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.