantly White and Latino students, many are socioeconomically disadvantaged students as well. The numbers of English language learners (ELLs) are low compared to other school in the district and less than 25 percent at this school are considered to be beginner or early intermediate English learners.

Mrs. E has now been teaching for 25 years. She has taught multiple grades including second, third, fourth and fifth at three different schools. She has been at FH Elementary for 20 of her teaching years. While here she has taught second-third combos, third-fourth combos, and straight third grade. Having been at FH Elementary School for so long places her as one of the top teachers at the school.

After all these years of teaching Mrs. E says that it is her love of children that keeps her interested in continuing to teach, she says this with a big smile on her face and a quick giggle. You can tell she has a love for children and her job in the way she describes her philosophy on teaching. Her classrooms are very easy going most years, so that the kids feel comfortable while there. However, she also mentions that this is very hard to do with a classroom full of 32 students, most of whom have behavioral issues this year, so she is forced to be more strict and structured. Mrs. E feels reassured that the kids in her class understand why things must be this way and also that they accept it.

She frequently talks about how when she had class sizes this big 15 years ago there were never any problems; there would be maybe two students who would act out whereas now half the class will. She has spoken with me many times about the quality of work then as compared to now as well, the writing was much better, tests were much harder and still passed, and the projects done were fantastic. She still has examples of much of this exemplary work around her classroom and I believe her when she says things were much different then. She strongly believes that technology has ruined a lot for kids; they lack imagination and have short attention spans.

Mrs. E believes the purpose of the public education system is to give every child the opportunity for an education. When I prompted her for more information about why every child needed this opportunity she explained that they need it, otherwise they cannot be successful contributors to society; they will be running around doing nothing or be in jail.

The classroom is organized with six groups of desks, each having five or six students, and it feels very crammed into her small classroom. All the desks face towards the overhead, where all of the instruction takes place. She strategically places the students around the room based on their learning needs or behavioral problems, making sure two students who are both very social are not near each other and that students who lack focus are right up front where she can see them. The eight ELLs are spread all over the class and are treated like the rest of the students throughout the day, being called on for answer or getting their name taken for not paying attention.

When it comes to the ELL student’s specialized instruction she takes the approach of using SDAIE. She feels that sending them out of the class for the standardized instruction they would receive would be an insult to these students because of their knowledge base. Most of the students in the class are at the intermediate or danced levels of fluency but there are a few are still not very fluent, and they are all treated equally. She takes them out into the center area just outside the classroom two times a day for this special instruction time. Breaking up the time she says makes it easier on them to retain the information. During this time she gives them specialized attention in the social studies field. Using the same book as the other students, they all take turns reading aloud, going over vocabulary more in depth. She explains things that come up which the students may not understand because of their language differences. Mrs. E says this time is much more helpful for the students than going out to learn how to write or read since most of the ELL students are better writers than the English only students in the class.

Mrs. E is an exemplary teacher and has a lot of helpful advice because she has been teaching for so long. It is interesting to hear about how much things have changed in the education realm in the past 15 years and the fact that she has the work and projects to show me is amazing. I know that I have much more to learn from Mrs. E and I can tell she has much more to teach me.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Stacie Canepa's Interview with first grade teacher

I interviewed my master teacher, Mrs. R. The school that she works at is a local elementary school in a first grade classroom. This school is located in a rather poor section of the neighborhood and the student body is composed of a majority of minority and migrant students. Nearly 81% of the students are Hispanic and 8% of the population is African American. Almost all of students receive free or reduced lunch and this is the schools eighth year as a "program improvement" school because of floundering test scores. This is my master teacher’s 30th year teaching, but this is her first year teaching at this school.

Mrs. R always knew that she wanted to be a teacher. She grew up in a large family in a rural valley town near Yosemite. She remembers spending lots of time playing school with her siblings and practicing being a teacher. Mrs. R’s father was an educator and her mom was also very well educated but stayed home to raise her and her siblings. Education was highly valued in her family and the completion of a college degree was expected of her. It was in this environment that Mrs. R’s love of teaching and learning started to grow.

After completing her bachelors degree, Mrs. R went on to attain a special education credential along with a masters. During her first few years of teaching Mrs. R also decided to get her multiple subjects credential. The first 16 years of Mrs. R’s teaching career were spent in a special education classroom where she instructed students with mild to moderate learning disabilities. The past fourteen years of her career have been spent in teaching the first and second grade at another local elementary school. Mrs. R took one year off to be an academic coach for teachers throughout the district and found that she missed the classroom more than she had anticipated, which led her coming back to the classroom at our current site.

Through my discussion with Mrs. R I was able to learn many things about her beliefs of public education, her personal teaching strategies and how she remains so enthused about her job after all of these years. One of the first topics that we discussed was the place of public education. Mrs. R is a firm believer that all children should receive a free education and that every child regardless of race, income, or disabilities should have equal access to a quality education. One of Mrs. R’s main theories on education is that all children can learn. She believes that some children may need more time, repetition or a different teaching strategy to understand a concept but she believes that every child can learn. One of the things that she has found to be true in her classroom is that the nurture of each child by their family has a lot to do with their success in the classroom. The amount of time and involvement that parents invest in their children and their child’s education has a lot to do with the amount of attention that each student will need. Mrs. R does not underestimate the influence of a child’s home and family life on their ability to do well in school.

Having the opportunity to spend one day in Mrs. R’s class would give you a good idea of her belief in routines, rituals and procedures in the classroom. Each day is structured much the same way and the children know exactly what to expect from her and each other. The procedures that she has in place allow for the children to work independently and to know what to do in a situation even if she is not around. She feels that the predictability of her classroom routines makes the children more comfortable and allows them to learn more because they waste less time trying to figure out what is next or how to go about a task.

During our interview, Mrs. R also divulged what has kept her in the teaching profession so long. A self professed, life long learner, Mrs. R feels that this is the only job where she can come to work everyday and expect to be challenged. It seems that her students are always teaching her something about education and the learning process which keeps her on her toes. One of her favorite aspects of teaching is seeing the progress in her students. She loves to see the “light bulb go on” for her students and loves to take part in the process of making “things click” for them. Overall I feel very lucky to have had the chance to talk with Mrs. R about her philosophies on teaching and learning and to learn about what has kept her so passionate about teaching over her thirty year career.