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..